Entries Tagged as 'History'

Holiday to Belgium this summer with P&O Ferries


Fancy a trip to Belgium this summer? P&O Ferries can get you and the family their with their Hull to Zeebrugge ferry. The cross channel ferry is decked out with plenty of entertainment, even a cinema and casino for you to really get in to the holiday spirit before landing at Belgium’s port city.

There’s plenty of exciting and interesting events on this summer in Belgium. It’s true the mussel season has just about come to a close but gastronomers will have plenty of traditional fare to keep themselves sated.

The chocolate industry of Brussels is world renowned, for information on chocolate holidays look here. As any true foodie would know Belgium is famed for it’s waffles and is the birthplace of French fries (mistakenly named by Tommies in World War I). So there really is little need to fear that the food won’t pass muster. To cap it all, Belgium boasts some of the finest beers with the oldest brewing traditions in Europe with it’s close proximity to the fine wines of France there’s little excuse not to keep spirits high.

This July is the annually anticipated BrewFest 2014, if you’re struggling to find information about the event it’s very simple – show up in Antwerp on July 5th and make your way to Adriaan Brouwerstraat. Essentially there’s going to be a huge street party complete with DJs live performances and it’s all to be catered by Belgium’s own authentic breweries.

Antwerp is just a short drive from the port in Zeebrugge where your ferry will make berth, one of the great conveniences of a holiday to Belgium is that it is such a compact country that that you can really see it all in just a short time. The more historic sites such as Bruges are deserving of more of your time but if you find yourself in Belgium this July then letting loose on the streets of Antwerp will definitely serve to liven your holiday up. Belgium isn’t all Gothic architecture and canals!


As well as the centenary of World War I, 2014 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. Who was born in Dinant a small city south of Brussels, it’s a remarkably scenic place resting on the River Meuse. You can actually visit Sax’s house if you find yourself down that way, there are hourly trains running from Brussels to Dinant.

To mark the anniversary of the saxophone, the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels is hosting an exhibition entitled SAX200. This will be a groundbreaking display, the largest public collection of saxophones will be open to the public with contributions from museums all across the world, London, Paris, Leipzig, Amsterdam, New York and more.

Adolphe Sax created various musical instruments as well as some medical tools as well – the display began this February and doesn’t close until January 2015. To book now click here.

One great way to fill an evening on your trip to Belgium is to take the ghost walk at La Roche the castle of Ardenne. You get fantastic walking tour of the castle and learn a bit about Belgian folklore.

Reported sightings of the ghost of Berthe, daughter of the Count of La Roche in the 10th-century are said to be prevalent during the summer months. La Roche is situated to the south of Belgium so if you find yourself that way prepare yourselves for a spooky evening.


A Titanic Exhibition

A major attraction for British tourists in Belgium this year is the Titanic Artifact Exhibition. Which opens it’s doors on May 31st and runs through to the close of September 2014 at the Brussels Expo. Everyone is familiar with the story of the Titanic but this exhibition will really draw out your imagination. The cruise liner was the very pinnacle of early 20th century affluence, in a time before the world wars had left their scars across society.

Through rigorous preservation techniques and chemical restoration a large collection of rare and fragile artefacts are to be displayed. These vary from scented vials and porcelain to the machinery of the ship itself, cutting edge in it’s day when technology really began to take a turn for the modern.

You can book ahead for tickets, since queues are to be expected. Your tickets give you an allotted 30 minute window to enter the exhibition without having to line up, so make sure you are prompt. Family tickets cost 50€, 15,90€ for adults and 12,90€ for children, under 4 year olds get in free.

Since the exhibition is in Belgium the stories of the crew focus on the Belgians who were aboard. You’ll get to see the luxury of first class cabins compared with second and third. Mementos and forensics of the final hours of the ship should certainly prove sobering.

There’s also a lot of information about the recovery of these artefacts and the reconstruction and preservation of the ship. The effort that’s gone in to bringing this exhibition about itself is a thing to wonder at, given that the wreck was only rediscovered back in 1985 and many of the preservation techniques that are now common practise were not yet invented.

