GLITTERING festive lights and imposing Gothic structures are reflected in shimmering perfection in the calm waters of the canal.
Crowds stroll cobblestone streets and bike-lined bridges while the smell of sweet waffles and hot chocolate wafts through the cold night air.
It could be the perfect pre-Christmas Eve in Amsterdam, but I’m not in the Dutch capital. Just 40 minutes from the famous canal city, I discover another waterfront gem – Utrecht.
And whisper it. . . I think I’ve found my new favorite Dutch city. The beautiful old town is a highlight, through which the Oudegracht canal meanders.
Unlike Amsterdam, the canals here feature towpaths where goods used to be unloaded and then sold at markets on the bridges.
Now these pathways and the brick walls house bars, restaurants and cafes with tables, lights and laughter reaching down to the water.
At night the bridges are beautifully illuminated and the pedestrian streets with many independent small boutiques are a delight for shopping fans. We snuggle up at glamorous canal-side Instagrammable Ruby Rose for fried ham and beef croquettes—perfect comfort food for a chilly day.
After dark antics
And thanks to the way I travel, I can enjoy both the pleasures of the day and the antics after dark, safe in the knowledge that a cozy cabin is waiting to welcome me back on board. River cruising is another first for me and I can immediately see the appeal.
As a regular ocean cruiser, I was afraid I would get bored on a smaller ship with less to do.
I wondered if the passengers would also be a more mature lot. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My home for the week was the brand new Sena – the newest and most environmentally friendly ship from the German cruise line A-Rosa.
This is a chic, modern take on river cruising for the 21st century, sailing from Dusseldorf or Cologne and capable of accommodating 280 guests in comfort and luxury.
Unusually, almost all cabins have large balconies from which to watch the world go by, and there are also 12 family cabins sleeping up to five people with cute bunk beds.
Our balcony stateroom on the third deck was ideal – a modern, muted palette with an extremely comfortable king-size bed, plenty of storage space and a large sofa.
But best of all were the floor to ceiling windows that opened onto the balcony. Even in winter it was a pleasure to sit here and watch the scenery go by and I imagine it’s even nicer when it’s warmer.
Completing the ship is a huge sun deck that stretches the length and breadth of the ship. While the many loungers, tables, and chairs around the two heated pools weren’t quite as popular in the freezing temperatures, I’m sure this would be the heart of the ship in the spring, offering excellent views day and night.
Our five-night Christmas special sailed from Germany to Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht before returning up the Rhine to Cologne.
Billed as a premium all-inclusive, the cruise fare from around £950 per person includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea and all drinks including premium alcohol brands, sparkling wine and cocktails.
There are also discounts on the excellent spa. Said to be the largest ever on a river cruise ship, it features a sauna, jacuzzi, ice grotto, heated bench, relaxation room, treatment rooms and fitness area.
And you definitely need to work off some of the calories you burn at the restaurant. The extensive buffet offers vegetarian and vegan options and German specialties from bratwurst to dumplings, as well as international favorites like surf and turf and fresh salmon.
GO: Dutch river cruise
ARRIVAL / STAY: A six-night premium all-inclusive Rhine Christmas Market City Experience cruise on the A-Rosa Sena is priced from £1,249 per person and departs 22 November 2023. Departs Cologne with stops in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht.
Price includes round-trip flights from Heathrow, one night’s pre-cruise hotel accommodation in Cologne, and transfers to and from the ship.
Visit destination2.co.uk/cruise/cruise-lines/a-rosa or call 01244 957 904.
There’s also a more intimate steak specialty restaurant for an additional fee.
But the real highlight was of course the opportunity to stroll directly from the ship to three fascinating cities every morning. On our first call in Rotterdam we moored next to the quirky cube houses the city is known for. The development was a clever solution to a tricky planning problem of building houses over a pedestrian bridge.
Just a short walk from there is the Markthal – or market hall – a stunning piece of architecture with hundreds of food stalls selling everything from traditional Dutch stroopwafels and croquettes to bao buns and pizza.
In Amsterdam we stroll past cafes and tourist-trap bars and on to the De Pijp district.
Popular with the young and bohemian since the 1960s, there are tons of cool bars and restaurants to hop through and bargains to snag at the Albert Cuypmarkt street market.
Strengthened, we continue to the large square in front of the Rijksmuseum, where an ice rink and a Christmas market add to the festive atmosphere.
On our last day we cruise back to Cologne with plenty of time to enjoy the spa and the convivial atmosphere in the lounge bar.
For children there is a special club with staff to keep them entertained.
Wrapped up snuggly under the heaters outside at the stern of the boat, I was happy to watch the world sail by.
After spending three days discovering the delights of three Dutch cities, it was the perfect place to reflect on our adventures.
https://www.the-sun.com/travel/6940303/amsterdam-dutch-city-travel-by-boat/ Why you should ditch Amsterdam for another Dutch city – and you can get there by boat