WWI History - Holland & Belgium

Please join the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) on a 10-day journey through the waterways of Holland and Belgium and discover the picturesque architecture, charming towns, and centuries of history that have formed the area known as The Flanders.

WWIEmbark in Amsterdam and set sail to Rotterdam, Ghent, and Antwerp. Take a special, included excursion to Ypres and the battlefields of Eastern Flanders. Journey on to Maastricht, with its cobblestone square and lively university population, before disembarking in Namur—located on the beautiful Meuse and Sambre rivers. Continue on to France to visit the museums and monuments of Verdun, constructed to honor those who had fought and fallen during the Great War.

Your vessel for this program is the Avalon Artistry II—built in 2013—featuring deluxe accommodations, a dedicated staff, and an exceptional variety of amenities. There is no better way to explore the area. A dedicated travel director and team of knowledgeable local guides will ensure you see and learn about this area’s historical past.

Space is limited, and will be shared with participants from cosponsoring alumni associations. Please contact the Alumni Travel Study Program office at (866) 325-8664, or at travelstudy@columbia.edu for more details and to reserve your place today.

Dates & Prices

Trip Dates: April 15 - 24, 2017

Price: from $4,495 to $6,995 per person based upon double occupancy

Single space is  limited. If available, the single rates start at $6,743. Please contact us to check single availability prior to sending your reservation, or to inquire about possible roommate options.


Day 1: En route from U.S.

Depart the US on Individually scheduled overnight flights to Amsterdam

Day 2: Arrive in Amsterdam, Netherlands – Embarkation
Welcome to colorful Amsterdam! Board the Avalon Artistry II for embarkation, get acquainted with the friendly crew, settle into your stateroom, and enjoy your first dinner on board.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (D)

Day 3: Rotterdam
Today, cruise through Rotterdam’s busy harbor before setting off on one of two excursions: a visit to Kinderdijk—a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its collection of 19 authentic windmills, or a tour of Keukenhof Gardens. Known as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is situated on 15th-century hunting grounds and spans 79 acres. The garden was established in 1949 to allow growers to feature their flower hybrids in order to help bolster the Dutch export industry. Approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted in the gardens each year.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L,D)

Day 4: Ghent, Belgium
The journey continues to Ghent—known as the "diamond" of Flanders. Starting as a settlement in the late middle ages, Ghent is presently a bustling city with a port and university.

Today, choose between an included full-day excursion to the Somme area in France, or remain in Ghent for guided sightseeing and leisure time.

If you opt to stay in Ghent, a local guide will show you the city center, which is a showcase of medieval Flemish wealth and commercial success. Next visit St. Baaf's Cathedral, a repository for remarkable art treasures, including the most important work in Flemish art, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, created by the Van Eyck brothers around 1432. Afterwards, enjoy leisure time to explore the area on your own, or perhaps join the optional excursion to Bruges with its criss-crossed canals and charming patrician houses.

During the excursion to the Somme, stop first in Arras to visit the Carrière Wellington Museum. In the fall of 1916, tunnelers began work on this site in preparation for the offensive to follow in spring, including a surprise attack on the Germans. On a guided tour, head underground into the network of tunnels and barracks that accommodated up to 24,000 British Empire and Commonwealth soldiers during the First World War.

While having lunch on your own, explore the town of Arras, which was less than 10 miles from the front line of WWI. A series of battles were fought around the city, leaving in their wake a burned city hall and its destroyed belfry—a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, a ravaged cathedral, and multiple other damaged structures. In the end, nearly three quarters of the city had to be rebuilt. If time allows, wander past La Place des Héros, the Theatre of Arras, the Saint-Vaast Abbey, and the Vauban Citadel.

Afterward, rejoin the group to visit the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which bears the names of over 72,000 officers and men from the British and South African armies who were declared missing in the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918.

Before returning to the ship, stop at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge—one of the greatest battles, and the most celebrated military victory, in Canada's history. From April 9-12, 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps joined forces for the first time, attacking the German army and succeeded in capturing the ridge. The iconic memorial perched atop the ridge commemorates the battles, honoring the over 11,000 Canadians killed during the war who have no known graves.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L–onboard,D)

Day 5: Ypres / Eastern Flanders
After breakfast, board a motorcoach for another included full-day excursion to view the WWI battlefields of Ypres and Eastern Flanders. Lasting from 1914-1918, the war on the Western Front left behind a scarred landscape. Ypres was nearly destroyed during the Great War, but has been rehabilitated through careful reconstruction. Visit the In Flanders Fields Museum, which features artifacts and multi-media presentation methods that convey the personal stories and events that occurred 100 years ago. During a driving tour, view some of the thousands of war graves and commemorative memorials that line the battlefields as a tribute to the fallen from the war.

This evening at precisely 8:00pm, experience the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony. Occurring every evening since 1928, this nightly act of homage includes buglers playing "Last Post" to honor the memory of the soldiers of the former British Empire and its allies who died in Ypres during WWI.

