Many visitors come to the Netherlands simply to visit Amsterdam. While there is undoubtedly a great deal to see and do in this most cosmopolitan of cities, there is so much more to this compact little country than its most famous city.
The Netherlands, sometimes known incorrectly as Holland, is bordered in the west by Belgium and in the east by Germany. Relatively small with a land area of only 41,543 square km it is quite densely populated. The capital city is The Hague (Den Haag) and nearby Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe.
The country is divided into twelve Provinces all of which are interesting from a touristic point of view. The ones with most to see tend to be in North and South Holland in the west, Gelderland in the east, Limburg and North Brabant in the south and Utrecht in the center.
The Dutch have a long history of social tolerance and liberal traditions which make the Netherlands such a relaxed place.
Amsterdam itself is a gem of the Golden Age, with many buildings and its famous canals dating from this period. A great way to get a feel for the city is to take a canal tour.
Further south is The Hague the so called the ‘Royal City by the Sea’ because the Royal Family resides here. The fascinating Plein and Grote Markt squares are where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, clubs and coffeehouses. From the lively Plein square, you can see the amazing contemporary architecture of downtown den Haag.
Alkmaar, with its famous cheese market, is not far to the north of Amsterdam. To the south there are the picturesque towns of Leiden, which boasts the oldest university in the country, and Delft, famous for its blue pottery.
If you are lucky enough to be in this region between the end of March and the second week of May you will be treated to the most amazingly colorful bulb fields as you travel through the countryside. At the same time, the wonderful gardens of Keukenhof at Lisse, sometimes called the Garden of Europe, are not to be missed. Just a little to the east is the ancient city of Utrecht with its huge Domtoren.
Gelderland in the east plays host to one the gems of the Netherlands, the Hoge Veluwe National Park. This consists of 55 acres of heathland, sand dunes, woodlands, as well as the wonderful Kroller-Muller Museum, which is home to over 90 Van Gogh paintings, including the famous Café Terrace at Night, and even more drawings.
Further south is Arnhem, site of the WW2 Battle of Arnhem and the famous John Frost Bridge across the Lower Rhine. This was the setting for the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far. Further south again, across the river Waal, the old town of Nijmegen, founded by the Roman Emperor Trajan, was the most northerly point of the Roman Empire in mainland Europe.
Apart from lots of wonderful cities and small towns, the Netherlands has many other fascinating attractions including Afsluitdijk, the dike that converted the Zuidersee into a lake, and the Kinderdijk windmill area, as well as several funparks and zoos. There are beaches, too: Katwijk, Noordwijk, Zandvoort Den Helder and the most popular of all, Scheveningen, near Den Haag.
So the Netherlands is full of surprises, great works of art, charming old towns modern cities and fun attractions which cater for everyone.
Travelling by car you will find an excellent system of roads. Nevertheless, expect to encounter a lot of traffic especially around the major cities. However, the best method of exploring the Netherlands is by bicycle! Farsighted road engineering has placed the cyclist and his or her safety first. There are over 32,000km of cycle paths, which are usually flat and mostly separated from motorized traffic. Not only that, cycling is healthy and above all, it’s green!
The best time to visit the Netherlands is during the late Spring, Summer and early Autumn although Amsterdam itself is a year round city. Of course the Bulbfields and Keukenhof are best visited when the tulips are in bloom and this varies depending upon how cold and how long the winter has been. Somewhere between Mid-March and mid-May would be best but you need to check at the time.
Anything from two to four days should enable you to see most of Amsterdam but if you wish to explore further afield then allow at least a full week or ten days.
Local Events include:
Jan 1st – New Year’s Dive at Scheveningen
Jan 21st – National Tulip Day (Dam Square Amsterdam)
Early March – Hague Half Marathon
Late March – late May Keukenhof
April-early Sept – Alkmaar Cheese Market (Fridays)
June – Holland Festival Amsterdam
Mid-June – Open Garden Days Amsterdam
Sept (2nd Sunday) – Lichtenvoorde Flower Parade
Early October – Leiden’s Ontzet (Relief of Leiden) event (2 days)
Mid-October – Amsterdam Marathon
Early November – Amsterdam Museum Night
Mid-November – Arrival of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas or Santa Claus) till Dec 5th.
December – Various Christmas Markets here.
Dutch Holidays include:
January 1st – New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 27th – King’s Birthday (if 27th is a Sunday then held on 26th)
Late Apr/early May Ascension Day (40 days after Easter)
May Whit Monday – 7th Monday after Easter
December 25th – Christmas Day
December 26th – Boxing Day
The Netherlands is located in the Central European Time (CET)
Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.
The Netherlands is not an expensive country but expect the big cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam to be a little pricier than the smaller towns.
Check out Pricing, Insurance, Air travel & car rental, Currency/Money, Tipping and Other Costs by clicking the Grey panel on the left.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in €.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person
Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double
Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2, British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.
Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe. It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do. Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.
For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.
Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries. For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.
Pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition. Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.
Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)
There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!
Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.
The good news for travellers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.
Other methods are to add a euro/pound for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.
Many restaurants add an ‘optional’ amount to the bill when you are paying with plastic, but in many cases the servers don’t receive any of this and it simply becomes an extra profit for the owner. The server won’t mind if you decline to do this!
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €40 (£30) per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
The Netherlands is renowned for its superb transport system which has good roads and excellent train, bus, tram and ferry services. The Dutch make great use of their cycles and it is an extremely safe environment for visitors to take advantage of too!
Check out Getting There, Getting Around and Transportation Hubs.
By Air: Most visitors arrive in the Netherlands by Air into Schipol Airport near Amsterdam which receives flights from all over the world.
By Sea: From the UK it is possible to sail from Hull to Rotterdam, Harwich to the Hook of Holland and Newcastle to Ijmuiden (Amsterdam)
By Land: From mainland Europe the Netherlands is easily reached by train from all neighbouring countries. It is also well connected by road via Belgium and Germany.
By Train: The Netherlands has an extensive railway system with modern, comfortable and safe trains. Even the longest journeys e.g. from Amsterdam to Maastricht in the very south or to Groningan in the very north takes takes about two hours.
There are about 400 stations all over the country so you are likely to find one near your destination
By Bus, Tram or Metro: This is the ideal way to get around the cities unless of course you choose to rent a bike!
By Ferry: The Ferry is an absolutely vital service in a country with so much water! The ones in Amsterdam are free of charge but you will pay to use although you have to pay for the water taxis. The Watertaxi service in Rotterdam has about 50 stops and is a great way of seeing the City.
Check out Public Transport here.
The main transportation hub is Schipol Airport beside Amsterdam which has links right across the world. The new Arnhem Central rail transportation hub or Transfer Terminal is now open receiving trains from across Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Check out the Language and a (very) brief History of the Netherlands by visiting the grey panel on the left of this text.
The Golden Age
The Dutch secured their independence from Spain in 1581 starting out as a republic, only becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1815. The so-called ‘Golden Age’ of the Dutch Republic was during the 17th century when their Empire rivalled that of Britain and the other European powers. They even provided a King of England, Scotland and Ireland when in 1689 William of Orange became King William III.
After World War II
The Netherlands suffered badly at the hands of the Nazis during WWII and a lot of fighting took place on Dutch territory towards the end of the hostilities. The nation recovered well and was one of the founding countries of the European Economic Community created in 1957 following the Treaty of Rome as part of the Benelux grouping, (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg formed in 1944), which was to be at the heart of the European Community as it later became.
The main language spoken in the Netherlands is Dutch although you will find that many people speak very good English too. Many of the inhabitants of Friesland speak Frisian which is a separate language and there are several Dutch dialects such as Limburgish spoken in the Province of Limburg in the south around Maastricht.