Packages for the Independent Traveler
The Benelux is best known for its cities. Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges, in that order, are the best places for packaged short city breaks -- something like a long weekend, 5 days, or a week would be ideal. Local airlines KLM (www.klm.com) and Brussels Airlines (www.brusselsairlines.com) offer packages, as do many other international airlines. From Britain and Ireland, it's easy to do the shorter kind of city break, by plane or by bus, and there are many companies that offer such breaks.
Escorted General-Interest Tours
With a good escorted group tour, you'll know ahead of time what your trip will cost, and you won't have to worry about transportation, luggage, hotel reservations, communicating in foreign languages, and other basics -- an experienced guide will take care of all that and lead you through all the sightseeing. The downside of a guided tour is that you trade much of the freedom and personal free time independent travel grants you and often see only the canned postcard-ready side of Europe through the tinted windows of a giant bus. You get to see Europe, but rarely do you get the chance to really know it. Consult a good travel agent for the latest offerings and advice.
Virgin Vacations (www.virgin-vacations.com) organizes great custom escorted tours of Amsterdam alone, with bus, bike, and boat options; and of Belgium and Holland together, taking in Amsterdam, Delft, Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp.
The Amsterdam company Artifex (tel. 020/620-8112; www.artifex-travel.nl), offers everything from architecture walks to painting classes on canal boats. Its tailor-made tours aren't exactly cheap (the price depends on what you want to do), but its multilingual guides -- trained art historians -- can get you into private collections, the Royal Palace even when it's closed to the public, the Amsterdam School's Scheepvaarthuis (never open to the public), and plenty more places. Some clients wind up spending half their day in a cozy brown cafe.
With more than 450 different beers being produced in a nation of just 10 million inhabitants, you can easily see that beer is a big deal in Belgium. Some of these are run-of-the-mill pilsener beers but many are lovingly crafted specialty beers with their own distinct bottle and glass. Getting to grips with a bottle of Belgium's best is made easier on an escorted beer tour run by BeerTrips.com, PO Box 7892, Missoula, Montana 59807 (tel. 406/531-9109; http://beertrips.com/index.html).
Tiny Luxembourg is more likely to be included in a more general escorted tour than to be a destination in its own right. An example is the Imperial Capitals Tour offered by Cosmos Tours (tel. 800/942-3301; www.escortedcosmostours.com), which covers Belgium and Luxembourg in addition to other European countries.