This post's overview:
- 1 Useful links:
- 2 UK to France & Belgium by car: the FAQs
- 3 The overview of the itinerary for 3 days in Belgium and France by car – Lille to Bruges
- 4 3-day France & Belgium itinerary by car: Lille, Durbuy, Antwerp, Bruges & more
- 4.1 Day 0: Driving to Lille from England
- 4.2 Day 1: Exploring Lille, heading over to Belgium: Dinant & Durbuy
- 4.3 Day 2: Liege, Leuven and Antwerp
- 4.4 Day 3: Ghent and Bruges, driving back to England
- 5 Summary: 3-day itinerary for a road trip around Belgium and France
- 6 Other articles you might like:
Thinking of leaving the UK for a short road trip across the English Channel? I will share with you our itinerary for 3 days in Northern France and Belgium by car. We were able to explore the closest bit of continental Europe on a budget and get to know beautiful Lille in France and the best places to visit in Belgium. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Here’s the overview of all the links mentioned in this post, so you have them all in one place.
Eurotunnel tickets: book here
Travel insurance: Visitors Coverage
UK to France & Belgium by car: the FAQs
What’s the best time to travel to France & Belgium by car from England?
If you’re wondering what’s the best time to travel to Belgium by car from London, it really depends on when you want to travel. The weather in Belgium and that bit of France is pretty much identical to the weather in London or South-East England. We went to Belgium and France in September and weren’t very lucky with the weather, as it rained a lot and was pretty chilly, but we still enjoyed it a lot!
Where to rent a car in England if you don’t have one
If you don’t have a car in England, you can definitely rent one. You just need to double-check if the car is authorised to exit the UK. We always use Rentalcars.com for car rentals in the UK unless we use our own car.
The overview of the itinerary for 3 days in Belgium and France by car – Lille to Bruges
Day 0: depart from your city after work, night in Lille at
Day 1: Lille in the morning, Dinant, Durbuy and night in Liege at YUST
Day 2: Leuven and Antwerp, night at Tulip Inn
Day 3: Ghent, Bruges and the drive back home
3-day France & Belgium itinerary by car: Lille, Durbuy, Antwerp, Bruges & more
Day 0: Driving to Lille from England
For this trip, we only bought our Eurotunnel tickets a few days in advance, as this trip was pretty spontaneous. However, as the Eurotunnel has some discount for shorter trips/weekend breaks, it wasn’t too expensive – £210 for the return tickets and we were 4 people in the car.
We left London around 5:45pm on Friday and it took us just under 2 hours to get to Folkestone, where the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal was located. Our departure was scheduled at 21:30, so we arrived just on time. With Eurotunnel, you always need to arrive at least 1 hour before your departure time, otherwise, you won’t be able to board. There is, however, a small shopping mall with a WHS Smith, Starbucks and a couple of other shops, where you can spend some time if you arrive early. However, most of the shops were already closed at 8pm.
Our Eurotunnel experience
We waited for our departure and once our number was displayed on the screen, we started heading towards the passport control and boarding lanes. We made it on time and departed right on time. The whole journey only takes about 30-35 minutes once you board the train in your car. While in the train, you can exit your car, go to the toilets or sleep.
Driving to Lille
Once we arrived in France, we just left the train and since the passport control was on the British side only, we immediately entered a motorway and started driving towards Lille. In Lille, we booked a very affordable hotel slightly outside the city called B&B Hotel Lille Centre Grand Palais. It had covered parking (for additional 7 Euros per night) and a 24-hour reception, so we could check in after midnight. We arrived around 0:45 am, checked in and went to sleep right away.
Day 1: Exploring Lille, heading over to Belgium: Dinant & Durbuy
Exploring the Old Town of Lille
We picked Lille as our first destination for two reasons. First, it was very conveniently located – just on the way to South-East Belgium, which we really wanted to visit. Secondly, I’ve heard great things about Lille and really wanted to see it. Lille was also pretty close to Dunkirk, and that meant that we didn’t need to drive for hours before arriving to our hotel to sleep since it was already pretty late.
