While on a road trip, you could easily stop at a gas station to refill the tank and stretch your legs, but why not plan something more adventurous? Continuing our road trip through Europe, today we’re driving from the Netherlands into Belgium for quite possibly the most surprising and delicious day of our trip! Road trips aren’t just about the destinations—the drive itself and random stops along the way help make the trip and build long lasting memories. For us, the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Chocolate Nation in Antwerp, Belgium fit the bill on the two best sites to see that day, and I can honestly say that we had an awesome time.
When investigating unique attractions to possibly stop at along your driving route, one of the key factors should be to not deviate too far off the highway. We would have loved to have seen The Hague, Netherlands. Although the highway did pass through the outskirts of this large city, for us to drive to any attraction in the city center, it would have taken a long time, and we’d likely have hit traffic, extending that day’s trip for us. Also consider the duration of time that it takes to fully experience an attraction. After all, you paid to get in, so you might as well enjoy it to the fullest. Museum or attraction FAQ pages often let you know approximately how long visitors spend on site. We ended up selecting two attractions we felt we could fully experience without being rushed and still make it to our hotel in Brussels by a respectable time to check in and grab dinner.
In case you missed it, this post is a continuation of our one-year anniversary road trip through Europe. We already wrote about the charming town of Volendam here, the best places to see tulips in the Netherlands here, the infamous Amsterdam Red Light District here, the best Amsterdam food here, and the best Amsterdam attractions here. Now, let’s drive from Netherlands to Belgium!
Maritime Museum – Rotterdam, Netherlands
First stop along the drive was to the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands. This museum was right off the highway, and we easily found street parking, making it a very convenient stop. From our hotel the night before, it was a short 45-minute drive, but it was our last attraction in the Netherlands and allowed us an opportunity to see this city we would have otherwise driven right through.
As you’ve probably gathered from reading other Amarvelous Honeymoon posts, when the Hubbs and I visit coastal towns with rich histories of trade and commerce via the sea, we always investigate if they have a maritime museum. In general, we love cruising and boating and find the histories of sea voyages really fascinating. However, Rotterdam took “maritime museum” to the next level.
We’ve been to many maritime museums, so we have a good sense of what they typically offer. Most all museums of this kind offer to-scale ship models, marine artwork (featuring captains, boats, and maps), and then real parts of the ship (old anchors, captains’ wheels, figureheads, portholes, and diving gear). The unique part about Rotterdam’s museum, though, is that they offered all of the typical stuff mentioned above, plus several interactive experiences and exhibits that engaged you into a deeper understanding of what working on or near the sea is really like. Below I’ve outlined our three favorite exhibits:
The Offshore Experience: The focus of this experience is energy from oil, gas, and wind and an in-depth opportunity to experience what the offshore employees’ jobs are really like. This interactive exhibit begins with a background video to set the scene and some participants put on costumes to play their role. They immerse you in a few projected and in-person rooms. One looks like an oil rig, and the other looks like you are 3 kilometers (just under 10,000 ft) under the sea. Hubby is an energy nerd (he actually does energy for work!), so he really enjoyed this experience.
Dealing with Drugs: Let’s face it… Drug trade plays a heavy role in illegal port activities. This interactive experience takes you through a few perspectives—the port employees, customs officers, drug dealers, and the judge. You start off sitting at a small bistro table in a creepy and desolate setting, then you get called to enter the next room. I won’t spoil anything else, but there are several opportunities where the choices that you make change the outcome of your drug dealer’s fate. In one of the pictures below, you can see me pushing a button that ends up “electrocuting” the dealer in a pre-recorded scene.
Cruise Ships Through the Ages: As I noted above, we love cruising. Our first cruise was in 2010, and since then we’ve traveled the sea to many countries and on many cruise lines. This exhibit was a series of several rooms that showed all different areas on a cruise ship throughout time, the types of extravagant clothing that people used to wear on ships, and the types of old and modern entertainment offered on the ships. As avid cruisegoers, it was interesting to see the history of cruising. I don’t believe that this exhibit is still in the museum unfortunately.
An adult admission to the Rotterdam Maritime Museum costs €14.00 ($16.46 USD), and I’d say that it was definitely worth the price.
An hour and fifteen minutes further on our road trip journey, and we made it across the Netherlands border into Belgium and to the heart of Antwerp. It was fairly easy to find a paid parking garage in the city center.
Chocolate Nation – Antwerp, Belgium
Belgium is world-famous for its chocolate industry since the invention of the praline, a chocolate shell with a soft center, so I’d say that a trip to a chocolate factory or shop is a necessity. “When in Belgium,” am I right? The Chocolate Nation (https://www.chocolatenation.be/en) chocolate museum was one of my favorite parts of our Euro road trip and one of the best values. Adult admission costs a mere €16.95 ($19.93 USD) and includes access to the museum, a chocolate demonstration, and LOADS of Belgian chocolate to eat while you’re at the museum. Note the new health precautions below however
Upon arrival, every guest is provided with a museum headset, so as you walk through the museum you can press the corresponding numbers and listen to the audio tour history of chocolate. During part of the experience, you are walking through with a group, and then towards the end you are at your own pace. There is a unique “le petit chef” room where everyone sits at a table and a projection overhead creates a scene right on the plates and table in front of you.
My favorite part was all of the tasting opportunities. Near the start of the tour, in one of the first rooms, they actually had walls lined with candy machines. These looked like the types of machines you’d normally put a coin in (except these didn’t require money), turn the dial, and a whole bunch of candy would pour out the bottom opening. These machines were full of small milk chocolate pieces. There wasn’t a limit to the offering. We filled our hands and then ate the scrumptious chocolate pieces as we walked through the museum.
Another tasting opportunity was in the middle of the experience. It began as a demonstration on how pralines were made. The chocolatier held up a mold and filled it from a machine pouring chocolate. Then he used a tool to maneuver the chocolate and ensure all the gaps were filled. Then he flipped over the mold to run off the excess chocolate. This left a coating of chocolate in the mold which would become the outer shell of each praline. From there, he inserted a filling piece into each praline, then began the process again of pouring warm chocolate over the mold. This time he ran his tool over the edge to ensure each praline cup was filled, and then the mold went into the fridge to set. Once he put the fresh warm mold in the fridge, he surprised us by pulling out an already chilled and finished product and banging it on the counter to reveal other pralines that he had made that day. We were all able to taste a praline.
The final tasting opportunity was right before the exit. The most glorious of rooms was filled with machines of warmed churning chocolate in all the flavors imaginable. Flavors ranged from white, milk, dark, ruby (a new red-colored fruity-tasting chocolate), and then multiple shades in between those most common flavors. The various brown chocolates come from different percentages of milk, sugar, cocoa butter, and cocoa beans, as well as different origins across the globe. Everyone was given a plastic spoon, and we had free rein to walk around and turn the dial at any machine to fill our spoon with warm chocolate and eat it. As much as you want. Serious chocolate heaven overload.
Right after that room, you walk through what looks like a vault door into the gift shop. The whole experience is an opportunity for them to show you just how good their chocolate is, so much so that you need more before you depart. And though we had already had our fill of chocolate by this point, we did pick up a few souvenirs for family. We visited in April right before Easter, so they had a bunch of chocolate bunnies and eggs.
We visited in 2018 when health restrictions were not as strict. Below are the new Covid-19 precautions that Chocolate Nation has listed on their website.
How to have safe enjoyment as a visitor?
- Buy a ticket online and stick to the chosen time slot
- If you already have a day ticket, please contact Chocolate Nation (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve a time slot
- Wait times will be respected for your own safety
- Limit the number of personal items so that you don’t have to use the lockers
- Stick to the safety guidelines that are communicated in the museum
- If you feel sick or have symptoms, please stay at home
What is Chocolate Nation doing to ensure safety?
- Plexiglass is provided at all contact zones, and our employees always wear a mouth mask
- Upon entry, through the museum, and at the exit, there are disinfection stations to disinfect the hands
- High touch areas such as sanitary facilities, banisters, and doorknobs are cleaned regularly
- There is signage throughout the museum to guarantee adequate social distancing
- At the end of your visit, you will receive a goodie bag so that you can taste the delicious Belgian chocolate at home in safe conditions. So you don’t have to miss any of the delicious chocolate!
I hope that this post inspired you to do some investigating on fun attractions while on your next road trip. Especially on long stretches of the trip, it’s a lot more fun to have something small to look forward to and a stop to get out and stretch your legs for a bit. Not to mention, if you can learn something unique about the town that you’re in, or taste some of the local cuisine, then that provides you with more memories, and you’ll actually remember the drive and cities where you stopped along the way. Also, if you’re ever in Rotterdam or Antwerp, then you MUST check out these two great attractions!
DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.