The Netherlands and Belgium don’t even make it to TripAdvisor’s top 25 tourist destinations list which is a surprise really given the diversity of architecture, arts, cuisine and history. Amsterdam is one of the most scenic cities in Europe with its distinctive Dutch architecture, scenic canals and one-of-a-kind museums. The best way to tour Amsterdam is to start at the Central Railway station. From there you can board a tram that will take you all over the city, or better yet you can board one of the numerous guided canal cruises that are available right in front of the railway terminal. Often called the Venice of the north, Amsetrdam actually has nearly 3 times the mileage of canals as Venice. The city has more than one hundred kilometres of canals, about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The three main canals, dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings. The 17th-century canal ring area, was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. Amsterdam is a city of sharp contrasts. As one of the most liberal cities in the world, with its famous red light district, marijuana cafes and needle injection sites; it is also home to historic churches, galleries and museums. Amsterdam’s compact layout and generally moderate climate make it the top city in the world for cycling. A visitor is shocked to see literally thousands of bicycles tied up around railway stations and public attractions. The only question for the visitor is how do people recognize their own bike? If you are thinking of visiting Amsterdam make sure to book a hotel well in advance. Hotel accommodations can be scarce and expensive due to the number of international conventions that flock to the city.
Fast intercity trains connect Amsterdam with Brussels. The trip takes just under 3 hours and costs about 30 Euros. There is also a good intercity bus service that will get you there in about the same time for a third of the cost. The bus makes a short pit stop about halfway to Brussels, but unlike the service centres on the 401, travellers here are treated to the widest variety of tasty edibles — fresh fruit and salads, exotic cheeses , oysters on the shell and agreeable wines. As the headquarters for the EU, parts of Brussels consist of modern office towers. The visual highlight of the city is the famous Grand Place or Grote Markt surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the Breadhouse containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. It measures as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For Canadians the Vimy memorial just across the French border can be reached by car in about two and a half hours. There are many interesting smaller cities in Belgium most reachable by train or road in an hour or two from Brussels . Bruges dates back to the 12th century, and has a history of being an important trading centre in the middle ages and was one of the world’s first popular tourist destinations, catering to wealthy French tourists and British who easily crossed the channel to visit. Like Brussels, Bruges has an impressive town square. The (“Market Square”) of Bruges is located in the heart of the city and covers an area of about 1 hectare. Some historical highlights around the square include the 12th-century belfry and in the center of the market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.