Why holiday in the Netherlands?
This little kingdom deserves a lot more attention than just for
its tulips, windmills and Amsterdam (the capital) hedonism.
Dutch cities are brimming with grand architecture - ancient and
modern, along with top class museums, galleries, a buzzing nightlife
and other attractions that make up a great urban culture trip.
Then there are pleasant canal cruises, interesting city walks and
ultra-relaxation in the famous 'coffeeshops', i.e. cannabis
The countryside is flat and natural with extensive flower fields
(in season) framed by windmills and grassy dykes - perfect for comfortable cycling and walks.
Dutch people are relaxed, liberal and open-minded who generally
speak excellent English; internet and telecommunications services
The country is compact and easy to get around, with a smooth and
efficient transport network, both domestic and international.
by the way, what's the country really called? Netherlands
lies so low they're only saved by being dammed' T.Hood
- The weather can be unpredictable and miserable.
- Street/place names are long and not easy to read or say.
- Netherlands is not a budget option, especially accommodation.
Best: May-Sept. Holland doesn't experience extremes of heat
or cold, though the weather is notoriously erratic and spring/autumn
are often wet.
Worst: Nov-March. Short daylight hours, cold and grey, but Christmas
markets in December are light and lively.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 2 days. Amsterdam
or other cities for a wild/arts weekend.
Recommended: 10 days to get a fair look at this tiny Dutch country.
Singelgracht canal, Amsterdam
Netherlands Main Attractions:
***Amsterdam is a lively, interesting
and cosmopolitan capital, with terrific architecture and endless
canal views, world-class museums and no shortage of or action. See Amsterdam
**The Randstad (rim towns) - a group of easy-access towns near Amsterdam, this is a highly developed
region containing two-thirds of the entire Dutch population; places
can be visited on day trips from the 'Dam but some places are worth
a more thorough look:
**Rotterdam - young and dynamic,
this metropolis is the world's 2nd biggest port (after Shanghai)
and buzzes with energy and wacky architecture.
***Haarlem - a typical Dutch town, Haarlem is gateway to
the flower fields 20 km west of Amsterdam, so it's best in spring
time. It has well-preserved medieval town centre including a 14th
century city hall and a main square which hosts a lively market.
***Leiden. This charming, vibrant university town is Rembrandt's
birthplace; particularly pleasant is the old and watery quarter
**The Keukenhof Gardens and
the bulb fields nearby. This 80-acre park is the world's largest
garden with about six million flowers at its peak time from late
March till the end of May.
***Gouda. Visit the St Janskerk church to see the amazing
stained glass windows then buy a wheel of real, vintage,
taste-explosion Dutch cheese in this pleasant town.
The Hague government buildings
**The Hague (Den Haag), an elegant political centre and the
Dutch Royal residence, The Hague has its own classy ambience which
is quite unique from other cities of the Netherlands.
Binnenhof - a 13th century castle morphed into the Dutch Parliament
- is one of the finer building clusters while notable arts can be
seen at the Mauritshuis. Den Haag has an excellent culture scene, fantastic dining options
and a popular sandy beach just 4km away at the resort of Scheveningen.
***Delft - is another delightful little
medieval town with canal-lined streets, known for its 'Delftware'
blue and white ceramics; best strolled on foot, the Historic
Walk around the old town is a winner. Summer crowds can be
a nightmare but otherwise Delft is an immaculately relaxing little
**Utrecht offers the 14thC Dom Tower, several interesting museums and lively canalside eating and drinking.
***Maastricht, an old Roman town sandwiched
between Germany and Belgium, this is is one of Holland's delights
with a charming old quarter and lively cosmopolitan feel.
**Dordrecht is a small and little-touristed
but well preserved medieval town with a great museum (van Gijn)
and oodles of charm.
**Groningen, a very lively, cultured
small town up north invigorated by university students.
A walking trail through Hoge Veluwe National Park
**Hoge Veluwe National Park, a nature
reserve of forests, marshlands and sand dunes is good for walks
or free-to-use white bicycles but also well worth a visit for the
terrific Kroller-Muller Museum which hosts a remarkable collection
of 278 paintings by Van Gogh and Europe's largest sculpture garden.
**Frisian Islands, this group of bleakly
attractive holiday islands just off the north-west coast (access
is possible on foot if mud is not a problem a la wadlopen) is enjoyed by hardy walkers or bikers; Texel is the most popular.
Train and bus services are efficient and good value. Main cities
from Amsterdam by train: Schiphol Airport 20 mins; Haarlem 15 mins;
The Hague 50 mins; Leiden 45 mins; Rotterdam 1 hour; Hoge Veluwe
National Park 70 mins; Maastricht 2.5 hours.
Urban buses and trams are easy and efficient with one type of ticketing 'strippenkaart' throughout the country. The train network
is excellent with reasonable fares and efficient services; various
passes are available. there's also a good taxi system - 'traintaxi' - with a fixed price for one ride anywhere to a certain limit from
a rail station is available in all cities and towns except Amsterdam,
Rotterdam and the Hague.
Long-distance buses connect from Amsterdam to most European cities,
as do the trains.
Skating on canals in wintertime
Hiking: Excellent for both long and
short walks as the 300 km-long coast offers several reasonably scenic
trails (known as LAWs) through sand dunes and nature reserves.
You can even walking across the mud flats at low tide in the Wadden
Sea - between north coast and the Wadden islands. 'Wadlopen' (mud walking) is very popular and Dutch take this dirty business
Alternatively try following the tulip trail between Haarlem and
Sassenheim or a windmill trail along Kinderdijk, or the Zaanse Schans
Dutch cities are compact and usually have suggested walking routes
so the best way to explore is on foot. Get information and maps from the VVV (Tourist Office).
Canal cruises: There are loads of pretty
canals and rivers in most urban centres so it's easy to find cruises
and boat hire.
Canoeing: is fantastic way to get close to Netherlands nature, for instance
marshlands of the Hollandse Biesbosch National Park, south of Rotterdam.
Guided tours are available as well as just canoe rentals.
Dutch cycling, transport du jour, partly because the country is so flat.
Biking: Holland is one of the most
cycle friendly countries on the planet as the land is almost flat,
about 85 % of Dutch people get around regularly by bike and most of
the time cycles have priority over other vehicles.
There are said to be more bikes than inhabitants (16 million) in
the Netherlands. It has about 17,000 km (including 20 long distance
routes totalling 6,000km) of well-marked cycling paths/lanes and
every local VVV will provide appropriate information.
Commercial cycling packages/tours are frequently on offer, too.
Detailed cycle maps are available at book stores. Netherlands Railways
are cycle friendly as bikes can be carried on trains or rented/
parked/ repaired or even bought at more than 100 stations throughout
the country. Check out bike-rental vouchers at the station.
Try the windmill trail, the flower bulb trail (see hiking section),
North Sea and Wadden Sea, 2 long coastal routes or riding white
bikes for free in Hoge Veluwe National Park.
Do not forget to lock up your bike, these are the most stolen items
in the country!
p.s. It is an offence to be drunk and in charge of a bicycle; this
is taken seriously by the police.
Skating: Cycle paths are also good
for inline skating or join Amsterdam's skating evening touring the
city on Fridays; meet at the Vondelpark.
Watersports/Beaches: the province of
Zeeland in the south has 175 miles of mostly sandy beaches and is
popular holiday destination. Good surf can be found easily, too.
Coffeeshops: weed, ready-rolled spliffs, space cake and so on as well as coffee
are available from many 'coffee shops' around Holland, not just
Amsterdam, though new regulations sadly mean they may be obliged to shut down access to foreigners.
Some coffeeshops are cute, some are quaint, some are
weird and some are just sad and squalid.
It's legal to buy and use small quantities of wacky baccy or its
resin derivative. But for how long?
A different perspective after a visit to an Amsterdam 'coffeeshop'
late Feb: Holland Flowers Festival, a must-see garden show that
takes place at the Greenery complex, covering 4,500 sq.m in Wervershoof;
this event is known for its creative landscape designs on display.
March: TEFAF Maastricht, the European Fine Art Fair, one of the
world's leading art and antiques fairs that attracts dealers and
April 30: Queen's Day (Koninginnedag), a national celebration for
the Queen Mother's birthday with a massive, mad street party in
Amsterdam. It is also known as Orange day and many people
wander about dressed in orange, the royal colour representing the
House of Orange.
late May/June: Holland Festival, Netherlands’ largest performing
arts festival held mainly in Amsterdam and The Hague since 1947.
The 2nd weekend of July: North Sea Jazz Festival, one of the best
and arguably the biggest jazz event in the world, with world-class
artists and 23,000 visitors a day. Previously held in the Hague,
it has been held in Rotterdam since 2006. 3 days.
The first weekend of August: Amsterdam Pride is one of Europe's
largest gay/lesbian festivals. The world famous Canal Parade, with
a hundred decorated boats and music, is a must-see.
some precise dates, more suggestions and information see
or Arts Festivals
Only a valid passport is required to enter the country and stay
up to 3 months for citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan,
South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, USA, and most of Europe.
EU citizens can enter Holland with only a national ID card.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
The Netherlands is generally safe, but their extremely liberal attitude
has attracted some undesirables so stay away from dodgy non-tourist
areas in cities such as Amsterdam and take the usual precautions.
Bag snatching (probably by east Europeans) on trains, especially
those from Amsterdam to/from Schipol Airport, is quite common.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you are in trouble as Dutch people and police are very helpful.
Dutch and Frisian (spoken in a northern province) but most locals
speak fair English.
Although the Dutch offer some of Europe's best food products such
as dairy - particularly cheese - and fish - especially herring (best
May-June), local dishes are rather bland and limited. However interesting,
high-quality international food is no trouble to find in Netherlands,
especially Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague.
Indonesian influenced dishes are the best in Europe. If you are
unfamiliar with it, try 'Rijsttafel' (literally 'rice table'), an assorted platter which has become the nation's favourite.
Hotels tend to be expensive and consequently the better value places such as guest houses abd cheap hotels get booked up in advance, especially in Amsterdam
and Haarlem, so reserve your room ahead during busy times, e.g.
the summer and other holiday periods.
Pictures | Netherlands
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