To finish this post we’d like to draw special attention to one of the WWI exhibitions in Belgium this summer. The FotoMuseum Antwerp: Shooting Range – since this war was the first war to be documented on film it’s unique as the earliest experimentation with photography. Cameras were used for strategic reconnaissance as well as propaganda and anti-war protest. This exhibition presents authentic original film with a contemporary lens so you grasp the full scope of the conflict as a turning point for man.

There’s plenty for you to discover in Belgium over the summer months, many more war services are being held, or you can take to the great out doors and visit the scenic towns such as Spa, the birthplace of fictional detective Poirot!

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: iris, Don LaVange, Michael

P&O Ferries: WWI memorials in France this summer


We all know this summer is an important year, commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of world war one. If you’re planning to take a P&O Ferry across the channel to mark this anniversary then we have some key information for the main events to mark this momentous occasion. We’d also advise you to look back at some of our earlier blogs which focus on the major sites and monuments of the Great War.

If, however, you are planning a summer sojourn in France for the family that is more focussed on a fun, escape of environment to explore the new and exciting, or experiment with the strange and perhaps luxurious, then France has plenty to offer.

The major remembrance ceremonies are being held in November to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in memorial of the official armistice. These events will be broadcast across the globe and therefore draw large crowds. If you are the contemplative sort or wish to educate yourself or family on the significance of the battle lines once drawn across Europe then smaller ceremonies and exhibitions will be running from spring for you to visit on your trip to France.

The main summer services include commemorations for the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and Vimy Ridge. Click here for links with details on what’s happening in 2014.

Some may not require a too scholarly approach for their immersion in history. These are some of the events we’ve cherry-picked that will be well worth investigating The Coal Field in 1918: A Devastated Landscape, The Disasters of War in Louvre-Lens and the opening of a new museum in Rue de la Basse Ville The Battle of Fromelles Museum. If you’re visiting the continent this June then keep an eye out for the Europe Run of Unity. A relay run of just over 652 miles, covering the length of the entire Western Front, is passing through Flanders to Strasbourg from the 10th-21st of June.

For more information on the Wilfred Owen Memorial click here.

The list of battlefields you can visit for a guided tour are too numerous to state here but if you have a specific soldier’s story to research the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will help you find graves and memorials for you to book your trip. Walking tours of battlefields will be in high demand but you can certainly pre-book with Visit Battlefield to see the fields where so many gave their lives.

2014 also marks the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. The allied landings are to be commemorated with a massive synchronised fireworks display along the 80km beach head from 24 major points of the incursion. There’ll be quite a show for the kids with an air show by the French squadron Patrouille de France and military parades of the vehicles that were used. As well as light shows and concerts and huge picnic on Omaha beach. These events will be held from 1st-15th June so you’ll want to book sooner rather than later. Though the fireworks will be visible for miles around.


The peaceful side of France

Summer is really a time for outdoors when visiting France. Yes there is the Cannes Film Festival (14-25 June) and events like the European Night of Museums, May 17th where museums, galleries and exhibitions all across the continent are open for free until 1am. But when better than summer to glory in the outdoors? Autumn is a time of harvest so if you are visiting the vineyards then you won’t be getting under the feet of the pickers. France’s countryside will be in full bloom and you’ll get plenty of sun should you choose to take to the great out doors.

The International Garden Festival for 2014 begins in June at the estate of Chaumont-sur-Loire Castle. It is essentially a landscape architecture contest but it runs through to September when the winner is announced, the idea being that a garden should be at its most beautiful during autumn. If you’ve got your heart set on a summer holiday the Loire Valley is breathtakingly verdant in the hottest months.

The garden festival is akin to an open air museum/park for landscape architecture. You can take guided tours if you wish to pick up some tips on cutting edge landscaping or just saunter about to smell the roses. The Chaumont garden festival isn’t just about the flowers, you can pay an evening visit during certain summer nights to see the gardens light up. The shapes and shadows cast by the plants at night combined with carefully situated along water features and sculptures gives the castle and gardens an eery transcendence. This year’s theme of nature promises to make for a mythic almost arcane atmosphere.


