Day 1 - Amsterdam (Embark)
Arrive at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a representative and transferred to the ship.
Day 2 - Amsterdam
The laid-back, forward-thinking Dutch capital is as celebrated for its artistic masterpieces as it is for its canals, narrow houses, bicycles and vibrant nightlife. Discover the “Venice of the North” in two iconic ways today—a private visit to the Amsterdam Hermitage, plus a canal cruise or walking tour with a native of the city.
The Netherlands’ largest city, Amsterdam has been an international port and financial center for 400 years, endowing it with a lively cosmopolitan feeling to match its historic architecture. Here, even the simplest shop has a distinctive charm, and every street has a story to tell.
Your day begins with a morning tour of a rare collection of art—an extra special perk reserved solely for our guests. Later, see the sites by canal boat or stroll through the city’s streets like a local on a special guided tour.
Exclusive “Morning with the Masters” at the Amsterdam Hermitage
The doors open early to give you a crowd-free viewing of an extraordinary collection of Dutch master paintings: 30 monumental group paintings from the golden age that have been called “cousins of The Night Watch”. Drawn from both the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum, these works have rarely been displayed because of their enormous size. The Amsterdam Hermitage, however, devotes an enormous gallery space to this exhibit, which reveals the connections and activities of Amsterdam’s power elite in the 17th century. Meet mayors and regents, colonels of the civil guard, wealthy merchants and their wives and learn something of their lives and the lives of the artists who painted these massive portraits. Visitors sailing in the spring will also have an opportunity to see a stunning group of 63 Dutch master paintings from the St. Petersburg Hermitage, on loan to the Amsterdam Hermitage through May 2018.
Amsterdam canal cruise
It’s called the “Venice of the North” for a reason: Canals crisscross the heart of the old city, and bridges link some 90 islands. As the principal city in a newly independent Holland, Amsterdam was a boom town in the early 17th century, rapidly outgrowing its medieval walls. The city’s fathers responded by demolishing most of the old city and building all new, creating Europe’s first planned city. That “new” district is now 400 years old, and as you glide along the main canals, you’ll pass stately merchants’ houses built centuries ago (some of them are now house museums you can visit on your own). The canals are not merely scenic; they are essential thoroughfares— people take water buses to work and live in houseboats along the banks—so a canal cruise gives you a look at the busy modern city too.
Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Amsterdam walking tour
Uncover some of Amsterdam’s most charming and little-known treasures with a stroll through the canal district that will take you to two very different historic residences. One is an oasis of quiet just steps from the city’s bustle: the Begijnhof, a residential court dating to the 14th century that was once home to a quasi-religious group, where you’ll find 47 townhouses (including the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam) surrounding a serene grassy courtyard. The other is the Museum Van Loon, a remarkable house museum that shows you how wealthy Amsterdam families have lived over the centuries.
Willem van Loon was a founder of the Dutch East India Company, and the family’s history can be seen in the portraits, silver, porcelain and beautiful furniture found throughout the house. Behind the house, a formal garden leads to the classical façade of the coach house, which is now a gallery. This combination—house, garden and coach house—makes the Museum Van Loon unique; no other house museum in the city has managed to keep all three elements intact. Between your two destinations, you’ll pause for coffee and Dutch apple pie at a local café.
A special Captain’s welcome reception and dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 3 - Haarlem
Keukenhof is said to be the world’s largest and most famous flower garden, a bold declaration that actually lives up to the hype. Spend all day amongst millions of brilliantly coloured flowers, or mix it up a bit with a shorter garden visit plus Haarlem and the oldest museum in The Netherlands.
Spend the entire day roaming through acres of blooming tulips at the famed Keukenhof Gardens or split your time between the iconic garden and exploring historic Haarlem and the Netherlands’ first museum.
Choice of Full-day at Keukenhof Gardens or Keukenhof Gardens with Haarlem walking discovery tour and Teylers Museum visit.
Full-day at Keukenhof Gardens
Rivers of blue hyacinths curve through the trees, and great drifts of brilliantly hued tulips and daffodils carpet Keukenhof’s 70-plus acres (32 hectares). It’s probably the most spectacular flower garden in the world, and it’s only open for a few weeks each spring. Gardeners plant some seven million bulbs on these grounds, making it a showcase for the Netherlands’ legendary flower industry.