Guests joining the excursion will dine at a local restaurant in Ypres prior to the Last Post Ceremony.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L–onboard,D)

Day 6: Antwerp
Enjoy a lively day today as your local guide takes you through Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city and one of the world's most important seaports. This dynamic city merges classic cultures with modernity and features distinct architecture, spirited people, charming cafés, historic monuments, and stylish shops. Visit the Grote Markt, City Hall, and the Church of Our Lady.

After lunch onboard, guests may join the included excursion to Brussels—Belgium's capital and home of the European Union. Stroll the narrow, lively streets of the Grand Place—the magnificent city center of the Lower Town. The Town Hall and its spire will be your point of reference as you explore the cobblestoned, medieval square filled with elegant houses, and boisterous cafes and bars. As you move south through the shops on Rue de l'Etuve, view the iconic Manneken Pis statue, made in 1619.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L,D)

Day 7: Maastricht, Netherlands
Join your local guide for a tour of Maastricht. This engrossing university town features 1,677 national heritage sites plus an array of cathedrals, unique houses and buildings, and an impressive cobblestone city center. See Fort de Loncin, one of 12 built as part of the Fortifications of Liège. In 1914, this fort was one of the last to suffer German bombardment during the war. In 1923, King Albert I dedicated a monument to those soldiers who defended the fort during battle.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L,D)

Day 8: Namur, Belgium
While in Namur, step out for a a guided tour of its medieval squares, pedestrian streets, and the striking Namur Fortress—one of Europe's largest. Located at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, Namur began as an important trading settlement in Celtic times and became a county in the 10th century.

Alternatively, you may join a full day excursion to the Ardennes region—an area used as an invasion route into Northern France and Southern Belgium during WWII—plus Bastogne, the site known for the Siege of Bastogne, which was part of the Battle of the Bulge. In the Historical Center, peruse the unique collection of uniforms, vehicles, and weapons on display that belonged to the divisions involved in the battle.

Also visit the Mardasson Memorial—an extraordinary monument constructed in the shape of a five pointed star that was built in honor of the 76,890 American soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of the Bulge.

Before lunch on your own, see the Bois de la Paix, or Wood of Peace—4,000 trees planted for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge that are dedicated to the American veterans who fought during the battle.
Overnight: Avalon Artistry II (B,L-onboard,D)

Day 9: Namur – Disembarkation / Verdun, France / Brussels, Belgium
Say "tot ziens" to your Avalon Artistry II captain and crew as you board a motor coach for Verdun, an area where battle scars still mark the hillsides. Stop first at the Memorial of Verdun, considered one of the most important museums of the Great War. Closed in September 2013 for renovations, the museum reopened in February 2016 for the WWI centennial. A new interpretive center illustrates the details of the battle between the French and German forces.

Continue your journey to the Ossuary of Douaumont—a monument that serves as a tomb for the 130,000 unknown French and German fighters who had fallen on the battlefield, and the French necropolis that lies before it. Afterward, visit the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, a memorial spanning over 40 acres of graves of 4,153 American soldiers who died in the Battle of St. Mihiel. At the center of the property, among the four equal plots, sits a large sundial mounted by an American eagle.

While in Thiaucourt, you will also stop at the majestic Montsec American Monument, which commemorates the achievements of the American soldiers who fought in the region between 1917-1918. It also honors combat services of other U.S. divisions in this region and in Alsace and Lorraine. Names of nearby villages liberated by American troops are carved upon the outside sculpture.

Before departing for your hotel in Brussels, venture beneath Verdun Citadel on a tipper wagon tour through the subterranean shafts. These shafts were designed to accommodate up to 2,000 people and included six powder depots, seven munitions depots, a bakery—which produced 28,000 bread rations daily—and mill, and a telephone and telegraph station.
Overnight: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Brussels (B)

Day 10: Brussels / Depart for U.S.
After breakfast, guests departing during the suggested times will disembark and take a complimentary transfer to the airport for flights home. (B)

B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, R = Reception

Program Extension: Amsterdam Pre-Tour
It's a city where historical elegance meets modern, cutting-edge design, and one that influences architecture, art, food, and fashion. Embrace Amsterdam for its museums and historic homes, and its outdoor markets, shops, and cafés. Explore the neighborhoods of Canal Ring, the Old Center, and Jordaan and Museum Quarter, which houses both well-known masters and the Heineken brewery. Stroll along 9 Straatjes (9 Streets)—the series of lanes that connect many of the canals, and be sure to stop for a classic coffee and stroopwafel.

Activity level: Moderate
Activities are generally not very strenuous, but a fair amount of walking can be expected. Different paces are available for each excursion, including a basic orientation of the must-sees with time to explore on your own, the traditional sightseeing following a guide at an average pace, or leisurely exploring, where all the same sites will be visited for a shorter amount of time or from a distance. Participation in activities and excursions, included or optional, is up to the individual.

It is our expectation that guests on this program are able to follow a guide through cobblestone streets at an average pace for two hours and walk up and down stairs without assistance. Historic city centers are usually more accessible by foot than vehicle, and sometimes it is not possible for your motor coach to drop you off at the hotel and site entrances. Due to the structure of some buildings, handrails may not be present, and facilities for the disabled may be limited.

Program Highlights:

  • Hear lectures from Professor Caldwell. The Origins of World War One: Who Was To Blame? explains three major arguments for why the war started, stressing how the international system had succeeded for years in preventing war yet somehow broke down on this occasion. A New Kind of War in Europe shifts from the origin of the war to the war itself, concentrating on violations of international conventions on war, the transformation of states and societies, and the breakdown of order as manifested in revolutions in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. The New Politics of World War One looks at the rise of fascism and bolshevism as phenomena coming directly from World War One, and connects the horrors of 1914-1918 with those of Stalinism and Nazism.
  • Take a guided harbor cruise of Rotterdam—a charming city and Europe’s largest port.
  • Choose between included excursions: the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk and its iconic windmills, or the spring blooms at Keukenhof Gardens.
  • Visit St. Baaf's Cathedral in Ghent, and enjoy free time to explore the city center, including Gravensteen—the "castle of the counts."
  • Join the included, full-day excursion to the regions of Arras and Somme in France for guided tours of the Carrière Wellington Museum, the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, and Vimy Ridge.
  • View the WWI battlefields of Ypres and Eastern Flanders, where thousands of war graves and memorials for the fallen line the expansive landscape, and experience the nightly Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony.
  • Revel in the impressive architecture, vibrant atmosphere, and notable monuments of Antwerp during a guided tour.
  • Explore the university town of Maastricht, with its cobblestoned town center, captivating cathedrals, and lively cafés.
  • Enjoy a guided tour of Namur to take in the medieval squares and relaxing atmosphere, plus see the Namur Fortress—one of Europe's largest.
  • After disembarking, travel by motor coach to Verdun, France, for an included, full-day excursion to visit The Memorial of Verdun, the Ossuary of Douaumont, St. Mihiel American War Cemetery, Montsec American Monument, and the subterranean shafts below Verdun Citadel.


Avalon Artistry II
Built in 2013, the Avalon Artistry II boasts of spacious deluxe staterooms and suites, contemporary décor, and popular onboard amenities including a large Sky Deck with whirlpool and Sky Bistro, expanded Fitness Center, lounge with bar serving premium spirits (tab charged to room account), and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship.

Category D and E
Queen bed, two upper windows, bedside tables with reading lamps, spacious 3-door closet with shelves, vanity, writing desk, flat screen satellite TV, minibar, safe, alarm clock, bathrobes and slippers, private bathroom with shower, hair dryer, and premium sundries, and nightly turn-down service. 172 sq. ft.

Category A, B, and P
Queen bed, floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door with open-air balcony, bedside tables with reading lamps, spacious 3-door closet with shelves, vanity, writing desk, flat screen satellite TV, minibar, safe, alarm clock, 6-person sitting area, bathrobes and slippers, private bathroom with shower, hair dryer, and premium sundries, and nightly turn-down service. 200 sq. ft.

King bed, floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door with open-air balcony, bedside tables with reading lamps, spacious 3-door closet with shelves, sofa, vanity, flat screen satellite TV, minibar, safe, alarm clock, 6-person sitting area, bathrobes and slippers, private bathroom with shower, hair dryer, and premium sundries, and nightly turn-down service. 300 sq. ft.

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Brussels

For your last evening, settle into 4-star Art Deco elegance within Brussels' city center. Just a short walk away is the Grand Place and Manneken Pis. Enjoy access to the 24-hour fitness club featuring modern equipment and sauna. For dinner, choose to dine at one of three restaurants within the hotel, including the Michelin-awarded Sea Grill.
Room Amenities: Climate control, satellite TV, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, safe, coffee and tea-making facilities, iron and ironing board, and en suite bathroom.


  • 7 nights accommodations aboard the Avalon Artistry II
    1 night at Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Brussels
    1 welcome reception, 8 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 7 dinners served with complimentary regional wine and beer
    onboard activities
    all gratuities
    airport transfers for guests arriving and departing during the suggested times.s
  • Full guiding services of a professional Travel Director and expert local guides
  • Private motor coach transportation, luggage handling, and airport transfers for guests arriving and departing during the suggested times
  • Gratuities to \ Travel Director, local guides, wait staff for included meals, drivers, and porters

What’s not included:
International airfare; Taxes; passport, visas and associated fees; personal expenses such as laundry and telephone calls; accident/sickness, trip cancellation, and baggage insurance; excess baggage charges on aircraft; transfers and baggage handling to/from hotel on day of arrival and/or departure if you  if you are arriving earlier or later than and/or departing earlier or later than the scheduled group transfer(s); any overnight on land due to flight schedule(s); meals, alcoholic or other beverages and all other services not specifically mentioned in the “Included Features” section of the program brochure.

Please call us toll-free at (866) 325-8664 or email us at travelstudy@columbia.edu for more details.