10 Tips, To Travel 10 days, In The Netherlands, Belgium, & Luxembourg; From $1000 SGD!
Ask any Singaporean on his or her preference of their ideal vacation destination, and chances are, that destination would probably be Europe. And ask them how much they "think" they would need to set aside for that particular European holiday, and you can be sure they'd quote a figure anywhere between $4000 to $8000 SGD (or higher).
But vacationing in Europe doesn't have to be that expensive.
Windmills at Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands
While we have recommended visiting Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Caucuses instead for a pretty similar experience at a much lower cost;
Singaporeans still prefer, and want to be seen visiting the "Real Europe", which is pretty much the Europe all their friends are going/have gone to.
So in this post, we're going to cater to the majority and share 10 tips, for 10 days (because Singaporeans can't usually go on long leave) across the touristy destinations of The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, all from S$1000 (depending on your style of travel).
1. One Good Meal, One Snack, One Cheap Lunch
Hollands' best Waffles, in Volendam, The Netherlands
The Netherlands is an expensive travel destination, no doubt about that. Belgium isn't cheap, and in Luxembourg, prices are just as crazy (if not crazier).
Fortunately (or unfortunately for foodies), Dutch cuisine isn't exactly world famous. They serve great street food, like "Bitterballen" and "Kroket" (deep fried meet balls/rolls), thick fries and pancakes. But in general? Well, with all due respect, let's just say there's nothing too fancy that deserves your hard earned SGD besides the occasional street snack.
"The Girl" trying out street food. 4 Euros each!
Belgium, as we all know, is famous for their Hot Chocolate and Belgian Waffles.
And that's good, because as far as experiencing the local cuisine, that's pretty much all you'll need to spend your money on in Belgium (unless you'd like to try their traditional food).
Luxembourg cuisine? Well, it's pretty much a French, Belgian, and German mix; nothing you haven't tried.
Having a drink by Graslei & Korenlei, the medieval port of Ghent, Belgium
Our point? You don't have to over splurge on food in these 3 countries. 20 Euros a day is enough.
For breakfast, just stick with whatever you get at the hotel, that's free.
Lunch? Just pop into any supermarket and look for what is called a "meal deal". One drink, one side (chips) and a main (sandwich); all for just 4 Euros. Next, plonk yourself down by the canal or in one of the many beautiful parks for a picnic lunch. That's not roughing it out or suffering on holiday, it's called "doing what the locals do".
Being a tourist, you'll want to try the famous Belgian Waffles or some Dutch street food. Set aside another 5 Euros for a mid day snack and a drink.
Now, you're left with 10 Euros for dinner. Fret not, for as low as 5 Euros, you could get a Spaghetti Bolognese, and definitely a pizza or even Chinese food between 7-8 Euros. You'll even have enough left over for a beer! Your other option? A 10 Euro steak at one of the many Argentinean Steakhouses blogs will ask you to avoid because it isn't authentic cuisine. Forget cuisine, a steak is steak, especially for just 10 Euros
Bald Traveller's Recommendation: 20 Euros a day on food (S$36)
High Income Earners: Maybe 45 Euros ($72) for you people.
2. Travel By Coach
Don't buy a rail pass. I repeat, DON'T buy a rail pass.
You'll see many blogs advocating Eu Rail passes when traveling in Europe, or saving money by sleeping in overnight trains. Not in the Benelux Region (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg = Benelux) though. The Benelux rail pass is one of the most worthless rail passes around because the typical places you'll probably visit as a tourist simply don't cover enough miles to justify the cost of the Benelux Pass.
Just stick with Flixbus. They're comfortable, have charging points, and get you across any of these 3 countries hassle free.
Bald Traveller's Recommendation: FlixBus 18 Euros (Amsterdam to Bruges) + 22 Euros (Bruges to Luxemborg)
High Income Earners: The Train
3. Don't Bother Trying To See Everything
Windmills at Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands
Don't beat yourself up over it. It's perfectly normal to want to see everything you can and cram in as many attractions as possible when you're on vacation. Our advice? Take it slow and you'll enjoy your trip more this way.
On a 10 day trip, we'd suggest, 4 days in The Netherlands, 4 days in Belgium, 2 days for Luxembourg (which in our opinion, was pretty boring).
View from the corniche at Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Luxembourg is one of Europe's smallest countries. The city is pretty enough, decked out with fortresses and castles. And being a small country, just 1 hours bus ride will get you to the countryside, which does look like a mini Switzerland.
But if you're already planing to go to Switzerland (which most Singaporeans do), then all that will likely interest you is probably affordable shopping; Luxembourg's main draw. The Rolex's, Chanel's, whatever luxury item you'd like, you'll find it in Luxembourg at arguably one of the cheaper prices around as far "SG's version of Europe" is concerned.
Graslei & Korenlei, the medieval port of Ghent, Belgium
Many people who visit The Netherlands only stop by Belgium as an afterthought. Which is a pity, because Belgium is home to some really magnificent old towns. Bruges, is probably, Belgium's most visited city. "The Girl" and I however, preferred the city of Ghent, which in our opinion was even more beautiful.
The Belfy of Ghent, Belgium
Bruges and Ghent are certainly worth a couple of days each. You'll have to do your own research to see which you prefer. We visited both, but we'd suggest you choose just one as they are pretty similar.
Again, we'd go for Ghent over Bruges, no question about it.
With just 4 days in The Netherlands, we'd suggest allocating it this way.
Day 1 Amsterdam City
Day 2 Amsterdam City + Keukenhof (Tulips)
Day 3 Zaanse Schans (Windmills) + Marken & Volendam (overnight)
Day 4 Volendam + Amsterdam City
There's obviously loads more to see/do in The Netherlands. But, well, we're Singaporeans and we have limited leave. Just don't bother seeing/doing everything.
There are windmills you MUST see..... (Zaanse Schans)
The Red Light District that you MUST go......
You MUST ride a bicycle around like a local for a day......
There are 3 MUST go museums in Amsterdam..... Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House.
And of course, you MUST take a canal boat cruise....(and houseboat tour)
There's just too many MUST's!!! How to see them ALL???
Now in Belgium, you might want to allocate your 4 days this way.
Day 1: Amsterdam to Ghent/or Bruges
Day 2: Ghent/or Bruges
Day 3: Brussels + Dinant
Day 4: Dinant
So again. There are too many sights, stick to "your" MUST's, not some guidebooks/blogs "MUST's.
Average Attraction Price: 10 Euros (S$16), Canal Boat Tour, 8 Euros (Belgium), 14 - 25 Euros (Netherlands), Bikes, 10 Euros. Museum and Transport Attraction Prices (to be explained below)
4. Shop At Local Markets, Not Shopping Streets
The header itself is self explanatory.
All over The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg are local markets where you can find almost anything! Travel souvenirs, bags, vintage watches, paintings, and so much more! All at great prices!
Shopping street? Well, maybe, if you're a sucker for luxury brands; no Hermes or Rolex's in markets last we checked.
5. Cheap things not good, good things not cheap.
Open boat canal tour in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
One of the key attractions in Amsterdam for instance, are the Canal Boat Tours. You'll have a good many canal boat operators offering varying prices, from as low as 14 Euros for a 1 hour, 100 sights tour, cheap ain't it?
That, would be a huge mistake. because for 14 Euros, you'll be cramped up on a stuffy boat together with hordes of other tourists who fell for the same scam. Top up a little, say another 8 Euros more, and go on an "open boat" tour instead. You get a drink, heaps of space to walk up and down, better photos because you don't have to rush and fight for the window seat (like the cruise in the picture below), and also because it's 10 to 1 guide in a boat, you actually can get to ask and get you questions answered by the boat guide.
We'd daresay all these are worth 8 Euros more. Saving money is great yes, but not at the cost of a better experience.
Closed up boat. Cheap canal tour from 14 Euros in Amsterdam
You'll come across many "package/combo" deals combining museum entrance fees with canal boat rides as well for a seemingly very "reasonable" price. Well, they aren't. Once you take up such a "combo deal", the only boat you'll be riding in, is a closed up stuffy one.