A holiday to France doesn’t have to mean expensive Parisian hotels and the most dear bottles of wine, champagne and liqueur on the planet. If you are taking the entirely family, or just a trip with a loved one, the best way to cut the budget is to provide you’re own accommodation. Camping holidays are one of the easiest ways to enjoy seeing to France.

P&O Ferries provide cheap fares for the entire family plus your car, so that all you need to do is decide where to set up camp. For tips on camping abroad look to our blog on camping in the north of France. It’s a fantastic way to squeeze those pennies and so that you can spend a bit more time at Disneyland Paris or treating yourself to the fantastic cuisine that France is famous for.

Book your P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais now a 90 minute ferry runs 46 times a day from England to France.

Image credit: Roland Turner, Jimmy theSuperStar , anjanettew

P&O Ferry day trips in France


Planning a short trip to France to breathe a little life in to the tale end of winter? Whether you want a hotel break or just to venture forth for some duty free and see something new, there’s plenty of ground to cover around Calais, here are some suggestions for where to go.

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers statues are spread out across Europe and have a fascinating story behind them originating in Calais where Rodin’s original bronze statues are.

When Edward III laid siege to Calais after the battle of Crecy in 1346 the town was forced to surrender because the people were starving. The King demanded that 6 of its leaders submit to him, presumably for execution, wearing nooses around their necks and bearing the keys to the castle.

One of the richest town leaders Eustache de Saint Pierre was the first to volunteer followed by 5 other burghers. Burgher is a medieval term for citizen mainly denoting a member of the bourgeoisie or intelligentsia.

Edward’s wife, moved by this show of self-sacrifice, asked for mercy to be given since it would be a bad omen for her unborn child and the burghers were spared.The nobility of these men in the face of crushing defeat, willing to give up their lives in order for Calais to be spared, is now remembered in the form of Rodin’s sculptures.

Rather than set the burghers up on pedestals he has given them true human form, exhibiting the fraility and despair that the burghers must have felt. He felt it important that they not be raised up too high because it is their humility that has immortalised them. The statues are located at the front of the town hall of Calais, it was Rodin’s wish that a passersby could come across them almost unawares and feel a certain solidarity with the once saviours of Calais.


Calais beach

If you’re stopping off in France for some duty free and a day by the sea then there really is no reason to go beyond Calais.

The main road running parallel to the beach Route Nationale is lined with places to stop and have a bite to eat, or indulge in an idle bit of window shopping. The sandy beach front may not have the appeal of a tropical island but a beach is a beach. It’s always nice to recline before lapping waves and perhaps dream about what the summer will hold.

If the day isn’t quite warm enough for you then nearby is Les Baraques military cemetery. Since 2014 marks the centenary of WW1, a visit to one of these memorial sites will be a truly moving experience. As a port city Calais became a necessary supply depot with hospitals set up there for troops to be treated before being sent home. Standing amongst the uniformly positioned stones marking military graves makes for truly sobering experience which will make your stay in Calais all the more memorable.

Wilfred Owen war memorial

One name you’re sure to be hearing plenty of this year is Wilfred Owen. His memorial is located not too far inland in the village of Ors in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The world war one poet has a suitably stark yet powerful memorial.

The bone white structure stands on a green hill completely isolated, unlike other memorials where you’ll often find statues, tanks or planes you enter the memorial with nothing to distract you. Inside there is nothing but the poem Dulce et Decorum Est carved into glass covering the four walls. The handwriting is taken from Wilfred Owen’s own manuscript kept in the British Library. Resounding about the walls is Kenneth Brannagh’s voice reading six of Owen’s most famous poems.

There is a little more to see, a walkway leads you down in to a cramped and dank room that’s been little changed since Wilfred Owen left it to die a week before the Armistice was signed in 1918. It was shared with the other 29 men in Owen’s Regiment, and you can hear a reading of the letter he wrote to his mother the night before he met his fate.

This is a singularly powerful memorial to one of the greatest war poets to have lived. It will certainly draw a lot of crowds in 2014 so if you wish to see it it’s located by the Camp Militaire, a little way off from Cambrai, open everyday except Tuesdays between 2 and 4 o’clock.


