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Setting sail from Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of our very favourite cities to visit, as well as also being a perfect base to explore the nearby landscape of windmills and dikes. The Amsterdam canal belt is now officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and from them there are so many neighbourhoods to explore, such as the Jordaan with its higgledy-piggledy streets and its famed garden courtyards (hofjes). There are also a wealth of famous museums and galleries to choose from, such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House, not to mention some more, shall we say, quirky options.
Explore by water, or by bicycle to get a feel for the city – a hop on hop off canal boat, or rented bike or pedalo will do the trick.
Netherlands: Haarlem, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Nijmegen
One of the great ports of Europe, Rotterdam’s impressive skyline can be seen from far and wide. With great architecture both ancient and modern, fantastic exhibition and concert halls, theatres, pretty galleries and numerous museums, there is so much to do when you stay here.
Situated just to the north of Dordrecht, the UNESCO-listed Kinderdijk is one of the most photographed locations in the Netherlands. This is a quintessentially Dutch landscape of canals, marshes and 19 beautiful windmills that were built to protect the land from flooding.
Netherlands: Dordrecht, Veere
Ghent is one of Belgium’s most captivating cities, home to pretty canals lined by handsome brick houses and a burgeoning restaurant scene. The architectural highlights of Ghent’s medieval centre include the soaring Gothic tower of St Bavo’s cathedral, and the city also boasts some excellent museums and galleries.
Arriving in Antwerp
Antwerp, Belgium's principal port, is a city bound up with the arts, once home to Flemish masters such as Rubens and Van Dyck. More recently Antwerp has carved out a reputation as the fashion capital of Belgium, and it's also a magnet for shopaholics, with designer boutiques and jewellers galore. The historic centre retains much of its medieval charm in spite of Antwerp's heavy bombardment during the Second World War, and the soaring Cathedral of Our Lady, completed in 1521, is quite magnificent.
Small enough to be manageable, and with lots of crooked alleys and back streets, Antwerp is a city to walk in, so make the most of it and explore by foot.
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Tailor-make your trip
Two nights in Amsterdam
There is a fantastic range of canal front hotels to choose from, but we love the new Waldorf Astoria.
Visit windmills in Zaanse Schans, the flowers at Keukenhof, or the cheese market in Alkmaar.
Where to stay in Antwerp
We like De Witte Lelie, just eleven rooms in three 17th-century houses around a paved courtyard.
Day trips from Antwerp
If you’ve time to leave Antwerp, we recommend Ypres, a key historical centre and a genuinely moving memorial to the war dead.