Visit Holland - The Netherlands
The Netherlands today has dispelled all images of it being an archaic land of clogs and windmills, with its string of exciting cities, including the cosmopolitan capital, Amsterdam – one of Europe’s great cities.
Elsewhere, Arnhem, Eindhoven, The Hague, Utrecht and the especially buzzing Rotterdam all boast their own charms. Away from the cities, the idyllic land of windmills and tulips does still exist in the bucolic splendor of the countryside, as do a number of coastal towns and resorts, many with fine beaches and similarly interesting heritages to The Netherlands’ bigger historical cities.
Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands (though not the seat of Government) is one of Europe’s great destinations, as popular with tourists as it is with businesspeople. Amsterdam’s lifeblood is water, which courses through the city in a concentric network of canals and waterways spanned by more than 1000 bridges. As Amsterdam is inextricably linked with water, one of the most attractive ways of viewing the city is on a canal tour. Many of the houses date back to The Netherlands’ golden age in the 17th century. These narrow-fronted merchants’ houses are characterized by the traditionally Dutch ornamented gables. The oldest part of the city is Nieuwmarkt, located near the first canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht – built to protect the city against invasion. In the 17th century, Amsterdam gained a reputation for religious tolerance, which attracted thousands of Flemish, Walloon and French Protestants, as well as Jewish merchants from Spain, Portugal and Central Europe. The city has also long been a center for diamond cutting and it is still possible to see diamond cutters at work. Boasting 53 museums, 61 art galleries, 12 concert halls and 20 theaters, Amsterdam has a booming cultural life. A special canal boat (the ‘museum boat’) links 20 of the major museums. A special Museum Pass entitling holders to free entry to over 400 museums is available from participating museums and local tourist offices.
One of the city’s cultural Meccas is the Rijksmuseum, a voluminous art gallery that is home to the works of many of the country’s artistic luminaries, as well as numerous European masters. The highlight for many visitors is Dutch master Rembrandt’s epic Night Watch, though the list of the gallery’s treasures is almost endless. Fellow Dutch artist Van Gogh is celebrated throughout the city, with the Rembrandt House Museum, housed in the historical building where the great artist used to live and work. The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, a collection of Dutch and international art from 1850 onwards, includes works by Cézanne, Chagall, Monet and Picasso, as well as photography, video, film and industrial design. Amsterdam’s most poignant museum is Anne Frank’s House, where the young Jewish girl hid away from the occupying German forces, who were intent on ridding the city of all Jews and sending them to their cruel fates in the death camps. The museum illuminates the young girl’s life and is of interest to everyone, whether they have read her famous diary or not. A more light-hearted attraction is the Heineken Brewery. Heineken, the Dutch national brewer, is the world’s second-largest brewing empire and this brewery, which operated from 1932-1988, is now a museum. There are daily guided tours, which culminate with ice-cold samples of the famous beer.
Amsterdam is justifiably famous for its nightlife with few other European cities managing to quite satisfy every conceivable taste in the same way as The Netherlands’ capital. Within a few blocks, well-heeled couples idle away an evening in a canal-side gourmet restaurant, and a group of backpackers stumble across the cobbles after a night in a cheery pub, as just around the corner the local trendies pose their way through an evening in a new-style bar. Then there is the Opera House, the string of concert venues, the football stadium, some of Europe’s best nightclubs and the jazz cafes, to name a few other nocturnal pastimes in Amsterdam. And, of course, there are the seedier ways to spend an evening, either exploring the infamous coffee shops of a city where soft drugs are not only allowed, but are sold over the counter, and the Red Light District, a nefarious playground where all sorts of low life mingle with the curious and the downright seedy. Wherever tourists spend their evening, there is the same relaxed, live-and-let-live ambience of a city where almost anything goes.
There are numerous possible excursions and day trips available from Amsterdam with an efficient national rail network that links the surrounding towns and cities to the metropolis. Alkmaar, where there is a famous cheese market at Waagplein, open every Friday from mid-April to mid-September, is a popular day trip. There is also a good bus service from Amsterdam to Marken and Volendam, both old fishing villages largely built of wood. The former is predominantly Catholic, the latter Protestant and both easily occupy a whole day.
