Netherlands and Belgium suggestions needed

We are taking a river cruise in early April of 2014. We embark from Amsterdam and follow this route: Day 1 Amsterdam EMBARKATION Welcome Dinner Day 2 Amsterdam Canal Cruise and City Tour Volendam Walking tour Edam Walking tour & cheese tasting OR guided bicycle tour Day 3 Arnhem Arnhem Bridge & Arnhem Airborne Museum OR Het Loo Palace tour OR guided bicycle tour Day 4 Antwerp Walking tour OR Reubens Tour Optional excursion to Brussels Day 5 Ghent Walking tour Brugges Optional tour to Brugges Day 6 Willemstad Private organ recital OR guided bicycle tour Kinderdijk Kinderdijk windmills Day 7 Utrecht Keukenhof Gardens excursion
Day 8 Amsterdam DISEMBARKATION My wife wants to see flowers and windmills. I think we should accomplish that while on the cruise but we plan to stay an additional 3 nights. So we will have all of Days 8, 9, 10, and 11 to spend on land. I am interested in the flower market as well as maybe staying in a small village. I am also interested in WWII sights as well. If you have any suggestions or want to pass along your favorite places, I would appreciate them. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new RS Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels guidebook which is scheduled for May 28th. We have not purchased plane tickets yet, so flying into Amsterdam and out of Brussels will work. We don't want to go to Paris this trip because we are saving that for a full family trip in 2015.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4732 posts

An office mate of mine just went on this cruise. I lent him my RS Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels guide, and he found it invaluable (he had never heard of Rick Steves before, and now he's a fan). It includes information on almost every place the cruise goes. You will see LOTS and LOTS of flowers at Keukenhof. And the Kinderdijk windmills are a large collection, and are supposed to be the best remaining large group in the country. So, unless you really have a special interest in these, I think you are correct, that you will get your fill on the cruise. As for where to go after your cruise, you can spend days in Amsterdam (there's lots to see, including WWII sights). I liked Utrecht and Leiden better than Delft or the Hague, but all have their fans (the latter two are well described in the RS book; for the former two, I supplemented with Rough Guide and Lonely Planet). None of these four is a small village (Delft is the smallest). I didn't get to the Hoge Veluwe Park (where you get around by free loaner bikes, and which containes the Kroller Muller museum with the second largest collection of Van Gogh in the world), or to the Open Air Museum near Arnhem (contains traditional houses with "villagers" recreating Dutch life in earlier times). But these, particularly the Open Air Museum, sound like they would interest you. Full details, including places to stay in the small town (Otterlo) near the Hoge Veluwe Park, are in the RS book.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
499 posts

Not sure if this will help. I don't have a map in front of me, but if you are a " Band of Brothers" fan, Liege and Bastogne, Belgium area is filled with several small but unique museums, etc. if this is a consideration I can provide more info.

Posted by Stephen
Fort Mill, SC, USA
292 posts

Thanks you Harold! I'll make sure to get the latest RS book. Thank you Jim! I am interested in more info on the Band of Brothers sights.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1091 posts

You might still be able to check online, but in 2013 bulb bloom was reported annoyingly late in the Netherlands. (There's nothing you can do about this, you just should be prepared to make alternate plans: For example, if the boat doesn't take you to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction on the Keukenhof day, that's indoors, doesn't depend on local flowers only, and is fascinating, for men and women(!) The Amsterdam Resistance Museum and the Stadschouberg are mandatory WW II stops in Amsterdam, but there are plenty more. Even though I've been on a river cruise I have some trouble reconciling your boat booking with independent travel. Lots of people go to Brussels from Amsterdam (but I prefer Antwerp.) BRU is kind of known for annoyingly early departures that force nervous travelers to (ugh) sleep at the airport. I happen to love Belgium better than the Netherlands, but there are just as many WW II sights and flowers in both countries. You can fill three days with more of Amsterdam, or daytrips on cheap, convenient rail: Haarlem, Delft, Utrecht, Amersfoort, Leiden. I'm sorry we missed the Delta Works storm barrier last year. I would suggest saving money and travel time, and stay in Amsterdam; Your boat does the highlights of Belgium. Brussels is kept cleaner than Amsterdam, but Amsterdam has a warmer tourism feeling. Both have fine museums.

Posted by Lo
1346 posts

If you want to see the inside of a windmill, bottom to top and back down again, the Molen De Valk in Leiden is a good choice. In fact it may be the only working mill museum in the Netherlands. If I remember correctly from our visit there last month, some people make it a side trip by train from Amsterdam. Be aware that the stairs are typically narrow and steep, and when going back down you must hold onto the rails and go backwards, like on a ladder. Tours are totally self-guided and you can go out on the deck for a great view of the city. For more narrow stairs experiences, and if you have the time, visiting the only still functioning brewery in the town of Bruges can provide them. It's called De Halve Maan (half moon). From the top of it we could see into the Begijnhof. We were there at the best blooming time for the daffodils and stumbled onto vespers being sung by the nuns in the small chapel. You are not supposed to walk into the flowers and we watched one very old nun shooing a couple away who had made themselves comfortable on the ground leaning against a tree facing the sun. We spent a week in Bruges and had a great time. There're some quirky things to see which will be covered in the RS book. It's an hour from Brussels by train. Of course, you could spend all your time in Amsterdam as the RS book will illustrate. I'll echo the good words about the Resistance Museum. We also loved the Tropen (Tropical) Museum and wished we had spent more time there. It covers the cultures near the equator and is the best cultural museum I've ever seen. My husband never left the music corner!

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4208 posts

Sounds like a good trip, but if you like art at all, you don't want to miss the Rijksmuseum. It just reopened after a lengthy remodeling/restoration. I visited on my first trip to Amsterdam, and missed on my second. I'm now contemplating a third visit so I can go to the museum. There is also the Van Gogh Museum. See this New York Times article on recent discoveries re his palette. Pam

Posted by Maureen
San Francisco
119 posts

Agree with going to Brugges. We were in a Brussels tourist office and the guide, who was from Ghent, told us to go to Brugges over Ghent. A real fairytale city!

Posted by Maureen
San Francisco
119 posts

Waterloo is located right outside of Brussels if you are interested in Battles. We toured it and found it interesting . You would need a tour or guide to Waterloo.