On this Amsterdam Brussels Paris itinerary, visit three of Europe’s best cities. Start in Amsterdam, where you get to stroll along the canals and visit the world class Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Travel by train to Belgium where you will spend two days dining on chocolate, waffles, and beer and exploring the fairytale towns of Bruges and Ghent. And what better way to end your holiday than with three days in romantic Paris.
Arrive in Amsterdam
Depending on your flight, most likely you will arrive in Amsterdam in the morning. Check into your hotel and get settled. Only take a nap if you desperately need one. It’s better to drink some coffee and stay awake so you can adjust to the time change as quickly as possible.
Need advice on where to stay in Amsterdam? Click here to read our recommendations at the end of this post.
Spend the afternoon and evening in our favorite spot in Amsterdam, the Jordaan area and the Nine Little Streets (de 9 Straatjes). This is a very picturesque part of Amsterdam, a maze of canals, bridges, and row homes. Cafes spill out onto the side streets, the perfect place to grab a drink and people watch if the weather is nice.
While in Jordaan, here are two great things to do.
The Anne Frank House
For two years and one month, Anne Frank and her family lived in a secret annex, hidden away from the Nazi’s. During this time, she wrote in her diary, which became a memoir and an important piece of history.
Tour the hidden rooms and see the movable bookcase that covered the entrance into the rooms.
Note for 2018: Currently, the Anne Frank House is undergoing renovation. It still remains open but some areas are temporarily closed and some artifacts are not on display. The original diary is not on display while the house is being renovated.
Currently, tickets can only be purchased online in advance. You will reserve a specific time slot, which eliminates waiting in line.
Take a Canal Cruise
A canal cruise is the perfect, low-key activity for jet-lagged travelers.
I recommend skipping the larger boats with the big tour companies. These giant boats are enclosed in glass and the people packed on board never look like they are having much fun.
Instead, pick a smaller, open boat. You’ll be with less people and have a more intimate experience. Some of these companies even serve wine while you cruise through the city. We recommend Those Dam Boat Guys since they get rave reviews on Trip Advisor.
There are a lot of great restaurants in Amsterdam. If you need recommendations, here are 3 spots to try:
Vinkeles. A high-class restaurant that serves modern French cuisine. Located in the Dylan Hotel on Keizersgracht in the Nine Little Streets. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Foodhallen. This giant food hall is filled with small restaurants that serve food from around the world. This is the perfect place to try new foods and not spend a fortune on dinner. Located 10 minutes away from the Nine Little Streets.
Café de Reiger. Located in Jordaan, this restaurant and bar is popular with locals and tourists.
Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Vondelpark, and an Optional Evening in Haarlem
We start in museum square, with the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. These are Amsterdam’s most popular museums, so expect them to get crowded, especially midday. By starting here first, you get to enjoy at least one of the museums without huge crowds.
The Rijksmuseum is enormous. On display are 8,000 objects of art and history, most of it Dutch, with masterpieces by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Frans Hals. Most people spend 2 to 3 hours in the museum.
The Van Gogh Museum
After a quick break for lunch on Museumplein, visit the modern Van Gogh Museum.
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s green space. This is where the local people relax and sunbath on warm days and where families go outside to play. It’s a pretty spot to visit, especially after spending most of the day inside of art museums.
Once you are finished at Vondelpark, walk or take Tram 1 to Bloemenmarkt.
The Bloemenmarkt is the only floating flower market in the world. About 15 florist shops sell blooming flowers, bulbs, and souvenirs. It is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s worth a quick visit if you are looking for gifts to bring home or just want to see flowers in bloom.
More Time in Amsterdam or Visit Haarlem?
For the rest of the day you are free to explore more of Amsterdam. Wander the canals in the Jordaan area again, rent bikes and explore the city, or consider making a quick trip to Haarlem for dinner and drinks.
Haarlem is just 15 minutes from Amsterdam by train. You won’t have enough time to really explore Haarlem, but you can sit in the main square in town, have a drink at a café, and have dinner.
Haarlem is awesome. The main square is beautiful, and on a nice warm day this is the perfect spot to just plop yourself down in an outdoor café, have a drink and enjoy the view.
For dinner we ate at the Wolfhound Irish Bar & Kitchen and it tasted like we were back in Ireland.
