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Day by Day Itinerary

Beautiful countryside, quaint historic cities, and warm hospitality are all yours to discover year-round in the Netherlands, but spring is an especially lovely time to experience the waterways of Holland and Belgium. Now you can in 2016 on our Holland & Belgium in Springtime River Cruise, a perennial favorite of our travelers. An array of delights—a Home-Hosted Visit in Enkhuizen, an excursion to colorful Keukenhof Flower Park, a visit to the famous Aalsmeer Flower Auction, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Kinderdijk Windmills, and a visit to a tulip farm near Amsterdam—await you on this 10-night Holland river cruise, which includes ALL meals and wine with dinner, and personal headsets on all included and optional tours. Settle in, enjoy the camaraderie of fellow travelers, and watch Holland and Belgium come alive!

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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Brussels, Belgium. Please refer to your personal air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    Explore the Medieval and Renaissance buildings of Ghent

    Arrive this morning or afternoon in the Belgian capital of Brussels. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist with the transfer to your ship in Antwerp to join passengers who took the Bruges, Belgium pre-trip extension.

    After an included light lunch, relax aboard ship or take a stroll around the neighborhood where it’s docked. Back on board, gather for a briefing. During your Holland & Belgium River Cruise, whenever you have leisure time at a port along your journey, you’ll receive a briefing about the port area and town prior to arrival so you can make the best use of your free time there.

    Join your new travel companions for dinner onboard this evening.

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    Encounter local folk dancers while touring Antwerp

    After breakfast, you’ll participate in a briefing and have the opportunity to learn about optional tours. Then join a walking tour of Antwerp.

    Located on the banks of the Schelde River, Antwerp is Belgium’s major port and has been commercially important in European trade since the eleventh century. Like Amsterdam, it is one of the world centers for diamond trading. In spite of damage suffered during both World Wars, Antwerp remains a city full of beautiful historic architecture dating to the 16th century.

    You’ll explore Antwerp’s well-preserved Old Town, built around the Grote Markt (Town Square), and graced by the lovely old Town Hall and guild houses. Marvel at the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady, graced with masterpieces by the great painter Peter Paul Rubens who lived here in the 17th century. Stroll along the Meir (Antwerp's main shopping street), lined with wonderfully elaborate historic buildings.

    Return to the ship for lunch, after which you have the afternoon free to rest or explore on your own.

    On board this evening, meet the crew over a Welcome Drink and sit down together for a Welcome Dinner. Cruise toward your next port, Ghent, this evening.

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    Explore the Medieval and Renaissance buildings of Ghent

    This morning, visit one of Belgium’s oldest cities and its fourth-largest, Ghent, known as "the jewel of Flanders." Enjoy an included walking tour here that will immerse you in the city’s rich history.

    Medieval and Renaissance buildings tell the story of Ghent’s past reign as a textile capital from the eleventh century onward, both more populous and wealthier than London for several centuries. When the people of Ghent were under Spanish rule and rose up against Charles V to protest taxes, he punished the city by making its nobles parade before him wearing nooses around their necks. This led to the term stroppendragers—noose-wearers—becoming the nickname for Ghent-dwellers ever since. We'll enjoy free time in this Flemish treasure before returning to the ship for lunch.

    This afternoon, make discoveries at your own pace, or join your Program Director on an optional Belgian Beer & Flowers tour. Tulips aren’t the only popular blooms in this region, and you'll learn about Ghent’s role as the world’s largest exporter of azaleas at a farm visit. Then discover one local family-owned brewery’s methods of producing beer called gruut (meaning "made with spices")—and enjoy samples.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard the ship.

  • hidden

    See the Delta Works during an optional tour

    After breakfast onboard, disembark in Veere. You’ll get to know this picturesque village during a stroll this morning. Your Program Director will share information about this artist-friendly town of 1,500 and its past as a walled trading city in the Middle Ages.

    Enjoy free time here before returning to the ship for lunch onboard.

    You may spend the afternoon relaxing aboard the ship or exploring Veere at your own pace.

    Or, join us for an optional excursion to the Delta Works, an engineering marvel designed to protect Holland from floods. Terrible floods in 1953 made clear that low-lying Holland, ever at the mercy of flooding, needed a plan to protect itself from future weather events. Over the next 40 years, a complex plan led to the damming of four major estuaries, and the coordination of an extensive network of locks, sluices, channels, bridges, and gates. You’ll learn about this challenge in a film at the site before enjoying time to explore at your leisure. Then, discover the final step of the Delta Works plan, the Storm Surge Barrier, comprised of two huge doors which can close off the New Waterway in times of extreme weather. Return to the ship late this afternoon.

    Cruise toward Rotterdam this evening and enjoy dinner onboard the ship.

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    View the Netherlands famous windmills while touring Kinderdijk

    Early this morning, we arrive in Rotterdam. After breakfast, discover Rotterdam on an included walking tour, followed by free time on your own.

    Or join us for a Delft optional tour. Dating to the 13th century, Delft was a longtime home port to the Dutch East India Company. It is well known for its blue and white pottery called Delftware, which was first produced in the 17th century and styled after imported Chinese porcelain. You’ll learn more about the unique pottery during a visit to a local porcelain factory. You’ll also enjoy a guided walking tour of the city.