Louvre Lens museum

When people think about the Louvre, images of The Da Vinci Code, a massive glass pyramid and Paris spring to mind. The Louvre-Lens museum doesn’t quite have all that going for it but it shares the same rich artistic reservoir with its sister gallery in France’s capital.

The goal of the Louvre-Lens Museum is to spread France’s artistic heritage out of the main cities to revive some of the more provincial areas. Lens hasn’t had an easy history, it was destroyed in WW1 then occupied and subsequently bombed again in WW2. Originally it was a mining town but the last mine was closed in the 80s. It is, however, very well situated for tourism. A one hour drive from Calais and well within reach of the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands you could visit Louvre-Lens in a single day trip if you wished.

This museum has something for everyone, whether your interest peaks with the ancients, middle ages or modern artworks. The layout is also jawdropping, in total Louvre-Lens covers a space of 3000 square metres and it isn’t encumbered with partitions. Art from around the world is exhibited side by side in chronological order. So you are effectively following the steps of mankind through art history: beginning with Mesopotamia and ending with 21st century works. Louvre-Lens is truly remarkable when you look at the scope of what it offers the public.

Make the most of your P&O ferry trip from Dover to Calais and see more of the north of France.

Image credit: Ivan Pik , jpellgen, Tourism Pas-de-Calais

Family outings in belgium

belgian chocolate

2014 will be a big year for Europe. Though it may seem far off this early in the year we are marking the centenary of the first world war. Belgium and France in particular will have massive displays on later in the year, so before all the tourist areas start getting busy we suggest you take an early trip to Belgium and see the side of it that won’t be dominating the news later in the year.

We’ve drawn up a list of five outings that are sure to be family pleasers. Belgium is a rather small country so if you take your car with you on the P&O ferry you can see a lot of it in just a few days.

Chocolate tourism

Belgium is the spiritual home of the chocolate industry. It was in Brussels where the idea for selling bitesize chocolate in boxes was first dreamed up. The industry is still going from strength to strength and the chocolatiers of Belgium keep on innovating and coming up with more and more tasty treats.

Here’s the main resource for all you really need to know about chocolate tourism.

There are a reported 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium, so wherever you intend to stay there’s sure to be a chocolate tour near at hand. Most involve an in depth look at how the chocolate is made as well as a bit of history about its evolution. It’s likely your kids will mostly look forward to the tasting but we don’t doubt the chocolatey smell will have your mouth watering too.

Alternatively you could just go to the Museum of cocoa and chocolate for a look around about chocolate heritage.

spa belgium

Spa – the place, not a resort

This is the birthplace of all modern spas. Spa is a small town in the south east province of Lieges. It’s original clientele were royalty, after Henry VIII applauded the natural springs curative powers nobility started flocking there.

Spa is situated in the Ardennes a beautiful forest region stretching from Belgium to Luxembourg and bordering France and Germany. After a hard days treatment in the resorts a walk beneath the canopy will certainly top off your relaxation.

The water in Spa is famed for its waters and if you can’t wait to get there then you can buy bottles of it here in the UK. There are around 200 springs in the area, whilst we can’t assure you of their restorative nature the journey and environment will certainly do wonders for your soul.

The facilities available in Spa vary from the deluxe centres to more wallet friendly packages. They even have a mother-baby institute if you feel able to travel, they take children up to 6 months old for both parents and babies to get some cleansing relaxation in.

Spa is a wonderful place to receive therapy for respiratory and rheumatic problems. If the long winter has crept in to your bones, Thermes de Spa is a top of the line resort that treats around 35,000 people per year with top of the range heated hydromassage jets, baths of carbogaseous water, mud baths and much more. Thermes de Spa commands an incredible view of the town, gloriously framed by the surrounding hills and forest landscape.

Underground tours of Charles V palace

This isn’t your casual tour of a manor house or general amble around a museum. The site of Coudenberg the former palace of Brussels has had a trying history. It has been damaged to the point of complete reconstruction in the 17th century but much of the old building has remained beneath the soil making this a prime archaeological site.

There are guided tours of Coudenberg or you can make your own way with the Stone, mortar and chisel tour. This is a self guided tour in which you can educate yourself in all the archaeological techniques and historical findings that have made Coudenberg a major heritage location in Belgium.

