If you have limited time but want to experience as much as you can in a week or so in Northern Europe, than Brussels is a great place to start. you can easily arrange train travel across Belgium and France. I personally prefer to slow down and could easily spend a week in each city, but many people don’t have that kind of time. Trying to pack TOO much in is a mistake, but I think that these 5 cities over a week or 10 days is perfect. Look online for train travel deals.
Located in the northwest of the Belgium, the charming city of Bruges is the capital of the province of West Flanders . sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North”. Bruges was of major economic importance prior to World War II but when the harbor silted up and the port was moved to Zeebrugge the city was left as it was. During the war it was spared the destruction of other major cities in Europe and is now like an outdoor museum.
The architecture is in pristine condition and you will feel like you have stepped back in time. Bruges is a green city with many very nice parks right in the center. On the outskirts are large communal areas offering recreational areas for nature and sports lovers. The city has a huge number of great pubs where you can sample some of Belgium’s famous beers.
Brussels has undergone a remarkable change over the past 15 years as it became the seat of government for the European Union. Many new and trendy nightclubs and hotels have sprung up all around the city, but it is still very easy to find budget accommodation and food. And the best parts of the city have remained unchanged. The Grand Place in the center of town is simply ravishing, with it’s 300 year old buildings, cafes and daily market. A visit to this square at night is amazing. You can find many great local bars and clubs but try to avoid the more expensive places frequented by government staff. Around every corner you will find statues and architectural delights. Don’t forget to sample a gaufre de Liège-Luikse wafel here (Belgian waffle with caramelized sugar), this is a true Belgian treat.
Founded by the Romans as the capital of Gaul, Lyon has many well-preserved historical sites. The city itself sits where two major rivers meet. The public transportation is fantastic, with busses, metro, river boats and inexpensive bike rentals everywhere. The Roman theatre in Fourvière, the most important remain of the Roman city of Lugdunum, is very close to the center of town. Take a riverboat ride and admire this majestic French city. The views are unparalleled. There are an endless number of sites to visit here, but if you can time your visit around the Festival of Lights (in early December every year) then you will be rewarded with some amazing views. The city does get quite busy this time of year, so book in advance. It is very easy to spend a week or two here and there are plenty of budget choices for food, drink and lodging.
Marseille has a long and complex history. Once known as a rough town frequented by pirates and merchant sailors Its population is now a melting pot of many different cultures. For people who are ready to discover a unique city with international flavor, Marseille is the place. Forget the stories from the past. From colorful markets, bars and restaurants that will sometimes make you feel like you are in Africa, to the Old town center and the Calanques (an area of big cliffs falling into the sea), this place has a lot to offer. The public transport is cheap and efficient. There are more than enough museums and cultural events in this city to represent all the diverse people here. While the choice of budget traveler hotels and pensions are slowly beginning to disappear in favor of high-end hotels, there are still a lot of affordable places.
Nantes is located on the Loire River in the north of France near the Atlantic coast. Noted for its art and history, Nantes has fantastic public transport and is considered on of the safest cities in Northern Europe. The city has a very international flairand you will find many students from all over the world that attend Université de Nantes. On most Wednesday evenings loads of international students meet at Buck Mulligan’s bar to meet people and socialize in dozens of different languages. You can also find several Irish bars in Nantes where the bartenders speak fluent English. This is a great place to relax for a while if you have been traveling Europe and want to meet fellow expats. You can find lots of old French architecture and local parks to relax in. Always be prepared with and umbrella as storms can whip in from the Atlantic at any time.