Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Beyond Art: Great Entertainment at 10 Top New York City Museums

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Breaking the Waves, Works & Process,
The Gugg

In museums all over town, there's lots more happening than the exhibits on the walls: Music, Dance & Family Fun. New York City museums have become de facto performing arts centers with exciting events, often thematically tied into what's on view. Here's a small sampling to get you started:
The Guggenheim
1071 Fifth Ave (at 88th St); www.guggenheim.org/new-york
Throughout the year, there are several top-notch, special events, so be sure to check the Performance calendarWorks & Process: In an intimate theater space, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this performing arts series gives you the opportunity to see new works by some of the most acclaimed, international creators and performers in the world.
Peter & the Wolf

For the Holidays: Don't miss the divine Isaac Mizrahi production of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and the Rotunda Holiday Concerts--fun for children and adults!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fuentidueña Chapel, Cloisters

1000 Firth Ave (at 82nd St); www.metmuseum.org
There is always something cultural happening at the museum from concerts to lectures to site-specific performances. 
MetLiveArts: This series offers interesting performances, commissions, and world premieres in the museum's theater. Site-specific events are set in unique gallery spaces throughout the museum.
The Met Cloisters - Concerts www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters
In the beautiful, medieval Cloisters' museum in Fort Tyron Park, concerts are held in the splendid, 12th-century Fuentidueña Chapel, with wonderful acoustics. (Concert tickets include free, same-day museum admission.)

The Jewish Museum
Don Byron Band, Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave (at 92nd St); www.thejewishmuseum.org
The museum offers an amazing range of cultural programs from interesting discussions with artists and curators (AM at the JM), to talks by contemporary authors and thinkers, concerts, and other performances and workshops inspired by exhibitions on view.

Museum of the City of New York

1220 Fifth Ave (at 103rd St); www.mcny.org
This museum, devoted to New York City history, presents fascinating events and talks illuminating New York's past and imagining the city's future. Check out the Stories & Events calendar. 
For the Holidays: Learn how to make ornaments & snow globes!

El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Ave (at 104th St); www.elmuseo.org
The museum focuses on Latino arts and culture. Its' bilingual programs, festivals, and special events celebrate the 
rich cultural heritage of the Caribbean and Latin America. Get ready to party! 

Rubin Museum of Art

150 West 17 St; www.rmanyc.org

Jazz, Rubin

The museum, dedicated to the culture of the Himalayas, India, and neighboring regions, is also a wonderful place to see international films, hear great jazz, and be inspired by interesting talks and performances. The museum is open late on Fridays, so in addition to soaking up the culture, be sure to stop by the Café Serai/K2 Lounge; it's a neighborhood hot spot. 
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place; mjhnyc.org
While not as well known as The Jewish Museum, MJH, located downtown by Battery Park, presents a broad tapestry of Jewish life in the 20th and 21st centuries—before, during, and after the Holocaust. Hence, the engrossing programs include discussions, films, plays, and concerts that highlight the richness of Jewish culture and ideas. (There's also an Andy Goldsworthy stone garden really worth seeing and great views of the Statue of Liberty.)

99 Gansevoort St; www.whitney.org
Terrace, Whitney
In a downtown area, recently made hip by the fabulous High Line walkway, 20th- and 21st-century American art is celebrated in the museum's new building abuzz with activity. The Whitney Biennial is one of the museum's signature events, along with an exciting, eclectic mix of performances and talks on a regular basis that are tied into current exhibits. Best feature: The "art terraces" on every level with stunning views of New York and the Hudson River. 

American Museum of Natural History
Sleepover, AMNH

Central Park West at 79th St; www.amnh.org
The museum is a treasure trove of discoveries for kids as well as adults. While you might know about all the wonderful activities for children, did you know that adults can also do "A Night at the Museum" sleepover, enjoy cocktails and conversation at the after-hours SciCafe evenings, and participate in family-fun cultural events, themed to tie-in with current exhibits? There's a lot more going on here than dinosaur bones!

Brooklyn Museum of Art
The Bang Group, BMA

200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn; www.brooklynmuseum.org
In addition to way-cool exhibits, BMA offers a variety of interesting events for adults, teens, and kids. These include talks, performances, films, and workshops that enhance the museum’s current exhibits and permanent collection. Every month, there's also free First Saturdays which usually feature music, dancing and a film, plus museum admission.

Editor's Note: Some of these wonderful, special museum events are free with admission, others require a separate ticket and/or booking in advance. Be sure to check the museum's website. And, when you enter any museum, be sure to read the signs ("suggested" admission means pay any amount not the $20+ listed). Also, many museums have free or "pay what you wish" evenings starting at around 5pm. The Metropolitan Museum ticket includes same-day admission to The Met Cloisters & The Met Breuer (
it's "pay what you wish" at all times for tri-state area residents).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Budapest: Enjoy Coffee & Cake at 6 Famous Cafés

  Café Centrál
By Jacquelin Carnegie – (Budapest, Hungary)
Long before “café culture” flourished in Paris and Vienna, it thrived in Budapest. The custom of drinking coffee was introduced by invading Ottoman Turks in the 1500s. During Budapest’s Golden Age, between 1870 and 1910, there were some 500 coffee houses in the city.
In their heyday, Budapest’s cafés were hangouts for aspiring writers, poets, artists, and the local intelligentsia. Before the age of television and the Internet, people spent hours in their favorite café, sharing ideas, gossip, and reading the newspapers, provided for free.
New York Café
These Budapest coffee houses had sumptuous interiors with lustrous chandeliers and frescoed ceilings to rival the Sistine Chapel. But, after two world wars and the communist era in Hungary, the old famous cafes had been destroyed or closed. In recent years, many of these once-grand cafés have been restored to their original splendor:
New York Café
New York Café
New York Palace Hotel, Erzsébet körút 9-11; Tel: 01/886-6111; www.newyorkcafe.hu; Metro: M2 – Astoria; Open: 9am-midnight
Opened in 1894 on the ground floor of a stylish office complex, designed by architect Alajos Hauszmann and financed by a New York life insurance company (hence the name), the café was a favorite haunt of the writers and editors who worked in the building (now a five-star Boscolo hotel). For struggling writers, the New York provided free ink and paper and offered a low-cost "writer's menu" (bread, cheese & cold cuts). During Budapest’s Golden Age, much of the city’s creative business took place here or at the Café Central.
Café Centrál
Károlyi Mihály utca 9; Tel: 01/266-2110; www.centralkavehaz.hu; Metro: M3 - Ferenciek Tere; Open: 8am-midnight
 Café Centrál
Opened in 1887, the Central was a popular meeting place for writers, poets, editors, and artists. In the 1890s, writers sitting around the café began an influential literary periodical, A Hét (Week). A few years later, another group of regulars, who divided their time between the Central and the New York, launched Nyugat (West), which became one of the most influential Hungarian literary journals in the early 20th century.
Café Gerbeaud
Vörösmarty tér 7; Tel: 01/429-9000; www.gerbeaud.hu; Metro: M1 – Vörösmarty tér; Open: 9am-9pm
Café Gerbeaud
Founded by confectioner Henrik Kugler in 1858, this is regarded as one of the most elegant and refined cafés. In 1884, its Swiss pastry chef, Emile Gerbeaud, took over the establishment, making it as famous for its cakes as its coffee.
Café Párisi 
Andrássy út 39; Tel: 01/947-7894; cafeparisi.hu; Metro: M1- Opera; Open: 9am-9pm
BookCafé Párizsi Áruház
This stunning café is located on the third floor of an Art Nouveau building, designed by Zsigmond Sziklai, opened in 1911 as Párizsi Nagy Árúház, Budapest’s first modern department store. The café, in Lotz hall, is resplendent with restored frescos (done by painter Károly Lotz), large mirrors, and magnificent chandeliers.
Művész Kávéház
Andrássy út 29; Tel: 70/333-2116; www.muveszkavehaz.hu; Metro: M1- Opera; Open: Mon-Sat, 9am-midnight; Sun, 10am-10pm
Around since 1898, Művész means artist and since the café is located opposite the Budapest State Opera House, over the years, it’s attracted its fair share of artists and performers.
Café Gerlóczy
Café Gerlóczy
Gerloczy u. 1; Tel: 01/501-4000; www.gerloczy.hu; Metro: M1, M2, M3 – Deák Farenc tér; Open: 7am-11pm
On a leafy square, in a pretty 1892 building, the Gerlóczy has the feel of a Parisian café with its wonderful croissants and freshly-baked pastries—some consider it the best breakfast in town. At night, a harpist adds to the atmosphere. Another unique, Gerlóczy offering: 19 stylish rooms in its upstairs boutique hotel, so you never have to leave!
Stay at the Café Gerlóczy
Getting There: The best time to visit Budapest is between March and October. Both Delta and American offer connecting flights.
Read Before You Go: "The Great Escape” by Kati Marton: This wonderful book, about influential Hungarians, describes life in the Budapest cafés at the turn of the 20th century.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Beyond Broadway: 5 Great Cultural & Culinary Day Trips from NYC