For children there’s a special adventure to be had. They can go on a treasure trail to find the Golden Fleece. This quest is designed for 5-8 year olds and for just €4 your child will be given a back pack with all the adventuring gear they’ll need from treasure map to flashlight. Their goal to uncover the password that’ll unlock the chest containing the Golden Fleece. Should they succeed they’ll win a small prize and you’ll have given your kid up to an hour and half’s worth of archaeological exploration.

comic strip centre

Belgian Comic Strip Centre

If you and the family aren’t willing to spend your holiday looking through the classical galleries to be seen in Belgium then the comic strip centre is an excellent alternative. As the birthplace of creations like Tintin and the Smurfs, Belgium is somewhat of an authority on comic strip art.

The building is a masterpiece of art nouveau, designed by Victor Horta, the founding father of art nouveau architecture, in 1906.

It attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors a year and has a layout that’s like a cross between a funhouse and the Tate Modern in London.

It’s an excellent place to just have a wander around, with many exhibitions to help educate those not familiar with the ninth art (comics). These exhibits include ‘The Invention of the Comic Strip’ and ‘The Museum of the Imagination’. This is an awesome gallery that speaks to the inner psyche improving your understanding of abstract imagery, which will give you a far better appreciation of comic strips.

There’s a reading room if you just can’t peel your kids (or yourself) away from the BCSC as well as a restaurant and shop for you to bring a little bit of the spirit of the centre home with you.

For a family mini-break to Belgium this year take a P&O ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge
Image credit: kaoru, jackfre2, fmpgoh

North by northeast; a P&O Ferry’s guide to holidaying in France


If you are planning your summer retreat from the UK why trade one bustling city for another? Make your destination the north of France.

With a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais you can take your family for an exciting week or two of exciting activities but still be in reach of the must-see-spots of France like the Eiffel Tower and Disneyland Paris.

For most people the port city of Calais is just the entry point to France. Once through everybody quickly darts south for warmer climes. Since the weather is finally turning in our favour the beaches of north France will serve you just as well for a bit of a dip, a boat ride or brisk coastal hike.

Calais is in close proximity to the Parc Naturel regional des Caps et Marais d’Opale this huge park encompasses Boulogne-sur-Mer so you can drive along the coast to get there. Boulogne-sur-Mer is a common tourist destination due to the appeal of its local markets. An excellent spot to get in a bit of shopping for some local produce as well as the necessary vittles to keep everybody happy.

The Parc Naturel is an often overlooked destination as people speed through with their sights set on Paris or even further inland. It offers camping sites as well as primely located chalets and cottages. If tranquility is what you desire then you can spend your time on the rivers trout fishing, sink a few holes on a golf course or just spend the afternoon strolling through the woods.

The landscape is perfect for rambling about with the family or your loved ones with it’s many campsites and small towns to make basecamp in and then go out exploring.

The park also has arranged kids activities with Passion Adventures. This will give them a chance to try everything from zip lining to quad bike rides; or as a family you could take a cross country horseback ride or bike tour.


Dunkirk and Saint Omer

The other main inhabited area in Parc Naturel is Saint Omer. This is an idyllic commune with a wealth of architectural history from the 13th century cathedral to 17th century fortifications. If you find that you’ve taken in enough of the great outdoors a day trip to this quaint town will certainly give you the chance to sample some fine restaurant food and do a bit of sightseeing.

Saint Omer gives you a feel of what it’s like just across the border. The canal areas have the feel of Holland about them and though France is famed for it’s wines you’ll also be able to get some masterfully brewed beers this close to Belgium.

Eastwards of the Parc Naturel lies Dunkirk, should you choose to follow the coast, or you can go inland towards Lille. There are plenty of package holiday deals for history buffs wanting to pay homage at the beaches of Dunkirk. Where better to educate you’re children on the evacuation and battle of Dunkirk? This doesn’t have to be done in the museums, you can take guided tours and even boat trips along the beaches for a more tactile experience.

