See Old Masters, Delft Pottery, and Flower Auction on This Magical Dutch Barge Cruise

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Dutch windmill
This classic Dutch windmill is still operating

Step aboard Road Scholar’s magical Dutch barge cruise and drift into a world of Old Masters, European antiques, charming medieval towns, windmills, and vibrant tulip fields. As you disembark at various stops along your journey, you’ll join experts at renowned museums to learn about the Old Master’s artworks. You’ll stroll along Holland’s canals while shopping for antiques and memorabilia. Your visits to the iconic Delft earthenware factory and the world-renowned Aalsmeer Flower Auction are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for art and antique enthusiasts. Truly, the Netherlands’ rich artistic heritage is compelling.

Aboard The Lena Maria Barge

Few trips rival canal cruising. Gently motoring in a small craft with the shore always in view lets you delight in the Dutch landscape as you travel. You’ll be with a dozen or two like-minded travelers, so conversations will be lively and new friends will be made. Isn’t this better than ocean cruising on a massive commercial ship that spends more time on the open ocean than visiting ports — and where you spend hours standing in lines?

Lena Maria lounge
Lena Maria lounge: There’s plenty of room for socializing in the barge lounge.

The Lena Maria is a delight. This Dutch barge — a traditional flat-bottomed barge built to haul freight in the shallow waterways of the Netherlands — was built in 1956. It’s recently been refitted and turned into a sleek and appealing boutique hotel ship that can comfortably accommodate twenty-four passengers.

Owners Eelke and his wife Carlien spent years working on boutique ships before buying the Dutch barge Lena Maria. They are well-versed in hospitality. Says Eelke, “The Lena Maria is big enough to offer high-quality accommodations and small enough to provide an intimate atmosphere. So, people connect with each other very quickly.”

Broad Strokes: Accommodations, Meals, And Transportation

The cruise encompasses ten days and nine nights. The Dutch barge offers single and double cabins with panoramic openable windows, good ventilation, individual heating and air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. Extra-wide beds and ensuite bathrooms are standard.

Twenty-one meals are included: eight breakfasts, five lunches, and eight dinners. Vegetarian and gluten-free choices may be available when requested in advance. Other meals are of your choosing at local restaurants during your scheduled free time.

Periods in the daily schedule classified as “Free time” and “At leisure” allow you to do what you want and make your experience more meaningful and memorable based on your unique preferences. These are great opportunities to shop for antiques, and your choices are plentiful.

Your days will be active, walking leisurely, stopping at museums and points of interest. Cobblestone streets, uneven terrain, and stairs are typical in old Dutch towns. Guests will be required to keep pace with the group. Don’t worry: rest stops are ample.

While you are bused to the various venues on the program’s schedule, the Dutch barge travels to the next port and joins you at the end of the day. (No barging at night).

Itinerary Highlights

Dutch architecture and landscaping are unique but oddly familiar because they have been copied often in villages across the U.S. The depth and breadth of the artworks and museums are astonishing: that’s why Dutch artists are called the “Old Masters.”

A comprehensive report on the tour’s activities is beyond the scope of this report, so I’ll hit a few highlights that would interest most art & antiques enthusiasts.

Day 3: The Kröller-Müller Museum, which houses the world’s second-largest display of Vincent van Gogh paintings, sculptures, and artworks — more than 20,000 in total. Van Gogh’s style, known for his choppy brush strokes and expressive lines, wasn’t popular in his lifetime but it is now one of the most sought-after Post-Impressionist era styles.

Day 4: Frans Hals Museum and free time for afternoon antiquing. You’ll find a nice mix of antique shops and restaurants within walking distance of the museum. Your tour guide will be happy to suggest places for you to visit.

Aalsmeer flower auction
The Aalsmeer Flower auction is the world’s oldest and largest flower auction
Image: Henk Becker.

Day 5: Spend the morning at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. But don’t expect this auction to be like any you’ve attended in the U.S. In a traditional Dutch auction, there is no competitive bidding. Prices are not bid up; they’re bid down. The auctioneer sets the first bid high and decreases incrementally until a bidder accepts the offered price. The first bidder to accept an offered price wins the auction. Don’t expect to bid on any flowers, though: these beauties are bought in large wholesale lots and shipped worldwide. The flowers sold on this day may well be at your hometown florist by tomorrow.

Day 6: Offers adventures you’ll be talking about for decades. You’ll visit the Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, as well as the International Court of Justice. Next, your group will head to the Mauritshuis Museum, where you will admire masterpieces by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and others. Standing face-to-face with these timeless treasures is awe-inspiring.

After lunch is, for many, the pinnacle of the tour: a visit to Delft to investigate the Porceleyne Fles, the oldest surviving earthenware factory in the Netherlands. They have been producing Delftware since 1653. Inside, you’ll see skilled artisans create exquisite hand-painted items using traditional techniques passed down through generations.

You’ll be allowed to explore the factory and (of course) visit the gift shop to buy more Delftware for your collection.

Man hand painting delftware
Hand painting Delftware: Hand painting Delftware is a craft hundreds of years old.
Image:Wikimedia Donald Trung

Day 7: Discover the Dutch roots of a significant American cultural tradition. You’ll barge to Rotterdam for a trip to the Pilgrim Fathers’ Church. It was here, in 1620, that the Pilgrims said their final prayers before embarking for England, where they boarded the Mayflower to the New World. In a fascinating address, a church docent will share little-known details about the events that led to our American Thanksgiving feast.

An Uplifting Journey

Of course, there’s more to this Dutch barge cruise than just art and auctions and more than the highlights I’ve listed above. The trip is uplifting on many levels: the relaxation of gently cruising through picturesque canals, passing through quaint medieval towns, savoring the local cuisine, and finding Dutch antiques that will be the envy of your friends. Also, the camaraderie generated by sharing the experience with your fellow travelers is enduring.

Tour guest Anne from Savannah, GA, says this about the tour:

“Wonderful overview of both the Netherlands and of its art. This is much more than an art appreciation program. I learned about history, cuisine, and about this country. Great tour.”

For dates, prices, or to request a Road Scholar catalog, call their office at 800-454-5768 Monday-Friday between 9 AM and 6:30 PM ET. Request information on “The Old Masters: Art Treasures of Holland by River” tour. They can also be reached via email at

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