There’s more to see than just flowers, of course: There are intriguing exhibits in pavilions scattered throughout the estate, as well as concerts and activities for kids. Enjoy lunch on your own at one of the restaurants in the park; all of them have terraces overlooking beautiful plantings where you can savour the view as well as your meal. After you’ve seen all of the vibrant blossoms and perhaps even bought some bulbs to grow at home, you’ll meet up with your guide and continue by motor-coach to the ship.
Note: If you’re thinking about buying bulbs from Keukenhof or perhaps having items shipped home, make sure the vendor provides the documentation necessary for the import of bulbs or plants into your home country. Rules for importing flower bulbs and plants vary from country to country.
Note: Lunch is not included with the full-day at Keukenhof Gardens.
Keukenhof Gardens with Haarlem walking discovery tour and Teylers Museum visit
Devote just half the day to the spectacular garden described above, have lunch on-board the ship and then head for Haarlem. Ten streets meet at Haarlem’s Market Square, the heart of a town that once rivalled Amsterdam for leadership in the region, where you’ll find stalls brimming with local produce, flowers and cheeses. St. Bavo’s and the town hall, both dating to Holland’s golden age, dominate the square; the church has two distinctive facades: one typically Gothic, which faces the square, the other an extravaganza of cupola-topped brick towers, which abuts a canal.
As an economic force to be reckoned with, Haarlem had many prosperous citizens who endowed hofjes—residences for the sick or indigent built around courtyard gardens—that remain in the Old Town. Explore the offerings in the market square, peek into a hofje garden and saunter along busy, shop-lined streets (the town is something of a mecca for shoppers) and quiet canals to the oldest museum in the Netherlands, Teylers Museum. Your guide will introduce you to the fascinating collection, which includes an array of fossils, historic scientific instruments and paintings, all displayed under skylights—no artificial lighting illuminates the works here—much the way the founder, Pieter Teyler, envisioned his museum back in 1756. You’ll also have time to pick up souvenirs and explore on your own before returning to the ship.
Day 4 - Hoorn and Enkhuizen
The tip of South America—Cape Horn—is actually a misspelling of “Hoorn,” which tells you a lot about the town of Hoorn and its seafaring past. The swash-buckling derring-do of Dutch explorers comes to life today on a guided walking tour of this historic locale. Later, leave the modern world far behind during a visit to a re-created 19th-century Dutch village.
Today offers you a chance to discover the Netherlands’ maritime history, with visits to two historic towns linked to the Dutch East India Company (which dominated Europe’s trade with Asia for centuries), and to learn a little about the daily lives of the seafaring Dutch in the 19th century.
Hoorn walking discovery tour
Did you ever wonder why the tip of South America is called Cape Horn? It’s a misspelling of Hoorn, the home port of Dutch explorer Willem Schouten, who named it after his hometown when he arrived there in 1616. In the 17th century, Hoorn was a booming center of international trade, rivalling Amsterdam, and an important home base for the Dutch East India Company. Uncover Hoorn’s rich seafaring history on a guided walking tour. Nowadays, charming shops and houses line the lanes, and pleasure boats bob in the harbour.
The Hoorn fleet sailed the seven seas and returned laden with precious commodities; the town’s lovely 17th-century gabled houses bear witness to the wealth brought by that trade. The ornate façade of the 17th-century Statencollege, now the Westfries Museum, is a colourful reminder of past glories: It shows the coats of arms of seven cities that were administered here. Though the harbour silted up and access to the North Sea was lost in 1932, Hoorn continues to thrive as a market town for farms and dairies in West Friesland.
Back on the ship, you will cruise to Enkhuizen and its remarkable re-creation of 19th-century Dutch life and culture. On the way, take note of the ship’s passage through one particular lock—it’s the only lock in the world that goes over a road.
Life on the Zuiderzee” outdoor museum visit
Characteristic buildings—houses, cottages, warehouses and churches—were collected from all over the region to re-create a typical 19th-century Dutch village: the Zuiderzee Outdoor Museum. It truly feels as though you have left the 21st century behind and entered an extraordinarily charming past as you walk through this village. Women in period costume (complete with traditional pointed caps and wooden shoes) do needlework, children play with hoops, and men make rope or barrels.
Stop by the smoke-house to see racks of herring being preserved, or visit the cheese-maker. Given Enkhuizen’s long history as a seaport (it was once a base for the East India Company) and fishing hub, it’s only natural that you can spot tall wooden sailing ships docked next to meadows where sheep graze. The museum has an indoor component as well, including a section devoted to shipbuilding and maritime history, and the gift shop, stocked with unusual and well-chosen contemporary arts and crafts, is well worth a visit.
Day 5 - Nijmegen
For your choice of excursions today, we searched for two museums as unlike each other as possible (and we think we succeeded). The National Liberation Museum offers a memorable taste of what life was like in The Netherlands before, during and after WWII. The Kröller-Müller Museum is home to 97 works by native son Vincent Van Gogh, as well as other notable artists and sculptors.
Nijmegen, the oldest town in the Netherlands (founded more than 2,000 years ago), is your gateway to one of two intriguing discoveries today. You can either learn more about the Netherlands’ WWII history during a guided tour of the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek or discover one of the world’s great Van Gogh collections at the Kröller-Müller Museum.
National Liberation Museum
Nijmegen was the first city to fall when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, and it was the launching point for Operation Veritable, the final Allied assault on the German border in 1945. The National Liberation Museum in nearby Groesbeek details the Netherlands’ experience during WWII, in which more than 200,000 Dutch civilians died. The museum’s exhibits—many of which are interactive—allow visitors to experience what it was like to live through the period preceding the war, the Nazi occupation, the liberation, and the rebuilding of the Netherlands and Europe after the war.
Highlights include an example of a secret closet in which one could hide and listen to Radio Orange (broadcast from England); Allied equipment, from Sherman tanks to canvas boats; a bird’s-eye-view model of Operation Market Garden; a diorama of the Waal Crossing; and a roll of honour containing the names of all Allied soldiers who died between D-Day, June 6, 1944, and May 8, 1945.
Kröller-Müller Museum visit
Helene Kröller-Müller bought seven Van Goghs in a single day in 1912, valuing the painter’s then-little-appreciated work for his “great and novel humanity”. She went on to purchase many more of his paintings, and in the process, she almost single-handedly rescued him from obscurity and established his modern-day reputation. The Kröller-Müller Museum, which she founded in the 1930s on a family estate, features some 97 works by the master, including The Bridge at Arles.
But Kröller-Müller didn’t stop with Van Gogh; her goal was to found the first museum in the Netherlands devoted to modern art, so the collection also boasts exceptional works by Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian and Auguste Rodin, among many other late-19th- and 20th-century artists. Join an expert guide for a one-hour tour, then revisit the galleries for a closer look or go out into the extensive sculpture gardens on your own. The museum has commissioned a sculpture a year for decades, so the collection is unusual, contemporary and diverse.
Day 6 - Rotterdam, Kinderdijk and Dordrecht
Windmills are such an iconic symbol of Holland that it’s easy to overlook their marvellous engineering and their role in changing the course of Dutch history. You may never look at a windmill in quite the same way after today’s outing to historic Kinderdijk.
The second-largest city in the Netherlands and the largest port in Europe, Rotterdam is thoroughly modern—much of its historic fabric was destroyed during WWII. As your ship cruises through the port, you’ll soon understand why it’s sometimes called “Manhattan on the Meuse”: The Maas Tower, the Montevideo, the Millennium Tower and the spectacular Erasmus Bridge make for a dazzling skyline. You’ll have some free time to explore this exciting modern city on your own. Take a look at the amazing cube houses, stop by Groos for unique pieces by Rotterdam designers, check out the new market hall or visit one of Rotterdam’s many museums.
At one time 10,000 windmills operated in the Netherlands, pumping water away from low-lying lands (much of the country is below sea level) and creating what are known as polders—arable land reclaimed from the water. Though the mighty windmill has been replaced by newer technology, you can see how effective the system was in Kinderdijk, where a group of 19 windmills erected in the 18th century still function. Most are ground-sail windmills (meaning their sails nearly touch the ground as they whirl) and each one was carefully situated to make sure one did not block another’s wind.
Each windmill moves the water a little farther, pumping it from field to canal, from canal to river. Climb the steep stairs of a mill and look out over the quiet fields that would be underwater were it not for the ingenuity of the Dutch (of course, you can simply admire it from the outside but if you do that, you won’t see how the mill keeper’s family lived). These mills are kept in working order partly as a backup in case modern technology fails, and they were used as recently as WWII, when there was no fuel to keep newer pumping stations working.
Note: If docking in Kinderdijk is not possible, the excursion will be arranged by motor-coach from Rotterdam.
Day 7 - Veere
Remember the tale of the Dutch boy who saved a town by plugging a dike with his finger? Well, the reality of life in this below-sea-level country is a tad more complicated, as you’ll learn today during your visit to the Delta Works. For something completely different, we’ll also visit a former artists’ colony.
Your ship docks today in the harbor village of Veere, which will be your base for explorations of charming Veere and the mighty Delta Works.
Delta Works museum
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, New York officials began to take serious interest in Dutch methods of controlling flooding. After all, the Dutch have been protecting lowland from the sea for 2,000 years; back in 1953, they responded to a storm—one not unlike Sandy—that flooded the countryside and killed almost 2,000 people by implementing a series of projects called Delta Works. You’ll see exhibits about this engineering marvel in nearby Neeltje Jans and visit a storm-surge barrier, a massive set of gates and piers that allow seawater to flow with the tides in and out of the estuary during normal weather. During a major storm, however, the gates can be closed to keep out the surging water. This incredible feat of engineering is a fascinating sight—but the Dutch will tell you that it is just one more front in their ongoing battle with the sea, which many coastal cities around the world may be studying.
Stroll into the artists’ village of Veere
A harbour village on the shores of the Western Scheldt, Veere may be a small town now, but its stately 15th-century town hall tells of a grander past. For three centuries it was the bustling centre of the wool trade with Scotland; the wealth from this trade built the splendid church with its tall and ornate steeple that dominates the village, as well as the handsome mansions on its main street. Wander with the cruise Mmnager through Veere’s central marketplace, where you will spot the well-known Scottish Houses, so called because Scottish wool merchants built them early in the 16th century when Veere was the primary port for Scottish trade goods.
The Scots maintained a community in Veere, complete with their own church and laws, until Napoleon took over the region and eliminated their privileges. In 1896 an English art collector named Albert Lionel Ochs bought one of the two Scottish Houses and welcomed an enthusiastic group of international artists who were drawn to the scenic harbour and its fishing boats. For years painters set up their easels and painted the gentle seaside views, but after a dam closed off the harbour from the sea, the fishing boats left—and so did the artists. Today, the Scottish Houses serve as a lovely museum displaying the regional antiquities, folklore and life of the Zeeland province. And, interestingly enough, artists are once again painting in Veere, so perhaps a new colony will take root and flourish.
Day 8 - Ghent (Bruges or Ghent)
Bruges or Ghent? Choosing just one may be a challenge today on your first foray in Belgium. Bruges is a place that seems frozen in time, where boats and swans float down canals and under stone bridges that gave the city its name. Ghent is home to the Ghent Altarpiece, a stunning 15th-century masterpiece said to be the world’s most stolen work of art.
Your first day in Belgium offers you the chance to visit one of two national gems: beautiful Bruges, the capital of West Flanders and one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe; or fascinating Ghent, the capital city of East Flanders, whose long history does not weigh upon its vibrant present. Belgium’s second-largest city, Ghent abounds in beautifully restored medieval architecture, but there’s nothing museum-like about the city: It’s lively and brims with cutting-edge boutiques and galleries.
Full-day Bruges with canal cruise and walking discovery tour
See why Bruges gives Amsterdam a run for its money as the “Venice of the North” as you cruise through the UNESCO-designated city centre. The town grew up around a fort built by the first Count of Flanders as a defence against Viking invaders. By the 14th century, Bruges had become the centre of the international cloth trade. Merchants and traders from around the world came to Bruges for Flemish cloth, and the town’s bounty of beautiful churches and mansions testify to its prosperity. The city also became a centre of financial services, offering banking, money-changing and maritime insurance.
Your local guide will take you past the Begijnhof and the Church of Our Lady to the canal cruise terminal, where you’ll board boats for a cruise through Bruges’s picturesque canals. Swans share the quiet back waters of some canals; others are lined with tall brick townhouses and open up to splendid views of historic churches. After taking a close-up look at the city, see it from above: the Belfry Tower, looming over Market Square, offers an incredible view of the city.
Note: A canal cruise is the perfect way to experience Bruges; however, please be aware that the canal boats are neither covered nor heated.
Ghent walking discovery tour
Since cars are completely banned in Ghent’s historic centre, it’s a particularly pedestrian-friendly area. Stroll with your guide from the Church of Saint James, with its two Romanesque towers, to the Friday Market square, which, as its name suggests, was the site of a huge market every Friday in the Middle Ages. You’ll pass the magnificent 15th-century Great Butchers’ Hall and the elegant medieval trading houses that line Graslei and Korenlei streets on your way to St. Bavo’s Cathedral. It’s not often that a Rubens is upstaged, but in this cathedral it takes second place to the famed Ghent Altarpiece, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
This stunning 15th-century artwork, which consists of 24 panels, was begun by Hubert van Eyck and completed after his death by his younger brother, Jan. It’s been called the most often stolen artwork in the world, coveted not only for its beauty and cultural significance but also for its seminal role in the development of oil painting (the George Clooney film The Monuments Men recounts the most recent theft and recovery, during WWII); in fact, one panel has been missing since 1934. Your last stop is the Belfort, the great bell tower that rises above the Old Town. You’ll have time to explore and savor lunch on your own following your tour.
Day 9 - Antwerp
It may be the diamond capital of the world, but Antwerp is also known for a number of other sought-after cultural gems, including Golden Age art and Belgian beer, waffles and fries.
Diamond capital of the world, Belgium’s largest port, home to trendsetting fashion designers and a mecca for chocolate lovers, Antwerp is lively and historic, lovely and legend-filled. Visit Antwerp’s striking Cathedral of Our Lady, with its UNESCO-designated belfry and its historic surroundings, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, hop on the metro and experience the city like a local.
Antwerp walking discovery tour with Cathedral of Our Lady
Wisdom and Justice await you in Antwerp’s Market Square—handsome statues of these virtues overlook the triangular plaza, the historic heart of the medieval city. It’s an easy walk from the ship, and you’ll stop at the glorious Cathedral of Our Lady on the way. Considered one of the most beautiful structures in Belgium, the Gothic cathedral houses four masterworks by the golden age artist Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp most of his life.
Once you reach the Market Square, you’ll spot the lofty Renaissance-era city hall, topped with those statues (at one time a statue of Brabo joined them, but Counter-Reformation priests replaced the putative founder of Antwerp with a statue of Mary). Next to it are ornately adorned guild houses, which testify to the enormous wealth and economic dominance of Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries.
At the end of the tour, you may decide Antwerp is so inviting that you want to see more. Enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Your local guide can provide some excellent insights: where to buy diamonds, the names of the best Belgian ales and the best places to find Belgian fries and waffles. You might check out the unusual boutiques in the pedestrian-only zone; Antwerp is a hub of avant-garde fashion, so these shops are full of unique clothing. The city was home to an astounding number of artistic geniuses in the 16th and 17th centuries, among them Brueghel, Van Dyck and Rubens. You can explore exquisite museums devoted to their work on your own.
Note: Tours cannot take place at the Cathedral of Our Lady during religious services. If a religious service prevents a tour, you may return later to see this beautiful structure on your own. Be sure to get a ticket from your guide.
Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Antwerp walking tour
Residents of Antwerp are called Antwerpenaars, and you’ll feel like one during your guided tour of this bustling multicultural city. Hop on the metro for a quick ride to the beautiful Central Station, then stroll down the Meir, the main shopping street, where you’ll discover a wonderful array of architectural styles. Past and present collide at the Chocolate Line, chocolatier Dominique Persoone’s sinfully good sweets shop on the first floor of the 18th-century Royal Palace. In keeping with the regal setting, Persoone’s wife adorned the shop with 33 million Swarovski crystals.
Stand amid the sparkle and glamour and watch as master chocolatiers work their magic, then taste the results. Having met your chocolate quota for the day (if such a thing is possible!), head for Farmers’ Tower, an art deco–era building that many call the first skyscraper in Europe. And no tour of the city would be complete without a stop at a stand devoted solely to french fries, which, despite the name, are a Belgian invention. Sample these double-fried delicacies with all kinds of dressings (the house-made mayonnaise is essential) and you’ll understand why they’re a national obsession. From there you can take a short walk back to the ship or stay in town and keep exploring.
A special Captain’s farewell reception and dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 10 - Antwerp (Disembark)
Disembark the ship in Antwerp. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Brussels International Airport for your flight home.