To the south is Lille, a medium sized city that boasts a vibrant nightlife due to its large student population. Taking a guided city tour is the best way to see all the major attractions. The main sights such as La Vieille Bourse, the grand square at the heart of Lille and Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille command some truly excellent views.

If you wish to absorb a little culture then Lille is home to Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille (Lille Palace of Fine Arts) the largest gallery in France outside of Paris. The building itself is a wonder to look at and housed inside are masterpieces from the Renaissance to modern works by greats like Picasso.

Lille also has a great selection of markets in particular you can find some excellent antique furniture to bring back home. You can find a selection of the different markets here. There are general markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, Flea markets which are a larger occasion for the city and Art markets too.


Champagne and Langres

The other major region in north east France is Champagne. It’s a slightly more affordable place to pick up a bottle of something special. The breweries of the area host tours so naturally there will be some free tasters to help you make your mind up. Breweries also produce beer and cider which, despite their quality, are often overshadowed by the sparkling wines that make the regions namesake.

More information about tourism in Champagne can be found here. There’s a wealth of things to see and do from theme parks to day spas. Champagne has a beautiful countryside, you can even tour the breweries by horse drawn carriage.

A stay in north France will be made all the more special this year with a visit to the fort city Langres. 2013 is a special year celebrating the tercentenary of Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, a native of the city.

Langres will be holding festivals and special events until October of this year so you can easily take in one of these spectacles during your trip to France. A stay in Langres will give your tour of north east France a level of authenticity. There’s no risk of falling in to a tourist trap there and you’ll never be shy of something to see and do.

For organised fun you should consider joining a family holiday camp. Companies like Eurocamp will set you up with a place to stay and you can pick and choose activities. They even have kids clubs so children can socialise and explore together to give their parents a little peace.

We’d recommend touring the north of France by bike. The shifting landscape from coast to farmland to woods and lakes is really best seen by bike. If you don’t wish to take your bicycle with you then there are plenty of places to hire them, Bike Hire Direct will even deliver your bikes to you.

Book now for P&O Ferries Dover to Calais service, you can take the car and up to 9 passengers.

Image credit: Leshaines123, flikkesteph, Reims Tourisme

Brussels goes Medieval, OMG! Ommegang!


For nearly half a millennia the Grand Place in Brussels has erupted in to a festival of pageantry in the first week of July to commemorate the ‘Joyous Return’ of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to Belgium.

This year Ommegang will take place over 3-5th July. Since it’s held in a public place you’ll be able to see some of it for free, but naturally if you want good seats in the stands then you will have to book ahead. You’d do well to bear that in mind when thinking about planning your accommodation too, it’s likely the city will fill up.
On the 4th July, a pavilion is set up in the square and you can attend shows for jousting and falconry. A display of swordsmanship is put on as knights battle it out in Grand Place, and there’s a medieval fair of crafts and various other acts from jesters to magicians.

This is one of the oldest traditions in Belgium, Ommegang is a general term used in central parts of Europe for medieval pageants, but the one in Brussels is by far the largest and most famous. Over 1400 performers will make up the procession, they form an impressive sight garbed in traditional attire showing off feats of horsemanship and the choreographed dances of days gone by.

The people of Brussels go all out for Ommegang. The procession will be backed with live music from professional tenors Sebastien Romignon Ercolini and Dominique Corbiau, as well as an expert light show from director Giles Daoust. This promises to be one skilfully produced procession and a great evening’s entertainment.

The procession runs from 9PM-11PM and finishes up with a novel battle-royal of stilt-walkers. Great entertainment after the pomp and precision of the Ommegang pageant, a number of stilt walkers get in to a brawl trying to trip each other off of their 5m stilts until just one man remains.

Ommegang does run quite late in to the night, but the early stages of the procession will be well worth taking your kids to see. They promise a bit of historical splendour to encourage a greater appreciation of the cultural heritage of Belgium. Adults will be able to enjoy themselves too; this is Belgium after all, so expect a healthy stock of ales for you to sample.

Belgium is just an overnight ferry-ride away, you’ll pull in to the port at Zeebrugge and from there it’s just a short journey to Brussels

Image Credit: David Spender

P&O Ferries: Discover Leiden


If you’re looking for somewhere to go this summer and are not after sweltering beaches, may we advise that you consider the Dutch city Leiden?

