The Netherlands looks like a small strip of land at the edge of a pretty small continent, Europe. A rushed driver can easily cross the country in just 4 hours - but they would miss out horribly. The modern Dutch landscape will take you on a dizzying journey through the metropolitan excitement of Amsterdam along the canal-lined streets of Delft to the busy ultra-modern port of Rotterdam and into the windmill-dotted countryside. Artistic masterpieces, centuries-old windmills, tulip fields, and candlelit cafés coexist with visionary architecture, cutting-edge design, and phenomenal nightlife.
Look beyond the clogs and the cheese, the tulip fields and gabled houses, and you will find the Netherlands of great economic strength that belies its size. The Netherlands is truly the home of extraordinary variety with a wealth of art in its museums. This low-lying nation offers a blend of idyllic country beauty on the one hand and the atmosphere and amenities of the 21st century on the other.
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NETHERLANDS QUICK FACTS
Currency: Euro (€) (mainland)
Area: 41,543 km²
Population: 17,28 million (2019)
Language: Dutch (official & main); Frisian; English (official in Amsterdam )
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz (European plug)
'Holland’ is a popular synonym for the Netherlands, yet it only refers to the combined provinces of Noord (North) and Zuid (South) Holland. Amsterdam is Noord-Holland's largest city; Haarlem is the provincial capital. Rotterdam is Zuid-Holland's largest city; Den Haag is its provincial capital. The rest of the country is not Holland, even if locals themselves often refer to it as such.
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NETHERLANDS PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 27 April, King’s Day*
- 5 May, Liberation Day**
- 5 December, Saint Nicholas Day
*If April 27 falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on Saturday, April 26.
**Liberation Day is a national holiday every 5 years.
Also, Good Friday through Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Whit Monday.
FESTIVALS IN NETHERLANDS
King’s Day / Koningsdag (Nationwide) - Celebrations in honor of the king take place throughout the Netherlands, but festivities in Amsterdam tend to be the wildest of the lot, with the city’s streets and canals lined with people dressed in ridiculous costumes. This is also the one day of the year when goods can be bought and sold tax-free to anyone on the streets, and numerous stalls are set up in front of people’s houses. (27 April).
Holland Festival (Nationwide) - This month-long performing arts festival covers all aspects of both national and international music, theatre, dance, and the contemporary arts. (Throughout June).
Parade of Sint Nicolaas (Amsterdam) - The traditional parade of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) through the city on his white horse, starting from behind Centraal Station where he arrives by steamboat, before proceeding down the Damrak towards Rembrandtplein accompanied by his helpers. (Second or third Sunday of November).
BEST TIME TO VISIT NETHERLANDS
The Netherlands enjoys a temperate climate, with relatively mild summers and moderately cold winters. The best time to visit, if you'd like to see the country's tulips in bloom, is roughly mid-March to mid-May.
March to May - Colour explodes as billions of bulbs bloom.
July - Mild summer temps and long daylight hours keep you outside cycling and drinking.
December to February - When the canals freeze, the Dutch passion for ice skating is on display nationwide.
Generally speaking, temperatures rise the further south you go. This is offset by the prevailing westerly winds that sweep in from the North Sea, making the wetter coastal provinces both warmer in winter and colder in summer than the eastern provinces, where the more severe climate of continental Europe has an influence. As far as rain is concerned, you should be prepared for it at any time of year.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN NETHERLANDS
The snow sports season in The Netherlands can start as early as November and lasts until the end of March. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in the November and March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN NETHERLANDS
The best time for outdoor activities in The Netherlands is from May to September. April and October are also feasible, but the temperatures can be rather low and the days are also shorter.
BEACH OPTIONS IN NETHERLANDS
The Netherlands has a few beaches along its coastline, but even the short summer months of July and August don't get very warm to enjoy these.
