Benelux and Beyond - Northern European Vacation Ideas for the Benelux Countries
5 Countries in 14 days? It's Possible in the Benelux
By James Martin, About.com Guide
If you have a short vacation and want to travel through the most varied cultural landscapes in a short time, why not consider Benilux--Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg--along with adjacent pieces of the bookend countries of France and Germany?
Short distances and the availability of high speed rail connections mean that you won't spend all your time looking out a window on a moving landscape. Plus, a Benelux rail 'n drive packages give you the flexibility to see it all by train and car. The Benelux countryside is flat and watery--you can bike or walk on tow paths along the many canals to observe calming rural vistas for hours.
Benelux Countries - Benelux Rail Map
Benelux Map © James Martin, licensed to About.com
- Benelux is compact. It's 123 miles between Brussels and Amsterdam, 184 miles between Paris and Brussels--and both of these destinations are served by high speed rail that'll speed you between Paris and Brussels in one hour and 25 minutes.
- Folks in Benelux countries are quite likely to speak English, since the local languages are confined to a relatively small geographic area.
- Benelux hospitality is legendary--you might want to consider a farm stay while you're there--especially if you have kids--to test the friendliness of the natives and get a feeling for what it's like (more below).
- Variety - and France and Germany are just across the border. Not only do you have three countries to visit, all within an hour or so travel time between each other, center to center, but France and Germany are easily visited as well. Lille, just across the border in France, was a European capital of Culture for 2004, and it's a major rail hub for high speed trains. Koln (Cologne) and its famous cathedral are also close, and the landscape around Trier--a colonial capital under Roman Emperor Augustus in 16 BC and Germany’s oldest city--is beautiful, and the city is a good starting point for trips into the Mosel Valley and cruises on the scenic Mosel River, Germany’s main wine-producing region--just in case you get tired of the almost infinite variety of Beer styles you find in Belgium that is.
Getting to the Benelux Countries
You'll probably start your vacation from a large city. Major airports usually offer the best fares from the US, so you'll probably be starting from Paris, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam. If you find a good fare to London (or wish to add that city to your visit), you can take the Eurostar from London to either Paris or Lille, and continue your Benelux vacation from there.
Getting Around the Benelux Countries
While rail is highly recommended, and trains can get to most cities in the Benelux countries, you might want to also view a little of the countryside. Rail 'n Drive passes make this easy.
Plan Your Benelux Adventure
Rail Passes (Including Rail 'n Drive Passes) for Benelux, France and Germany.
Thalys - High Speed Train Information - The thick blue line on the map is the Thalys route.
Eurostar - All About the Eurostar - London to Lille, Paris, and Brussels. If your end point is Brussels, you'll get a free pass to any other stop in Belgium, just in case you wish to avoid Brussels altogether.
Destinations in or Accessable from Benelux
Reims and the Champagne Region of France
Luxembourg: Luxembourg GuideDusseldorf Germany
Farm Stays in Belgium
Many "farm" stays don't set you down in a real, working farm. I've found the Spreeuwenburg farm in a perfect location in the Belgian countryside not so far from the Netherlands border and nearby to the justly famous old smuggler house turned into a restaurant bar, Roste Muis. Read more: A Pleasant and Inexpensive Farm stay in Belgium.
Benelux - The Final Word
I hope you'll check out the Benelux countries. The major cities are interesting and chock full of art from old masters. Belgium cuisine is considered one of the best in Europe, and the beer is outstanding as well. Amsterdam is an amazing city, and if you want to visit a city that's mostly ignored by tourists, look into Antwerp, Belgium. Peter Paul Ruben's house makes an outstanding visit--and even Antwerp's main train station is worthy of the label "Railway Cathedral."