The Low Countries: Amsterdam to Brussels
|Cross Over Expectation: Amsterdam's water-choked cityscape (PhotoDisc)|
Don't expect to find just wooden clogs, tulips, and windmill-packed countryside in Europe's low countries. Tour both the new and old, the urban and rural on this best-hits tour of Belgium and Holland. Between vibrant markets, the van Gogh Museum, and historic cobblestone streets, skip through serene countryside, striking the perfect balance between culture and R&R with stops for nature reserves, rolling bike paths, and canoe-friendly rivers.
Days 1-3: Amsterdam
Though in some ways Amsterdam resembles a constant blow-out college party, in other ways it's a scenic and sophisticated Old World city. Give yourself three days here to revel in its contrasts and immerse yourself in its classic and quirky attractions. The best views are from the water, so opt for a boat tour through some of the city's 165 romantic canals. The next day, tick off the must-do Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat; +31.20.674.7000, www.rijksmuseum.nl), which is in the process of a five-year renovation. In addition to its extensive 17th-century art collection, througout 2006 it hosts exhibitions in celebration of Rembrandt's 400th birthdayÂ—typical of the kind of roving exhibits for which the museum is known. Next, hit the Vincent van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat; +31.20.570.5200; www.vangoghmuseum.nl), which is also on the Museumplein, and the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht; +31.20.556.7100; www.annefrank.org), housed in the same building where Anne Frank hid during World War II. Nearby, the galleries and street markets of Jordaan beckon with antique shops and people-watching. Stay the night near Leidseplein, a lively square with restaurants in the museum district. Before leaving, amble through the astoundingly clean and well-organized Red Light District, taste pints at the Heineken Brewery (Stadhouderskade; +31.20.523.9666; www.heinekenexperience.com), sample some of the localÂ…herbs, and stroll through Hortus Botanicus (Plantage Middenlaan; +31.20.625.9021; www.hortus-botanicus.nl), a botanical garden dating to 1638 with over 6,000 plant species.
Day 4: Amsterdam to Lemmer (70 Miles)
This morning's activity is sailing the Loosdrechtse Plassen, a large lake about 17 miles south of Amsterdam. Prowl for lunch in nearby Utrecht, then peek into the National Museum from Musical Clock to Street Organ (Steenweg; +220.127.116.1189; www.museumspeelklok.nl), where you can admire ticking clocks, music boxes, and organs. Nearby, the 112-meter-tall, 624-year-old Dom Tower offers sprawling views of the city and countrysideÂ—if you can climb the 465 steps. Flevoland, a province that consists of farmland reclaimed from Ijsselmeer and the large lake at the heart of Holland, is next as you make your way north toward Lemmer. A pleasant waterfront gateway to Friesland, Lemmer is a bastion of outdoor recreation and home to the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station (whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=867), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication