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An essential part of the Rotterdam experience is taking a Spido Harbor Tour (tel. 010/275-9988; www.spido.nl; Metro: Leuvehaven). The season of the year determines how much of the vast port you're able to see, but it's an unforgettable experience to board a boat that seems large in comparison to the canal launches of Amsterdam -- two tiers of indoor seating and open decks -- and then to feel dwarfed by the hulking oil tankers and container ships that glide like giant whales into their berths along the miles of docks. The vast Europoort (pronounced the same as "port" in English) was created when its several harbors were opened directly to the sea, 32km (20 miles) away, by the dredging of a deepwater channel that accommodates even the largest oil tankers. The boats leaves from the Erasmus Bridge year round, with departures roughly every 45 minutes during daylight hours in the high season, once or twice a day in winter. The basic tour, offered year-round, is a 75-minute sail along the city's waterfront; between April and September, it's possible to take an extended (2 1/2-hour) trip daily. Tours are 12.75€ for adults, less for children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under.

Or combine harbor sightseeing with a taste of a Dutch treat -- pancakes -- aboard the Pannenkoekenboot (Pancake Boat) ★, Parkhaven (tel. 010/436-7295; www.pannenkoekenboot.nl; tram: 8), moored at the foot of the Euromast. As soon as the boat weighs anchor, there's a free-for-all at the pancake buffet, with as many plain, bacon, or apple pancakes as you can eat. Departures are Saturday at 8pm. The basic cruise is 27.50€ for adults, 22.50€ for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and under. If you don't book online, expect to pay 2€ more on board. Longer cruises, family cruises and other specialty sailings are also available.

For sheer novelty value, try cruising down the canals aboard the world’s first HotTug (www.hottug.nl; tel. 31/630-39-6822; two-hour rental 139€), a floating, wood-fired hot tub that keeps you warm and cozy whatever the weather is doing around you. It can seat up to eight people (though you can rent one just for two for a more romantic experience) and it’s easy to navigate, but if you want to drink aboard, you’ll need to hire a skipper.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.