    We enjoy lunch together today. This afternoon, explore at your own pace, or join the included walking tour of Rotterdam if you enjoyed the Delft Optional Tour this morning.

    Enjoy dinner onboard your ship tonight.

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    View the Netherlands famous windmills while touring Kinderdijk

    This morning, head for Kinderdijk for an exclusive Discovery Series event, a tour of the windmills that have made this city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kinderdijk takes its name from a 16th-century legend involving a baby (or kinder), a cradle, and a cat that all survived being tossed into raging waters. For centuries, the Dutch were at the mercy of frequent floods. Around 1740, 19 windmills were built in the village of Kinderdijk. These innovative structures drain the excess water from polders—the reclaimed land that is situated below sea level—and pump it into nearby rivers and canals. This helps to evenly distribute water levels and lessen the threat of devastating floods. Nowadays, modern engines do the job of turning the paddle wheels, forcing them to scoop up the water, yet the country still has a unique bond with, and affection for, its many windmills.

    The windmills, supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation, have been well preserved, and the historic structures became protected by UNESCO in 1997. You’ll walk to the famed windmills and have time at the site to take some photos of these nostalgic, yet pragmatic creations.

    You’ll have free time to make your own discoveries here, then enjoy lunch onboard your ship. This afternoon, you'll enjoy scenic sailing, or you may join us for an optional Gouda tour.

    In a 90-minute walking tour of Gouda with a local guide, you’ll get to know the city from a new perspective, then enjoy time on your own to explore. And you'll enjoy a pause for a tasting of the cheese for which the city is best known.

    This evening, sail toward Amsterdam and enjoy dinner onboard.

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    View Holland's beautiful flowers at a flower auction in Lisse

    This morning, you can get acquainted with the Netherlands’ cultural capital on an exclusive Amsterdam canal cruise with a local guide. While traversing these 400-year-old canals—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—you’ll view such landmarks as the 17th-century Royal Palace and the Mint Tower, which has retained its name even though gold and silver coins were minted here for only a couple of years. You'll also see the wooden double drawbridge, known as the "Skinny Bridge," that may remind you of Van Gogh's paintings.

    You return to the ship and have lunch on board before setting off on a true "Netherlands in Springtime" experience. Board your motorcoach and ride to the Keukenhof Flower Park in the heart of the western Netherlands’ tulip-growing region. You have the opportunity to stroll through the park—70 acres of lovely, tree-shaded grounds with ponds, winding paths, streams, and fountains. Once the kitchen garden of a medieval castle, today it is known as the "greatest flower show on Earth," featuring more than seven million tulips and a variety of other flowers in both indoor and outdoor exhibits.

    We continue our afternoon with a visit a tulip farm, an exclusive Discovery Series event. The Netherlands have more than 23,000 acres set aside for the cultivation of their famous blooms, and during the spring season, the area's landscape is rich with vibrant colors as the tulips come to life. During your visit, you'll see these brightly colored flowers, and learn how farmers prepare the tulips to be picked and sold.

    Please note: Weather conditions and seasonal fluctuations may affect flower-blooming season. The lush blooming of the park peaks in mid-April. Not all blooms will be visible in March.

  • hidden

    Early this morning, immerse yourself in the spectacle of the Aalsmeer Flower Auction (the world’s largest). Holland produces more than nine billion flower bulbs annually, and throughout the country more than 23,000 acres of land are dedicated to greenhouse production.

    In Aalsmeer, the auction house itself comprises about 160 acres. Stationed at the visitors’ gallery, you’ll witness buyers from all over the world making deals at a lightning pace. Each day more than 19 million fresh flowers are sold during a computerized auction. As the clock for a group of flowers to be auctioned ticks down, the price lowers with it. Bidders bid by pressing a button (which is linked to the main computer) when the price of the flowers reaches what they are willing to pay—if someone hasn’t already pressed his button first. So there is only one bid: the highest. Once purchased here, they are loaded onto airplanes and transported to florist shops across Europe and the U.S., usually to be sold the same day. Please note: The Aalsmeer Flower Auction is only open on weekdays, so the day of your visit may vary.

    This afternoon, enjoy exploring the cosmopolitan neighborhoods and historic lanes of Amsterdam at your own pace, before we set sail for Enkhuizen. Dinner is aboard ship this evening.

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    Explore the port city of Hoorn

    Begin your day with a walking tour of Enkhuizen (pronounced "enk-HOW-zen")—a striking, magnificently preserved town established between AD 1000 and 1200. Enkhuizen became a city in 1355, prospering due to its herring fishing industry and trade from the East and West India companies. Enkhuizen reached its peak in the 17th century when it boasted the largest herring fleet in Holland. The tour concludes at St. Pancras Church, where you’ll enjoy a discussion on the famous murals, as well as a brief organ concert.

