Tour Review: National Geographic Expeditions Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise

Sightseeing and spring blooms make the perfect pair on this only-in-spring tour through Holland and Belgium.

view of blooming tulips and windmill on the National Geographic Expeditions tour Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise
(Photo: Matthew Stroshane)
  • I went on National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise, a moderately active tour offered at the height of tulip season in spring.
  • Here’s what it was like, and what I think is important to know before you book this deep-dive into the history and culture of The Netherlands and Holland.
  • The 2024 cruise tour is from April 15 to 22.

I sailed on National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise, a group tour that brings the history and culture of The Netherlands and Belgium to life. The moderately active eight-day tour is only offered once per year, at the height of tulip season. Along with sailing down canals and rivers on an AmaWaterways river cruise ship, the itinerary is filled with other pretty fantastic activities like visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk, learning about how Delft pottery is made, walking around Antwerp and trying some local delicacies like chocolate and beer, and venturing back in time to see 13th-century architecture in Brugge. 

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National Geographic Expeditions trips are often centered around the history and culture of a destination. Because of this, National Geographic experts travel with each tour to give lectures and answer questions about the cities and towns that are highlighted on the itinerary. What makes river cruising with National Geographic Expeditions stand out among competitors is the unique opportunity to learn from a National Geographic expert and a National Geographic photographer, both of whom travel with the group throughout the voyage. 

Things to Know About National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise Tour

view of AmaWaterways ship used for National Geographic Expeditions Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise tour
AmaWaterways operates the ship used for National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise (Photo: Matthew Stroshane)
  • The river cruise boat that the tour uses is operated by AmaWaterways. It’s a luxury river cruise with a dedicated staff, upscale dining, and a cruise manager that can assist you with any questions about a city or tour. 
  • Even though the trip’s activity level is listed as light to moderate, some daily excursions are more physically demanding than others (for instance, the Ghent and Brugge all-day walking tour). Everyone should be able to walk at least one mile at a moderate pace, get into and off of coach buses, and stand for extended periods. 
  • The walking tours offered on this trip often don’t go into buildings, so if you want to see inside a church or other significant structure you may need to purchase tickets in advance or ask the AmaWaterways cruise director for assistance. 
  • Every river cruise has one National Geographic Expert and one National Geographic Expert Photographer onboard to give lectures and answer questions. During free time, the experts may also host one-on-one sessions or chat with cruisers about topics of interest.
  • Before the trip, every traveler gets a box of goodies from National Geographic Expeditions. This box includes a backpack, reusable water bottle, luggage straps, name tags, and a National Geographic Expedition pin. If you only bring one thing with you on the trip, be sure to bring your name tag to wear on the first day of the river cruise. 
  • Most meals are included in the tour price. Those that are not included are often because a tour is scheduled for an entire day. Guests who take full-day tours can ask the cruise director prior to leaving the ship about where to eat in town, or ask the local guides who lead each tour about recommended dining options. 
  • Because of the nature of river cruising, the itinerary may shuffle depending on port availability and other factors. Even if the day of a visit to a certain city changes, the activities that are offered will stay the same. 
  • The joy of river cruising compared to a National Geographic Expedition land-based adventure is that you only have to unpack once onboard the river cruise boat. I appreciated that this made some of the logistics of the trip a lot easier to manage. 

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Important Details About National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise

view of museum and flowers on National Geographic Expeditions tour of Holland and Belgium by river ship in spring
The tour is a delightful springtime mix of city sightseeing, blooming flowers, and river cruising (Photo: Matthew Stroshane)

Itinerary Overview

Day 1

The tour starts in the bustling city of Amsterdam, where guests will travel from a pre-night hotel or the airport to the AmaWaterways river cruise. Day one is where everyone will meet the National Geographic experts and enjoy a welcome reception hosted by the cruise director and captain. 

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Day 2

This is a full day of touring around Amsterdam. The morning starts with a few options of excursions including a canal cruise or heading to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The afternoon and evening are spent cruising and enjoying lectures by the National Geographic Experts. This is one of the most leisurely days of the cruise. 

Day 3

The morning starts with a walk, boat ride, or bike ride around the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk. Then, in the afternoon, guests get the chance to explore Rotterdam with a walking tour. Other afternoon activities include a visit to Pilgrim Father’s Church, a bike tour of Rotterdam, or visiting a porcelain factory to learn about Delft pottery. This day has a lot of walking involved, so take the free time between the two cities to sit back and relax. 

Day 4 

On day four, the group docks in Antwerp, Belgium, the second country on this exciting expedition. The city is known for a juxtaposition that combines high fashion and diamonds with medieval architecture. In the morning, you can take a walking tour of the city, enjoy a bike tour, or enjoy the Rubens House museum. 

After lunch, there are a few excursion options that will please almost everyone. The first is a foodie tour of the city with stops at a local restaurant for waffles, then into a chocolate shop to learn about the art of Belgian chocolates, then to a local bar to sample craft beer. Alternatively, guests can head to the Groot-Bijgaarden Castle for the annual flower show. For those who are interested in flowers, just know the end of the trip includes a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens, so you may want to select the food tour. 

Day 5 

Day five is the most active day of the tour with visits to Ghent and Brugge. Guests can choose from a few different tours; including a day in Ghent, which includes a walking tour to see the Belfry, the Castle of the Counts, and the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece. You can also spend the entire day in Brugge, where the morning is filled with a historic walking tour and the afternoon is on your own to explore the town. 

Those who want a taste of both cities can do a full-day tour, where the morning is spent in Brugge, during which travelers can take a walking tour and have lunch at a local restaurant; then make their way to Ghent to take a brief tour of the city. When it’s time for lunch in Brugge, be sure to ask your local guide about the best spots in town. The evening cruise will take everyone back to the Netherlands for the rest of the trip.

Day 6

After disembarking the ship, everyone will get to see Middelburg, Netherlands. During the morning guests can pick one of three tours: a walking tour, a bike ride through the countryside, or a visit to the Delta Works, the latter of which is an engineering marvel that helps to prevent flooding in the region.

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In the afternoon, everyone boards the AmaWaterways ship for an afternoon cruise to Amsterdam. During the time on the ship, there is a lecture by one of the National Geographic Experts. Dinner is a true highlight with a meal crafted by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which is a gastronomic society that was established in Paris in 1950. 

Day 7

Day seven is the last full day of the trip. The morning starts in Hoorn, where travelers can head to a tulip farm, explore the city by bike, take a guided walking tour, or enjoy a visit to the Westfries Museum. For those who choose the walking tour, know that there is time at the end of the tour to explore on your own and the small shops that line the main square are filled with artisanal snacks, cheeses, and meats that can be brought back home with you. 

The afternoon is spent at the Keukenhof Gardens, which is one of the most popular gardens in the world, with over seven million flowers. After a brief overview of the gardens with a local guide, guests can explore on their own. Be sure to make your way over to the windmill for a great photo opportunity. There are also small pop-up food stalls tucked around the garden, so be sure to try some of the local treats like stroopwafels and frites with mayo. 

Route Notes

National Geographic Expeditions’ Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise has a number of bus rides on busy streets to get from the river cruise boat to the center of town. For many people, these bus rides were calm, but if you do get motion sick, be sure to pack Bonine or Dramamine. The majority of the travel time is on the river cruise boat, which mainly stays in calmer waters, though one night of my trip there was some rough water for a few hours due to a nearby storm. 

Some of the days are particularly long and include a lot of walking and standing around depending on what tour each guest picked. The longest day was Ghent and Brugge, where the all-day tour started around 9:00 a.m. and went until about 5:30 p.m. with a large group of other travelers in crowded cities. 


The activity level for the National Geographic Expeditions Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise is listed as light to moderate, and I would agree with that. The majority of the travelers on my trip were over 50, and some were in their late 70s or early 80s, but everyone completed their tours with smiles on their faces, even if they were tired. There are walking tours, food tastings, bike rides, and plenty of free time to do as you wish. 

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The ease of getting around and having expert local guides lead the way made the activities easy for most of the guests on this trip. For those who are nervous about the walking tour pace, know that AmaWaterways and National Geographic Expeditions offer a standard pace and a gentle, or slower, pace. The slower pace got more popular as the trip went on since many folks realized how much walking they would be doing in each city. 


On most days, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included with the tour and take place on the river cruise ship. Breakfast and lunch can be enjoyed either in the dining room or in the main lounge The menus for both areas are similar, though the dining room does have a larger selection of available times. Dinner is only served in the main dining room. 

There were a few times when you could go off of the ship for lunch, or lunch was on your own during a scheduled time on a group excursion. During these on your own meals, guests are in charge of paying for the meal, though the local guides leading tours did give nice suggestions about where to go to eat. 

Amenities Along the Way

The AmaWaterways cruise ship offers select amenities. The upper deck does have a heated pool, though the weather on my trip was too cold to use the pool. There are also onboard happy hours every night, wellness activities led by a wellness director, and tea time each afternoon. 

Tour Highlights

National Geographic rectangle in front of field of tulips on the Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise tour
National Geographic Expeditions tours include both an on-tour expert and a photographer (Photo: Matthew Stroshane)
  • The canal cruise through Amsterdam to see all of the architecture and pass by famous landmarks like the Anne Frank House.
  • Walking along the windmill-lined lanes of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk.
  • Waffles, beer, and chocolate tour in Antwerp, which gives a great intro to the culinary prowess of the city.
  • Strolling the Keukenhof gardens and seeing seven million flowers in brilliant colors.

Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Go on the National Geographic Expeditions Holland and Belgium in Springtime by River Cruise Tour

Adults traveling together, whether as a couple, parents and adult children, siblings, or friends will enjoy this trip the most. The tour has a good mix of activities that immerse guests in the culture of the Netherlands and Belgium, along with downtime to enjoy the ship, get to know other travelers, or explore cities on their own. The real highlight for most guests on this tour is that they are traveling with a National Geographic Expert and National Geographic Expert Photographer, who both bring rich storytelling and deep cultural knowledge to the overall trip. 

Anyone who is worried about long travel days, lengthy walks, or crowded cities may struggle. But the payoff to see medieval cities, try local food and drinks, and see thousands of blooms is a good reward for pushing yourself. 

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Megan duBois is a writer whose work has appeared on Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Insider, Orbitz, The Daily Meal, Family Vacation Critic, TravelPulse, and more. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @MinglingwithMickey.