Last spring my older sister, Allyson, and I took a pilgrimage to Holland—the original counterpart to our Michigan hometown. Planning our first European adventure together, it only seemed fitting to fill our list with the charming towns littering the Netherlands and Belgium.
So, take a brief escape from your work week and follow our steps into a region that is sure to steal your heart.
01 // Landing in Amsterdam
We made sure to utilize the amazing skills of Airbnb and score a houseboat as our home for the next few days in Amsterdam. As a bustling town, there are plenty of free walking tours you can take advantage of if you’re only there for a few days. So, pro tip, choose to start your first day there with just that—allowing you to get your bearings and lay of the land.
Hitting the sites the next day, we trekked to the Museum quarter. Arriving early enough, we checked off the “I Amsterdam” sign, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum (the library is a must.) You could say we had filled our brains with the artistic history of the city. After breaking it up with a bit of reading on the lawn, we hit up Foodhallen Market—ideal for lunch or an after-drink option. Rounding out the day with the Bloemenmarkt, I’m sad to report that packaged bulbs and colorful souvenirs were more prevalent than the fresh flowers I had expected. Even so, we were simply smitten with the canal-filled city.
02 // Day trip to the tulip fields
One thing that definitely didn’t disappoint was our day trip to the tulip fields of Keukenhof Gardens. Making sure to indulge in traditional Dutch pancakes at Mook Pancakes before we caught our bus, rows and rows of vivid flowers awaited us.
To give you a peek into my traveler’s brain, when I plan a trip I’m focused less on the must-see things and more on experiences—ie. Eat a baguette in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So for me, riding a bike around colorful tulip fields was a must. Unfortunately visiting on a Saturday wasn’t our best idea but once the bikes had been rented we could easily leave the crowds behind.
03 // Next stop: Utrecht
Hopping onto our first of many trains through the countryside, we left the Venice of the North behind and set our sights on Utrecht—a town just a 30-minute ride away. Centered around the riverwalk, we completed our time in this tourist town by trying Stroopwafels and endless walks along the cobblestone streets.
04 // Beginning our time in Belgium
We chose the capital city of Brussels as our hub for some of our time in Belgium, more for convenience sake but I’m happy to say this town was an unexpected gem. We admired the golden architecture of the Grand-Place square and Royal Palace of Brussels, delighted our taste buds in traditional Belgian frites and sugar-coated Belgian waffles, and of course, took reading breaks in nearby gardens and the terrace of our apartment—sensing a theme?
05 // A stop in Leuven
Now it was day-trip time. Taking a train to Leuven, we ogled the Leuven Town Hall, took a serene stroll through the Begijnhof, and enjoyed a Stella in the town of its creation.
06 // Next up—Bruges
Leaving Brussels behind, we added Bruges to our list. Attending another free walking tour, we checked off The Belfry and neighboring market square. Although quite chilly we made our way to the windmills on the edge of Bruges, stopping at the Belgium Beer Museum on our trek back.
Getting a taste of world-renowned Belgian chocolate, we warmed up in the Hot Chocolate House and, of course, made sure to add in as many Belgian waffles as we could before our three days there came to an end.
07 // Rounding it out with Ghent
It seemed like a must to check out the massive medieval castle while in our next historic town—Ghent. Containing a torture museum—yes, you read that correctly—we skimmed past the blood and gore and admired the views from the top of this historic structure. A canal cruise and a bit of shopping finished our time in the city of Ghent.
All that was left was a train-filled journey back to catch our returning flight from Amsterdam. A couple unforeseen delays allowed us to witness the stunning Antwerp train station. Seems like nothing, but this small bit of architecture was definitely a silver lining to our end-of-trip cloud.
From the endless canals to the intricate architecture and all the countryside train rides in between, I couldn’t recommend a vacation to these cities enough!
P.S. we’ve got another trip planned this summer so stay tuned for a planning guide and trip overview.