    The thriving port sat on the edge of the Zuider Zee, an inlet of the North Sea until it was enclosed in 1932. Now, Enkhuizen sits on the Ijsselmeer, the large inland lake created by the damming of the sea outlet. With a population of about 16,000, this historic city retains its old charms, and its harbors attract thousands of pleasure boats. You’ll also see the Drommedaris, an old defense tower at the entrance to the harbor, and the many warehouses originally used by both the East and West India Company.

    This afternoon, enjoy a visit with a local family, an exclusive Discovery Series event. They’ll be your hosts for coffee, cake, and conversation. Along with a friendly intercultural exchange, you might enjoy tasting a stroopwafel—a thin, waffle-like sandwich cookie with a sweet, chewy center.

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    Explore the port city of Hoorn

    After breakfast, disembark for a walking tour of Hoorn, once one of Holland’s richest port cities.

    After lunch, enjoy some time at leisure to explore the city, the main market town for the West Friesland region. Once the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, Hoorn dates back to 1357 and its history will be on abundant display as you walk its lanes.

    Return to your ship for a Captain’s Farewell Drink and Dinner with your fellow travelers.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, your Program Director will assist you in transferring to the airport for your flight home. Or, experience more of this region on our optional extensions: Amsterdam, the Netherlands or Berlin, Germany.

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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Amsterdam. Please refer to your personal air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    Explore Amsterdam on foot and discover impressive museums and markets

    Arrive today in the Dutch capital, where you’ll be greeted at the airport and transferred to your ship to meet up with those who took our optional pre-trip extensions to Amsterdam, the Netherlands or Berlin, Germany. After an included light lunch, relax aboard ship or take a stroll around the neighborhood where it’s docked.

    In the late afternoon, gather in the lounge for an informative ship embarkation and safety meeting. During your Holland River Cruise, whenever you have leisure time at a port along your journey, you’ll receive a briefing about the port area and town prior to arrival so you can make the best use of your free time there.

    This evening, you'll enjoy dinner onboard.

  • hidden

    Explore Amsterdam on foot and discover impressive museums and markets

    After breakfast, disembark for a walking tour of Hoorn, once one of Holland’s richest port cities.

    After lunch, enjoy some time at leisure to explore the city, the main market town for the West Friesland region. Once the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, Hoorn dates back to 1357 and its history will be on abundant display as you walk its lanes.

    Return to your ship for a Captain’s Welcome Drink and Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

  • hidden

    Explore the port city of Hoorn

    Enjoy breakfast as you sail this morning from Hoorn to Enkhuizen, a striking, magnificently preserved town established between AD 1000 and AD 1200. This morning you'll enjoy a walking tour of Enkhuizen, which became a city in 1355, prospering due to its herring fishing industry and trade from the East and West India Companies. Enkhuizen reached its peak in the 17th century when it boasted the largest herring fleet in Holland.

    The thriving port sat on the edge of the Zuider Zee, an inlet of the North Sea until it was enclosed in 1932. Now, Enkhuizen sits on the Ijsselmeer, the large inland lake created by the damming of the sea outlet. With a population of about 16,000, this historic city retains its old charms, and its harbors attract thousands of pleasure boats. You’ll also see the Drommedaris, an old defense tower at the entrance to the harbor and the many warehouses originally used by both the East and West India Company.

    Enjoy free time and lunch onboard before walking to the home of a local family who’ll be your hosts for coffee, cake, and conversation. Along with an eye-opening intercultural exchange, you might enjoy a stroopwafel—a thin, waffle-like cookie sandwich with a sweet, chewy center.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard.

  • hidden

    View the Netherlands famous flower gardens

    You’ll enjoy a morning of sailing, then enjoy lunch aboard ship before setting off on a true “Netherlands in Springtime” experience. Board your motorcoach and ride to the Keukenhof Flower Park in the heart of western Netherlands' tulip-growing region.

    You'll have the opportunity to stroll through the park—70 acres of lovely, tree-shaded grounds with ponds, winding paths, streams, and fountains. Once the kitchen garden of a medieval castle, today it is known as the “greatest flower show on Earth,” featuring more than seven million tulips and a variety of other flowers.

    We continue our afternoon with a visit a tulip farm, an exclusive Discovery Series event. The Netherlands have more than 23,000 acres set aside for the cultivation of their famous blooms, and during the spring season, the area’s landscape is rich with vibrant colors as the tulips come to life. During your visit, you’ll see these brightly colored flowers, and learn how farmers prepare the tulips to be picked and sold.

    Return to the ship for dinner this evening.

    Please note: Weather conditions and seasonal fluctuations may affect flower-blooming season. The lush blooming of the park peaks in mid-April. Not all blooms will be visible in March.

  • hidden

    View Holland's beautiful flowers at a flower auction in Lisse

    Early this morning, immerse yourself in the spectacle of the Aalsmeer Flower Auction (the world’s largest). Holland produces more than nine billion flower bulbs annually, and throughout the country more than 23,000 acres of land are dedicated to greenhouse production.

