When you think of the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s nightlife, windmills, tulips and wooden shoes probably spring to mind. But the country of 17 million people has lots more to offer travelers in search of unexpected adventures. Our insider guide to the Netherlands will help you plan a trip you’ll remember for years to come.
A small country in western Europe wedged between Germany and Belgium, the Netherlands has a love-hate relationship with the North Sea. The country has a long coastline on the North Sea which provides recreational and commercial opportunities. But with much of the country below sea level, dikes and dams must prevent water from inundating the land. Most of the country is alluvial plain, making the soil ideal for agricultural and the landscape perfect for cycling.
Many people refer to the Netherlands as Holland, but the name actually refers to two of the country’s 12 provinces. A constitutional monarchy, the Netherlands is densely populated with 477 people per square kilometer.
Language and Culture
Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands and is spoken by virtually everyone. Most residents are bilingual and speak English, German or a regional language.
Traditionally, the Netherlands is very liberal when it comes to societal norms. The country is quite tolerant of freedom of speech and same-sex relationships. The Dutch people are straightforward and expect honesty in all interactions.
Cycling is exceedingly popular in the Netherlands where there are nearly 22,000 miles of bike paths. Renting bikes is encouraged, but don’t walk on the bike paths!
Money and Tipping
The Euro is the official currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards are accepted in most places, but Dutch Railways and some supermarket chains may not accept them. Many restaurants include a service charge on the check. If not, tip between 5 and 10 percent. Taxi drivers should be tipped similarly, and restroom attendants usually get a Euro.
Weather and When to Go
The Netherlands enjoy a moderate marine climate with moderate summers and winters. There’s always a good chance of rain, so pack a light jacket and umbrella, even in warmer months. Summer is the most popular time of year for tourists. Warm weather draws people to the Netherlands’ beaches. In spring, tourists come to see the tulips in bloom. In the pleasant fall, cyclists explore the countryside. Wintertime is perfect for ice skating and shopping at Christmas markets.
Exploring The Netherlands
The country is made up of 12 provinces and we’ve highlighted sights in several for our insider guide to the Netherlands.
Amsterdam, the Venice of the North and the Netherlands’ capital, is located here. Lively nightlife, world-renowned museums like the Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank Museum, cafe culture and 160 canals make this one of the hippest cities in Europe. Visit the House of Bols, the oldest distillery in the world or the Heineken Experience to learn about the ubiquitous beer. Stroll through the 400-year-old Grachtengordel neighborhood. See the works of the old masters at the city’s myriad art museums.
Elsewhere in North Holland, find fields of huge tulips, cheese markets, authentic villages, working windmills and sandy beaches. The city of Haarlem features cobblestone streets and an old-world vibe along with art museums and modern amenities. The fishing village of Marken was separated from the mainland for centuries but was joined by a dike in 1957. Today, long-time traditions endure. Find cheese markets in Alkmaar or Edam, which exports those small, frequently red balls of cheese to every corner of the world. Along the coast, enjoy a seaside holiday in Bloemendaal, Egmond aan Zee or Zandvoort, where you’ll also find Circuitpark Zandevoort and two national parks.
Windmills, canals, tulip fields, coastal villages and cosmopolitan cities abound in South Holland. Near Lisse, you’ll find Keukenhof, one of the largest gardens in the world where seven million bulbs are planted each year. Visit Rotterdam for its ever-changing, forward-thinking architecture, sophisticated shopping and vibrant nightlife. Rotterdam is home to several of the county’s most notable museums, including the Boijmans van Beuningen and Kunsthal, which is dedicated to architecture. The Hague, home of the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, is a city of canals that offers fine shopping and dining. On the coast, head to Noordwijk for an afternoon at the beach or hiking and biking through the dunes.
The smallest province, Utrecht has a lot to offer. Palaces like Slot Zeist and the Soestdijk Palace give a glimpse into the country’s 17th-century aristocracy. Cycle along the New Dutch Waterline or shop for haute couture fashions in Zeist.
Natural beauty encompasses the Netherlands’ largest province. Meandering rivers, scenic landscapes, manor houses and unique cuisine are easy to find in Gelderland. Explore the National Park De Hoge Veluwe by bicycle. See more than 6,000 historic and archeological artifacts at Loevestein Castle. Get lost in the fortified city of Nijmegen, Holland’s oldest city. Historic buildings, medieval plazas and the country’s oldest shopping street make Nijmegen a city you simply must visit.
Friesland is unique because inhabitants speak their own language called West Frisian. The West Frisian Islands are the province’s biggest draw, but be prepared to hike across a mud flat to reach them. Try a piece of world-famous butter cake called Drabbelkoeken in Sneek. See naturally formed mummies in Wieuwerd or learn about the area’s history and culture in the Fries museum in Leeuwarden.
Museums, historic sites and unique cultural attractions abound in Overijssel. In Kampen, find cigar making and a tobacco museum. See the Grote Kerk church, built in 1493, in Almelo. Go kayaking or cycling in De Weeribben, a nature reserve with long, winding rivers and majestic forests. Experience rural Dutch living in Giethoorn, a beautiful village founded in 1230 on the banks of a tranquil lake. Zwolle, once the wealthiest city in the country, is home to “bluefingers,” a colloquial nickname resulting from a 17th-century dispute resulting from the sale of church bells.
Sparsely populated and primarily agricultural, Drenthe is home to 52 neolithic monuments called “hunebedden.” The structures predate Stonehenge, yet their origins are a mystery. Drenthe also served as inspiration for Vincent Van Gough who painted many of the region’s farmers.
Another province with its own language (Limburgish), Limburg is filled with rolling hills, rivers and thick forests. The province’s capital of Maastricht was founded by the Romans and today draws tourists who see its cathedral, old city, limestone mines and canals.
Heavily populated, North Brabant is the industrial hub of the Netherlands. Tourists flock to the province’s capital of Hertogenbosch for art galleries, fine dining, shopping and stunning architecture. Elsewhere in the province, visit historic villages, imposing castles and art museums like Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven which features “The Green Lady” by Pablo Picasso.
Known as “sea-land,” this province is made up of numerous islands and coastal areas. Sandy beaches are popular with tourists. You can also see the dikes and dams built in the 20th century to keep the sea from flooding the province. See Dutch ship building in Flushing or learn about the province’s history and folklore in the Zeeland Museum in Middleburg.
Our insider guide to the Netherlands will help you plan your visit to this charming land. After learning all the country has to offer, start planning your trip today!
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