Jam-packed with history and art, home to the world's favourite comfort foods (and drinks) and boasting Europe's largest nature reserve – here's your lowdown on the Low Countries
Making up a coastal region in north western Europe, and consisting especially of the Netherlands and Belgium, the Low Countries have shaped European art, architecture and history, throughout the ages. Indeed, as home to the European Parliament it continues to do so to this day.
For travellers, the region offers an amazing variety of experiences, easily accessible, even on bike. You'll find yourself cycling past picture-perfect villages and rough coastlines by day and eating and drinking in a medieval cellar by night.
Nature lovers will delight in the wide open spaces, that play host to thousands of migratory birds, while adrenaline junkies will enjoy some of the best windsurfing and kite-surfing in Europe, courtesy of the winds whipping in off the North Sea.
Is there anywhere else that offers so much packed into such a small space?
Lighthouse on Texel Island (Shutterstock)
Forming a barrier between the Dutch mainland and the North Sea, the West Frisian islands are both wild and accessible. Whether it's the birdlife or the range of 'wind-related' outdoor activities, Anthony Lambert says you can't beat these quirky islands for a bargain, off-beat adventure.
Ice-skating has long been the leisure activity of choice in the Low Countries – any number of Brueghel paintings can attest to that. Jasper Winn is a fan too, and has created this handy step-by-step guide to skating in the Netherlands, should you find yourself there when the rivers and ponds have frozen over.
If you're not a Eurocrat with an expense account, Brussels can prove a little expensive. But despair not, we've put together a list of seven things to do for free in the EU capital, from strolling the Comic Strip Route to a tour of the European Parliament where you can see your Euros at work. Or not, as the case may be.
West Frisian Islands: sculpted by the sea – Anthony Lambert
Skating through the Netherlands – Jasper Wynn
Bikes on a bridge, Amsterdam (Shutterstock)
As the moniker, 'Low Countries', suggests, a lot of the Netherlands and Belgium is low – and flat – making it the perfect destinations for those who like to cycle, but without the intensity that lycra brings.
For those into urban cycling, Susie Maggie Thorne lists the 9 best cities in Europe to cycle in. And Russell Shorto puts together six tips for cycling in Amsterdam. (It's more complicated than you think!)
If you're the kind of cyclist you yearns for the burn, then you may be surprised to learn that one of the toughest mountain climbs can be found in Belgium. Daniel Friebe reveals all here.
Europe's 9 best cities to cycle in – Susie Maggie Thorne
6 tips for cycling in Amsterdam – Russell Shorto
4 epic European mountain climbs – Daniel Frieb
Belgian beer (Shutterstock)
Think you know Amsterdam? Not as well as local Jurriaan Teulings. He reveals the Dutch capital's best kept secrets so you too can pass as a native of one of Europe's coolest cities. Sal Bolton, on the other hand, suggests visiting the city's legendary 'Poezenboot', a houseboat for the local cats.
If you're bound for Belgium, Daisy Cropper suggests giving Brussels, Brugges and Ghent a miss and head for Antwerp instead. Her Insider Guide to Antwerp reveals the best the city has to offer, including a pub that serves over 400 different types of beer.
An Insiders' guide to Amsterdam – Jurriaan Teulings
The Cat Boat of Amsterdam – Sal Bolton
An Insiders' Guide to Antwerp – Daisy Cropper
Traditional buildings, Amsterdam (Shutterstock)
With destinations as popular and accessible as the Netherlands and Belgium, capturing a unique image can be difficult. One way to make your photos of the Low Countries stand out from the crowd is to use the compositional device of framing. It could be a window or a flourish of foliage, but by following Steve Davey's tips on framing photos, your images will be more balanced, focussed and infused with a more powerful meaning.
Photography tips: how to frame your photos – Steve Davey
Bruges Square (Shutterstock)
Ready to start planning your trip? Our Netherlands Travel Guide and Belgium Travel Guide are a great starting point. Make sure you drop by the Netherlands Essential Info page and Belgium Essential Info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from the Netherlands and Belgium too.
If you have a particular question about the Netherlands or Belgium, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about either the Netherlands or Belgium. The answer to yours might already be there.
Netherlands Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team
Belgium Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team
Netherlands Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team
Belgium Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team
Windmill and tulips, the Netherlands (Shutterstock)
Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From Belgian bike and barge adventures to genteel rambles through the Dutch countryside, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.
Main image: Foggy Spring sunrise in Holland (Shutterstock.com)