Netherlands Travel Guide

Home to more stereotypes than just about any other country on the planet, the Netherlands is a defiantly open-minded and easy-going corner of Central Europe with a long history to match its lengthy North Sea coastline. Visitors that look beyond the haze of marijuana smoke will find a country of high culture that goes about its business in a unique manner yet remains easy and accessible for foreign visitors.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Those lazy café days, a vibrant night scene, weird and wonderful museums, cobbled canal-side streets and the Dutch ability to speak great English along with many other European languages.

What’s Not: Encountering drug dealers in the street in the middle of the day, overly aggressive beggars, teams of coffee shop tourists, in-your-face prostitution, bicycle theives and the often relentless drizzle.

When to Go

Things can get pretty grey in the spring and autumn, but temperatures are generally mild throughout the year. Dutch summers are often warm to hot, but the weather can be changeable. The winters can get cold and blustery and see regular, but not usually heavy, snow.

Getting There & Away

The Netherlands is very well-connected with the rest of the world, with most flights coming in and out of Amsterdam, but also Rotterdam, The Hague and other smaller destinations.

Given its Central European location, travel by train or bus is also convenient if sometimes more expensive than the crop of budget air routes into the country. Check your favorite no-frills operator for the latest deals. Amsterdam’s public transport network means that a cheap bus, tram or underground train is usually not far away. The highly monopolized taxi business means prices can be at the high-end of the scale even though the service is not.

Health & Safety

As an upstanding member of the EU, the Netherlands has a well-developed healthcare system backed up by a progressive attitude towards health and safety issues including prostitution, drugs and HIV/AIDS, designed to undermine their respective negative impact on society. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Amsterdam’s reputation as a recreational drug-taker’s paradise means that certain parts of the city, particularly the red-light area, attract dealers who push hard drugs, even in the middle of the day. Petty theft can also be a problem in some urban areas, but is not necessarily any worse than in many other big cities.

Food & Hospitality

Budget travelers are well-catered for at the many good value hostels throughout the country, particularly in Amsterdam, but be careful to book ahead during major events as rooms can fill up extremely quickly. Food-wise, the country’s colonial past means that the big cities offer cuisine from all across the planet, particularly European and Asian eateries, along with fresh fish from the North Sea. Herring sandwiches and fat chips with mayonnaise are a must. Beer lovers will be relieved to learn that Holland has kept the best for domestic consumption, which perhaps explains why Heineken is bland compared to the more exotic brands available.

Itineraries

Given its small land mass, getting around the Netherlands takes little time, meaning it’s easy to make the most of a week-long holiday here.

  • Two days in Amsterdam visiting museums and walking the cobbled streets while supping up the café culture.
  • Two days in Rotterdam taking in the port, the world’s second-largest, and the diverse nightlife.
  • Two days at Alkmaar, a historic city beside a coastline of beaches and sand dunes.
  • A daytrip to Delft to see its canals and porcelain factories.

Extra time

  • Two days in The Hague, the country’s administrative capital, featuring striking old and modern architecture.
  • Two days in Maastricht partying. Get here between the end of February and beginning of March to enjoy the biggest carnival in the Netherlands.
  • Two days in Zutphen, an ancient city largely undiscovered by the tourist masses.

Highlights

Amsterdam: with 90 islands, 400 bridges and 7,000 historic buildings, the largest city in the country has much more to offer than just marijuana.

Rotterdam: striking modern architecture along with a renowned café and night scene make this dynamic harbor city a welcome port of call.

Alkmaar: cobbled streets and an outer-lying region of sand dunes and very Dutch windmills—the Netherlands in a nutshell.

Zutphen: one of Holland’s best-kept secrets, a historic little town that is very popular with the Dutch, famous for its towers and 400-year-old library.

**[[Maastricht: the city that united Europe under the treaty of the same name, this vibrant city of student culture and the country’s biggest carnival is located right near the borders with Germany and France.

The Hague: the administrative capital is home to mountains of world-famous art by Dutch masters including Vermeer and Rembrandt.

Utrecht: floating hookers on barges and a mechanical music museum are some of the bizarre highlights in this typically Dutch provincial town.

Activities

Sightseeing: there must be something in the water—Holland’s talent for producing world-class artists and designers mean many towns and cities here are a visual treat.

Take a cruise: Amsterdam’s canals are all the more relaxing on one of the many barges, boats or ‘canal bikes’ available for rent.

Cycling: why use four wheels when you only need two? Cycling remains the national pastime in Holland thanks to flat grasslands that extend for miles without as much as a bump in the road.

Windmill spotting: built outside of urban areas, tracking down Holland’s iconic windmills offers the perfect excuse to escape the city.

Partying: great festivals, oodles of dance music and a progressive attitude towards clubbing culture make the Netherlands a party animal’s paradise.

Smoking: a cliché in the extreme but a truism nonetheless; if marijuana floats your boat, then there really is no better place to be.

Festivals & Events

Most people will no doubt be unsurprised to hear that the Netherlands is a country that loves a good festival. Here are some of the best:

February/March: hit Maastricht for the biggest and brightest of southern Holland’s carnivals.

April: the country turns orange on the last day of the month in celebration of Queen’s Day, celebrated with music, dance and the odd flea market.

June: Holland Festival, a near month-long celebration involving a host of activities across the country.

July: experience one of the most celebrated music festivals in the world, North Sea Jazz, previously held in The Hague and now in Rotterdam.

August: camp it up at Amsterdam’s Day of Hearts, an ancient festival recently revived in which men dress up as women and vice versa.