By Rick Steves
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, I've listed my top picks for where to go in the Netherlands and Belgium, and tips on when to go.
With affordable flights from the US, minimal culture shock, almost no language barrier, and a well-organized tourist trade, the Low Countries are a good place to start a European trip. Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographic proximity into account, these are my recommended priorities:
- 2 days: Amsterdam, Haarlem
- 4 days, add: Bruges, more time in Amsterdam
- 5 days, add: Brussels
- 6–7 days, add: Antwerp and slow down
- 8–9 days, add: Delft/The Hague and Ghent
- 10–14 days, add: More time in Amsterdam, plus side-trips from Amsterdam (e.g., Edam/Waterland, Arnhem, the Historic Triangle, Alkmaar, and more)
When to Go
Although Bruges and Amsterdam can be plagued by crowds, the long days, lively festivals, and sunny weather make summer a great time to visit. It's rarely too hot for comfort. Brussels' fancy business-class hotels are also deeply discounted in the summer.
Peak Season: Amsterdam is surprisingly crowded — and hotel prices can be correspondingly high — in late March, April, and May, when the tulip fields are flowering in full glory. Seasonal conferences can also drive up prices in September in Amsterdam. July and August have typical summer crowds.
Shoulder Season: Late spring and fall are pleasant, with generally mild weather and lighter crowds (except during holiday weekends).
Winter Season: Travel from late October through mid-March is cold and wet in this region, as coastal winds whip through these low, flat countries. It's fine for visiting Amsterdam, Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels, but smaller towns and countryside sights feel dreary and lifeless. Some sights close for lunch, TIs keep shorter hours, and some tourist activities (like English-language windmill tours) vanish altogether.