If you like sightseeing, I recommend taking one of the short walking tours of the city like this tour, for example. You will be able to learn a lot about the history of the city! In case you just want to see the city without taking a tour, that’s also a good idea. The Old Town of Lille isn’t huge, so you’ll be able to see a lot in just a few hours. There are plenty of nice bakeries where you can have breakfast as well! However, there are even more patisseries, and a lot of them are impressive! We went to L’Ogre de Carouselberg and tried 4 different things – all of them were exquisite!
A few hours later, we decided to visit the main market of Lille, however, it can definitely be skipped, as it’s a good place to buy groceries, but not a must-visit place if you’re just a tourist looking for some snacks and souvenirs!
Our next destination was already in Belgium. We drove to Dinant for almost 2 hours with a short stop at a petrol station to buy some snacks to eat for lunch. I saw Dinant in plenty of lists of the most beautiful towns to visit in Belgium and needed to add it to our itinerary for our very short weekend road trip around Belgium. Dinant is a very small city/town famous for its music-related tourism, as Dinant is the birthplace of the saxophone. Dinant is also incredibly picturesque. We spent about 45 minutes there just walking around and enjoying the beautiful landscapes. There are also a couple of cafes where you can sit down for a coffee and a dessert, however, we haven’t seen many restraints – most of the places were takeaways, kebabs and chippies. If you’re hungry and would like to eat something nice for dinner, I recommend waiting until the next town, Durbuy, where there are more options!
Unfortunately, we were very unlucky with the weather – it was raining a lot in Dinant; hence we had to cut out time there short!
We drove another 45 minutes and reached Durbuy – the smallest city in the world. Durbuy is a stunning medieval village (even though it calls itself a city, it’s realistically a village) with a population of 400 people. However, Durbuy gets pretty crowded with tourists – and they come from all directions, as Durbuy is just around the corner from Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France! Durbuy has plenty of restaurants, although the best and most impressive ones you need to book in advance, bars and cafes (those you can visit without a booking). There are also some lovely souvenir shops and even a couple of hotels. There is also a stunning castle right in the heart of Durbuy, but it’s private – hence, it’s not possible to visit it.
Night in Liege
It was already getting late, so our next destination was our hotel with the goal of sleeping. We booked YUST Liege because of the very convenient location of Liege – it was almost in the middle between Durbuy and Leuven, and we didn’t want to have any drives longer than 1 hour. Liege cut the 1.6-hour drive into two 50-minute drives and gave us an opportunity to visit another place in Belgium. YUST is a brand-new hotel close to the train station of Liege and it was amazing – brand new, stylish and very enjoyable! It was also very affordable! You can check the price and availability of YUST Liege here >>
Day 2: Liege, Leuven and Antwerp
We spent the morning walking around Liege. We haven’t found Liege in any lists of the must-visit cities in Belgium and that’s because Liege is not a touristy city. There isn’t much to see, and overall, it’s not pretty, especially on a cold and rainy day in autumn. However, Liege has amazing waffles, and it’s known as the city with the best waffles in Belgium. We found a bakery that had the most amazing, super fresh waffles – and I must admit that these waffles were the best I’ve tried in my life. The bakery is called Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette – and it’s a must-visit place in Liege!
Our next destination in Belgium by car itinerary was Leuven. Leuven is a small city just outside Brussels that is famous for its beer and its university, which used to be the most famous and important university in Europe up until the 14th century. Leuven’s main square is impressive and the Old Town is lovely! We had lunch in Leuven in a very beautiful historical traditional Belgian restaurant called Troubadour.
After another 50 minutes, we arrived at our final destination of our second day in Belgium – Antwerp. We booked a hotel outside the city centre because it was very difficult to find a good affordable hotel with parking in the city centre. Hence we chose Tulip Inn located circa 40 minutes walk from the city centre or 15 minutes by public transport.
