IF possible, visit the cities of Belgium in the order in which they are treated in this guide : Bruges first; then Ghent, Brussels, and Antwerp. For this order you will find very good reasons. Bruges is the most antique in tone and the least spoiled of all the Flemish towns ; it best exhibits the local peculiarities we have here specially to consider ; and it leads up naturally to the other cities. It is true, Memling, the great painter whom we have chiefly to study at Bruges, is later in date than Jan van Eyck, whose principal work (with that of his brother Hubert) is to be seen at Ghent. But historical sequence in this minor matter is somewhat less important than a due apprehension of the general air of an old Flemish town such as those in which the art of the Van Eycks arose; and besides, there is at least one characteristic Van Eyck at Bruges, while there are many Memlings for comparison in other cities.
As a rule, too little time is given by tourists to Bruges and Ghent, and too much to Brussels. I should advise three or four days each to the first-named towns, and a week to the capital.
Those who intend to combine a visit to Holland in the same tour should certainly see Belgium in the order here given first, and then proceed to Rotterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. For such a sequence, which is geographically the easiest, is also chronologically natural. Bruges is the most mediaeval of all the towns, and has for its principal great artist Memling. Ghent comes next, with the Van Eycks and a few later painters. Brussels represents the end of the Middle Ages, and contains a general metropolitan collection of early and middle Flemish art. Antwerp gives us in particular Quentin Matsys and his contemporaries, as well as Rubens and Van Dyck. And the Dutch towns lead us on through Van Dyck and the later transitionals to Rembrandt, Van der Heist, Frans Hals, and the other mighty masters of Holland. I may add that as the arrangement of this Guide is roughly chronological, the tourist will use it best if he follows its order.
The Ostend route takes the towns naturally in the sequence I suggest. Visitors arriving by Harwich or Calais should not stop first at Antwerp or Brussels, but go straight to Bruges, and then double back again.