Getting to Haarlem: From Central Station in Amsterdam, you can take a 15-minute train to Haarlem. Trains leave approximately every 10 minutes and cost €5.40 one-way.
Day Trip from Amsterdam
There is more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. The small towns near Amsterdam are wonderful to explore. Some cities, like Utrecht, are smaller, less crowded versions of Amsterdam. Other towns are filled with history, more art museums, windmills, or thatched cottages. It is well worth your time to pull yourself away from Amsterdam to visit these little gems.
Here are some suggestions on where to go:
Utrecht: Utrecht, with its canals and street cafes, looks and feels like a smaller, less crowded version of Amsterdam. With one day in Utrecht, you can explore the scenic city center, take in the view from the tallest tower in the Netherlands, and dine at one of many great cafes and restaurants in town. Utrecht is 27 minutes from Amsterdam by train.
Read More: One Perfect Day in Utrecht
Delft: Delft, famous for its pottery, also has charming canals to stroll and has a similar ambience to Amsterdam and Utrecht. Delft is one hour from Amsterdam by train.
Keukenhof: In April and May, Keukenhof is a wonderland of flowering daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. To get here, you will have to take a bus from Schiphol Airport to Keukenhof. Get the full details on our Amsterdam itinerary post.
Zaanse Schans: This is the spot to visit operational windmills and see how clogs are made. Take a 15-minute train from Amsterdam and then it is a 20-minute walk to the town.
The Hague: The Hague is home to the International Criminal Court of Justice and several really cool art museums. The Hague is 45 minutes by train from Amsterdam.
Rotterdam: Rotterdam is totally different than Amsterdam. With its modern architecture, it feels more like you are visiting a cosmopolitan city like Chicago or New York. Rotterdam is 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam.
Giethoorn: This is the farthest day trip option from Amsterdam, but it truly looks like a place plucked out of a fairytale with thatched cottages and canals instead of roads. It takes 2.5 hours by train and bus to get to Giethoorn.
Haarlem: If you didn’t visit Haarlem yesterday, you can spend today here.
Amsterdam and Travel to Brussels
Spend the first half of the day in Amsterdam. After lunch, take a train to Brussels, giving you enough time to get settled and have time for dinner in town.
Breakfast at the Pancake Bakery
For an over-the-top breakfast experience, visit the Pancake Bakery. This popular breakfast spot serves giant pancakes topped with almost anything you can imagine. If you have a sweet tooth, you can get pancakes topped with ice cream, hot sauce, and caramel. Or, if you like something savory, there are lots of options too. If you are traveling with kids, they’ll love this place.
From the Pancake House, walk through the center of Amsterdam to Dam Square. It can be crowded and touristy, but it is the main square of Amsterdam, so I think it is still worth a very quick visit. Just expect large crowds and beware of pickpockets.
Museum Ons’Lieve Heer Op Solder
From Dam Square, walk to Museum Ons’Lieve Heer Op Solder, also called Our Lord in the Attic. On the way, you will walk past De Oude Kerk and you can even take a short detour through the Red Light District if you are curious what it’s all about.
Our Lord in the Attic is one of the best history lessons in Amsterdam.
This canal house, built in 1630, looks normal on the outside. But inside, on the top level, sits a secret Catholic Church. Catholicism was banned in Amsterdam during the 17th century, so people built small churches in their houses, hidden away from public view. This church is one of the largest and the best preserved of these schuilkerks.
During the audio tour, you will get a fascinating history lesson about Amsterdam and the Netherlands, as you walk through the rooms of this 400 year old house. The tour ends with a visit to the spectacular church on the top floor.
After your visit to Our Lord in the Attic, have lunch in Amsterdam.
Train to Brussels
After lunch, take the high-speed train to Brussels. This journey takes just under two hours.
Once in Brussels, get settled at your hotel. To get to your hotel from the train station, you can walk (if you stay in a nearby hotel), take the metro, or take a taxi.
Spend the evening walking through the center of Brussels. The Grand Place is gorgeous at sunset, when the skies grow dim and the lights turn on.
For dinner in the center of Belgium, you can try the Lobster House, Brasserie de la Ville, or our personal favorite, Pasta Divina.
What are the best things to do in Brussels? See the dazzling Grand Place with its opulent guildhalls and Town Hall, tour the historic center of Brussels, and feast on chocolate, fries, and waffles.
Many people take a chocolate tour while in Brussels. But what if you don’t want to go on a tour? What if you want to explore Brussels at your own pace, spreading out the chocolate indulgence over the course of an entire day?
We designed a self-guided walking route and chocolate tour through Brussels. Not only do you get to taste chocolate at the best shops in Brussels, you will stroll along some of Brussels’ prettiest streets, say hi to Manneken-Pis and his sister, Jeanneke-Pis, and even visit one of Brussels’ coolest bars.
On our do-it-yourself tour, you get to save a lot of money, taste as much chocolate as you want, and see the best of Brussels. We think it’s the perfect way to spend one day in Brussels.
Read all about our Chocolate Tour in our post:
Is the Atomium Worth It?
The Atomium is frequently listed in travel guides and blogs as one of the best things to do in Brussels. We visited the Atomium and we don’t see what all of the fuss is about. Sure, it’s big, it’s unique, and you can climb up inside of it for views of Brussels. But takes a lot of time to get there from the city center, lines can be long to enter the Atomium, and once you’re inside it’s really not that exciting.
I would only consider visiting the Atomium if you also have plans to visit Mini-Europe, a small park with miniature versions of European cities.
Day Trip to Bruges & Ghent
Bruges and Ghent are two charming, small towns in Belgium, each just a short train ride away from Brussels. You can combine visits to both towns into one day trip from Brussels. Stroll through fairytale streets, dine on waffles and chocolate, take in the view from two belfries, go on a canal cruise, and visit an ancient castle.
Ideally, you want to get started early in the day. Not only does this give you plenty of time to also see Ghent, but arriving early in Bruges lets you see the main sites before they get crowded.
While in Bruges, you can climb the belfry, go on a canal cruise, visit Dumon Chocolatier (if you didn’t get enough chocolate yesterday!), and visit the colorful, charming side streets in Bruges.
In the early afternoon, take a train to Ghent and spend the rest of the day touring Ghent. Ghent is smaller and the list of sites to see is shorter than Bruges, so you don’t need to spend as much time here.
This is another Belgian town where the streets are lined with beautiful buildings. The views from Gravensteen and the belfry are amazing, so be prepared to take a lot of photos today.
Once you are finished touring Ghent, you day ends with a train ride back to Brussels.
See our full, detailed itinerary on how to visit Bruges and Ghent in one day, plus learn how to book your train tickets and get recommendations on where to eat in our post:
Travel to Paris, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe
From Brussels, take the high speed Thalys train to Paris. The journey takes roughly 1.5 hours. Trains leave from the Brussels Midi station and arrive in Paris at Paris Nord (Gare de Nord).
Book your train as early in the day as you feel comfortable doing so, in order to maximize how much time you have in Paris. I would recommend arriving in Paris no later than noon so that you have the full afternoon to see the city.
From Gare du Nord, take the metro or a taxi to your hotel and get settled. Have lunch near your hotel.
What better place to start in Paris than at the Eiffel Tower?
There are two ways up the Eiffel Tower. You can take an elevator or you can walk up the stairs. The queues for the elevators are very long and the queue for the stairs is much shorter. The choice is yours. If you take the stairs, you get to eat more chocolate and crepes later!
If you plan to take the elevator, I highly recommend that you buy your tickets in advance.
You cannot book the stairs in advance. You can only purchase these tickets at the Eiffel Tower.
There are three levels on the Eiffel Tower. It’s roughly 300 steps to the first level, 300 steps to the second level, and an elevator to the very top. If you take the steps to the second level, on this level you can buy a ticket to take you to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
View from the Eiffel Tower
Place de la Concorde
his famous square is full of French history. This was the spot during the French Revolution where King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre were executed by guillotine.
From mid-November to early May a giant Ferris wheel sits in Place de la Concorde. If the line is short and you want a nice view of Paris, consider taking a ride.
Go for a Stroll on the Champs-Elysees
The Champs-Elysees is one of the most recognizable streets in the world. It is famous as being the finish of the Tour de France and the location of the Bastille Day military parade. Restaurants, shops, the theaters line the Champs-Elysees. It has a touristy feel but it’s still worth the stroll.
Along the way, if you want another French treat, consider stopping into Laduree for macarons.
Arc de Triomphe
It’s time to take in the view from the mighty Arc de Triomphe. This is my favorite view of Paris. There’s just something about looking down the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre, out to La Defense, and of course, having the wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower.
Dinner and Drinks
End the day with dinner and drinks. If you are looking for a very cool dinner/drink spot, go to the Buddha Bar. We loved it here. The lower level is a restaurant and along the second level are lounge areas with views over the restaurant. It feels like you have left Paris and entered Asia.
There are two locations of the Buddha Bar. We visited both and by far the best location is 8-12 Rue Boissy d’Anglas. From the Arc de Triomphe, take the metro back to Concorde and then it is just a 5-minute walk to the Buddha Bar.
The Historic Center of Paris, Musee d’Orsay & Montmartre
Sainte Chapelle is home to one of the world’s best displays of stained glass. It is gorgeous inside, much prettier than the inside of Notre Dame Cathedral.
This is optional, but for those with an interest in French history, you can visit the Conciergerie. This is where people were imprisoned before being taken to Place de la Concorde to be executed. Marie Antoinette is the most famous prisoner.
The Conciergerie is located next to Sainte-Chapelle.
Notre Dame Cathedral
From Sainte-Chapelle it’s a very short walk to Notre Dame Cathedral.
The highlight of Notre Dame is getting that gargoyle view of Paris. The view from the tower is amazing and one of the best in the city. This is worth the wait in line. Fortunately, things have changed in recent years. Now you can reserve a time slot, which eliminates the long, painfully slow line that once stretched down the side of Notre Dame.
The View from Notre Dame
Before leaving Ile de la Cite, it’s a quick walk to one of the prettiest storefronts in Paris, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole. This is a small café so you can eat lunch here.
Another good lunch spot is Pom’ Canelle, a restaurant that serves French and European food at reasonable prices. From Ile de la Cite, cross Pont Saint-Louis to Ile Saint-Louis. This island gets fewer visitors than Ile de la Cite and it’s a good spot for lunch and to go shopping. Pom’ Canelle is located here, at 27 Rue des 2 Ponts.
For an amazing ice cream shop, walk just one minute to Bertillon Glacier. This place is world famous for its ice cream and sorbet. In fact, you could skip lunch and just eat here instead (we did!).
Walk Along the Seine
Cross Pont de la Tournelle to the Left Bank. Walk along the Seine. As you approach Pont de l’Archeveche you get a beautiful view of Notre Dame. Pont de l’Archeveche makes a great photo spot of the cathedral.
Continue the stroll along the Seine until you reach Musee d’Orsay.
Musee d’Orsay houses the largest collection of Impressionist art in the world. It is here that you can see Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gaugin and more. It’s literally a collection of the who’s who in the Impressionist art world.
Sacre Coeur and Montmartre
Spend the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring Montmartre. This maze of hilly streets is one of Paris’ prettiest neighborhoods to visit.
I recommend getting off at the Lamarck metro station and walking towards the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. This is a very nice walk that takes you past photogenic spots such as La Maison Rose and Le Consulat Restaurant.
Before arriving at the basilica you will walk through Place du Tertre. This small square is filled with artists. Go shopping, grab a drink at a café, or have your portrait drawn.
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica sits atop the highest hill in Paris. The steps in front of the Basilica are a popular spot to watch the sunset. You also have the option to climb the 300 steps to the top of the Dome for an even better view.
For dinner, take your pick from restaurants in the area. We ate at Le Relais Gascon, a wonderful little place that prepares French food.
Versailles and the Louvre
The Palace of Versailles
Versailles is a royal chateau located on the outskirts of Paris. In 1682, King Louis XIV moved the Royal Court from the Louvre to the Palace of Versailles. For a little more than 100 years, this was the seat of government for France. That ended in 1789 with the French Revolution. The monarchy moved back to Paris and since then, the city of Paris has remained the seat of government for France.
During your visit to Versailles you will tour the palace and get to stroll through the gorgeous gardens. We visited on a rainy day, not the best weather for photography, but on a sunny day this place looks stunning.
How long does a visit last? If you’re fast, it takes 3 to 4 hours to zip through the palace and walk a part of the gardens. You can spend all day here, however, if you want to have enough time to visit the Louvre, you should plan on leaving Versailles in the early afternoon.
Learn more about everything you can see and do in Versailles on the official website.
Afternoon at the Louvre
The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. This building was once the home to French Kings, including Louis XIV. During the French Revolution in the 18th century, the Louvre was converted to a museum.