SURFING IN NETHERLANDS
The best spot for surfing in The Netherlands is Scheveningen, with some other good spots at Petten, Camperduin and Hargen, Bergen Aan Zee, Wijk Aan Zee, Blokken, Slufter, Schouwen Duiveland, and Vlissingen.
KITESURF IN NETHERLANDS
The best wind in The Netherlands can be found during September and October although wind is fairly constant from March through till November. Some of the best kitesurfing spots are Zandvoort aan Zee, Medemblik and Strand Horst.
NETHERLANDS TRAVEL COSTS
While not quite the most expensive country in Europe, the Netherlands isn’t cheap. Accommodation will be the biggest thing that will eat into your budget. If you keep that part of your expenses down, you should be fine.
If you are looking for a budget breakfast in Amsterdam, head straight for a HEMA department store, a household name in the Netherlands, known for its low prices and smoked sausage. HEMA serves a large breakfast at a budget price. From Monday to Friday, early risers can enjoy one of the city’s best breakfast deals. For around €2 EUR you get an omelet baguette sandwich, a crispy butter croissant with a portion of jam, freshly made coffee, and a glass of orange juice (for an extra €0,25 add two rashers of bacon).
NETHERLANDS TRAVEL TIPS
The I Amsterdam Card (iamsterdam.com; per 24/48/72hr €65/85/105) provides admission to more than 30 museums, a canal cruise, bike rental, and discounts at shops, entertainment venues, and restaurants. Also included is city-wide GVB public transport by metro, tram, bus, and ferry.
If you’re planning to visit more than just a couple of Dutch museums, you might save serious money getting a Museumkaart (museumkaart.nl), which gives free entry to over 400 museums and galleries nationwide for 365 days.
If your only requirement is transport consider the following GVB Day / Multi-day tickets:
Unlimited GVB Day/Multi-Day tickets – 1 to 7-day ticket (from €8 to €37). Valid on all GVB transport in Amsterdam on a 24-hour basis. Not valid on airport train or 397 airport bus. Book online here and pick-up in Amsterdam when you arrive.
Amsterdam Travel Ticket – 1/2/3 day card (from €17) combines airport train/bus journey with unlimited use of GVB transport in Amsterdam. Valid on a day (not 24 hours) basis. Book Amsterdam Travel Tickets online here and pick-up when you arrive.
Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket – 1/2/3 day card (from €19.50) offers unlimited travel in Amsterdam and the entire region (including Waterland, beaches, Keukenhof, etc). Valid on a day (not 24 hours) basis on NS trains (in the region), regional buses, and Amsterdam GVB transport. Book online here and pick-up in Amsterdam when you arrive.
Holland Travel Ticket – 1-day ticket (€62/€42 off-peak after 0900) valid on all Dutch public transport. Good for longer journeys around the Netherlands and/or using multiple transport companies. Book online here.
Zaanstreek Day Ticket – 1-day ticket (€11.50) valid on Connexxion bus 391 from Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans. Valid on Connexxion services in Zaanstreek (Zaandam) region, not valid to Waterland. Book online here.
OV-chip card e-purse – Plastic OV-chip smart card costs €7.50 (non-refundable, lasts 5 years) to which travel credit can be added. Can be used on any public transport at standard fare tariffs. Minimum balance of €20 (trains) or €4 (other transport) required. Only good for visitors who plan lots of travel does save the inconvenience of buying tickets each time. Book online here and pick-up in Amsterdam when you arrive.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF NETHERLANDS
Amsterdam - Cruise the UNESCO-listed canals while soaking up one of Europe's most enchanting and offbeat old cities.
Markthal Rotterdam - Marvel at the astonishing architecture, a highlight of the Netherlands' hip-and-happening 'second city'.
Fort Sint Pieter - Explore the centuries-old tunnels below the resplendent city of Maastricht.
Vermeer Centrum Delft - Learn about Vermeer's life and work in his evocative, canal-woven hometown.
Den Haag - Discover the beautiful tree-lined boulevards, classy museums, and the palatial Binnenhof buildings of this lovely town.
