For me, the most exciting thing about being an expat in Europe is the ability to travel easily and cheaply to new cities and countries, and a travel dream of mine had always been to visit the Netherlands, Belgium and France in an epic Eurotrip. Our plan was ambitious: visiting seven cities in three countries in just nine days – without breaking the bank. Was it possible? We set to work planning our itinerary – flights, hotels, trains, buses, sights to take in, and even places to eat. Here’s how we did it:
We started our Amsterdam visit by heading to bustling Dam Square, then walking the famous canals: Singel, Herrengracht, Kaizergracht, and Prinzengracht, taking in the historic buildings, numerous bridges, and bicycles everywhere. We passed by Anne Frank House, visited the Bloemenmarkt flower market, and stopped in at the Cheese Museum, where we tasted a variety of cheeses, including wasabi, lavender, and a delicious truffle. In the evening, we joined a walking tour of the Red Light District, which was a fascinating look at the area, including its history past and present and how the sex trade works. In the morning, we visited Noordermarkt, a market with a very local feel, and endless offerings of fresh produce, baked goodies, and of course more cheese.
Singel 404: a fantastic lunch spot, right on the Singel Canal; its gourmet Club Sandwich is the best I’ve ever tasted.
MOS : located right on the modern waterfront, MOS is an incredible dining experience, offering multi-course menus of delicious, modern food.
It took 40 minutes and €14.80 per person to make the trip to Rotterdam by train. We stayed by the port (Europe’s largest), and walked along the water to Oudehaven, the historic harbour, overlooked by the famous Cube Houses. We then headed to Rotterdam’s famous Markthal – the main reason we visited the city. This impressive structure not only houses the huge market, it’s also an apartment building, and its sprawling ceiling is a work of art, depicting food and nature. We spent three hours in the Markthal, browsing and eating everything possible. The must-tries were the famous Dutch Stroopwaffel, and the incredible macarons. We finally pulled ourselves away from the Markthal to stroll through the Oude Binneweg pedestrian street and pay a visit to Delfshaven, one of the only remaining historic areas of Rotterdam following the Second World War. This charming waterfront area has quaint buildings, a windmill, and the church the pilgrims set off from to head for the New World.
Rotterdam Markthal: You can eat your fill of a variety of cuisines while marvelling at the unique architecture, and even take home some foodie souvenirs.
The FlixBus from Rotterdam to Antwerp was an unbelievable bargain – only €5 for a 90-minute trip! The highlight of Antwerp was its incredible City Hall, covered in flags. We wandered the cobbled streets of the Historic Centre, then found our way to the waterfront and the historic Hetsteen Castle. I was surprised to discover that Antwerp has its own little Red Light District, complete with girls in windows, which I didn’t expect to see outside of Amsterdam. The Meir pedestrian street was a great place to do some shopping, with all of the big brands on offer, along with plenty of chocolate.
De Pottekijker: a cozy little place tucked in behind the main square. It specializes in meat, and we had an epic meal of grilled steaks.
The train to Ghent took about an hour and cost €9.40 each. Arriving in the city, we once again headed straight for the Historic Centre, ducking out of the rain and into the imposing Sint Baafskathedraal (free entry). Once the rain cleared, we visited Werregarenstraat, a colourful alley covered in impressive graffiti, a real contrast from its historic surroundings. We then strolled along the famous canal to Gravensteen Castle and around the Patersol district, filled with shops and cafés. We stopped into the charming Barista for some hot chocolate, and it was as delicious as you’d expect in Belgium – hot milk with real chocolate pieces, and you can choose your chocolate and your topping.
Cochon de Luxe: Dinner here was the best meal of our trip. It’s a small, quirky place offering a set menu of unique dishes with a twist. Run by a husband-and-wife team, the service is also fantastic. This meal alone was worth visiting Ghent for!
Bruges was a place I’d briefly visited before, but I’d always wanted to go back and really experience it. It only took 20 minutes by train from Ghent, costing €6.50 each. We began our day at the charming main square of Grote Markt, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its towering Belfry and distinctive row of colourful restaurants. A highlight of our times in Bruges was taking a boat ride around the many scenic canals, which cost €8 each and afforded great views of this picturesque little town. Bruges also had the most mouthwatering selection of chocolate shops: my favourites were the charmingly old-fashioned La Comptoir de Mathilde, and The Chocolate Line, with its unique flavour combinations (the best was caramel-Yuzu white chocolate).
Li-O-Lait: a perfect little spot for breakfast or coffee and a light meal. I had a delicious little concoction of warm milk, honey, and cinnamon, served with mini Stroopwaffles.
Anethe: This formerly Michelin-starred restaurant turned bistro is so unaccustomed to tourists that they had to print a special English-language menu for us. Set in an old house, Anethe offers a very traditional menu in a lovely atmosphere.
Even though it was a little out of the way, we just had to pop down into France since we could, and Lille turned out the be our favourite stop of the trip, though it was travel and accommodation-wise the most expensive. Lille isn’t much of a tourist destination, so it was difficult to find accommodation somewhere between cheap and dodgy and nice and pricy, but we struck gold with Princesse Apart’Hotel, where we had a charming room with a kitchenette in a great location. Lille’s Old Town is beautiful, with its fountain, clock tower and Old Stock Exchange, and we loved wandering the quaint little streets. We also visited the zoo, which is free! There are lots of patisseries to be found, and my favourite was Méert, where I treated myself to a pastry with a raspberry macaron on top.
La Petite Flambée: a cozy spot popular with the locals, with fantastic galettes and crèpes at great prices
La Cave à Manger de Jacques Dumas: another favourite of this trip. At Jacques Dumas, we indulged in a huge charcuterie platter featuring French meats and cheeses, accompanied by red wine and followed by a homey dessert platter
We headed back to Belgium on iD Bus for just €9 per person, which took 90 minutes. Arriving in the Belgian capital, we went straight for the Historic Centre and Grand Place, which is as stunningly beautiful as I imagined it. We wandered the cobblestone pedestrian streets, paid homage to Mannekin Pis (who is a underwhelming as I’ve heard he is), and marvelled at the shop windows loaded with waffles, chocolates, and frites. We also climbed Le Mont des Arts for sweeping views of the city, and took in the Royal Palace and its adjoining garden. After our night in Brussels, our Eurotrip came to an end, and we headed for the airport and our return flight to Copenhagen.
Maison de Crèpes: tasty savoury and sweet crèpes in a low-key setting, with good prices for the tourist-heavy centre. The apple-cinnamon dessert crèpe was especially delicious!
À La Mort Subite: simple lunch fare and lots of beer in a café filled with atmosphere
It was amazing to finally take the trip I’ve always wanted to, and without breaking the bank. I finally got to experience Amsterdam, and go back to beautiful Bruges. It was a packed itinerary, and definitely not for travellers wanting a relaxing vacation. We were in a new city almost every day, and the entire trip depended on catching the right train or bus, but it was an incredible experience. I was amazed at how inexpensive it was to travel between cities, and of course you can make the trip even more affordable by booking hostels rather than hotels. My favourite stop was Lille, France, for its gorgeous Old Town and incredible food, and the best meal was the fabulously quirky Cochon de Luxe in Ghent, Belgium. Though I enjoyed all of our stops, I was least fond of Antwerp (as it’s pretty but can’t compete with the other cities) and Brussels (though I adored Grand Place).