Arrive at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and meet your driver for a private transfer to your centrally located hotel. After checking in, the remainder of the day is at your leisure to familiarize yourself with your surroundings or just relax. Amsterdam is a pedestrian-friendly, but dominated by bike riders (over 850,000 of them). The Dutch are notoriously courteous, so if you find yourself on the bike path, you might be kindly alerted to move aside. Walk along one their legendary canals, lined with stately houses and gable facades. These gables are more than ornamental as the hooks provide the way to move large pieces of furniture in and out of these extremely narrow houses. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
After breakfast, take advantage of your Canal Bus Day Pass, providing the ideal transport along the canals of Amsterdam. These boats operate a regular service along the canals on four routes: the Green Line, the Red Line, the Orange Line, and the Blue Line. The 20 stops are located near the major museums, attractions, and shopping centers, With a Day Pass, which is valid for 24 hours, you can hop-on and hop-off as often as you like. On board there's a commentary providing interesting information about Amsterdam. Stops include all the major highlights of the city including; Anne Frank House, Rembrandt Museum, Rijksmuseum*, and the Albert Cuyp Market.
Late afternoon, meet your guide at a designated location and spend approximately 2 hours walking around a city center neighborhood (if there is a certain area that you would like to walk, please let your guide know) You'll learn, not only about the history of Amsterdam, but also the history of Dutch beer brands and their local spirit Jenever (also known as Dutch gin). We'll visit two local pubs and have two drinks at each pub (your choice of local beer, wine, soft drink or a local spirit).
Your walking tour will certainly build up your appetite, and your guide will escort you to the historic restaurant De Kroonprins. He'll say good-bye and leave you there to enjoy a 3 course dinner with choices for a starter, main dish and dessert. The restaurant is located a few blocks opposite the Central rail station for easy access to the trams to return to your Amsterdam hotel.
*Your entrance ticket to the Rijksmuseum enables you to bypass the line, but please note that your ticket is not valid for any special exhibitions.
(Breakfast, Dinner & Accommodations, Amsterdam)
Today is free for your special interests, and you'll see why Amsterdam remains one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Two of the other important art museums not to be missed are the Rembrandt House and the Van Gogh Museum. A visit to the Anne Frank House is a sobering reminder of the Nazi occupation, and one not to be missed. This evening, maybe have dinner in the quirky Jordaan District, weaving through narrow cobblestone alleys, and top the evening off walking through the famous (but rather tame) Red Light District.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Amsterdam)
After breakfast, meet your driver in the hotel lobby for your private transfer to the Central Rail Station. You'll have a little less than 1 hour ride to Rotterdam; Netherland's second largest city and Europe's biggest port. After checking in, the remainder of the day is at your leisure. Take some time to explore this underrated Dutch city. In 1940, Rotterdam was targeted by German bombers which left much of the city in ruins. Now it has literally risen from the ashes and their main attraction is world-class architecture and urban design. Make a stop at the Markthal, a covered market hall with 96 stalls selling everything from Dutch cheeses to fresh fish, and many other local food and drinks.
Many cities have quarters that are widely regarded as cool, but Rotterdam can claim, literally, to have a "Cool District". Pronounced 'coal' in Dutch, the district was a separate municipality to Rotterdam until 1816, but now peppered with boutiques and restaurants, it's a viable option for dinner this evening.
(Breakfast, Amsterdam; Accommodations, Rotterdam)
Today, meet your guide in the lobby for a half-day tour of Rotterdam and Kinderdijk. Your tour will include fascinating architecture, impressive art, as well as learning about Rotterdam's interesting history and some of the resident's local habits. We'll make the short drive to Kinderdijk, one of the most popular day trips. It's located 15 miles east of Rotterdam, and a UNESCO-listed site that boasts 19 pristinely preserved windmills. The windmills were erected in the 1600s to help deter the floods, and the most interesting one occurred in 1421 which, along with a fairy tale (the Cat and the Cradle), gave the city its name. Legend has it that after a storm, a wooden cradle was spotted on the flood waters, in which a cat jumped to and fro to keep the cradle afloat. When the cradle approached the dry land of the dyke, the locals discovered a baby inside - hence the name Kinderdijk; Dutch for "children's dyke".
Returning to Rotterdam, the remainder of the day is free for independent sightseeing.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Rotterdam)
After breakfast, start your short journey on the Thalys train to Brussels. Your driver will meet you at the station for your private transfer to a centrally located hotel. The remainder of the day is at your leisure to rest or explore your surroundings.
(Breakfast, Rotterdam; Accommodations, Brussels)
The morning is free for independent sightseeing, but save your appetite for a private Gourmet Walking Tour. Meet your guide either at your hotel or at a designated spot for a tour that introduces you to the famous, traditional Belgian flavors. We'll stroll around in the charming quarter of the world-famous Grand Place and visit several local beer parlors, food stalls, and chocolatiers.
This walking tour will also cover all the must-see sights of Brussels Old Town. Besides learning about all the different beer styles that are brewed, you'll hear about the Trappist monasteries. They were established in the late 18th century, primarily by monks fleeing the French Revolution. For a beer to qualify for Trappist certification, the brewery must be in a monastery, and there are six in Belgium.
You'll have the opportunity to sample Belgian frites, and learn that the original makers of frites (fries) were.. Mais oui... not French! It turns out that in the late 17th century, the Belgians introduced the first fried potatoes. You'll get to sample an authentic Belgian waffle and hear about their history; why they are not called "Brussels waffles" and how they differ from our waffles.
And we're not forgetting sweets as you'll have the opportunity to sample some chocolates. Belgian chocolates are world renown and your guide will detail its interesting history. Henry Stanley (he of "Dr. Livingstone I presume"), was probably the most famous explorer to set foot in Africa. He established the (former) Belgian Congo in the late 1800's for King Leopold, hence Belgium's legendary tie-in with cocoa. At the end of the tour, you can return to your hotel or continue sightseeing.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Brussels)
Today is entirely free to explore on your own and there are unlimited attractions. Located in the Heysel district is the Atomium. It was built for the 1958 World's fair, and basically an iron molecule enlarged 165 billion times. The result: A five sphere monument with eight levels, featuring both permanent and alternating exhibitions of architecture and design. Don't miss Mini Europe; a fun, family attraction where famous monuments are scaled down to miniatures. You can take line #6 on the Metro (last stop).
Nearby in the Laeken district is the Chinese Pavilion and Japanese Tower. (about 20-30 minute walk weather permitting from the Atomium.) It's a touch of the Far East in a very aesthetic setting, and visually stunning when everything is in bloom. The Belgium Center for Comic Book Art is the home of Tin-Tin, and his creator; Herge. Housed in a historic art-nouveau building, you can see firsthand how a comic strip is formed. There's a reading room containing over 3000 albums that's open to the public and translated into most languages.
Art lovers will not want to miss the Magritte museum. Magritte is arguably one of the 10 most famous painters in the world. If Dali is your cup of tea, you're in for a treat. You'll find over 200 of his works at the Place Royale. And since you already have sampled Belgian chocolates, a visit to the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate might be in order. It's conveniently right around the corner from Grand Place and provides the ideal souvenir to bring home. You'll learn that authentic Belgian chocolates are made with 100% cocoa butter and devoid of any vegetable oil. And unlike many chocolates that you buy locally, their handmade chocolates contain a very limited amount of preservatives.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Brussels)
After breakfast, take your private transfer to the airport for your return flight home, or to your next Avanti destination!