Haarlem’s Elephant Bridge, Netherlands travel. Photo by Mycomzx.
Why Netherlands travel?
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.
Visitors to Holland tend to enjoy the stimulating urban life rather than trying to find wild things on Netherlands nature walks, though the 300 km (200 mile) long coast offers several scenic trails through sand dunes and nature reserves. However, biking from town to town through damp and sunken fields is as close to a Dutch wilderness as most tourists experience.
And anyway, what’s the country really called? Netherlands or Holland?
Classic Dutch windmills in Zaans Schans, though no longer functioning as peanut or flower crushers; they are now tourist crushers just 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. Photo by Kevin Bus.
The correct term for this country is the Netherlands (Nederland in the Dutch language means low lands), or more formally ‘The Kingdom of the Netherlands’ (which includes Aruba and the Dutch Antilles).
The reason for the Netherlands/Holland confusion is that the two most important of the country’s twelve provinces – historically the most powerful and still hosting the most important Dutch cities of Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam – are called North and South Holland; those were the places that made the country great and those were the places everyone talked about.
Even the Dutch people (aka Nederlanders) call their country Holland from time to time, including at international soccer games.
The origin of the Dutch name/language is a combination of German deutsch and Dutch dietsch meaning language of the common people – as opposed to the Latin language that the posh folk spoke in medieval times.
A traditional grassy sea wall at Hoofdplaat, also known as a dyke (dike), protecting low-lying Dutch land. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.
Flat packed is one way to describe this low lying snooker table of a country at the centre-west of Europe, with the North Sea on one side, Belgium and Germany on the others.
Half of the Netherlands lies below sea level and is saved from inundation and infertility only by dykes (huge, sloping grassy walls). Survival of so many large people in such a small, endangered location is thanks to the creativity, stamina, organisation and efficiency of the Dutch people.
• 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 time in the Netherlands
Weather conditions can change rapidly and dramatically in the Netherlands so always carry warm/cool and wet gear with you on your Dutch trip.
Worst: Winters are cool, December-February, but when winds start to whistle across the flatlands, the chill factor freezes your blood and bicycles are not on the menu du jour – a warm, dry taxi will do nicely. However, if you’re visiting for purely urban life and wrap up well then winter can be interesting and is naturally less touristy.
Spring and Autumn involve a lot of rain so grey skies sometimes seem to be Holland’s default setting.
Netherlands Main Attractions
Delft town centre. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen.
***Amsterdam is a lively, interesting and cosmopolitan capital, with terrific architecture and endless canal views, world-class museums and no shortage of or action.
**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.
Hotels in Holland tend to be expensive and the better value ones are booked up well in advance, especially in Amsterdam and Haarlem, so reserve your room ahead during busy times such as during the Orange Festival at the end of April, during the Easter holidays and in the summertime.
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.
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.