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.
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.
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.