Antwerp is one of the most important cities in Belgium, and it’s also incredibly touristic. Antwerp always played a very important role in the history of Europe as a large trading port and was always a very rich city because of that. It has plenty of incredible museums and landmarks and if you have an opportunity, I recommend taking a sightseeing tour of Antwerp like this one (some of the tours depart in the afternoon, perfect for this itinerary).
However, in terms of architecture, I didn’t find Antwerp as impressive as Bruges or Ghent, for example. Yet, it’s an important and very exciting city to visit in Belgium!
Once you’re done with all the sightseeing, you can visit Elfde Gebod – probably the most unique bar in Belgium. It’s located right next to a cathedral and, honestly, looks like a church inside – with all the icons, paintings and decorations. If that doesn’t scare you or put you off – there are plenty of traditional Belgian beers and dishes you can try! If you want to eat, I recommend booking in advance, however, if you arrive around 5pm, it shouldn’t be too busy and you might be able to get a table without a reservation.
If you like Belgian beer, another must-visit place is Bar Central – it has over 500 different types of beers! We tried a lot of beers we have never seen before.
Day 3: Ghent and Bruges, driving back to England
On the morning of our last day in Belgium, we drove to Ghent (it took around 50 minutes) and decided to have breakfast there. We found a lovely breakfast/brunch place called STEK and it was delicious. All four of us loved it!
In Ghent, we finally had luck with the weather – it was sunny and relatively warm and it was a pleasure to walk around the city. Ghent is much smaller compared to Antwerp, and it’s also more compact, so you can see most of the Old Town in about 1-2 hours. You would probably need a bit longer if you decide to visit the castle in the heart of Ghent as well. The castle was built in the 12th century and it’s impressive from the outside! Overall, Ghent is a very beautiful city and as I mentioned before, I found it even more impressive than Antwerp.
Bruges is just 45 minutes away from Ghent and it’s a must-visit city in Belgium. If you could only visit two cities in Belgium, I’d recommend visiting Bruges and Ghent! Bruges would be the highlight, though, as Bruges is stunning. It was my second time in Bruges, and I liked it even more the second time. Possibly, because we didn’t need to run around the city to see as much as possible with the need to visit every single street in the city centre. Instead, we took some time, walked around the most beautiful locations and visited a lot of chocolate shops. There are so many stores selling chocolate in Bruges, some of them selling very unique handmade chocolate that you can’t find outside Belgium. We bought chocolate from three stores – one in Antwerp and two in Bruges and all of the chocolates were so different, yet equally delicious!
In Bruges, you can also take a walking tour like this one, for example. Or, in the weather permits, you can take a boat tour, where you can also learn more about the history of Bruges! Or, alternatively, this tour is the best of both – it includes a boat ride and a walking tour.
In total, we spent about 5 hours in Bruges, including lunch. However, there is just so much to see and do, I totally would come back to Bruges for the 3rd time and stay there for a weekend.
Driving back to England from Bruges
Bruges’s location is perfect for driving back to the UK – it’s just 1 hour and 15 minutes away from the Eurotunnel terminal. We did have a few delays on the way back to England, however, we were able to get home before 11 pm. The journey back is exactly the same as the outward journey, so there is no need to go into extra detail (it’s identical, even the shops in the terminal are the same).
Summary: 3-day itinerary for a road trip around Belgium and France
I hope you found this itinerary for France and Belgium by car via Eurotunnel useful and added a few new locations to your itinerary. If you look at the map of this itinerary, you will notice that Durbuy and Dinant (as well as Liege) are quite far from the rest of the locations in Belgium.
If you are only planning to visit Belgium for a weekend, I recommend dropping Lille and starting the trip in Bruges instead and then heading to Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven – that would be more than enough for just 2 days in Belgium by car!
If you have any questions, you can send me a message on Instagram! You can find me as @lizatripsget!