Wednesday, 25 July 2012 8:32 PM
If you want to experience culture, antique architecture and fine food during your next holiday, think about visiting Belgium aboard a river boat. Boasting Gothic buildings, museums, tasty fare and beautiful scenery, Belgium is an ideal spot for a luxurious getaway by boat.
Follow the pretty Flemish waterways and you'll come across sandy beaches, bustling markets, old monuments and plenty more. Read our guide to discover some of the ports of call you'll want to stop at along the way.
The lively seaside town of Nieuwpoort is a great spot for families thanks to its lovely beach. The promenade here measures 2 km in length, and you can rent bicycles and make your way along the boardwalk, admiring the sea views as you pedal.
Head to Prince Mauritspark to admire 18 show gardens set in over 10 hectares of land, or call in at the De Lenspolder farm, where children will love meeting and stroking the many animals that reside here.
There are numerous monuments to take in too, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed belfry at the Grote Markt and the Gothic church, Onze-Lieve-Vroukerk, which you'll find behind the town hall.
The ancient settlement of Ypres is an interesting town that was almost destroyed during the first world war; now, you'll find the area boasts many monuments to the soldiers lost during the battle, the most famous of which is perhaps the Menin Gate. This memorial commemorates the missing soldiers of World War I who lost their lives in the Ypres Saleit.
You can learn more about the war by calling in at the In Flanders Fields Museum, and afterwards treat the children to a visit to Bellewaerde Park, where they can have a go on some fun rides and meet dwarf goats, pelicans and flamingos.
A must-visit as part of a boating holiday in Belgium is the beautiful medieval town of Bruges. A UNESCO World Heritage Site as a result of its remarkably well-preserved architecture, the settlement is home to many attractive buildings, including the 83 m high belfry. Climb the 366 steps to the top of the structure and you'll be rewarded with some stunning views.
Bruges is a great place to experience some of Belgium's most well-known exports; call in at the Straffe Hendrik Brewery for a tour and taste some of the beer made here, or pay a visit to the Brangwyn Museum to admire the examples of lace on show. You'll find chocolate shops on virtually every corner and these handmade sweet treats make for ideal souvenirs for friends and family back home.
Before you head on to your next port of call, stop off at the Church of Our Lady to take a look at the tallest spire in Belgium. Inside the building you find another marvel - Michelangelo's Madonna and Child.
Gothic Ghent has a rich history; formerly the biggest city in Europe after Paris, the medieval settlement has the most listed monuments of any other settlement in Belgium despite the historic centre measuring just one square kilometre.
Unmissable sights include the Pont St Michel bridge - which affords beautiful views over the old town - and the restored medieval castle Chateau des Comtes de Flandre, along with the Cathedral St Bavo, which combines Gothic and Romanesque styles. Head inside the building to the crypt to see traces of the wooden structure that stood here around the year 942 and to admire the famous painting Adoration of the Mystique Lamb produced by the Van Eyck brothers.
Another must-visit is the fortress of Gravenesteen, which translates in English to Castle of the Counts and houses a vast collection of instruments of torture, while the medieval houses of the Quai aux Herbes are also worth calling in at.
If you're in Ghent on a Friday check out the Groentemarkt, which comprises several bazaars selling fruit and vegetables, flowers, art and animals. Afterwards, take in the images on show in the contemporary art museum and sample some of the beers on offer at the Dulle Griet Bar. At the latter you can drink from a 1.2 litre glass in a wooden stand, but this will require you to surrender one of your shoes, which will be hauled to the ceiling in a wire basket.