Dutch Waterways Cruises
The Netherlands has the densest network of inland waterways in Europe, with around 6,000 kilometres of rivers and canals crisscrossing its gentle lowlands and reaching into neighbouring Belgium. Many are fed by the Rhine flowing northwards from Germany and all empty into the North Sea through a honeycomb of tributaries, channels and Ijsselmeer Lake, to the east of Amsterdam.
Dutch Waterways cruises trace this picturesque maze of rivers, unfurling bright tulip fields, gabled waterfront towns and the rows of wooden windmills so indelibly linked to everyone’s vision of the Netherlands. The Dutch Waterways reflect not just the low-lying geography of Holland, but in their windmills, sluices and dams, its people’s long struggle to manage the water in their midst. These efforts date back to the 9th century, when people lived on man-made hills called ‘terps’ to protect themselves from regular floods. Between 1250 and 1600, the population began to build dikes and windmills that pumped water from flooded areas, allowing them to permanently farm the land. In the 17th century ‘Golden Age’, meanwhile, the Dutch began to use their rivers to better effect: to control access to the Rhine from the North and Baltic Seas. This helped to feed the great commercial wealth of cities such as Amsterdam, Ghent and Antwerp, which became thriving hubs of colonial power, trade, art and culture. Since World War II, the waterways have served to reinforce the Netherlands’ place at the heart of Europe and now make a wonderfully tranquil and picturesque destination for a river cruise.
Why Dutch Waterways cruises?
Winding from Amsterdam in the north to Belgium in the south and west, the pretty Dutch Waterways reveal sweeping panoramas of big skies, vibrant bulbfields, quaint villages and beautiful medieval cities chock-full of history, culture and art.
Here, all rivers seem to lead to Amsterdam, Holland’s charismatic capital. With roots stretching back 700 years, this lovely city is a feast for the eyes, with its tall, 18th-century patrician houses, tree-lined canals and arched bridges. Add its rich art museums, Royal Palace and poignant house of Anne Frank and there’s much here to fire the imagination. Yet there’s much more to the Dutch Waterways than Amsterdam. To the north lie a number of less-lauded treasures: the postcard-pretty region of Friesland with its pastures dotted with black-and-white cows, the traditional fishing village of Makkum and the immense tulip fields around Alkmaar. Another gem is Lelystad, with its fascinating, reconstructed ‘Golden Age’ ships, and Edam, famed for its round cheese and quirky ‘Waterland’ houses. Northern Holland is also home to Arnhem, site of one of World War II’s bloodiest battles, and the springtime showstopper of the Keukenhof Gardens, with its glorious parklands and bloom-filled displays.
Further south, Avalon Dutch Waterways cruises take in the pretty windmills of Kinderdijk, the extraordinary flood barriers of the Veere Delta Works and the enchanting Belgian city of Ghent, with its Flemish medieval architecture and fine cathedral. Waterways from Ghent also run to charming Maastricht, canal-laced Bruges and elegant Antwerp, once dubbed the ‘diamond’ of Flanders. And within striking distance from here is Brussels, where magnificent Baroque buildings crowd around the chocolate shop- and restaurant-lined Grand Place.
Dutch Waterways, Rhine, Moselle, Main & Danube cruises
Some Avalon Dutch Waterways cruises venture further south onto the romantic Rhine and Moselle rivers, visiting majestic Cologne, the spectacular Rhine Gorge, the charming Moselle wine town of Bernkastel and picturesque, half-timbered Strasbourg. Other cruises go further, sailing the castle-speckled Rhine, Main and Danube rivers to medieval Nuremberg and imperial Vienna and Budapest – taking you on one seamless and spellbinding voyage through the heartlands of central Europe.