    In Aalsmeer, the auction house itself comprises about 160 acres. Stationed at the visitors’ gallery, you'll witness buyers from all over the world making deals at a lightning pace. Each day more than 19 million fresh flowers are sold during a computerized auction. As the clock for a group of flowers to be auctioned ticks down, the price lowers with it. Bidders bid by pressing a button (which is linked to the main computer) when the price of the flowers reaches what they are willing to pay—if someone else hasn't pressed his button first. So there is only one bid: the highest. Once purchased here, they are loaded onto airplanes and transported to florist shops across Europe and the U.S., usually to be sold the same day. Please note: The Aalsmeer Flower Auction is only open on weekdays, so the day of your visit may vary.

    Back in the Dutch capital, you'll embark on an Amsterdam canal cruise. During your tour, you'll view Amsterdam’s landmarks, such as the 17th-century Royal Palace and the Mint Tower, which has retained its name even though gold and silver coins were minted here for only a couple of years. Along the waterways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll also see the wooden double drawbridge, known as the “Skinny Bridge,” that may remind you of Van Gogh’s paintings.

    The balance of the afternoon is at leisure. Enjoy dinner on board this evening.

  • hidden

    View the Netherlands famous windmills while touring Kinderdijk

    This morning, you head for Kinderdijk to tour the windmills that have made this city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kinderdijk takes its name from a 16th-century legend involving a baby (or kinder), a cradle, and a cat that all survived being tossed into raging waters. For centuries, the Dutch were at the mercy of frequent floods. Around 1740, 19 windmills were built in the village of Kinderdijk. These innovative structures drain the excess water from polders—the reclaimed land that is situated below sea level—and pump it into nearby rivers and canals. This helps to evenly distribute water levels and lessen the threat of devastating floods. Nowadays, modern engines do the job of turning the paddle wheels, forcing them to scoop up the water, yet the country still has a unique bond with, and affection for, its many windmills.

    The windmills have been well preserved, and the historic structures—supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—became protected by UNESCO in 1997. You’ll walk to the famed windmills and have time at the site to take some photos of these nostalgic, yet pragmatic creations.

    The afternoon is at leisure. Or join us for an optional Gouda tour. In an hour-long walking tour of Gouda with a local guide, you’ll get to know the city from a new perspective, then enjoy time on your own to explore. Along the way, you’ll sample the cheese for which the town is well-known.

    Enjoy dinner onboard your ship tonight.

  • hidden

    This morning, discover Rotterdam on an included walking tour, followed by free time on your own.

    Or join us for a Delft optional tour. Dating to the 13th century, Delft was a long-time home port to the Dutch East India Company. It is well known for its blue and white pottery called Delftware, which was first produced in the 17th century and styled after imported Chinese porcelain. You'll learn more about the unique pottery during a visit to a local porcelain factory. You'll also enjoy a guided walking tour of the city.

    This afternoon, explore at your own pace, or join the included walking tour of Rotterdam for those who enjoyed our morning optional Delft tour.

  • hidden

    See the Delta Works during an optional tour

    After breakfast on board, disembark at Veere, where you’ll get to know this picturesque village during a morning stroll. Your Program Director will share information about this artist-friendly town of 1,500 and its past as a walled trading city in the Middle Ages.

    Enjoy free time here before returning to your ship for lunch onboard.

    Or, join an optional excursion to the Delta Works, an engineering marvel designed to protect Holland from floods. Terrible floods in 1953 made clear that low-lying Holland, ever at the mercy of flooding, needed a plan to protect itself from future weather events. Over the next 40 years, a complex plan led to the damming of four major estuaries, and the coordination of an extensive network of locks, sluices, channels, bridges, and gates. You’ll learn about this challenge in a film at the site and free time to explore. Then, we’ll take in the final step of the Delta Works plan, the Storm Surge Barrier, comprised of two huge doors which can close off the New Waterway in times of extreme weather.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard your ship before departing for Ghent, where you’ll dock overnight.

  • hidden

    Explore the Medieval and Renaissance buildings of Ghent

    This morning, visit one of Belgium’s oldest cities and its fourth-largest, Ghent, the jewel of Flanders. Enjoy an included walking tour here that will immerse you in the city’s rich history.

    Medieval and Renaissance buildings tell the story of Ghent's past reign as a textile capital from the eleventh century onward, both more populous and wealthier than London for several centuries. When the people of Ghent were under Spanish rule and rose up against Charles V to protest taxes, he punished the city by making its nobles parade before him wearing nooses around their necks. This led to the term stroppendragers—noose-wearers—becoming the nickname for Ghent-dwellers ever since. Enjoy free time in this Flemish treasure before returning to the ship.

    This afternoon, make discoveries at your own pace, or join your Program Director on an optional Belgian Beer & Flowers tour. Tulips aren’t the only popular blooms in this region, and you'll learn about Ghent's role as the world's largest exporter of azaleas at a farm visit. Then discover one local family-owned brewery's methods of producing beer called gruut (meaning "made with spices")—and enjoy samples.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard before sailing to Antwerp, our final port-of-call.

  • hidden

    Encounter local folk dancers while touring Antwerp

    After breakfast, set off on a walking tour of Antwerp. Located on the banks of the Schelde River, Antwerp is Belgium’s major port and has been commercially important in European trade since the eleventh century.

    Like Amsterdam, it is one of the world centers for diamond trading. In spite of damage suffered during both World Wars, Antwerp remains a city of beautiful historic architecture dating to the 16th century.

    You'll explore Antwerp’s well-preserved Old Town, built around the Grote Markt (Town Square), and graced by the lovely old Town Hall and beautiful guild houses. Marvel at the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady, graced with masterpieces by the great painter Peter Paul Rubens who lived here in the 17th century. Stroll along the Meir (Antwerp’s main shopping street), lined with wonderfully elaborate historic buildings.

    Return to the ship for lunch, after which you have the afternoon free to rest or explore on your own. Later, join your ship's captain for a Farewell Drink and Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport in Brussels for your return flight home. Or, transfer to Bruges, Belgium to begin your 4-day optional extension.

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

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Overall Trip Excellence
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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

Sign in to ask a question

Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 11 days, with 10 nights aboard a private Grand Circle river ship

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip.
  • You must be able to walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 2-3 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs
  • Agility and balance are required for boarding canal boats in Amsterdam

Climate

  • Spring daytime temperatures range from 48-70°F
  • March weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time
  • Brisk breezes should be anticipated in Holland

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestones

Transportation

  • Travel by 47-passenger coach, canal boat, and 140- to 164-passenger river ship

River Cruising

  • Throughout the River Cruise season, weather conditions and tides affect European river depths; water levels may require adjustments to your itinerary, including your Amsterdam canal cruise

Cuisine

  • Meals will be a mix of local specialties and familiar American standards
  • Meals onboard feature a variety of entrée options, including vegetarian

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we  have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Private Grand Circle River Ship

    All of our Rhine, Main & Danube river ships made Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    Custom-built for Grand Circle with our travelers’ needs in mind, your private river ship has a passenger capacity of 140-164, with all outside cabins. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas, but connectivity is limited in certain locations. Your cabin features a flat-screen TV, direct-dial telephone, individual heating and air-conditioning controls, twin beds that convert to sofas, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • M/S River Concerto

    The M/S River Concerto was ranked #14 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Concerto was launched in 2000. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Harmony

    The M/S River Harmony was ranked #26 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Harmony was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Melody

    The M/S River Melody was ranked #13 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Melody was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Rhapsody

    The M/S River Rhapsody was ranked #19 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Rhapsody was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Aria

    The M/S River Aria was ranked #35 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    Launched in 2001, the M/S River Aria has a capacity of 164 passengers in 82 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, and Sun Deck. Your ship has an international crew of 38 and up to four English-speaking Program Directors.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Extensions

  • Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges

    Bruges, Belguim | Rating: First Class

    Situated in the Old Town of Bruges, the First-Class Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges allows you to enjoy the historic charm of Belgium’s best-preserved medieval city. Amenities include 24-hour concierge service, a library, wellness center with sauna and steam room, and a cozy bar and lounge. The hotel’s 118 rooms each offer air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a spacious private bath with hair dryer.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Moevenpick Amsterdam City Center

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands | Rating: Superior First Class

    Amsterdam's contemporary, Superior First-Class Moevenpick Hotel sits on the edge of a canal, just a short train or bus ride away from Amsterdam’s Old Town and city center. Your air-conditioned room features coffee- and tea-making facilities, refrigerator, safe, cable TV, and telephone with voicemail.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Andel's Hotel Berlin

    Berlin, Germany | Rating: Superior First Class

    This modern, Superior First-Class hotel includes three restaurants, spa and fitness center, and relaxation terrace, plus panoramic views of Berlin on the twelfth and 14th floors. Each of the 557 rooms and suites features a telephone, TV, high-speed Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Your Flight Options

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the Grand Circle vacation that’s right for you:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Travel Times

Traveling to Brussels, and from Amsterdam (or to Amsterdam, and from Brussels), will involve long flights and some cities will require multiple connections. These rigors should be a consideration in planning your trip.

The chart below provides estimated travel times from popular departure cities. Connection times are included in these estimates.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in The Netherlands

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Holland & Belgium in Springtime vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

  View the tulip display in the Keukenhof Flower Gardens  

A sea of tulips—along with acres of hyacinths and daffodils—is a sure sign of spring in the famed Keukenhof Flower Gardens, situated between Amsterdam and The Hague. Photographer Joseph Casoria, 4-time traveler of Northport, New York, found just the right angle to capture the blanket of blooms.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

History, Food & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and cuisine you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Keukenhof: the Greatest Flower Show on Earth

Discover the colorful story of the world’s largest flower park, which is only open for eight weeks each year.

Read More »

A Journey Through Time

A visit to the renovated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a true journey into the past. Find out how for yourself.

Read More »

Holland: the Netherlands' Most Famous Region

It may be known as “the Venice of the North,” but this section of the country has an identity all its own. See why.