Located 20km (12 miles) west of Amsterdam, Haarlem is a center of Dutch tulip growing and the surrounding countryside affords a fine view of the bulb fields from the end of March to mid-May. The town itself has a beautiful 16th- and 17th-century town center and two fine museums. The Teyler Museum was first established in 1784 from its world-famous Oval Room by merchant banker, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst. The museum has a very diverse collection, which includes drawings by Rembrandt, scientific instruments, fossils and coins. The ultramodern new wing offers a striking contrast with the oak-panelled rooms of the original building. The Frans Hals Museum houses paintings by the artist. Also worth visiting is St Bavo Church, containing a 5000-pipe organ, which Mozart is reported to have played.
The city of Utrecht is a favorite destination with the Dutch, as it offers many of Amsterdam’s charms on a smaller scale without the tourist hordes that fill the capital for much of the year. The fourth-largest city in The Netherlands is also one of the oldest cities in the country, the site first having been settled by the Romans. During the Middle Ages, Utrecht was often an imperial residence, and the city’s bishops regularly played an important role in the secular affairs of Europe. The city’s prosperity allowed the construction of several beautiful churches, particularly the Cathedral of St Michael (13th century), St Pieterskerk and St Janskerk (both 11th century) and St Jacobkerk (12th century). Other buildings of note include the House of the Teutonic Order, the 14th-century Huys Oudaen, the Hospice of St Bartholomew and the Neudeflat, a more modern construction (built in the 1960s), but one which affords a superb view across the city from its 15th-floor restaurant. The city also has several museums, including the Central Museum (which has an excellent Department of Modern Art), the Archiepiscopal Museum, the Railway Museum, the Archaeological Collection and the Municipal Museum. The best way to explore Utrecht is by canal boat, which takes visitors on a loop of the city that opens up its different districts. Utrecht’s bars and restaurants are also renowned for their quality and good value, and the lively nightlife is propelled by the large local student community. Newly opened in 2006 is the Dick Bruna Huis, home to the bunny character Miffy. The exhibition is an overview of Bruna's work.
The province of Utrecht, in the very heart of The Netherlands, contains numerous country houses, estates and castles set in landscaped parks and beautiful woods. The countryside around Utrecht is very fertile and seems like one large garden.
25km (16 miles) to the northeast of Utrecht is the town of Amersfoort, set in a region of heathland and forest. The old town is well preserved, one of the most attractive buildings being the Church of St George. Just 8km (5 miles) away is the town of Soestdijk, containing the Royal Palace and the beautiful parklands of the Queen Mother. Between Soestdijk and Hilversum is Baarn, a favorite summer resort among the Dutch.
Nearby, the casino at Zandvoort (west of Haarlem) is also the site of the annual Dutch Grand Prix. There is a famous Flower Auction in Aalsmeer; open weekday mornings. Near Lisse, south of Haarlem, are the Keukenhof Gardens, which have a lily show in late May. The Frans Roozen Nurseries & Tulip Show and the bulb fields can also be visited. Broek op Langedijk has Europe’s oldest vegetable auction hall with a large and interesting exhibition of the land reclamation of the surrounding area. Enkhuizen and Hoorn are well-known watersports centers. The latter town features the National Zuyder Zee Museum, an outdoor museum with ships and reconstructed houses.
The province of Friesland in the northwest of the country has its own language and its own distinct culture. A large part of the marshlands along the North Sea coast have been reclaimed from the sea. Friesian cattle are among the most famous inhabitants of the area. The Friesian lake district in the southern part of the state centers on the town of Sneek, and is a good place for watersports, particularly yachting. Near Sneek is the small town of Bolsward, which has a magnificent Renaissance Town Hall. Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland, has several old buildings and the Friesian Museum, probably the most important provincial museum in the country. Some 6km (4 miles) to the west is the village of Marssum, which has a 16th-century manor house. There are daily ferry connections with four of the Friesian Islands and a chain of museums on the Aldfaer’s Erf Route. The Hollandse and Friesian Islands (Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, Terschelling, Texel and Vlieland), on which there are bird sanctuaries and areas of outstanding natural beauty, lie north of the mainland.
The agricultural province of Groningen is known for its fortified country houses dating back to the 14th century. The provincial capital, Groningen, is commercially the most important town in the north of The Netherlands, as well as being a major cultural center. The city suffered considerable damage during World War II, but many of the 16th- and 18th-century buildings have now been restored.
This is a province of extensive cycle paths, prehistoric monuments (particularly in the area of the village of Havelte) and Saxon villages. The region is almost entirely agricultural, much of the land being drained by the system of venns and weiks. The main town, Assen, set in an area of woodlands, was an insignificant village until the middle of the last century, and has no historical monuments. The Provincial Museum is, however, worth a visit. There are also several Megalithic tombs to be found south and southwest of the town.
The Hague & Zuid-Holland
The Hague (Den Haag, officially known as ’s-Gravenhage), the seat of the Dutch government, is home to over 60 foreign embassies, the International Court of Justice and the capital of the province of Zuid-Holland. This has earned the city an unwarranted reputation for being dull and sterile, but in fact The Hague is well worth visiting and boasts a number of attractions. The central part of the Old Town is the Binnenhof, an irregular group of buildings surrounding an open space. The seaside resort of Scheveningen (which has the country’s only pier) is a nearby suburb. Walking around the old parts of town is a joy in itself – the local tourist office publishes a map that opens up the city and also includes most of the many antique shops in The Hague. The Parliament Buildings and Knight’s Hall are 13th-century buildings where there are regular tours and slide shows that illuminate their history, while the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, housed in the Mauritshuis, is a collection that includes the Anatomical Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt, and other 17th-century Dutch works. Other attractions include the Gemeentemusem, a recently renovated municipal museum that houses an interesting collection of modern art as well as interactive displays illustrating a wide range of subjects; the Puppet Museum, with its old and new puppets; the antique market at the Lange Voorhout; the Duinoord district built in the style of old Dutch architecture; the Haagse Bos wooded park; the 17th-century Nieuwe Kerk; and the Royal Library. On the outskirts of the city is one of Europe’s most unusual attractions: Madurodam Miniature Town is a playground for the young and not so young alike, a scale model (1:5) of a typical Dutch landscape, complete with houses, motorways and even fire-fighting boats extinguishing real fires. Adjacent to Madurodam is Sand World, a recently opened collection of sand sculptures. Another bizarre local attraction is the Panorama Mesdag, the largest panoramic circular painting in the world, create by the artist Mesdag amongst others, and famous for its perfect optical illusion.
About 22km (14 miles) southeast of Rotterdam and about 45km (28 miles) southeast of The Hague is Kinderdijk, near Alblasserdam, a good place to see windmills. They can be visited during the week. Delft, center of the Dutch pottery industry and world famous for its blue hand-painted ceramics, is roughly midway between Rotterdam and The Hague. Gouda, 20km (12 miles) southeast of Rotterdam, is famous for its cheese market and the Candlelight Festival in December. The town center is dominated by the massive late-Gothic Town Hall. Nearby is the pretty old town of Oudewater, noted for its beautiful 17th-century gabled houses. Northwest of Gouda by 12km (7 miles) is the town of Boskoop, renowned for its fruit trees; a visit during the blossom season is a delightful experience. Dordrecht, 15km (9 miles) southeast of Rotterdam and about 37km (23 miles) southeast of The Hague, was an important port until a flood in 1421 reduced the economic importance of the town. The museum in the city has a good collection of paintings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, while the most striking building is probably the Grote Kerk, begun in about 1305. Leiden, 20km (12 miles) northeast of The Hague, 40km (25 miles) north of Rotterdam), the birthplace of Rembrandt, was a famous weaving town during the Middle Ages, and played a large part in the wars of independence against Spain in the 16th century. The university was founded by William the Silent in 1575 in return for the city’s loyalty. The Pilgrim Fathers lived here for 10 years (1610-1620) and The American Pilgrim Museum is found here. The town also boasts one of the most charming windmills in the country, set in a park overlooking water.
