Holland and Belgium
Tulips, windmills, chocolate, diamonds, and lace — Holland and Belgium have a lot going for them. Because these culture-rich countries are crisscrossed with waterways, river cruise operators offer a variety of itineraries in the region, each navigating a network of canals, deltas, and rivers both close to the North Sea and further inland. Most routes run between Amsterdam and Brussels, though some end in Antwerp and others leave round-trip from Amsterdam. Voyages typically last from four to 10 days; prime travel time coincides with peak tulip season in mid-April, though sailings are offered as late as July or September.
What We Love
The Art: In Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum's Dutch Masters, the Van Gogh Museum, and Rembrandt's home are top-notch cultural destinations that you won't want to miss. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam features Dutch art from every era, while Antwerp was home to Peter Paul Rubens, and many of his masterpieces are housed in his former home and studio, the Rubenshuis.
The Canals: Amsterdam is famous for its network of waterways, but you'll also find them in Haarlem, Delft, and Utrecht, as well as Bruges, Belgium. Canal boat tours are offered in every location and are a pleasant way to soak in the scenery.
Best Known For
Flowers: Top Dutch attractions include Keukenhof Gardens, a dazzling showcase of 7 million bulbs, and Amsterdam's floating flower market, on a row of barges on a canal. Schedule your trip in April or May to attend the Ghent Floralies, an amazing floral extravaganza in Belgium.
Windmills: Functioning as pumps, these make up part of the Netherlands' original water management system, and the most famous are the UNESCO-designated windmills in Kinderdijk. Check out modern methods of draining water, too, with a visit to the Delta Works at Veere. The barriers here comprise one of the world's largest flood-control systems.
Shop for Cruises
Amsterdam: In a contrast to its centuries-old charm, the Netherlands' largest city also buzzes with hip shops and restaurants. Visit the world-class museums, take a scenic canal tour, and sample “rijsttafel” — an elaborate meal of Indonesian-influenced dishes served with rice.
Ghent (for Bruges): Bruges is an hour by bus from Ghent, but this magical UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth the trek for the cobblestoned streets, medieval architecture, canals, and tradition of fine lace-making.
Arnhem: Tour Paleis Het Loo, around 45 minutes outside of Arnhem; the Dutch royal family’s 300-year old summer residence has lavish Baroque gardens and a complex of stables and coach houses. You can also visit the famous World War II battlefield, which was also the setting for the epic war film “A Bridge Too Far.”
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Weather Isn't the Best: Spring here can be cold, damp, and rainy. Pack accordingly, and don't expect sunshine everyday.
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.