Read More »

History, Food & More

Keukenhof: the Greatest Flower Show on Earth

The colorful story of the world’s largest flower park

by Steven Marinot, Program Director, The Netherlands

Although it’s open only eight weeks each year, Keukenhof is the ideal setting to take in spring with all of your senses. Revel in endless waves of ethereal colors. Listen to tranquil birdsong. Savor the intoxicating aromas of millions of fragrant blossoms. A visit to the world’s largest flower park in full bloom is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Situated on nearly 80 acres of what were once 15th-century hunting grounds in Lisse, Holland, Keukenhof (literally, “kitchen garden”) earned its name when the area became a source of herbs and vegetables for the castle kitchen of Countess Jacoba van Beieren. In 1949, flower growers and exporters held the first outdoor flower exhibition here and it has been an annual event ever since.

Hand-planted beauty

Remarkably, the gardeners at Keukenhof hand plant some seven million flower bulbs in more than 1,600 varieties each year. In an intricately layered gardening process, crocuses are planted on top of early-blooming tulips atop late-blooming tulips. This way, the gardens are planned to remain full throughout the season—though sometimes nature has other things in mind.

Numbering 4.5 million, tulips clearly dominate at Keukenhof, but each year a changing array of other plant species also raise their petals to the sky—including daffodils, hyacinths, azaleas, rhododendron, dahlias, begonias, amaryllis, crocuses, and alstroemerias.

The show indoors

Specially designed pavilions showcase a stunning kaleidoscope of blossoms—from freesia, chrysanthemums, iris, and roses, to the more exotic orchids and bamboo. During the exhibition’s final week, Keukenhof unveils the world’s largest indoor display of lilies in 300 colorful varieties.

Trees are another important aspect of Keukenhof. Beech Lane, an avenue of beech trees dating to the 1840s, represents the legacy of German landscape architect J.D. Zocher. You might try to find your way through a hedge maze with ten-foot-high shrub walls or the 700-tree labyrinth.

Mother Nature isn’t the only artist at Keukenhof. A sculpture trail, windmill, sundials, and fountains add a human touch to the beauty of the surroundings.

History, Food & More

A Journey Through Time

The reinvention of the Rijksmuseum

by Tom Mashberg from Currents

A great museum offers more than just masterpieces. It offers visitors a voyage back in time, a rare chance to see how life was lived when the finest recording instrument at hand was the paintbrush.

So a visit to the renovated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a true journey into the past. The museum not only houses an unmatched collection of iconic national masterpieces—among them Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid—it contains thousands of paintings, drawings, and intricate objects that altogether re-create the history of the Netherlands in rich and enveloping detail.

Not a bad achievement for a national museum that gets far less attention than its legendary counterparts in London, Paris, and Rome. It took ten years and $480 million to create this combination showcase and time machine, and a lot of typical Dutch ingenuity. From 2003 until its completion, the project was beset by funding delays, asbestos removal, and a bizarre legal battle over bicycle access to its grand inner courtyard. There was even a major flooding episode, a bit of apt irony for a country that was in essence a sea-saturated inland swamp before its clever inhabitants, beginning in the Middle Ages, engineered their ingenious system of dikes and floodgates. (Part of the museum is 25 feet below sea level.) The result is a structure transformed from a severe, gloomy old castle to a luminous, fairy-tale-style palace.

The reimagined Rijksmuseum sits before a great green lawn where Dutch families lounge and take in the sun. From afar, it is imposing yet inviting, part grand old edifice and part gingerbread mansion. There’s a tall archway over the entrance, tidy brickwork topped by a series of tastefully peaked turrets, and giant atrium windows that run across the roofs of the central pavilion and its two great wings. The museum draws you toward it even on a sunny day—you can foresee that the interior will be full of sunbeams and air. This museum is no longer a voyage into a fusty realm of dimness and shadows. It’s a vaulting, ethereal structure that perfectly illuminates the past.

The features include pale stone floors from Portugal, interior facades interspersed with niches, windows and plinths, and two immense white chandeliers. There are 45,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Not just Rembrandt

One hardly thinks of visiting a Dutch museum without imagining a sumptuous buffet of Rembrandts, topped off with some Van Gogh, and a lustful look at the blue and white pottery treasures known as Delftware.

All that is possible (although there is just a single Van Gogh self-portrait). But the new Rijksmuseum seeks to serve up more—it aims to tell visitors the story of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Curators have accomplished this feat by displaying 8,000 of the museum’s one million works in a chronological succession across four floors and 80 galleries (illuminated by the large atriums and by fresh, contemporary LED lighting). Beyond its finely detailed oil paintings, the exhibits include sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, jewels, porcelain, Delftware, furniture, tapestries, model ships and dollhouses.

The twist is that the paintings, historical objects and other forms of art are displayed side-by-side in their original context, offering a natural, complimentary juxtaposition of art and culture that highlights the 800-year story of the Netherlands. Fine Renaissance art, for instance, might be seen alongside furniture, craft items, and even machinery from the era. There is a strong focus on the Middle Ages, with paintings intermingling with gold and silver church treasures, delicate religious sculptures, early panel painting, large-scale sculptures, complex altarpieces, objects by silversmiths and goldsmiths, delicate ivory carvings, and colored majolica pottery.

Throughout the centuries, the Dutch traveled far and wide on their speedy barques and schooners and explored all corners of the world, leaving imprints from the East Indies to the Thames River to the island of Manhattan. The Netherlands was a crossroads for Christians, Jews, Asians, and Africans, and that melding of culture and science makes Dutch art unique. The museum has a large collection of paintings showing the Dutch navy routing English and Spanish warships in smoky, fiery contests in the English Channel and along the Atlantic coast.