Rotterdam is no longer content to play second fiddle to Amsterdam and in recent years has rejuvenated its city center, regenerated much of its dockside and also hosted the European City of Culture. Rotterdam is Europe’s largest and, indeed, the world’s second-largest, port and is the hub of the Dutch economy, but it is now also emerging as a tourist destination in its own right. Much of the city was obliterated during World War II, and only small parts of the old city remain. Historically, the city has been an important manufacturing center since the 14th century, but its pre-eminence as a port dates only from the early 19th century. The best place to get an idea of the city layout is from the viewing level of the Euromast & Space Tower, which at 185m (605ft) is the highest point in The Netherlands. Rotterdam’s pride in its maritime heritage is on show at the Maritiem Museum Prins Hendrik, where outdoor and indoor exhibits include ships, barges, harbor cranes and marine archaeological artifacts. Regular boat tours also now take tourists around the city’s abundance of channels and waterways. Boat tours (Spido) through the harbor of Rotterdam are available throughout the year. In the summer, there are excursions to Europoort, the Delta Project as well as evening tours, and there are also luxury motor cruisers for hire. Rotterdam’s cultural scene is also rich with the Museum Boymans van Beuningen, a unique collection of paintings, sculptures and objets d’art dating from the 14th century to the present day, and the Museum Voor Volkenkunde, an ethnological museum, amongst the highlights. For younger visitors, Dierenpark Blijdorp (Zoo) is an open-plan zoo, beautifully laid out, with a restaurant. The exotic wildlife includes bats, wolves, elephants and rhinos, all amongst tropical forest vegetation. A drive through the harbor of Rotterdam is also possible; the 100 to 150km (60 to 90 mile) journey takes in almost every aspect of this massive harbor. The route passes wharves and warehouses, futuristic grain silos and loading equipment, cranes and bridges, oil refineries, powerstations and lighthouses, all of which create a skyline of awesome beauty, particularly at sunset. The docks, waterways, canals and ports-within-ports are interspersed with some surprising and apparently incongruous features; at one point the route passes a garden city built for shipyard workers, while further on there is a village and, at the harbor’s westernmost point, a beach. A visit to Rotterdam harbor is recommended. Other interesting places to visit include the 17th-century houses in the Delfshaven quarter of the city; the Pilgrimskerk; collections of maps and seacharts at the Delfshaven Old Town Hall; many traditional workshops for pottery, watchmaking and woodturning. Rotterdam has also become something of a Mecca for designers and architects, who have flocked to the city to take part in its massive rebuilding program, and their work is often showcased both in the buildings they create and also in temporary exhibits. Rotterdam’s nightlife scene has undergone something of a renaissance over the last decade with myriad new bars, trendy cafes and first-rate restaurants spicing up what was previously an unappealing scene, geared mainly towards itinerant sailors and students. Today, the waterfront is increasingly being transformed into a leisure oasis. The major concert venue is the De Doelen Concert Hall (classical music, plays), which has 2000 seats. The local soccer team, Feyernoord, play at the impressive De Kuip Stadium, which was home to the final of Euro 2000.
The province of Overijssel is a region of great variety. In the little town of Giethoorn, small canals take the place of streets, and all transport is by boat. At Wanneperveen there is a well-equipped watersports center. The old Hanseatic towns of Kampen and Zwolle have splendid quays and historic buildings. There are bird sanctuaries along the Ijsselmeer.
This is The Netherland’s most extensive province, stretching from the rivers of the south to the sand dunes of the north. Gelderland is often referred to as ‘the back garden of the west’.
The province’s major city was heavily damaged in World War II; indeed, its important position on the Rhine has led to it being captured, stormed and occupied on many occasions during its long history. The old part of the town has, however, been artfully rebuilt. There is a large open-air museum near Arnhem showing a collection of old farms, mills, houses and workshops, all of which have been brought together to form a splendid park. Not far from the town center, there is a zoo and a safari park.
Hoge Veluwe National Park
Near Arnhem is the Hoge Veluwe National Park, an extensive sandy region and a popular tourist area, which contains a game reserve (in the south), and the Kroller-Muller Art Gallery and Museum, with many modern sculptures and paintings (including a Van Gogh collection). One ticket enables the visitor to see all of this, and there are free bicycles available to cycle around the park.
Almost all of the old traditional villages have been converted into holiday resorts. There are no towns of any size in the Veluwe region.
Much of Flevoland was drained for the first time in the 1950-60s, and is in many ways a museum of geography; the southern part of the province is not yet completely ready for cultivation, and visitors can witness the various stages of agricultural preparation. Lelystad is the main town of the region, built to a controversial design in the 1960s. Part of the province has also been designated as an overspill area for Randstad Holland. Flevoland’s 1100 sq km (425 sq miles) of land includes many large bungalow parks.
The Far South
This province consists mainly of a plain, rarely more than 30m (100ft) above sea level, and is mostly agricultural. The region is known for its carnival days in February and the Jazz in Duketown jazz festival. The capital of the province is the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch (non-Dutch speaking visitors will welcome the use of ‘Den Bosch’ as a widely accepted abbreviation) situated at the center of a region of flat pasture land which floods each winter. St Jan’s Cathedral is the largest in the country; the provincial museum is also interesting. Other major cities in this large and comparatively densely populated province include Eindhoven, an industrial center which has grown in the last 100 years; Breda, an old city with many medieval buildings – it was here that the declaration was signed in 1566 which marked the start of the Dutch War of Independence; and Tilburg, an industrial center which also has a large amusement and recreation park (to the north of the city), whose attractions include a haunted castle. In Kaatsheuvel is the De Efteling Recreation and Adventure Park, which includes a large fairytale wood and a big dipper. Overloon is home to the Dutch National War & Recreation Museum, which includes displays of heavy armament in a park setting and other exhibits devoted to the history of World War II.
In Hilvarenbeek is the De Beekse Bergen Safari Park. Safari buses are available (continuous journey).
The province of Limburg, the most southerly in the country, is bordered by both Belgium and Germany. The rolling hills covered with footpaths make this a good place for walking holidays. It is also famous for its cuisine. In the extreme south of the province is the city of Maastricht, and its position at the crossroads of three countries makes it ideal for excursions to such nearby cities as Aachen over the border in Germany. Maastricht itself is one of the oldest towns in the country, and its Church of St Servatius is the oldest in The Netherlands. The church treasury is particularly interesting. Further north is the town of Roermond, an important cultural and artistic center dominated by the superb Munsterkerk.
There are 280km (175 miles) of beaches and over 50 resorts in The Netherlands, almost all of which are easily accessible from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague. Large areas have been specially allocated for naturists and the beaches themselves are broad, sandy and gently sloping. There is surf along the coast, and those who wish to swim must be strong enough to withstand the hidden currents. Swimmers should obtain and follow local advice. In the high season, lifeguards are on duty along the more dangerous stretches of the coast.
The province of Zeeland has several medieval harbor towns where some of the best seafood in Europe can be found. Most of the province lies below sea level and has been reclaimed from the sea. The region also includes several islands and peninsulas in the southwest Netherlands (Walcheren, Goeree-Overflakkee, Schouwen-Duiveland, Tholen, St Filipsland and North and South Beveland). The province has become renowned for a massive engineering project of flood barriers designed to protect the mainland and the results of reclamation from the devastating floods that periodically sweep the coastline. The countryside is intensively farmed. The capital of the province is Middelburg, a town that has been important since medieval times. The Town Hall is widely regarded as being one of the most attractive non-religious Gothic buildings in Europe. The small town of Veere, 8km (5 miles) to the north, retains many buildings from its golden age in the early 16th century. The North Sea port of Flushing (Vlissingen) is, for many British travelers arriving by boat, their first sight of The Netherlands. It is also the country’s first town in another sense; in 1572 it became the first place to fly the free Dutch flag during the War of Independence.