Northern European Suggested Itinerary
5 Countries in 2 weeks? Yes, It's possible! See the Map
Here is an itinerary that takes in London as well as compelling destinations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. It's a way to get a broad overview of the northern countries of western Europe. It's also a way to escape the searing heat of the Mediterranean in summer, or to take advantage of the longer spring and summer days of the north. Distances are short. Let's check the map:
Suggested Itinerary Map © 2007 by James Martin, licensed to about.com
The suggested itinerary starts in London, where you can spend as long as you wish before setting out for Lille on the Eurostar, the route shown in light blue. If Lille doesn't appeal to you, you can continue on to Brussels, where your Eurostar ticket is good for continuing on to any station in Belgium. Since Bruges or Brugge is Belgium's most popular city, I suggest you stop there. From there a loop takes you to Amsterdam through Antwerp, then on to Cologne. From Cologne you can return to Brussels or Lille in anticipation of the return trip on the Eurostar.
Optional side trips to Paris and Luxembourg, shown by the dashed lines, are also possible on this itinerary. The Eurostar goes direct to Paris from London, where you can reconnect to the itinerary by returning to Brussels.
Highlights of the Northern Europe Suggested Itinerary
London is the place to start this itinerary. After your flight you'll be plunked down in a big city that speaks your language, a good way of easing into a European vacation. Yes, London is expensive; but being a big city, London has a lot of great free things to do.
Lille has one of the largest markets in France, the Wazemmes market (Place de la Nouvelle Aventure, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM, where you can find food, flowers, fabrics, and exotic products. Over 50,000 people attend on Sunday. Also on Sunday is The Art market at the Place des Archives, where professional and amateur artists display and sell their works. Lille also has a Christmas market. Take the walking tour of Old Lille, or the new Flanders battlefields tour. More on Lille, France.
Bruges or Brugge is Belgium's most visited city, and for good reason. The well preserved old town offers a wonderful walking experience, taste chocolate, buy lace (and maybe a diamond or two) test a few beers and sit down to a nice meal after your canal trip. Bruges Guide.
Antwerp is known for diamonds, but Belgium's second largest city is much more than that. Visit Peter Paul Ruben's house, gawk at Antwerp's rail station, called the "Railway Cathedral" and see the very well preserved printing museum, the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Antwerp Guide.
Amsterdam is a favorite destination for most everyone. Get an Amsterdam Pass and roam this delightful city of canals. Mandatory pilgrimages include the Ann Frank House Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. Of course there's also the NEMO Science museum and the Van Gogh museum; the list is darn near endless. Amsterdam Travel Guide, or see Amsterdam Travel.
Cologne, Germany is a delightful city on Rhine river between Dusseldorf and Bonn. You'll want to see the amazing cathedral and the excellent archaeological museum nearby to study Cologne's Roman heritage. When you're done touring, satisfy your hunger (for days!) by chowing down on a pig's knuckle and kraut washed down by the local brew called "Kölsch." Cologne is located at a key rail hub, so getting around by train is no problem. Cologne Travel Guide.
How Many Days to Spend on Each Destination?
This is pretty much up to you, but I'll name some minimums. You need at least three days for the big cities like London and Amsterdam. Certainly London needs three or more. You can get by on one to two days in Antwerp, Bruges, Lille and even Cologne.
Thus, on a two week vacation, you can squeeze in five countries, at least four languages, and a vast variety of different cuisines, beers and wines.
Can I do the Itinerary by Train?
Yes, the itinerary covers some huge cities you won't want to drive in, so it is meant to be done by Europe's efficient rail system. You'll need Eurostar tickets, (book direct) preferably booked in advance. (Read more on the Eurostar.) From there, you might consider a Benelux rail pass, which will get you travel on trains in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg--you'll have to pay a bit for the trip to Cologne. Also interesting is the Rail/Drive Pass (buy direct)--you can get a three country pass that includes France, Benelux, and Germany. You get three days first class train and two days rental car in a two month period with this pass, which will allow you to enjoy the beautiful countryside of Belgium and Holland.
When to Go
I'd do this itinerary in late spring or early fall to avoid the crowds, but the summer weather will be as good as it gets. There are very few chances of sweltering on this itinerary, but you might consider taking or buying an umbrella at the first rain.
More Information on Optional Destinations on the Itinerary
Luxembourg is a fascinating and quite beautiful country. You'll want to visit to tell your friends you've been there if only to see the quizzical looks on their faces. Luxembourg Guide.