I am in trip planning mode again. When am I not in trip planning mode? I am always creating itineraries, but this one is a little different – Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam.
Sometimes I am planning with my client’s interests in mind and sometimes it is for my Travel Resources Itineraries Section.
But planning this Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam trip is different. Because it’s for my friend Kathy. Our tastes are very similar so it’s been a pleasure planning it.
Building the Itinerary
I carefully crafted an itinerary that I love (and I know I have it right when I feel the tingle of excitement and urge to get on a plane, NOW!) and shared it with Kathy, who is equally happy with it. She will be using it to take a group of artists travelling where they can experience European culture and create travel journals along the way.
Although not a huge fan of tour groups for myself, I can appreciate the advantages of group travel. For those who don’t want to travel on their own to have the opportunity to travel with a small group of like-minded people is priceless. Particularly trips that cater to your interests.
Kathy has recently been running Pen & Watercolour Wash Workshops using watercolour journals. She created a gorgeous travel journal from our trip to Italy and thought others might like to have a go too. And boy was she right. Her students loved it!
The original Van Gogh to Monet trip has now morphed into the Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam trip that Kathy will host, for those not only wanting to travel but who want to learn the skills to create a beautiful Pen & Watercolour Journal along the way with Kathy’s tuition and guidance.
Paris, Bruges & Amsterdam Itinerary
First stop, Paris
My previous experience in Paris was not the best. But I know that’s not how it is for everyone. I will consider going back to Paris at some stage, and I am sure Kathy’s experience will be wonderful as it will be her first time visiting.
As an artist, it has been a dream of Kathy’s to visit Monet’s Gardens and to explore Giverny and Vernon.
Like travelling to any city, it can get overwhelming. You try and see all the “must see” sights so it is crucial when planning an itinerary for a group that you don’t cram too much in, it’s a delicate balance of seeing the sights, time to paint, and time to relax. It’s a joy to include places like the Musee l’Orangerie and similar activities to make the trip more bespoke.
Staying 4 Nights in Montmartre
I really liked this area from my last visit and thought it would be nice for Kathy’s group to be out of the main part of Paris. The views over Paris from Sacré Cœur are stunning!
Because Kathy is an artist, I thought this would be an interesting area for her to explore. Montmartre was once home to artists like Degas, Picasso and van Gogh just to name a few, and you can still walk around Place du Tertre and see artists painting and selling their work. The artists here must have an official license and there is a 10-year waiting list to get one!
With the artistic bohemian vibe of the area, I thought Montmartre would be the perfect location to stay. Some have said it is touristy but isn’t a lot of Paris touristy? From experience I have found staying in a place is very different from visiting. Once the tourists leave at the end of the day you are left with the heart and soul of a place, at your disposal to explore at will.
Things to Do
Montmartre Walking Tour
I have included a City Free Walking Tour for the group to join to show them around Montmartre. Chris hosted the tour on my last visit and even my kids loved it (by the way if you join a free walking tour please pay a tip that’s fair).
Notre Dame is a well-known tourist stop, but not far from there is Sainte Chapelle, a beautiful gothic style cathedral with stunning stained glass windows. Imagine what a bunch of artists can do with this as inspiration!
This museum compliments the day trip to Monet’s Gardens perfectly. The Musee l’Orangerie is home to Monet’s Water Lillies with his huge works housed in two large round rooms. I could sit there for hours looking at those paintings, his water lilies captured in different light, seasons and moods. The permanent collection downstairs is wonderful too including the work of Picasso, Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Rousseau, Utrillo and more.
On the art trail, the group will also be going to Musee d’Orsay, located in an old Orsay Train Station. With a group, it may be worthwhile booking ahead and getting a reserved access ticket so that time can be maximised.
Jardin des Tuileries
And because they will be right next to Jardin des Tuileries they can take a break in these beautiful gardens. Which of course, will be the perfect place to stop and sketch and catch their breath.
Arc de Triomphe
With security tight and long waiting times at the Eiffel Tower, I thought it would be a nice alternative to climb the Arc de Triomphe to see the Eiffel Tower in all its glory instead of lining up for hours.
View from Arc de Triomphe
Day Trip to Monet’s Gardens
On the day they visit Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, they will catch the train from St Lazare Station for the 45-minute trip to Vernon. From there they will take the bus to Giverny and onto exploring Monet’s beautiful gardens.
The last time I was there I was on a bike tour, which was fantastic, but I don’t believe that would be a good fit for this group. Plus they would like more time to wander and not be on a tight schedule. Hopefully, they will travel at a time of year with fewer crowds than we encountered in late September, so they get the chance to do some sketching. I have suggested they try and explore more of Giverny and Vernon, perhaps a picnic in the park. I mean when in France some cheese, a baguette and wine is a must, don’t you think?
The Eiffel Tower
It would not be my recommendation, to go up the tower. Security is tight, and the queues even longer than when I was there. And I waited over 2 hours. But it is easy for me to say don’t do it when I have done it. But did I think it was worth it? Not at all. But hey, that’s me.
Latin Quarter Walking Tour
The same company that I have recommended for the walking tour in Montmartre also runs tours in the Latin Quarter. If they have the time and inclination, then this would be a great way to see another area of Paris.
I know, I know. This is a bit touristy. But I thought the group might like to see it, maybe to shop, maybe just to look, the choice is theirs. I am always looking for places that will inspire artists. ak season so fingers crossed there will be fewer people.
As I type I know this is a big ask. It is a massive place and one you cannot do justice to with an hour or two. However, if anyone would like to visit I suggest printing one of the Louvre’s Thematic Trail to follow.
The thematic trails are just a taste of what the Louvre has to offer, but it is a good and efficient way to make your way around in a short space of time. I gave the trail to the kids to navigate and follow on our last visit and it worked well.
And as with all my itineraries, it will be flexible so Kathy can fit in whatever else she finds along the way without sacrificing anything else. For anyone that has been to Paris before or any other city for that matter, you would understand that it is impossible to fit everything in.
I like to keep plans open when I travel. I always over plan but most times once I have adjusted to a new place, I like to just go with the flow. Especially when it isn’t my first time there. I try and plan that way for my client’s as well.
Now it will be time to jump on a train to their next destination.
Goodbye Paris, hello Bruges.
Bruges. Beautiful Bruges.
I am sure Kathy and her group will love Bruges. They will explore the laneways and canals. Take early morning walks and enjoy downtime in the beautiful parks. And let’s not forget chocolate.
Belgium Chocolate – need I say more?
Staying 5 Nights in Bruges
Bruges is not big and nearly everything to see is in a walkable distance. Other than that, the group will catch the train or boats to venture out on day trips.
Things to Do
I can see them now, sipping coffee at a lovely little café in the Markt, journal in hand sketching, painting, journaling. Popping into the shops surrounding the square and browsing stalls at the market (only on a Wednesday).
Canal Boat Tour
Bruges has beautiful canals and what better way to see it than a canal cruise. A little touristy I know, but a great way to see this side of Bruges.
Like all the places we visit there will be a walking tour to get them acquainted with their new destination. I have earmarked the Legends of Bruges Tour. I also find the guides for these tours are a good source of information for places to eat, out of the way areas to visit and local knowledge.
The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde
Now a convent for nuns of the Order of S. Benedict, this complex of 30 white houses, including a church, was once home of Beguines. Founded in 1245 the Beguinage is a world heritage site.
Old St John’s Hospital Museum
Sint-Janshospitaal is a medieval hospital that once cared for the poor and sick, caring for patients from the 12th century to the 1900’s. Now a museum and one of the oldest preserved hospitals in Europe you can visit the wards, the chapel and view the array of artwork collected by the nuns, medical instruments and archives.
The Groeningemuseum is famous for its collection of Flemish Primitive paintings and also including 18th and 19th-century neoclassical pieces, work from Flemish Expressionism and post-war modern art.
Bruges’ City Ramparts
A green place around the city where we can see the four remaining windmills and medieval gates. A great place to relax, and sketch. Maybe enjoy a picnic.
Built in the 14th century these almhouses were built to house the aged, poor and sick. Each set of the Almhouses also had a chapel and a small central garden. Today these houses have been updated and still house the elderly. Visitors are welcome to visit the garden but are asked to be respectful of the people living there.
At least one of the days the group is in Bruges they will venture elsewhere on a day trip, to get a taste of what other delights Belgium has to offer. So far, my suggestions would be Ghent or Brussels. Or Kathy may leave it open and see what comes up while she is there and any recommendations she may get from the locals.
If the group is feeling spritely they might climb the 366 of the Belfort (belfry) and enjoy stunning views over Bruges.
Artisans and Lace Makers
They are an artistic bunch after all so why not visit the artisans of the area including the lace makers. I love nothing more than to buy something locally made to take home as a souvenir and I am sure it will be a hit with Kathy’s group too.
I think a stop at the Old Chocolate House is a must, just to try the hot chocolate. But a little further out of the centre they will find Spegelaere chocolaterie, somewhat more popular with the locals and possibly worth the walk to find it.
There is more you can do, visit other museums and churches or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
But I think the group might appreciate taking it easy in Bruges. Time to catch their breath after Paris, and time to relax and enjoy themselves. I don’t believe in rushing around, throw in a day trip and daily explorations to different parts of the city and I believe their time in Belgium will be well spent.
Time spent sketching the beautiful neighbourhoods and canals. I don’t think it will matter where they go, Bruges is beautiful.