Keukenhof Gardens - Delve into the cache of museums in picturesque Leiden and dazzling tulip displays at its nearby gardens.
Zaanse Schans - Watch windmills twirl and meet the millers at the delightful open-air museum.
Cycling - Follow dikes along shimmering canals or tour the tulip fields of the Randstad on the world's best network of cycling routes.
Spend three days of canal exploring, museum hopping, and café crawling in Amsterdam. Work your way through the ancient towns of the Randstad and the contemporary vibe of Rotterdam, and save a day for the grandeur of Maastricht.
Allow four days for Amsterdam's many delights, plus a day trip to the old towns of the north, and a day or two exploring some of the region's smaller towns. Then add a day each at beautiful Delft, regal Den Haag, student-filled Utrecht, and buzzing Rotterdam. Finish off with two days in historic Maastricht.
Shimmering canals lined by gabled houses, candlelit cafes, buzzing of bicycles, lush green parks, monumental museums, colourful markets, diverse dining, quirky shopping, and legendary nightlife make the free-spirited Dutch capital one of Europe's great cities.
Amsterdam is compact and you can roam the city on foot but there's also an excellent public transport network.
The Royal Palace opened as a town hall in 1655 but became a palace in the 19th century. The interiors gleam - especially the marble work – at its best in a floor inlaid with maps of the world in the great burgerzaal (citizens’ hall), which occupies the heart of the building. (paleisamsterdam.nl)
The Anne Frank Huis draws almost one million visitors annually (purchase tickets online to minimize the queues). With its reconstruction of Anne’s melancholy bedroom and her actual diary – sitting alone in its glass case, filled with sunnily optimistic writing tempered by quiet despair – it’s a powerful experience.
Vondelpark is one of Amsterdam's most magical places – sprawling, English-style gardens with ponds, lawns, footbridges, and winding footpaths.
Albert Cuypmarkt is Amsterdam's largest and busiest market. Apart from the fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, clothes, and other general goods, you will be constantly tempted with herring sandwiches, egg rolls, doughnuts, and caramel-syrup-filled stroopwafels.
In addition to the Medieval Centre and Red Light District, party hotspots around Amsterdam include Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein, both awash with bars, clubs, coffee shops (café authorized to sell cannabis), and pubs. To truly experience the unique Dutch quality of gezellig , head to a history-steeped bruin café (brown cafe, i.e. pub, traditional drinking establishments so named for the nicotine-stained walls).
WORTH A TRIP FROM AMSTERDAM:
The working, inhabited village Zaanse Schans functions as an open-air windmill gallery on the Zaan river. Popular with tourists, the mills are completely authentic and operated with enthusiasm and love. Zaanse Schans is laid out like a real town and although it resembles an open-air museum, the complex itself is not really a museum in itself. Like a normal town, admission to most of the site is completely free. The museums and mills at Zaanse Schans set their own opening times and days. Admission fees range from €1 to €5 per site with the mills generally €4 each.
Zaanse Schans can be reached from Amsterdam Centraal (central train station) by bus or train within less than an hour. Buses are the easiest way to reach Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam. Connexxion Bus (Line 391) connects Amsterdam four times per hour in 40 minutes with Zaanse Schans the final stop.
One of the most densely populated areas on the planet, the Randstad stretches from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and is crammed with classic Dutch towns and cities such as Den Haag, Utrecht, Leiden, and Delft. A cycling network links the towns amid tulip fields.
Just 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam, HAARLEM's canals and cobblestone streets filled with gabled buildings, grand churches, terrific museums, cozy bars, fine cafes, and antique shops draw scores of day-trippers. Haarlem's center radiates out from the Grote Markt - where the Saturday morning market here is reputed as one of the Netherlands' best; there's a smaller market on Monday.
