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 me.
Well, it’s not only for me. It’s for my friend Kathy as well. But then our tastes and travel styles are so similar I am confident that whatever I plan Kathy will like.
Building the Itinerary
After carefully crafting 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 sharing it with Kathy, who is equally happy with it, we decided to open it up to other travellers.
I appreciate the advantages of solo travel, but I also 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 and I had decided not to organise and host group trips for a while and concentrate on areas other areas of our businesses and for me, a new direction.
However, 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!
To cut a long story short (not something I’m good at!) there was a combination of factors that made us decide to host a group trip again.
And I really want Kathy to teach me how to create one of these beautiful journals!
Our original Van Gogh to Monet trip has now morphed into the Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam trip 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. And the whole trip is fully organised by me, of course.
Paris, Bruges & Amsterdam Itinerary
First stop, Paris
My previous experience in Paris was not the best. But I have changed my mind about going back to Paris and am looking forward to experiencing it all over again.
I am excited to be returning to Monet’s Gardens and exploring Giverny and Vernon in more depth.
Like travelling to any city, it can get overwhelming. You try and see all the “must see” sights and it’s not until you return that you can really focus on the things you loved, like the Musee l’Orangerie, and add 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 to be out of the main part of Paris. The views over Paris from Sacré Cœur are stunning!
Because Kathy is an artist, and I am an art lover and a dabbler, I thought this would be an interesting area for us 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 fit for us. 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 to visiting. Once the tourist 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.
And don’t even get me started on how much I love my early morning walks. Venice was like a different world in the morning. I plan on doing the same in Montmartre.
Things to Do
Montmartre Walking Tour
I plan on joining a City Free Walking Tour again to show us around Montmartre. Chris hosted the tour on our 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).
We visited Notre Dame last time and I missed this. I don’t intend on missing it again. Sainte Chapelle, a beautiful gothic style cathedral with stunning stained glass windows.
This museum compliments our 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 lillies 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, we will also be going to Musee d’Orsay, located in an old Orsay Train Station.
Jardin des Tuileries
And because we are right next to it I plan on taking a break in these beautiful gardens. Which of course, will be the perfect place to stop and sketch and catch our 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.
View from Arc de Triomphe
Day Trip to Monet’s Gardens
One of our days will be spent visiting Monet’s Gardens in Giverny. We will catch the train from St Lazare Station for the 45-minute trip to Vernon where will take the bus to Giverny. From there we will explore Monet’s beautiful gardens.
The last time I was here we were on a bike tour, which was fantastic, but it meant we were on a time limit. I am looking forward to taking my time wandering. Late September should see fewer crowds which will be great, and fingers crossed the Autumn colours will have made an appearance.
I plan on discovering more about Giverny and Vernon, perhaps another 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
This would not be my recommendation, to go up the tower. Security is now 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 will be using also runs tours in the Latin Quarter. If we have the time, and the inclination then this would be my preference. An easy way to see another, although another touristy area, of Paris.
I know, I know. This is a bit touristy. But I thought our travellers might like to see it, maybe to shop, maybe just to look, the choice is theirs. We won’t be travelling in peak 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 will suggest printing one of the Louvre’s Thematic Trail to follow.
They really 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, we will be flexible and see whatever else we find along the way. For anyone that has been to Paris before or any other city for that matter, it would be 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.
Now it will be time to jump on a train to our next destination.
Goodbye Paris, hello Bruges.
Bruges. Beautiful Bruges.
I am looking forward to getting know you. Explore your laneways and canals. Take early morning walks and enjoy downtime in your 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 we want to see is in a walkable distance. Other than that, we will catch the train or boats to venture out on day trips.
Things to Do
I can see us 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 for us to see this side of Bruges.
Like all the places we visit there will be a walking tour to get us acquainted with our 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.
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 from 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 we are in Bruges we will venture elsewhere on a day trip, to get a taste of what other delights Belgium has to offer. So far, my choices would be Ghent or Brussels. Or I might leave it open and see what comes up while we are there and any recommendations we get from the locals.
If we are feeling spritely we might climb the 366 of the Belfort (belfry) and enjoy stunning views over Bruges.
Artisans and Lace Makers
We are a creative 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.
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 you 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’m looking forward to taking it easy in Bruges. Time to catch our breath after Paris, and time to relax and enjoy ourselves. I don’t believe in rushing around, throw in a day trip and daily explorations to different parts of the city and I believe our time in Belgium will be well spent.
Time spent sketching the beautiful neighbourhoods and canals. I don’t think it will matter where we go, Bruges is beautiful and I can’t wait to be there.
I’m looking forward to going back to The Netherlands. To finally visit without constraints. The last time I was there was with my kids, which was wonderful, but travelling with your children even though they were a teen and preteen, is not the same as travelling with like-minded people who are not going to complain to me 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.
Staying 5 Nights in Amsterdam
Five nights in Amsterdam will give us 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 will be my third visit. And the first one without any kids or teenagers. I can’t wait! 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 clos to the Rijksmuseum if we 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 this so handy to get around the city. And when you want a bit of a rest, just stay on and enjoy the views of this beautiful city from its canals.
This one I’m not sure about. Do we need to do a walking tour if we have the canal bus pass for two days? I understand you will be seeing different parts of the city and I love to have a chat to the guide to get some local recommendations but I’m not sure. And I think we may be a little tired by this stage. Travelling can be exhausting even if we are going at a slower pace. I am going to wait and see with this one. If we don’t do it I will 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.
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.
Located in Museum Square and not far from the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijks Museum is filled with artworks and artefacts. If we are still in an arty mood after the Van Gogh Museum then this is an option, or we can come back later in our visit.
Another cousin (I have lots!) has told me I need to go here. I am a foodie and says I will love it! 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 through 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 so that you can try it. Or not. 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.
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. Yes, I am crying because these bad boys are not gluten free.
As you can see Amsterdam has so much to see and do. Our 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 we will be sketching, painting and writing in our beautiful watercolour journals. The perfect souvenir to bring home.
Here are some photos from our previous trip. As you can see we will sketch and paint anywhere!
Kathy’s Watercolour Journal
Bring on September!
We have a few places left on this trip. If you think you would like to join us you can see the full details and inclusions for our Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam trip here.
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