8 Euro canal boat ride in Bruges, Belgium
The good news? Good things could also be cheap (if it does sound contradictory).
In Belgium, say you are get Ghent or Bruges. Chilling by the canals dining on Belgium Waffle and washing that down with a hot chocolate certainly would be a great (but expensive) way to spend the afternoon. Instead, you can get just as good Waffles from pop up shops (near the canals) at 4 times lesser the price. Sit by the medieval port and enjoy your waffles there. Or pay for "just one" overpriced hot chocolate at a canal side cafe. After-all, the key enjoyment to be had here is "chilling by the canal"
6. Free Free Free!
Gravensteen Castle, Belgium
Screw the paid tours and go for one of the many free walking tours around the city. Many of these guides are students, but they'll be able to give you a good enough insight about their own city.
Besides walking tours, here's what else is FREE.
Amsterdam (Walking tours, Floating Flower Market, Ferry Ride behind Amsterdam Central to North Amsterdam, The Red Light District, Albert Cuyp Street Market, Open Air Theater.......)
Ghent/Bruges/Brussels (The Counts Castle for anyone under 19, chill at the Graslei and Korenlei medieval port, the Antiques/Fish Markets, Graffiti Street, Church of our Lady, Basilica of the Holy Blood....)
Luxembourg (Enjoy the view by the Corniche, explore the underground passages of the Bock Cliffs, visit castles and cathedrals all within vicinity of the old town/fort.)
7. High End Hostels or Cheap Hotels Within The City Centre
Hostel not Hotel room in Ghent, Belgium. Pretty nice for a hostel ain't it?
I know, Singaporeans MUST have quality accommodation. Trouble is, Singaporeans are also Kiasu and always want the best deals while saving money at the same time.
Here's the problem.
Quality accommodation within the city center is ridiculously expensive, but convenient.
Quality accommodation on the outskirts is certainly more affordable, but it could be a little troublesome to travel to and fro especially if all the things you want to see are in the main area.
The common area in our Hostel in Ghent, Belgium. We watched the World Cup here!
Fortunately if you go on booking.com or hostelworld.com, you'll find a number of "high end" hostels in the best locations right within the city center.
Above is a picture of the hostel "The Girl" and I stayed at in Ghent.
It's no hotel, but great location, great rooms, very decent price.
Private room at a budget hotel in Luxembourg. Nothing fancy, but a sleep is a sleep
Ultimately, what most Singaporeans really need is privacy, (no sharing) and a clean enough toilet preferably near the shopping streets or major attractions.
Above is our private room in Luxembourg. Not the most beautiful design, but clean enough, offers privacy, and near enough to the main shopping street. A decent enough sleep without breaking the bank. 5 star hotels and a swimming pool?
You came to Europe to swim in the pool and use the gym? Really?
8. Stay In The Outskirts + Travel Pass
"Caravan Themed" Hostel in Belgium. A welcome change from hotels.
Here's the opposite of point No.7. Your call.
You could consider staying in the outskirts for a way lower cost, and pay slightly more for a travel pass inclusive of free transport. Buses and trains are convenient/frequent enough in these 3 countries.
And by staying in the outskirts, all we're saying is, get an accommodation off the city center by say a 30min walk or 12 minute bus ride. If you think about it, it's not that far away, considering the money you save.
People sleep in caravans! Indoor camping folks!
Here's the hostel we stayed at in Ghent, Belgium. It was way cheaper than staying in the city center and simply a 12 min bus ride away. Oh, and we got to experience living in a caravan, but indoors, away from dirt and with hot showers! What an experience!
A hotel in the city center? Really?
It looks cramped. but there's really quite a bit of room in here!
It feels great to sit around a campfire, have beers, get dirty, and have a hot shower to walk back to when it's all over.
Town of Marken, The Netherlands
In Amsterdam, instead of staying in the city itself, we'd suggest booking a room in Marken or Volendam.