If you are an art lover, take several hours and enjoy this spectacular place. However, if you just want to visit the highlights, you can do so in about an hour.
The main sites to visit in the Louvre are the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory.
This evening, you have several options. Have dinner in a French restaurant, take a dinner cruise on the Seine, stroll through Le Marais, or go shopping at Place de la Madeleine and at the luxurious department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
Fly home or continue your travels.
How to Book Your Trains
You will use the train quite frequently on this itinerary, so it’s a good thing that train travel in Europe is cheap, fast, and very easy to do.
I recommend booking two of your journeys in advance: Amsterdam to Brussels and Brussels to Paris. Both of these journeys will be on the Thalys train, a high-speed train that connects these cities in surprisingly short period of time. By booking your seats in advance, you can save money by taking advantage of cheaper pricing when the tickets are released. Tickets from Amsterdam to Brussels are as low as €26 per person and from Brussels to Paris as low as €29 per person.
To book your tickets online, visit belgianrail.be.
You can also book your tickets to towns in the Netherlands and to Bruges and Ghent in advance or you can simply purchase them when you arrive at the train station. Trains run very frequently and you do not reserve seats on these local trains, similar to riding the metro.
For more information on using the trains in the Netherlands: Netherlands Train Travel: How to Book Your Tickets and Use the Trains
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
The best area to stay is Jordaan and the Nine Little Streets. This is our favorite area of Amsterdam and being on the canals at night is magical.
Luxury: The Dylan. Modern, trendy, luxurious, this hotel is located on Keizersgracht, within walking distance of the Anne Frank House. This hotel is also home to Vinkeles, the upscale dining experience we recommended for dinner.
Mid-Range: The ‘t Hotel. This is where we stayed on our first visit to Amsterdam. The ‘t Hotel has a perfect location, right on a quiet canal and within walking distance of the main sites in Amsterdam. Since our visit in 2008, the hotel has been renovated (and prices have gone up). The family room is the penthouse of the hotel with a loft for the kids.
Mid-Range: Crowne Plaza South. If you are looking for a clean, comfortable and quiet place to stay and don’t want to spend a fortune (or most places are already reserved when you start your hotel search) consider staying a bit outside of the city. On our most recent visit to Amsterdam, we stayed here at the Crowne Plaza. It’s a great hotel and we had a great stay, without any complaints. It took us 15 minutes by metro to get into town but we saved a lot of money by staying outside of the heart of Amsterdam.
Budget: Jordaan Suite Bed and Bubbles. This budget hotel has a prime location on Hazenstraat near the Jordaan neighborhood. It gets rave reviews and can be hard to get, so make your reservation as soon as you can.
Where to Stay in Brussels
We stayed at the Pullman Hotel Centre Midi in Brussels. This hotel is located right next to the Brussels Midi train station. The location is brilliant. In just 5 minutes we could be standing at the train platform, perfect for day trips to Bruges and Ghent and for traveling to/from Paris and Amsterdam, among other cities. From this hotel, it takes just 10 minutes by metro to get to Grand Place. This is a modern hotel, the WiFi works very well and the rooms are large.
Where to Stay in Paris
We have visited Paris three times and here is where we stayed.
Hotel Brighton. This is the most expensive hotel on this list but it’s worth it if you want an awesome view over Paris. Located on Rue de Rivoli right across from Tuileries Garden, you will be able to see the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe from your room. Request a high floor, preferably one with a balcony, for the best experience.
Hotel de La Bourdonnais. This hotel is located near the Eiffel Tower. From our room, if we hung our head out of the window, we could see the top of the Eiffel Tower. This hotel is under new management since our visit and it looks like things have changed for the better. We liked here, but not as much as the other two hotels in this list.
Le Relais Saint Honore. On our most recent visit to Paris we stayed at Hotel Le Relais Saint Honore. Our favorite thing about this small, boutique hotel is its excellent location. The Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde, and Palais-Garnier are all within a 10-minute walk. The Tuileries and Pyramides metro stations are less than 5 minutes away. The rooms are small but tastefully decorated and the staff is friendly and speaks English. You don’t get the awesome view in this hotel but we loved the friendly staff and the location.
Consider reading A Diary of Anne Frank before your visit to Amsterdam. It puts a lot of what you will see in and around the Anne Frank House into perspective.
Are you planning a trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris? Comment below if you have any questions or need any travel advice.
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