Haarlem’s Elephant Bridge. Photo by Mycomzx.
Visiting 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 cafés.
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 are advanced.
The country is compact and easy to get around, with a smooth and efficient transport network, both domestic and international.
And by the way, what’s the country really called? Netherlands or Holland?
Holland lies so low they’re only saved by being dammed
• 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.
Netherlands Main Attractions
Delft town centre. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen.
**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.
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.
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.
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.
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 collectors globally.
April 30: Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), a national celebration with 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.
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.
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.
Rotterdam’s cube housing. Photo by Hanselpedia.
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.
Dutch and Frisian (spoken in a northern province) but most locals speak fair English.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.