KEUKENHOF is the world’s largest bulb-flower garden, attracting nearly 800,000 visitors during a season almost as short-lived as the blooms on the millions of multicolored tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Located near Lisse, between Haarlem and Leiden, special seasonal busses provide a link in season with combination tickets providing transport and entry.
Flanked by wide boulevards, DEN HAAG is the Dutch seat of government (although Amsterdam is the capital). Embassies and various international courts of justice give the city a serious air. Its seaside suburb of Scheveningen has a lively vibe to accompany the long stretch of beach.
Compact and charming, DELFT is synonymous with its blue-and-white-painted porcelain. It's a very popular destination with day-trip visitors who stroll its narrow canals and gaze at the remarkable old buildings. This is also the home town of Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, so get an early start if you want to beat the crowds.
ROTTERDAM is a veritable open-air gallery of modern, postmodern, and contemporary construction. It's a remarkable feat for a city largely razed to the ground by WWII bombers. Rebuilding has continued unabated ever since with ingenuity and vision. Futuristic architecture, a proliferation of art, and a surge of dining and nightlife venues make modern Rotterdam one of Europe's most exhilarating cities. Not only is Rotterdam an architectural gallery, but its streets are also filled with art and you will find well over 60 sculptures scattered all over town.
UTRECHT retains a beautiful old-world city center, ringed by unique 13th-century canal wharves below street level. Canal-side streets brim with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Its spirited student community of 40,000 is the country's largest. Focus your wanderings on the Domplein and south along the tree-lined Oudegracht.
You might not think it, but actual hills rise on the Netherlands' southern edge, where Belgium and Germany are within range of a tossed klomp (wooden shoe). The standout destination here is Maastricht.
MAASTRICHT is well worth the journey from Amsterdam and the pearls of the Randstad, and you can easily continue to Belgium and Germany.
Among Maastricht's 1650 listed historic buildings, look for Spanish and Roman ruins, French and Belgian architectural twists, splendid food, and a cosmopolitan flair. Maastricht's numerous delights are scattered along both banks of the Maas and are sure to reward avid walkers. Ringed by grand cafes, museums, and churches, the large Vrijthof square is a focal point. Intimate Onze Lieve Vrouweplein is a café-filled square named after its church, which still attracts pilgrims. The arched stone footbridge Sint Servaasbrug dates from the 13th-century and links Maastricht's center with the Wyck district.
WHAT TO EAT IN NETHERLANDS
Dutch food tends to be higher in protein content than variety: steak, chicken, and fish, along with filling soups and stews, are staples, usually served up in substantial quantities. If you’re on a budget, stick to the dagschotel (dish of the day) wherever possible, for which you’ll pay around €10. It’s usually a meat or fish dish, heavily garnished with potatoes and other vegetables and salad; note, though, that it’s often only served at lunchtime or between 6 and 8 pm.
Vlaamse Frites - Iconic French fries smothered in mayonnaise or myriad other sauces.
Cheese - The Dutch consume almost 19kg of cheese per person per year, nearly two-thirds of which is Gouda. The tastiest hard, rich oud (old) varieties have strong, complex flavours.
Kroketten - Croquettes are crumbed, deep-fried dough balls with various fillings, such as meat-filled bitterballen.
Beer - Big names like Heineken are ubiquitous; small brewers like De Drie Ringen and Gulpener are the best.
Jenever - Dutch gin is made from juniper berries and drunk chilled from a tulip-shaped shot glass. Jonge (young) jenever is smooth; strongly flavoured oude (old) jenever can be an acquired taste.
LGBTQ IN NETHERLANDS
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in the Netherlands have been some of the most progressive in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1811. After the country began granting same-sex couples domestic partnerships benefits in 1998, same-sex marriage in the Netherlands became legal on 1 April 2001, making the Netherlands the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
The Netherlands has become one of the most culturally liberal countries in the world, with recent polls indicating that more than 90% of Dutch people support same-sex marriage. Amsterdam has frequently been named one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world and hosts the annual Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade.