Blessed with a sweeping coastline, stunning tulip fields and historic, canal-threaded towns - not to mention a thriving food scene and some of the world’s most beloved beers - the Netherlands draws tens of millions of visitors from around the world annually. Verdant, vibrant Amsterdam is one of the Netherlands’ most exciting cities and, with top transport connections, it makes a great base for heading out on explorations of this beautiful country
As soon as you reach central Amsterdam you’ll be struck by the city’s buzzing atmosphere, with cyclists zipping around, colourful flower markets, tour groups in full swing and loads of great places to eat, many along the canals. There are also dozens of peaceful pockets dotted around the Dutch capital, with museums and leafy parks aplenty, from expansive Vondelpark to the charming Beatrixpark. One of the best places to stay in the city is the W Amsterdam hotel, a stylishly converted telephone exchange and bank that puts you at the heart of the action, with a wealth of attractions on its doorstep, including the magnificent Royal Palace, the Anne Frank House Museum and Heineken’s oldest factory, where you can take a fascinating tour. Another central accommodation option is the more classically styled Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel.
If you’re not sure where to go after Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, try Utrecht, a charming university city that is well worth checking out. It is accessible via direct train links from Schiphol airport and navigating the city centre is easy on foot. A really fun thing to do is to get an eagle’s-eye view of the picturesque canals and historic buildings by scaling the Dom cathedral tower, which is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands at 112.5 metres in height. Other unique things to do include hitting the bustling market on Vredenburg Square, touring the eccentric, music-themed Museum Speelklok and venturing into Hoog Catharijne – the largest shopping mall in the Netherlands. The funky Moxy Utrecht makes for a very comfortable base to explore Utrecht, with cool contemporary-styled rooms and a buzzing restaurant looking out over the tranquil Vaartsche Rijn canal.
Head over to the Hague for a good dose of sea air and an insight into the Netherlands’ fascinating political history. The city, which fringes the North Sea, has served as the country’s political centre since 1584 and it is also home to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice. At the heart of the town centre, you will find the fairytale-like surrounds of the Binnenhof ‘inner court’ government complex. Other than this Gothic masterpiece, further highlights in and around the Hague range from the Mauritshuis art museum to the seaside resort of Scheveningen. One of the best places to stay is the Hague Marriott Hotel, with some spectacular city views and the cosy lobby bar is an ideal place to unwind at the end of the day.
At most Dutch markets and in coastal towns, you’ll experience the seductive smell of kibbeling being prepared from stands and food trucks. This unmissable snack, which consists of deliciously moist chunks of battered fish, is often served with a tartare-style sauce and a dusting of spices. It’s one of the best dishes to try in the Netherlands.
For some traditional Dutch comfort food, look out for stamppot on menus. This dish, usually served with gravy and sausages, consists of potatoes mashed with a mix of vegetables, with the most popular combinations being kale and sauerkraut. Head to Oma Toos (Grandma Toos) by the second inner marina in Scheveningen to sample this old-fashioned favourite, with vegetarian options available too.
Jenever is one of the Netherlands’ most popular national drinks (others include egg-based advocaat, the sapphire-hued blue Curaçao, the citrusy oranjebitter and, of course, beer). Made from juniper berries, the spirit is traditionally poured to the very brim of a tulip-shaped shot glass; to prevent spills, you’re advised to bend over to drink it. Wynand Fockink, one of Amsterdam’s oldest bars, is one of the best places for a true jenever-tasting experience.
Another of the Netherlands’ unique culinary inventions is tompouce. This pastry features a good dose of cream piped between two rectangular pieces of puff pastry, with the top slice finished with pink icing. To mark King’s Day, when the Dutch celebrate the birthday of their king, the icing is changed to orange, the national colour. Patisserie Holtkamp in Amsterdam specialises in the sweet treat.
One of the best ways to explore the low-lying plains of the Netherlands is undoubtedly by bike and the country is lined with smooth cycling trails. All cities have bike rental options, with e-bikes extremely popular. The province of Utrecht is home to the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park, where you can wheel through forests and grasslands, or for a real adventure head to the island of Terschelling in the north, where you can weave through the dunes.
The Netherlands is home to some three hundred castles that date from medieval times to the twentieth century. One of the most awe-inspiring is De Haar Castle, which is the largest castle in the country, run by the Van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar family for more than a century. Over the years the stately home, located just outside Utrecht and a thirty-minute drive from Amsterdam, has played host to dozens of celebrities, with everyone from Roger Moore to Elizabeth Taylor jetting in for champagne-fuelled parties. It is now open to the public, along with the manicured gardens. Muiderslot, dating to the thirteenth century, is an equally spectacular property about 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam. The exceptionally preserved moated fortress is open to the public and hosts regular events, with jousting matches being a particular highlight.
During the summer months, the lakes of Loosdrecht - nicknamed the ‘Dutch Lake District’ and located between Amsterdam and Utrecht - are a very popular hang-out among locals. There are plenty of places to rent motorboats and sailboats around the interconnected lake system. Kayaking, wakeboarding and windsurfing are other alternative things to do in the area and there are some top restaurants to enjoy at the end of the day. Come winter, if the weather is cold enough, one of the best things to do is don your skates as the shallow waters transform into a giant ice rink.
If you’re looking for another unique thing to do in the Netherlands, try Groningen. Just outside of the city you will find one of the world’s highest freestanding climbing towers. The imposing Excalibur overshadowing the popular climbing gym, Bjoeks Groningen, and the surrounding fields measures just over 37 metres in height.
Many people use the name ‘Holland’ when referring to the Netherlands but this only refers to two of the country’s twelve provinces - Noord-and Zuid-Holland. In 2019, the Dutch government decided to eliminate the use of the term ‘Holland’ in reference to the name of their country and use the ‘Netherlands’ in all official promotional materials instead.
Published: July 26, 2022
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