Belgium & Holland in 1 Week
Few countries can boast of cities more justly celebrated than Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges. Not far behind are Ghent, Antwerp, the Hague, Maastricht, Delft, Leiden, and Luxembourg City, among others. Some of these stellar places can't fit on this itinerary. (Don't blame me: It was you who decided to come for only a week!) Travel between the cities listed here is easy -- I recommend getting around by car or riding Belgium and Holland's excellent trains.
Day 1: Arrive in Amsterdam
Get in early and get going -- time is of the essence! First up is a 1-hour canal cruise. This is the Dutch capital's tourist-trap par excellence, but it is also the very best way to view much of this canal-threaded city in a reasonable time. Now choose just one -- a tough decision that will depend on your own interests -- from Amsterdam's three standout museums: the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Anne Frank House. A walk in the old hippie-paradise Vondelpark to clear your head can be followed by drinks at the Café Americain on Leidseplein. Dine in the evening at a traditional Dutch restaurant like Haesje Claes or an Indonesian one like Tempo Doeloe.
Day 2: The Hague
The Dutch seat of government is a 50-minute train ride from Amsterdam. Parliament is in the heart of town, in the Binnenhof and Ridderzaal, and you can take a guided tour if you've planned ahead. Visit the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen, in the Mauritshuis palace, for its superb paintings by the Old Dutch and Flemish Masters. Then hop on a tram and take a short ride to the seacoast at Scheveningen, where you can breathe fresh sea air and have coffee at the splendid Kurhaus Hotel before taking the tram back to the Hague to catch a late-afternoon train to Brussels.
Day 3: Brussels
If you don't want to be packing and unpacking every day, lodge in Brussels and do Belgium's other historic cities as easy day trips. In the "capital of Europe," start out at the Grand-Place, taking time to absorb the magnificent old square's architectural details and animated spirit. A date with Rubens, Bruegel, Magritte, and other notable Belgian artists awaits you in the elegant Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. Next, you might want to stroll amid trees, fountains, and lawns in the Parc de Bruxelles, and view the Palais Royal and the Belgian Parliament building, the Palais de la Nation, on opposite sides of the park. In the evening, dine at 't Kelderke, a traditional Brussels restaurant on the Grand-Place.
Day 4: Bruges's Medieval Splendor
By train, Bruges is just an hour from Brussels. Once you arrive, hire wheels at the rail station or at a store in town and you can easily tour the city by bicycle. A must-do is a canal cruise; this will mark you indelibly as a tourist, but what you lose in street cred you'll make up for by seeing a lot in a short time. Later, 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. Next, head to the Kantcentrum and watch how Bruges's handmade lace is crafted.
Day 5: Ghent
Just a half-hour train ride from Brussels, Ghent has a different, thoroughly Flemish, character. Scoot to the center of town by tram, and get your bearings by climbing the stairs or taking the elevator up above the city's rooftops to the 14th-century Belfry's viewing platform. Across elegant Sint-Baafsplein from the Belfry, Sint-Baafskathedraal holds a great medieval artwork: Jan van Eyck's altarpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432). From the cathedral, stroll to the medieval inner harbor along Korenlei and Graslei, past the forbidding castle of the counts of Flanders, the Gravensteen, and then go through the restored medieval Patershol district.
Day 6: Antwerp
Forty minutes by train from Brussels, Antwerp is Belgium's second-largest city. Make the most of your time here by riding a tram to the center of town. Visit the Grote Markt to view its dramatic Brabo sculpture-fountain, and then stop for a bolleke (round glass) of Antwerp's De Koninck beer at the grand old tavern Den Engel on the square. Antwerp means Rubens; to learn more about the artist, go to his former home, the Rubenshuis, and view his paintings at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten. Back at Antwerp Centraal Station, stroll briefly around the city's celebrated (though not exactly handsome) Diamond Quarter before catching your train.
Day 7: Back to Amsterdam
If you have an early flight home from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, you'll be happy to know that InterCity Express trains to Amsterdam from Brussels and Antwerp stop at Schiphol. If on the other hand you have time to kill in Amsterdam but don't want to stray too far from Centraal Station, take a short ride onboard a harbor ferry from the Waterplein-West dock behind the station, for fine views of Amsterdam harbor. More time might permit you to visit historic Haarlem.
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.