In a wing fitted out for the purpose, the Rijksmuseum displays special collections of porcelain, silver, jewels, glass and ceramics, mechanical inventions, and simple and elaborately decorated weapons and model ships.

This is not a place for contemporary art. The closest one comes is the giant red and white “I amsterdam” sign that sits outside the front of the 19th century facade, and a few rotating installations like the 47,000 black stars painted onto the ceiling of an antechamber by a British artist, Richard Wright, which were meant to be whitewashed after a short exhibition.

Golden Era

More than 30 galleries are dedicated to the glories of the 17th century—the Golden Age, when the young mercantile republic now called Holland led the world in trade, science, military exploits, and the arts. At the heart of the museum is the spectacular Gallery of Honor, where the most famous masterpieces by Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, and Rembrandt van Rijn are assembled. The gallery leads visitors to a space dedicated to Rembrandt’s great, controversial, and misunderstood masterpiece The Night Watch.

The Dutch masters of the Golden Age flourished at a time when the public clamored for a new kind of art: authentic, almost documentary-style scenes from everyday life. Realism, precision, and beauty in painting were skillfully blended by these men at a time when the emerging and prospering middle classes, eager to decorate their homes with more than just portraits of pious figures from the past, commissioned personal portraits as well as landscapes and street scenes.

The style became known as “genre painting,” and it suited the tastes of the industrious, inventive Calvinists and Mennonites who were then dominating world trade while perfecting the windmill, breeding tulips, and creating the microscope, the telescope, and the doughnut. Tiresome, predictable older paintings—images of saints, biblical parables, and scenes from history—fell out of fashion. The Dutch embraced illustrations showcasing tailors, cobblers, kettle makers, artisans, knife sharpeners, and blacksmiths, usually depicted laboring amid their workaday mess. Paintings and prints of such scenes were affordable and plentiful and showed the fullest range of city life—from dockworkers, mendicants, and foreign travelers to physicians, children, and dogs.

In the span of one century, hundreds of skilled Dutch artists produced tens of thousands of paintings, drawings, and etchings. Some were near-photographic-quality portraits that showed every crease and wrinkle; others became known as “tronies,” paintings and drawings of stereotypical characters like the beer-swilling drunkard or the noble peasant farmer. In essence, they created the first large marketplace for art for the masses. In doing so they achieved two things: They spread their fame across Europe by demonstrating a fealty to detail that stunned their contemporaries, and they created works that are just as popular today because they offer viewers a precise look at the Dutch clothing, food, people and events from more than 350 years in the past.

It’s no wonder then that the museum’s central, shimmering Gallery of Honor features nothing but masterworks from that time. Among them: The Night Watch (1642) and The Jewish Bride (c. 1665-69) by Rembrandt, along with one of his 50-odd self-portraits, from 1628, when he was in his early 20s; The Milkmaid (1660) and Woman Reading a Letter (1663) by Vermeer; The Burgomaster of Delft and his Daughter (1655) by Jan Steen; Portrait of a Couple by Frans Hals (1622); and a pyramid of Delftware flowers and a precise, fastidious dollhouse from the later part of the century.

The Night Watch

The focal point of this hall of fame is The Night Watch, considered Rembrandt’s greatest masterpiece. The painting, about 15 feet by 12.5 feet, suffered many centuries of indignity after it was first unveiled under its original name, The Officers and Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lt. Willem van Ruytenburch. The shooting company was a group of town fathers who patrolled city streets during the latter stages of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), when Holland was under attack by Spanish armies.

The work was a sensation—because of its amazing size, its virtuoso use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro, a hallmark of Rembrandt’s work), and the fact that the figures are shown in motion rather than standing or seated (as in the static painting The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, made famous by the Dutch Masters brand cigar box). The Night Watch was met with howls of protest by the men who commissioned it, who felt it rendered them more as cockeyed troubadours than as dignified musketeers.

The poor reception led many to call the work, foolishly, Rembrandt’s greatest failure. The painting was shunted about, covered with dark varnish, and cut so it could fit on a rear wall of the Amsterdam Town Hall in 1715. It was even rolled around a cylinder for a time and stored in a wooden crate. It required major restoration work in 1975, but critics long felt it was poorly displayed at the old Rijksmuseum because of bad lighting.

Clearly, the refreshed painting, now suffused with excellent LED lighting, hangs in a setting that is tranquil yet glorious. It is protected by unique non-reflective glass similar to that seen in the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, prompting curators to boast that “through technology you see the truth of art.” One might also say that The Night Watch and the other great works in the refurbished Rijksmuseum represent the fine art of telling the truth about one nation’s fabled past.

History, Food & More

Holland: Exploring the Identity of the Netherlands’ Most Famous Region

by Carley Thornell from Currents

It’s rare for most of a country to refer to itself by a misnomer, but the Netherlands is unique in countless ways. Just as well known for its quaint windmills and colorful tulips as its salacious nighttime culture, even many Dutch people refer to their country as “Holland”—though that region technically only comprises two of the Netherlands’ twelve provinces. It may be known as “the Venice of the North,” but this central-western section of the country has an identity all its own.