Leiden is a well-kept secret, since it’s surrounded by the larger cities of the Netherlands like Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. This city has a rich history and is situated at a crossroads in Holland, so you’ll be able to get to all the other tourist hotspots in the country.

There’s plenty to see in Leiden. The city was founded in the 16th century and became a centre for the European wool trade. It saw a major decline but diversified its industries attracting artists, scientists and engineers who gave the city a major boost in culture and affluence in the late 19th century.

There’s a curious mix of old and new in Leiden. It is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, with a fifth of its population forming the student body. This gives Leiden a vibrant nightlife which contrasts with the city’s aged setting.

The old industrial aspects of the city (e.g. the canal network) make a great way to tour through the city. When Leiden returned to wealth in the 19th century, many large and lavish buildings were constructed, making Leiden a picaresque city ideal for afternoon jaunts. It is a relatively small place easily traversed by foot or on bike.

The two main walking tours you can take are:

Muurgedichten – The Leiden is decorated with wall poems, and you can take a paid tour, have a bit of a poetry lesson, print out a map and see for yourself. Alternatively, you can just amble through Leiden with your eyes peeled.

Hofjeswandeling – A tour of the city courtyards, this will expose you to some of the finer architecture Leiden has to offer as well as some of the history and local lore.

This tour will take you through the Wan der Werff Park, named after the mayor who was accused of hiding food reserves when the town was under siege by the Spanish. To show the sincerity of his denials, he offered to cut off his arm and offered serve it to the public.

We would also recommend you visit the Burcht of Leiden, which is one of the best preserved Motte Castles in the Netherlands. It sits high upon an artificial hill and commands the best view of the city, with foundations dating back to the 9th century.

There are three National Museums in Leiden covering Natural History, Antiquities and Ethnology. The National Museum of Ethnology hosts one of the world’s largest collections of ‘the artefacts of man’ compiled and researched with the help of Leiden University.

Shopping and eating out is a varied experience in Leiden – it retains the ‘melting pot’ aspect of its early years with the local populace cooking up all forms of cuisine. Prices range from absolute luxury to those suitable for the city’s student population.

Shopping areas are but a 15 minute walk from the central station. You can make your way to De Slegte, a 3-floor bookstore found on the Breestraat. This shop has a large selection of second-hand books at great value.

Tourists out for a bit of exploration should stop off at Verswinkel for freshly made bread rolls made right in front of you – they’re among the very best in Europe. They’re represented at Leiden’s open markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You’ll also be able to get there late on a Thursday, when most of the shops in the city remain open until 9pm.

Leiden is located near the centre of Holland so P&O Ferry’s can take you Rotterdam and you’re just a short trip from the wonders of Leiden.

Image credit: carolune

P&O Ferries: National Mills Day


Every year on the second Saturday of May, the Netherlands opens up around 600 of its windmills for the public as part of National Mills Day.

In 2012, Nation Mills Day will be hosted on the weekend of the 12th May.

It’s normally safe to gamble on great weather during mid-May, and with the flat terrain that Holland is famed for we recommend taking your tour by bike. Last year, National Cycling Day was combined with National Mills Day as a bid to get more people on two wheels, and it went down a storm.

A family cycling holiday across open stretched country this summer could be a wonderful way to bond, relax and get some exercise at the same time. Plotting your course will be a breeze thanks to the National Mills Day maps which will be given out to participants.

Windmills in the Netherlands have a long history, dating back to the 18th century. They helped build Holland’s infrastructure, and many innovations in mill technology happened there first before spreading across Europe.

There are currently around 1150 functioning windmills in Holland, and the ones open for free entry this May will fly blue pennants to signal to passers-by.

Windmills have been developed for various industrial purposes; they don’t all just grind corn. You’ll be able to find out about the workings of watermills, how saw milling works as well as the mechanisms of mills designed for land drainage.

From Hull to Rotterdam you can catch a P&O ferry, an overnight trip will land you just a short drive away from the nearest mill. If you want to rent a bike out there then you could even start cycling from the port city.

Image credit: JASON ANFINSEN

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