Belgium, Holland & Luxembourg in 2 Weeks
If you have 2 weeks in the Benelux lands, you'll breathe more easily. You can stroll where you might otherwise have needed to hop on a city tram or bus, and you'll have time to visit Luxembourg. Yes, there's a lot to be said for having 2 weeks. This itinerary is designed for you to travel by car, but you can do most of it by train and an occasional bus. You'll just have to modify some elements to allow for the additional time it will take to get around.
Day 1: Arrive in Amsterdam
With 2 weeks, you can take your time -- all the while looking cool and laid back. But before you do the cool thing, I suggest you don a disguise and step onboard a touristy canal cruise boat. The view of Amsterdam is best from the water, and how else are you going to see it? Afterward, stroll along the 17th-century Golden Age Canal Belt -- comprising the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht canals -- starting out at the Westerkerk and going by way of Leidseplein to Rembrandtplein. For dinner, head to the fine canal-side eetcafé De Prins.
Day 2: More of Amsterdam's Best
This morning, you have to make a choice -- between the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, or the Anne Frank House. (If you want to visit Anne's wartime refuge, try to go as early as possible.) In the afternoon, tour the Red Light District or, if that sounds like an indecent proposal, walk instead through the old blue-collar -- now trendified -- Jordaan district. For dinner, try Haesje Claes, a traditional Dutch restaurant, or Tempo Doeloe for Indonesian cuisine.
Day 3: The IJsselmeer
Today, go by car north out of Amsterdam along the western shore of the IJsselmeer, a freshwater lake that was once a sea known as the Zuiderzee. Go through Marken, Monnickendam, Volendam, Edam, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, and Medemblik. Cross over the Afsluitdijk, the great barrier completed in 1932 that closed off the mouth of the Zuiderzee. Turn south along the eastern IJsselmeer shore, through Makkum, Hindeloopen, Stavoren, and Urk, before driving across the flat polders of Flevoland province back to Amsterdam.
Day 4: Driving to Arnhem
Get on the road again, heading southeast to Arnhem. Places worth taking in along the way include Breukelen, the village from which Brooklyn, New York, takes its name (it even has a Breukelen Bridge!); the Vinkeveense Plassen lakes landscape; and Utrecht for a brief stroll through this historic ecclesiastical city's canal-threaded Old Town. Arnhem was the target of a gallant but doomed Allied airborne assault in World War II. Visit the nearby Hoge Veluwe National Park -- where you can get around slowly on foot, or faster by borrowing a free white bicycle -- and the surprising Kröller-Müller Museum at its heart, which contains no fewer than 278 works by Vincent van Gogh.
Day 5: Drive to Maastricht
This morning, head south to Nijmegen, once a Roman legionary fortress and later a favorite seat of the Frank king Charlemagne. When you hit the Maas River at inauspiciously named Grave, follow its course south. A brief side excursion through Thorn, the comely "white village," can break up the journey on your way to Maastricht. This most southerly Dutch city's squares and cobblestone streets are filled with southern charm, not to mention plenty of fine restaurants and cafes.
Day 6: Spa
Just over an hour's drive from Maastricht is Spa, Belgium's elegant "town of waters." When you arrive, tour the mineral springs in the forests around the town. Then follow an easy circuit from Spa through the northern Ardennes. Along the way, take in Eupen, the diminutive "capital" of Belgium's small German-speaking community; the Hautes Fagnes Nature Reserve, where you might want to take time out for a hike on this invariably wind-swept high moorland; Malmédy; the attraction park at Coo (Trois Ponts); and Stavelot.
Day 7: Luxembourg City
Driving south through the Ardennes in Belgium and Luxembourg, by way of Bastogne, today you'll make your way toward Luxembourg-Ville, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Stroll its streets and squares, with their affluent yet somewhat Ruritanian air. View the dramatic gorge that separates the Old Town from the New Town, and take in the casemates, remnants of once powerful fortifications; the grand duke's seat in the Palais Grand-Ducal; and the elegant Cathédrale de Notre-Dame.
Day 8: Namur
On day 8, a 2-hour drive on the expressway from Luxembourg City brings you to Namur on the Meuse River. For a more scenic route, go by way of Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval, which will add an hour or two to your drive. In Namur, visit the hilltop Citadelle, and stroll through Le Corbeil, the town's oldest quarter. A short, charming out-of-town excursion is along the Meuse to Dinant, which you can combine with a visit to the Jardins d'Annevoie. In the evening, try your luck at Namur's casino.
Day 9: Brussels
Today, you'll scoot along the expressway to Belgium's capital. The magnificent Grand-Place is an ideal staring point for the drive. You might also want to fit in a "pilgrimage" to the nearby Manneken-Pis statue. Following this, stop off at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts to view works by Rubens, Bruegel, Magritte, and other notable Belgian artists. Then stroll amid Masonic symbols in the Parc de Bruxelles, stopping to see the Palais Royal and the Palais de la Nation (Parliament) -- on opposite sides of the park. In the evening, dine on the Grand-Place at 't Kelderke, a traditional Bruxellois restaurant.
Day 10: More of Brussels's Best
After breakfast, go shopping (or even just window-shopping) at the 19th-century Galeries Royales St-Hubert and then make your way to the Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule. Go up onto rue Royale and take a tram to place du Grand Sablon to browse its antiques stores (or, on weekends, the antiques market). When you're finished there, cross over rue de la Régence to tranquil place du Petit Sablon and enjoy a rest in its central garden. In the afternoon, take a trip to the Atomium and Bruparck complex on Brussels's northern edge or to the battlefield of Waterloo, just south of the city.
Day 11: Bruges
Not much more than an hour on the expressway (once you've broken free from Brussels's congested ring road), Bruges is the Benelux's prime medieval property. Do a canal cruise to give yourself an easy introduction to the city's layout and character. Afterward, stroll around the connected medieval Burg and Markt central squares. On the Burg, visit the Basiliek van het Heilig-Bloed for a glimpse of a relic that's said to be drops of Christ's blood; on the Markt, climb the Belfry for splendid city views. In the late afternoon, go to the Kantcentrum and see how Bruges's handmade lace is crafted.
Day 12: More of Bruges's Best
This morning, try to visit the Groeninge Museum to view its fine collection of works by the Flemish Old Masters dubbed the "Flemish Primitives." Next, stroll through the courtyard of the Lords of Gruuthuse, now the Gruuthuse Museum. On the way to the Begijnhof, pop into Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk to see its Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo. In the afternoon, if you have time, consider taking a side trip to the venerable nearby canal-side village of Damme.
Day 13: Ghent & Antwerp
These two Flemish cities are close to Bruges and close together (by road, Ghent is 53km/33 miles from Bruge, and Antwerp is 91km/56 miles from Bruges and 64km/40 miles from Ghent). When you arrive in Ghent, head to its central district and up to the top of the 14th-century Belfry for beautiful city views. In nearby Sint-Baafskathedraal, you'll lay eyes on a medieval masterpiece: Jan van Eyck's The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432). From the cathedral, stroll to the medieval inner harbor along Korenlei and Graslei. Next, it's on to Antwerp. Here, visit the Grote Markt and view its dramatic Brabo sculpture-fountain. For an insight into the artist Rubens, visit his home, the Rubenshuis.
Day 14: Back to Amsterdam
From Antwerp, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is just a couple hours up the expressway. If you have time before your flight, consider spending it in one of the following places (all close to the airport). In spring, you'll breathe the scent from millions of flowers at Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse; at other times of year, tour sites in Leiden associated with the Pilgrim fathers. Should neither option appeal, perhaps you'd prefer a visit to the beach at Zandvoort.
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.