What’s in a name?

The most developed part of the country during the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s, Holland and its businessmen traditionally dominated foreign trade thanks to the region’s waterways and shipping capabilities. The word Holland became synonymous abroad with the country and stuck. Her countrymen are no dummies: The name Holland is used in international promotion because it’s still best known that way worldwide—even the Netherlands’ board of tourism markets itself as Holland.com. 2013 was an exciting year for visitors and countrymen alike, as it marked the 400-year anniversary of Amsterdam’s canal ring, or grachtengordel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For centuries, the water coursing through these channels has been the lifeblood of a vibrant city—a unique feat of structural engineering built in the 17th century, when immigration soared, to foster both economic prosperity and quality of life in the Netherlands’ capital. These concentric half-circles form a fingerprint, a manifestation of the city’s unique identity as a beautiful setting for pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Connected by 1,500 bridges, more than 2,000 houseboats dot the scape, a picturesque solution to potential overcrowding and one of the most remarkable parts of Amsterdam.

Creation of a culture

Amsterdam’s population boom began with the 1585 fall of nearby Antwerp, Belgium, to Spain’s King Philip II, who gave Protestants two years to reconvert to Catholicism. The large exodus of those unwilling to convert included many skilled craftsmen and rich merchants—which flooded Amsterdam with prosperity. But the city was also rich in personal freedom, and though there was persecution of religions other than Protestantism, enforcement was at times lax.

The new, strong Dutch Republic exceeded expectations. It surprised many that a nation not based on a monarchy or religion could be so successful. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, the Netherlands dominated world trade and had a vast colonial empire thanks to its strong navy. The country also has the oldest stock exchange in the world, started in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company.

But the market most people associate with Holland has to do with a simple flower—which has come to symbolize both a country and the perils of speculative trading. “Tulipomania” was the bubble and resulting pop when trading of the pretty plants reached a fever pitch in the 1630s. People of every economic level owned and bred tulips, which thrive in the Netherlands’ temperate springtime climate. But, their bulbs can’t be moved until summer, so purchasing them became speculative, hence the term windhandl: a wind trade, in which no actual product is traded. If the value dropped before the bulbs changed hands, the price agreed to at signing had to be paid. That’s exactly what happened in 1637 when prices suddenly plummeted. This new world economy skewed the boundaries between the classes, as all of society’s ranks could purchase and trade—especially after shock of the mania subsided and flowers were more affordable. The Dutch learned their lesson about being fiscally conservative, while still cultivating the vibrant hues that dot the landscape today.

Beautiful mind

Give them their colorful flowers, but the art of the Dutch Golden Age was far more pragmatic. The rise of the new middle class gave way to the proliferation of austere portraiture by such artists as Rembrandt, and simple scenes of everyday life, like Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Along with a museum dedicated to one of its most famous native sons, Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam prides itself on being a world-class art city. Visitors to Rijksmuseum, the “State Museum” in English, are in for a treat when it reopens late this year or early next after ten years of rebuilding. The exterior also features some modern art, a large, sans serif sculpture along the front façade reading “I Amsterdam,” once a marketing slogan and now a catchphrase throughout the city indicative of local pride.

Lots brewing

Given its location, Amsterdam’s cuisine and waterside culture are inextricably linked. Heineken’s world headquarters is here and Amstel beer was named after the Amstel canal, both using the clean current coursing through the canals for brewing. And the annual celebration of Flag Day, or Vlaggetjesdag, derives its names from the hundreds of little flags festooning the fishing boats that catch the first herring of the season, Hollandse nieuwe—a local delicacy that is hotly anticipated each year in late spring. Dairy products have always been a diet staple here, and the countryside’s lush meadows and peacefully grazing cattle help make the Netherlands one of the world’s largest exporters of cheese, butter, and powdered milk.

Booming business

Though import restrictions will likely prevent you from taking home Gouda cheese, travelers can still get special documentation to bring back the region’s famed blossoms—and a trek to Bloemenmarkt on the Singel Canal makes for a lovely afternoon. The picturesque floating flower market along canal banks lined with 17th-century architecture is an interesting juxtaposition when the sun goes down, as the crimson hues of tulips are overtaken by scarlet vibes coming from windows in this part of the Walletjes Red Light District. So named for the lights turned on to signify that the brothels are open for business, the legalized sex trade has been an accepted part of Amsterdam’s culture since the 15th century. The city is also famed for its coffeehouses, where the sale and smoking of marijuana is sanctioned, but like the progressive government of 400 years ago, it’s a system that seems to work: Holland’s rate of hard drug use is one of the lowest in Europe, violent crime is low, and taxes on hash benefit health care. That’s not to say either of these elements are without their drawbacks, yet rather than conceal the existence of its oft-touted “hookers and hash,” Amsterdam owns it as part of its unique identity.

Like the building of canals so many years ago, it’s the sort of forward-thinking solution that makes its people proud to say “I Amsterdam.”