I enjoyed planning this part of the trip for the group. The last time I was in Amsterdam was with my kids, a little different from what the group will experience, travelling with like-minded people who are not going to complain that they are bored after they have been in the Van Gogh Museum for 10 minutes.
Oh, the luxury of taking as much time as I want. I wish I was joining them.
Staying 5 Nights in Amsterdam
Five nights in Amsterdam will give the group plenty of time to explore the city and to jump on a train and explore cities like Leiden, Utrecht or The Hague.
Van Gogh Museum
This is my favourite museum in Amsterdam and I am sure Kathy will love it too. My all-time favourite van Gogh painting is the Sweet Almond Blossom.
It wasn’t on display last time I visited, I hope it’s there this time!
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, February 1890. Credits: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Albert Cuyp Markt
I love this market! From food, clothes, to antiques, homewares and everything in between. Browsing this market is a great way to spend a few hours. Do some shopping, pick up some souvenirs and have lunch.
Located in De Pijp, the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam with a lively vibe we should have some fun exploring. And it’s close to the Rijksmuseum if they decide to visit.
Hop on Hop off Canal Bus
Yes, its touristy and I have never been on a hop on hop off bus, but I found the Hop on Hop off Canal Bus so handy to get around the city. You can purchase a 24-hour or 48-hour ticket. I thought felt that the 24-hour pass was more than enough, but I guess it will depend on how long you are in the city and how many sites you want to see.
And when you want a bit of a rest, just stay on and enjoy the views of this beautiful city from its canals. It’s a convenient way to get a group around the city.
This one I’m not sure about. Do they need to do a walking tour if they have the canal bus pass for two days? I understand you will be seeing different parts of the city and it’s great to have a chat to the guide to get some local recommendations but I’m not sure. And I think they may be a little tired by this stage. Travelling can be exhausting even if we are going at a slower pace. I will include the details and then Kathy can wait and see and organise it herself once there. If she doesn’t do it she can find something else to do in its place, perhaps a picnic in Vondelpark
On my last visit to Amsterdam, my cousin suggested we try a rijstafel lunch. So we did. And we loved it. Holland has a huge Indonesian influence and that’s what this is. Literally translated it means Rice Table and it is a selection of small Indonesian dishes as well as rice that everyone shares. Not your typical Dutch meal, but one I very much enjoyed and perfect for a group to enjoy together. Sampurna would be my recommendation.
De 9 Straatjes (the nine streets)
A hip area located in the Jordaan Neighbourhood filled with interesting shops including antiques, second hand, crafts and quirky wares. The neighbourhood itself is worth exploring.
Anne Frank House
I cried my way through the Anne Frank House. The kids were mortified. But then I get very emotional. I would highly recommend any traveller to come here. I will include it on the optional activities list.
Located in Museum Square and not far from the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum is filled with artworks and artefacts. If they are still in an arty mood after the Van Gogh Museum then this is an option, or they can come back later in their visit.
Another cousin (I have lots!) has told me this is the place to go for food. So who am I to not take good advice! The Foodhallen is filled to the brim with bars and food stalls with cuisine from all over the world.
If you haven’t already guessed by now, I have Dutch heritage. Both my parents are/were Dutch. They took me to Holland twice as a child and I have been to visit twice as an adult. I plan on travelling to The Netherlands with my partner Dan at some stage and will try and catch up with my extensive extended family.
I want to share some of my favourite Dutch food with the group so they can try some authentic cuisine. But be warned! It’s not to everyone’s taste!
Frites and Mayo (we can get these in Belgium too).
The Dutch eat mayonnaise on their fries. And trust me, because I grew up with this, it’s the best. I always eat my fries with mayonnaise, it’s the only way to go.
Yep, you read correctly, Herring. Promise you won’t throw up? But it is raw herring served with raw onion. And it’s one of my all-time favourite foods. Be brave. Get it from a street vendor. You might just love it!
This may suit you better, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel sauce. I am gluten intolerant so unable to eat them, but I promise you will love them.
Dutch croquettes or kroketten were my absolute favourite as a kid. And when we visited Holland I loved getting them from the vending walls. Put your money in, open the little door and there was your piece of heaven!
These are usually served in cafes with a piece of bread, brodje, and mustard.
As you can see Amsterdam has so much to see and do. The group’s time will be easily filled.
Designing Group Itineraries
When I design itineraries for travel groups I purposely don’t cram every day full of activities. Because the beauty of travel is having time to see where the day takes you, to be follow up on a recommendation, or revisit a place that you want to explore more.
You just never know what you will find. And all the while they will be sketching, painting and writing in their beautiful watercolour journals. The perfect souvenir to bring home.
Here are some photos from our previous trip. As you can see Kathy’s painting groups will sketch and paint anywhere!
Kathy’s Watercolour Journal
Have fun with your group Kathy. I can’t wait to see the photos.
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