Arrive in Bremerhaven, where two centuries of impressive harbor city history can be seen all around the Old and New Harbor area. Embark the National Geographic Explorer.
In the morning, transit through the scenic and wildlife-rich Waddenzee, en route to Harlingen. You are welcomed with open arms as the first ever ‘cruise ship’ to call at this lovely little seaside town. With beautiful buildings, restaurants and shops lining the scenic canals, Harlingen feels like Nyhavn, in Copenhagen. This ‘off-the-beaten-path’ gem is sure to lure many to stay ashore for dinner as the ship stays berthed well into the evening.
Zodiacs take you to explore the West Frisian Islands, a chain of islands in the North Sea off the Dutch coast, along the edge of the Wadden Sea. The Frisian languages are still used by 500,000 speakers; dialects of Frisian are recognized as official languages in both the Netherlands and Germany. Your destination is Texel, the largest of the Frisian Islands, with plenty of options: explore the vast beach and dune environments, go birding or walk about town. Also call at nearby Den Helder to see the tulip fields.
The best way to experience Amsterdam is to stroll along the network of picturesque canals. Cafes, shops, and narrow, gabled brick houses from the 17th and 18th centuries line the waterways. And now more than ever, Amsterdam stands out as a center of culture. The Rijksmuseum, of a standard equal to the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, exhibits the works of such Dutch masters as Vermeer and Rembrandt. The beautiful building, opened in 1885, has reopened after a mammoth, nine-year and $489 million renovation. Take a guided tour through the Rijksmuseum, most noted for housing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Van Gogh enthusiasts may wish to visit the recently reopened Van Gogh museum, highlighting his work.
With one of the largest ports in the world, Antwerp has been a prosperous trading center for centuries and is the core of the global diamond trade. Its accrued wealth can be seen in the beautiful 16th century guild houses and impressive buildings. Take a slow stroll with your historians, appreciating the architecture of the Grand Palace and guild houses. Of course, no visit to Antwerp would be complete without admiring the works of Rubens and Van Dyck.
Don't forget your walking shoes! Gent is a showcase of medieval Flemish wealth, with wonderful architecture. Cathedral, church, and belfry towers pierce the sky and fill the air with the music of their bells. Beside an ancient harbor, ornate guild houses line the banks. Street markets flourish as in previous centuries.
From Oostende, drive to the medieval town of Brugge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Notice immediately that this city has carefully cherished its architectural and artistic treasures from the past. Brugge is known for its brick Gothic architecture, and as the birthplace of the school of the Flemish Primitives. After a walking excursion, board small boats to view the architecture from canal level. Late afternoon, cross the English Channel to London, navigating up the Thames until midnight near the iconic LED-lit Tower Bridge.
Following breakfast on board, disembark in London and transfer to Heathrow Airport for flights home.