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Catching a Broadway show should be at the top of your New York City “To Do” list. But, the surrounding, tri-state area--Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts--also offers great theater. At these venues, easily accessible by public transportation, you get wonderful entertainment at reasonable prices. Plus, the theaters are near nice restaurants and other interesting cultural activities for a perfect day trip. You might even be inspired to stay for the weekend or longer!

1) Westport Country Playhouse
25 Powers Ct., Westport, CT; Tel: 203/227-4177; www.westportplayhouse.org
Westport Country Playhouse, Stockard Channing & Jane Alexander,
 David Hare’s The Breath of Life (photo: Carol Rosegg)
Paul Neumann and Joanne Woodward were key to the revitalization of this historic theater. The red barn was originally built in 1835. Transformed into a theater in 1931, the Playhouse initially featured try-outs bound for Broadway, then became a stop on the “straw-hat,” summer stock circuit throughout the 20th century. Today, the not-for-profit Westport Country Playhouse presents a selection of terrific plays with top-notch actors.
Westport Country Playhouse
 (photo: Robert Benson)
Nearby Eats: The theater recommends several nearby restaurants.
Other Cultural Activities: Westport Arts Center - art exhibits, gallery talks, concerts, and films.
Stay the Night: The Westport Inn
Getting There: From New York (Grand Central Station), take Metro North train (New Haven line) to Westport. Then, a 10-min. taxi ride. (Westport Star Taxi: 203/418-0131) Travel time: About an hour and a half.

New Jersey
McCarter, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Jimmy Smits,
Anna in the Tropics (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

2) McCarter Theatre Center
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ; Tel: 609/258-2787; www.mccarter.org
Begun in the 1930s as a venue for the Princeton University Triangle Club (who still perform here), the McCarter stage has been graced by some of the most illustrious actors of our time. (Joshua Logan and Jimmy Stewart were in the first production.) McCarter was a popular pre-Broadway and summer-stock stop, then developed into a place where noteworthy playwrights premiere new work (Thornton Wilder's Our Town, William Inge's Bus Stop). Today, the theater continues presenting premieres and nurturing new talent as well as showcasing re-imagined classics.
Nearby Eats: There’s a café at the theater and a wide selection of great restaurants nearby in downtown Princeton: Alchemist & Barrister, Triumph Brewing Company, Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar, Yankee Doodle Tap Room.
Other Cultural Activities: Princeton Tour Company - great walking tours; Princeton University Art Museum - 72,000 works of art including Degas, Monet & Picasso and an extensive collection of Chinese artifacts; free.
McCarter Theater 
(photo: Peter C. Cook)
Stay the Night: Nassau Inn
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to Princeton; get off at Princeton Junction, then take the "Dinky" train to Princeton, a 5-min. ride, stops across the street from the theatre. Travel time: About an hour.

3) Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Dr., Millburn, NJ; Tel: 973/376-4343; www.papermill.org
Paper Mill Playhouse, Oklahoma 
(photo: Gerry Goodstein)

In 1938, the Paper Mill Playhouse opened in a defunct paper mill. Begun as a repertory theater, operettas and musicals were soon added to its’ repertoire. Over the years, the Playhouse gained a reputation for offering a selection of great plays and fabulous productions of Broadway musicals. Today, in addition to reviving iconic shows, the Paper Mill Playhouse presents brand-new musicals.
Nearby Eats: There’s a café at the theater, Kirby Carriage House, but Millburn’s Main Street, just a few blocks away, is worth exploring--several ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and restaurants. (The Millburn Deli is famous for its’ Sloppy Joes.)
Other Cultural Activities: In nearby Short Hills, NJ: Greenwood Gardens, a 28-acre public garden on the National Register of Historic Places; Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary, 16-acres of woodlands with nature trails.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Stay the Night: Short Hills Hilton
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Midtown direct Dover) to Millburn. Short walk or taxi ride to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.

4) State Theater

State Theater, musician Michael McDonald
(photo: Danny Clinch)

15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ; Tel: 732/246-7469; www.statetheatrenj.org
The State Theater is housed in an historic vaudeville and silent movie palace from the 1920s. Best known for its’ concert series featuring headliners at affordable prices--from Aretha Franklin to Yo-Yo Ma to Bruce Springsteen, the theater also presents Broadway musicals, opera, jazz & blues festivals, comedy, and children’s theater.
Nearby Eats: Lots of nice restaurants near the theater. 
Other Cultural Activities: Zimmerli Art Museum - an excellent university museum with an impressive collection from ancient artifacts to contemporary art.

State Theater
Stay the Night: The Heldrich 
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to New Brunswick, just a few blocks walk to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.


5) Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA, Tel:
 413/236-8888; barringtonstageco.org
Barrington Stage, Debra Jo Rupp, Dr. Ruth
(photo: ©Barrington Stage)
Founded in 1995, the not-for-profit company, housed in a 1912 vaudeville theatre, produces award-winning plays and musicals, and finds innovative ways to attract new audiences and introduce young people to theatre. The new productions at Barrington Stage are so terrific they often transfer to Broadway (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Freud’s Last Session)–but you can see them first, right here!
Barrington Stage
Nearby Eats: There’s a huge selection of all kinds of restaurants, cafés and wine bars on North Street in the Upstreet Cultural District. 
Other Cultural Activities: Pittsfield is abuzz with artsy activities from 3rd Thursdays street fair to 1st Fridays ArtsWalk. Berkshire Museum - art & artifacts from every continent.  
Stay the Night: Holiday Inn & Suites
Getting There: From New York (Port Authority Bus Terminal) take a Peter Pan bus to Pittsfield. About four hours (but worth it!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

New York City: 8 Great Ways To Sightsee by Boat

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Pioneer (photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
Here’s a sampling of some boat rides with terrific views that will help you experience the city in a whole new light, along with some fantastic sightings of Lady Liberty!

Staten Island Ferry
Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St.; www.siferry.com; Free, year-round
(photo: Staten Island Ferry)
Think of this pleasant 25-minute ride as a mini-cruise with some of the world’s best views--the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and lower Manhattan. On Staten Island, get out and explore all the wonderful sights such as the Alice Austen House Museum (www.aliceausten.org) showcasing photography in a lovely setting, the Tibetan Museum (www.tibetanmuseum.org), and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Garden (www.Snug-Harbor.org).

Governors Island Ferry
Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St.; www.govisland.com
May thru Oct; Free, Sat & Sun before noon. Otherwise, $3
Gov Island (photo: J.Carnegie)
This 7-minute ferry ride whisks you from Manhattan (& Brooklyn on the weekends) to a little bit of nature with spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. After 200 years as a military base, Governors Island is now a lovely public park. The former barracks, for the US Army and Coast Guard, make it look a bit austere, but all the new recreational features are fun to discover and, almost every weekend, there are entertaining activities, concerts, and events. 

IKEA Brooklyn Ferry
Pier 11, Gouverneur Lane & the East River; https://bit.ly/2JXavDC; Free, Saturdays & Sundays
From Pier 11 (a short walk from the South Street Seaport) take the IKEA ferry to Red Hook, Brooklyn. The store is right in front of the pier on Beard St. Shop if you must, or take a lovely stroll along the waterfront, then head to the nearby Fairway Market (480-500 Van Brunt St.; www.fairwaymarket.com). On weekends, pick up something to eat at the salad bar or deli counter, then head to the dining patio with great views of Lady Liberty and New York Harbor.

NYC Ferry
(photo: NYC Ferry)
For just the price of a subway ride ($2.75) you can travel on the East River between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx--even to Rockaway beach. Get off and explore the offerings at specific stops or just stay on and enjoy the ride. From the 17th to the 19th century, ferries traversed the city's waterways but, as bridges and tunnels were built, the ferries were fazed out. Now, they're back in full-force and a thrill to ride. The major hubs in Manhattan are at East 34th Street and Pier 11 near Wall Street & the So St Seaport.

These kayaking and rowing options are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early. (You must know how to swim.)
Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse; downtownboathouse.org; May-Oct; Free, Weekends & Tues/Wed/Thurs evenings (Pier 26, North Moore); Saturdays (Pier 101, Governors Island) 
On the weekends and certain weeknights, The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the scenic Hudson River at two locations. The equipment—boats, paddles, life jacketsand instructions are free. Wear shorts or a swimsuit.
Kayaking in Brooklyn: Pier 2, Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
(photo: Downtown Boathouse)
May-Aug; Free, Weekends & Wed/Thurs evenings 

Row Your Boat – Manhattan
Village Community Boathouse, Pier 40, Hudson River Park, at W. Houston St.; www.villagecommunityboathouse.org
April-Nov; Free, every Sunday at noon & Tues, 5:30pm

The Village Community Boathouse offers free, group rowing sessions. The aim is to provide safe, public access to the city’s fantastic waterways and to introduce people, especially kids, to the joys of rowing, sailing and boatbuilding. 

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy dealt a blow to the South Street Seaport Museum. While there are currently only a few small exhibits on view, the museum offers wonderful boat rides:
W.O. Decker - Tugboat
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16; https://bit.ly/2JMFwaX; May thru Oct; Sat & Sun; Fee, Museum Admission + boat ride
(photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
We think of tugboats as the "worker bees" of the waterways. This one (refit with a diesel engine) was built in 1930 when steam tugs were a common sight in New York Harbor. Today, enjoy a bit of history on a truly-enjoyable, 45-minute ride on the W.O. Decker, the last-surviving, New York-built, wooden tugboat. Delight in stunning views of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Pioneer - Schooner Sail
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16
www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org; May thru Oct; Weekends & Wed/Thurs/Fri evenings; Fee, Boat ride with/or without Museum Admission (2- or 3-hour cruises)

Enjoy an afternoon or sunset sail on this historic vessel, first launched in 1885. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner and revel in the sights of New York Harbor.

Monday, June 17, 2019

5 Great Day Trips from Brussels, Belgium

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
(photo: VisitBrussels)
Brussels is a lovely little city to explore with over 100 museums, plenty of wonderful restaurants, and the delightful Dansaert shopping district. Famous for its food and beer, comics and artists, you'll have a great time. But, Belgium is a small country—it doesn’t take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights—so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer. It's easy to get around by train, bus or rental car.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia, which is French-speaking, and Flanders where Flemish (like Dutch) is spoken. Don’t fret; many people also speak English.

Art in the Park
(photo: Folon Foundation)

Fondation Folon
Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe; www.fondationfolon.be
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. While not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte, both liked to paint men in hats. Folon's celebrated work--beautiful watercolors, posters on behalf of important causes, and whimsical sculptures--is displayed in Château de La Hulp’s ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you’ve viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L’Homme Bleu, and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: TEC Bus: #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. (TEC Bus info only in French.) In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.

Living History: A Bad Day for Napoleon
Waterloo Battlefield
Route du Lion 315, Waterloo; www.waterloo1815.be
(photo: Waterloo Battlefield)
It’s always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don’t have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: Train: From Brussels Midi train station to Braine L’Alleud about 20 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors’ Center. TEC Bus: #365a or W outside Brussels Midi station to Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop, about 45 minutes. (This trip by car is about 30 minutes from Brussels.)

A Passion for Fashion
(photo: Dries van Norten)
Antwerp is a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station, but purchase only from a reputable shop in the Diamond Jewelers Association (www.adja.be). Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the now-famous “Antwerp Six,” a group of avant-garde fashion designers (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee) who burst onto the scene about 30 years ago and put Antwerp on the fashion map. Shop-till-you-drop in the lovely Sint-Andries neighborhood. Even better, go with a personal shopper. You'll want to stay longer than a day.
Shops: Louis (Lombardenstraat 2) - The store that launched the Sixers’ careers; Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) - Dries van Noten’s flagship store; Coccodrillo (Schuttershofstraat 9A) - Sells the Antwerp designers’ hip footwear.
Personal Shopper: Go with style consultant Tanguy Ottomer (Beroepsbelg; Tel: +32(0)3 430 23 30; http://beroepsbelg.be; half & full day rates)
Dine: Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n) - Delicious meals in a spectacular setting. De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11) - A unique dining experience for groups of 20+; diners in a fabulous, private home.
Stay: Lots of options from nice hotels to campsites. Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14) - Hip & conveniently-located.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.

Chocolates & Canals 
(photo: @mgdlnvlgr)
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more popular than ever. The downside is hoards of tourists and local shops turned into tourist traps. To experience Bruges’ true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate—there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11).
Dine: Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38) - Delicious regional and seasonal dishes.
Stay: Plenty of lovely hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Pand Hotel (Pandreitje 16) - For a splurge, try this fashionably-decorated spot.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.

Beauty Beyond Measure
(photo: Nataša Pavlović)
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has--canals, unbelievable architecture--just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists. Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals. Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. But, be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.
Dine: Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28) - Inexpensive & in a great location overlooking the canal; Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2 ) - A bit more stylish; Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 7) - Elegant, right next to the opera house; known for its Moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Stay: Several splendid places to choose from. Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10) - An historic building with a hi-tech interior, right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.

Transportation Options in Belgium
Train/Bus: Brussels has three train stations (Brussels Centrale, Brussels Midi, Brussels Nord). The trains you’ll need for most of these trips leave from Brussels Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules & fares: SNCB or Rail Europe. The TEC Bus is also very convenient. Car Rental: All the major rental car companies are in the Arrivals Hall at Brussels Airport and, in the city center, at the Brussels Midi train station: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, etc. Travel in style: Hire a car and driver from Fun Cars or Modern Car
Magritte, La Décalcomanie
Making Your Trip Easier: City Cards give access to museums, public transport, special discounts, etc. They are useful if you plan to cram in a lot of sightseeing, but are less beneficial if you intend a more leisurely trip: BrusselsCard, Antwerp CityCardCityCard GhentBeroepsBelg - Offers all kinds of interesting tours in several Belgian cities.
Getting to Belgium: Brussels Airlines has just upgraded its fleet to offer more transatlantic comfort. 
Bon Voyage! 
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on Frommers.com]