They are both tourist attractions, but most tourists usually pop by on a day tour. Instead, you might want to consider at least a night here. Overall, it isn't as expensive as a night in Amsterdam Central or Dam Square, and this way, you'll get to enjoy both countryside as well as the city, all on your own time, no hurrying about anywhere.
The pretty houses above? That's Marken.
You can take a ferry for 8.50 from Marken to Volendam or vice versa. On a travel pass, the ferry is free! Also, Marken is less than 45 minutes away from Amsterdam! That's close enough we'd think.
Volendam, The Netherlands
Here's Volendam, a great place to stay and chill buy the sea.
How many canals and bridges do you really need to walk on in Amsterdam anyway?
So there, stay in the out skirts + get a travel pass.
9. Book Online, Book in Advance
Normally, "The Girl" and I would never advocate booking anything online or in advance, because this simply restricts you to a pre-set itinerary, and where's the fun in that?
For the Benelux countries however, accommodation is ridiculously expensive. You should book at least 3 months in advance for a decent price. And if you'd like to visit Amsterdam during the Tulip season for instance, you'd best book a year in advance.
If you already know for sure what you "must's" are, go ahead and book. A good number of museums, entrance fees, travel passes could cost you 5-10% cheap (eg Heinekan Experience) if you booked in advance. For certain attractions (Anne Frank House) if you don't book in advance online, you'll never get a ticket on the day itself.
10. Passes. Do you need them?
Train passes, museum passes, attraction passes. Do you really need them?
Very likely, these passes are only worth it if you plan to visit ALL (or most) of the attractions it entitles you for. If you're there on a 10 day or 2 week vacation, can you really squeeze everything in? Or rather, should you? I mean, how many museums do you need to visit? How many castles or towers you need to go up to?
Train passes as I mentioned in Point 2, are a mistake in the Benelux region because a typical holiday in the Benelux doesn't cover enough miles to make it worthwhile
Passes can help save money if you plan your trip right, but it does make you rush more than necessary, and that takes some fun away from the trip. If you were going to Zaanse Schans to see the Windmils, you'd likely buy the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket for 18.5 Euros (which also gives you free unlimited transport for the day). But for that 18.50 Euros to make sense from a cost savings point of view, you'd have to cram in Marken and Volendam, as well as perhaps attractions within Amsterdam City itself that are too far to walk to actually save a lot of money.
Perhaps the question to ask yourself is; are you really saving? Or would you be trying to cram as many things as possible to make it seem like it was worth it?
Windmills at Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands
SG Tourist on a Budget
Accommodation (mostly hostel dorms with one night in a private room) :S$341
Food (Free hostel breakfast + supermarket takeout lunch + tea break + dinner in a restaurant): S$324
Transport (Assuming you buy a 24hr travel pass everyday + 1 day pass to the suburbs + ferry): S$205
Attractions: (No need to see everything, move at your own pace, just go for your "Musts"): S$232
Total: S$1,102 (Okay, it's not exactly $1,000 SGD, but close enough)
Note: You COULD do it for significantly LESS than $1,000 SGD. If say you decided to cook instead of eating out for every meal, or couch-surf instead of paying for accommodation, and walk (yes, walking is very do-able) instead of spending money on transport. But then again, it's your holiday, you decide.
Typical SG Tourist
Accommodation: (Assuming 2 to share a room,100% private rooms mostly in the city centre) S$503
Food: (Free Hotel Breakfast + lunch in cafe + tea break + snack + dinner in restaurant) S$648
Transport: (You save on this because of 6 days of travel passes, just 3 days to pay for) S$126
Attractions: (3 days pass in Belgium & Amsterdam each + 3 days of adhoc attractions) S$324
Total: $1,601 SGD
Yeah, factor those in yourself. Some rather fly budget, and some insist on SIA. Others don't mind stop overs, and there are those (like us), who insist on direct flights only.
Well, we can't factor in the cost of your Rolex purchase or Hermes can we? And no, you shouldn't buy magnets for your colleagues, they frankly don't want them. It just makes them feel obligated to buy something for your the next time they're on holiday.