Amsterdam and The Hague windmills 1Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board

Step back in time in Europe’s best preserved 17th century city, buoyed by the Dutch Golden Age, when rich burghers created a network of concentric canals lined with stylish townhouses and intricate gables.

The best way to explore Amsterdam on foot is with a free city tour. Tours depart daily from the National Monument in Dam Square, taking in the Royal Palace, Red Light District, Old Church and New Church, and the pot and prostitution scene.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum houses the best collection of works of the Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Steen, while the Van Gogh Museum boasts many stunning examples of the artist’s impressionist style and delightful landscapes.

Visitors can learn about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands at the Anne Frank House, where Anne and her family hid for over two years. The group was found in 1944 and transported to concentration camps. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only survivor, and he went on to publish Anne’s diary.

Alternatively, check out The Hague, the Netherlands’ seat of government. This area is also home to the working palace of the Dutch royal family and Peace Palace, where countries attempt resolve international disputes.

The Hague is also known for its collection of Art Nouveau buildings, the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery and Scheveningen, a beach playground with a double-decker pier. 

The Mauritshuis Picture Gallery displays world-famous masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age, such as The View of Delft and The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt. 

Brussels, Bruges and Gent

windmill 2Tourist Office for Flanders – Brussels

Aside from its world-class beers, exquisite chocolate – Godiva, Leonidas and Corné Port-Royal to name but a few – fresh waffles and lace, Brussels wins accolade after accolade for its impressive town square, the Grand Place.

The Town Hall is the focal point for the square with its 91-metre-tall tower and statue of St Michael. The neo-Gothic King’s House was used for administrative purposes, and the medieval guild halls with their gabled roofs are now stylish shops and restaurants. To the left of the Town Hall, the Swan House now contains the most expensive restaurant in Brussels, while the Brewer’s Guild House is now a brewery museum.  

Alternatively, Bruges boasts perfectly-preserved towering Gothic architecture, elegant gourmet restaurants, cozy cafes serving heavenly chocolate, and romantic swan-filled canals. Among the not-to-be-missed sites is the 88-metre, 366-step Bell Tower, most of which has been overlooking the Market Square since 1300.

The birthplace of Bruges is the Burg Square, the location of the 9th century castle of the first Count of Flanders. The basilica of the Holy Blood is said to house drops of the blood of Christ, which were believed to be brought to Bruges back in 1150 after the Second Crusade.

Ghent is also a treasure trove of heritage buildings, art and culinary delights.

The medieval Cooremetershuys – the guild house of the Grain Weighers – and several medieval guild houses on the Graslei still remain. The Castle of the Counts, a medieval fortress in the centre of the city, houses a large collection of instruments of torture, while the Belfry was a prime lookout point used to track enemies that were approaching the city.

St Bavo’s Cathedral with its 22 altars also holds many treasures, including the tombs of the Ghent Bishops, Rubens’ The Conversion of St Bavo and the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers.