Netherlands Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

The Netherlands, often referred to as Holland, is a charming and picturesque European country known for its iconic windmills, tulip fields, and intricate canal systems. Situated in Northwestern Europe, this compact nation offers a diverse array of attractions and experiences. From the vibrant cultural scene of Amsterdam to the serene countryside dotted with historic villages, the Netherlands beckons tourists with its rich heritage, art treasures, and welcoming hospitality. Whether you’re strolling along picturesque canals, admiring world-class art, or cycling through scenic landscapes, the Netherlands promises a delightful blend of history, culture, and natural beauty for every traveler to explore and enjoy.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit the Netherlands as a tourist depends on your preferences and the type of experience you seek. Here are some considerations for each season:

  1. Spring (April to June):
  • Spring is one of the most popular times to visit the Netherlands. The weather is mild, and the countryside bursts into bloom with colorful tulips in April and May.
  • Keukenhof Gardens, near Amsterdam, is a must-visit during this time, as it showcases millions of blooming flowers.
  • Outdoor activities, such as cycling and walking in parks, are enjoyable during spring.
  1. Summer (June to August):
  • Summer offers warm and pleasant weather, making it ideal for exploring cities, parks, and outdoor attractions.
  • Amsterdam, in particular, comes alive with outdoor festivals, open-air markets, and lively street scenes.
  • The coastal areas, including the Wadden Islands, are popular for beach vacations.
  • Keep in mind that summer is the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
  1. Autumn (September to November):
  • Early autumn (September and early October) can still be pleasant for outdoor activities, and you can enjoy the changing colors of the trees in parks and forests.
  • The crowds begin to thin out in September, making it a more comfortable time to visit popular tourist spots.
  • Consider visiting during late September for the annual “Nationale Burendag” (National Neighbors’ Day), a Dutch tradition celebrating community and neighborhood gatherings.
  1. Winter (December to February):
  • Winter in the Netherlands is cold and can be wet, but it offers a unique charm with festive holiday markets and ice skating rinks.
  • Amsterdam’s Light Festival in December and January illuminates the city’s canals with artistic light displays.
  • Winter is also a great time to explore indoor attractions like museums and galleries.
  • For those interested in Dutch culture, December brings the tradition of Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa Claus.
  1. Overall Considerations:
  • The Netherlands has a maritime climate, so be prepared for occasional rain throughout the year.
  • The choice of the best time to visit also depends on your specific interests. For instance, if you’re a fan of Dutch cheeses, you might want to visit during the cheese market season in summer.

In summary, the best time to visit the Netherlands for most tourists is spring (April to June) and early autumn (September). These seasons offer pleasant weather and the opportunity to explore outdoor attractions and cultural events with fewer crowds. However, the Netherlands has something to offer year-round, so your choice should align with your interests and the experiences you desire.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around the Netherlands as a tourist is convenient and efficient, thanks to the country’s well-developed transportation infrastructure. Here are the best ways to get around:

  1. Trains:
  • Trains are the backbone of public transportation in the Netherlands. The Dutch rail network is extensive and connects major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague.
  • Consider purchasing an OV-chipkaart, a contactless smart card that can be loaded with credit for train journeys. Alternatively, you can buy point-to-point train tickets.
  1. Bicycles:
  • The Netherlands is famous for its cycling culture, and renting a bicycle is an excellent way to explore cities and the countryside.
  • Many cities, including Amsterdam and Utrecht, have dedicated bike lanes and bike-sharing programs.
  1. Trams and Buses:
  • Trams and buses are available in cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht. They provide convenient access to neighborhoods and attractions within the cities.
  • You can use the OV-chipkaart for trams and buses as well.
  1. Metro:
  • Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague have metro systems that make it easy to navigate within these cities.
  1. Ferries:
  • In cities with canals like Amsterdam, ferries are an integral part of the transportation network. They can take you across the water to different parts of the city.
  1. Cars:
  • Renting a car is an option if you plan to explore rural areas or want more flexibility in your travel. However, in major cities, parking can be expensive and challenging to find.
  • Note that many city centers have restricted zones where only residents and authorized vehicles are allowed.
  1. Taxis:
  • Taxis are readily available in cities, but they are more expensive than public transportation. Ride-sharing apps like Uber are also available.
  1. Domestic Flights:
  • Domestic flights are available but are typically only necessary for travel to the Dutch Caribbean islands (e.g., Aruba, Curaçao) or to reach more remote regions.
  1. Boats and Ferries:
  • In cities with canals, you can also use water taxis and ferries to get around. In Amsterdam, for example, there are canal cruises that provide both transportation and sightseeing.
  1. Walking:
    • Many Dutch cities are pedestrian-friendly, and exploring on foot is an excellent way to take in the sights, especially in historic city centers.
  2. High-Speed Trains:
    • Consider taking a high-speed train, such as the Thalys, to reach neighboring countries like Belgium and France.

For tourists, the Dutch public transportation system, including trains, trams, buses, and bikes, is highly recommended. The well-connected train network allows you to explore the country’s major cities and attractions conveniently, while biking offers a unique and enjoyable way to experience the Dutch landscape and culture. Public transportation cards and passes are available for various durations to suit your travel needs.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch. English is also widely spoken and understood, especially in urban areas, and the Dutch are generally proficient in English. Here are some basic Dutch phrases and words that can be useful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Hallo (pronounced “HAH-loh”)
  2. Good morning: Goedemorgen (pronounced “HUH-duh-MOR-ghun”)
  3. Good afternoon: Goedemiddag (pronounced “HUH-duh-MI-dahkh”)
  4. Good evening: Goedenavond (pronounced “HUH-duh-NAH-vuhnt”)
  5. Goodbye: Tot ziens (pronounced “tot SEENS”)
  6. Please: Alsjeblieft (pronounced “AHL-suh-bleeft”)
  7. Thank you: Dank je (informal) or Dank u (formal) (pronounced “DAHNK yuh” or “DAHNK oo”)
  8. Yes: Ja (pronounced “yuh”)
  9. No: Nee (pronounced “nay”)
  10. Excuse me / Sorry: Sorry (pronounced “SAH-ree”)
  11. How much is this?: Hoeveel kost dit? (pronounced “HOO-vayl kost dit?”)
  12. Where is…?: Waar is…? (pronounced “VAHR is…?”)
  13. I don’t understand: Ik begrijp het niet (pronounced “ik buh-GRAIP hut neet”)
  14. Help: Help (pronounced “help”)
  15. Restroom: Toilet (pronounced “twah-LET”)

While you can get by with English in most tourist areas, making an effort to speak a few Dutch phrases is often appreciated by locals and can enhance your travel experience in the Netherlands.

Where to Stay? 🏨

The Netherlands offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit various preferences and budgets for tourists. Here are some popular choices:

  1. Hotels: The Netherlands has a wide selection of hotels, ranging from budget to luxury. You can find hotels in major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and more. In Amsterdam, consider staying in neighborhoods like the city center (Centrum), Jordaan, or De Pijp.
  2. Hostels: Budget-conscious travelers and backpackers will find many hostels in Dutch cities, especially in Amsterdam. Hostels often offer dormitory-style rooms and private rooms.
  3. Boutique Hotels: The Netherlands has charming boutique hotels with unique character and personalized service. Look for boutique hotels in historic districts for an authentic experience.
  4. Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs): B&Bs provide a cozy and intimate atmosphere, often hosted by locals who can offer insider tips on exploring the area.
  5. Vacation Rentals: Platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo offer a variety of vacation rental options, including apartments, houses, and houseboats. Vacation rentals are a great choice for families or those looking for a more home-like experience.
  6. Rural Accommodations: In rural areas, you can find accommodations like farm stays, cottages, and guesthouses, allowing you to experience the Dutch countryside.
  7. Canal Houses: In cities like Amsterdam, consider staying in traditional canal houses for a quintessential Dutch experience. These historic buildings often house boutique hotels and vacation rentals.
  8. Hostels on Dutch Islands: If you plan to visit the Dutch Wadden Islands (e.g., Texel, Terschelling), there are hostels and unique accommodations available to suit island getaways.
  9. Luxury Hotels: For a lavish experience, stay in luxury hotels located in city centers or scenic spots. Many of these hotels offer fine dining, spa facilities, and stunning views.
  10. Family-Friendly Accommodations: Numerous hotels and rentals cater to families, providing amenities like family rooms, play areas, and babysitting services.
  11. Budget Hotels: If you’re looking for budget-friendly options, you’ll find various chain hotels and budget hotel brands in Dutch cities.
  12. Camping: Camping is popular in the Netherlands, and there are numerous campgrounds and caravan parks throughout the country, often situated in picturesque locations.

When choosing where to stay in the Netherlands, consider factors such as your budget, travel itinerary, and the type of experience you desire. In major cities like Amsterdam, it’s advisable to book accommodations well in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. The Netherlands offers a diverse range of lodging options, ensuring there’s something suitable for every traveler’s needs.

What to Eat? 🍽️

The Netherlands may not be as renowned for its cuisine as some other European countries, but it has its own unique and delicious dishes that tourists should definitely try. Here are some must-try Dutch foods:

  1. Bitterballen: These deep-fried, crispy, and savory meat-based snacks are a Dutch favorite. They are often served with mustard and are a popular choice at bars and cafes.
  2. Haring: If you’re feeling adventurous, try raw herring, a traditional Dutch delicacy. It’s typically served with onions and pickles. The most famous way to eat it is by holding the fish by the tail and taking a bite.
  3. Poffertjes: These small, fluffy pancakes are a sweet treat often served with powdered sugar and butter. You can find them at street stalls and markets.
  4. Stroopwafels: These thin waffle-like cookies with a caramel syrup filling are a delightful Dutch snack. They are often served with coffee or tea and can be found in most supermarkets and bakeries.
  5. Erwtensoep (Pea Soup): A hearty and thick green pea soup with chunks of smoked sausage and bacon. It’s especially popular during the winter months and is a comfort food classic.
  6. Kroket: Similar to bitterballen, krokets are croquettes filled with a variety of ingredients, such as beef ragout or shrimp. They are coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried to a crispy perfection.
  7. Patat: Dutch fries (patat or friet) are thicker than typical French fries and are served with a variety of toppings, including mayonnaise, ketchup, or a peanut satay sauce called “pindasaus.”
  8. Hollandse Nieuwe: These are young, raw herring fish that are typically eaten with onions and pickles. If you visit during the herring season (June to July), you can try them fresh.
  9. Kapsalon: A unique Dutch dish consisting of layers of fries topped with shawarma meat, cheese, lettuce, and various sauces.
  10. Appeltaart (Dutch Apple Pie): Dutch apple pie is known for its thick, sweet apple filling and a crumbly, buttery crust. It’s often served with whipped cream.
  11. Gouda and Edam Cheese: The Netherlands is famous for its cheese, and you can find a wide variety, including the well-known Gouda and Edam cheeses. Visit cheese markets for a tasting experience.
  12. Hollandse Asperges: During the asparagus season (April to June), try the tender, white asparagus served with a variety of accompaniments like ham and hollandaise sauce.
  13. Dutch Pancakes (Pannekoeken): These thin, large pancakes can be sweet (with toppings like syrup, powdered sugar, and fruit) or savory (with ingredients like cheese, bacon, and vegetables).
  14. Drop: Dutch licorice comes in various shapes and flavors. It’s a popular candy, but be aware that it can be quite salty compared to other licorice varieties.
  15. Rookworst: A Dutch smoked sausage often served with stamppot, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables.
  16. Tomatensoep met Balletjes (Tomato Soup with Meatballs): This hearty tomato soup with meatballs is a comforting dish, especially on a chilly day.

Remember to pair these dishes with some traditional Dutch beverages, such as Dutch beer, jenever (Dutch gin), or a refreshing Dutch lager. Exploring Dutch cuisine is a tasty adventure for any tourist visiting the Netherlands.

What to See? 🔍

The Netherlands is a country rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, offering a wide range of must-see places and attractions for tourists. Here are some of the top destinations to consider visiting:

  1. Amsterdam: The capital city is a treasure trove of historic architecture, world-class museums, and vibrant street life. Must-visit attractions include the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the picturesque canals of the city.
  2. Keukenhof Gardens: Located near Lisse, Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens and a must-see during the tulip season (mid-March to mid-May). It features stunning displays of tulips, daffodils, and other spring flowers.
  3. Zaanse Schans: This open-air museum near Amsterdam offers a glimpse into traditional Dutch life with well-preserved windmills, wooden houses, and craft demonstrations.
  4. Giethoorn: Known as the “Venice of the North,” Giethoorn is a picturesque village with canals instead of roads. Visitors can explore the village by boat or on foot.
  5. Kinderdijk: This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to a network of well-preserved windmills. It’s a great place to learn about Dutch water management.
  6. Utrecht: Explore the charming city of Utrecht with its historic canals, beautiful parks, and iconic Dom Tower, one of the tallest church towers in the Netherlands.
  7. Rotterdam: This modern and innovative city boasts futuristic architecture, including the Cube Houses and the Erasmus Bridge. Don’t miss the Markthal, a food market with an impressive ceiling mural.
  8. The Hague: Visit the political center of the Netherlands and explore attractions like the Binnenhof (Parliament Buildings), Mauritshuis art museum, and the beach resort of Scheveningen.
  9. Maastricht: This picturesque city in the southern part of the country is known for its historic architecture, charming squares, and the impressive Saint Servatius Bridge.
  10. Delft: Famous for its blue and white pottery, Delft is a lovely city to explore on foot. Visit the Royal Delft pottery factory and the Markt square with its stunning town hall.
  11. Gouda: Known for its cheese, Gouda is a picturesque town with historic buildings, including the stunning St. John’s Church.
  12. Haarlem: Just a short train ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem is a charming city with a beautiful historic center, including the stunning St. Bavo’s Church.
  13. Texel: Explore one of the Dutch Wadden Islands, Texel, known for its beautiful beaches, nature reserves, and a variety of outdoor activities.
  14. Hoge Veluwe National Park: This national park offers a diverse landscape of forests, heathlands, and sand dunes. It’s also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, which features an extensive collection of Vincent van Gogh’s works.
  15. Amsterdamse Bos: This large urban park near Amsterdam offers a serene escape with forests, lakes, and recreational activities.
  16. Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park: Enjoy hiking and cycling in this scenic national park, which includes forests, sand drifts, and heathlands.

These are just a few of the many remarkable places to visit in the Netherlands. Whether you’re interested in history, art, nature, or modern urban life, the Netherlands has something to offer every traveler.

What to Do? 📸

The Netherlands offers a wealth of activities and experiences for tourists to enjoy. Here are some must-do things when visiting the country:

  1. Explore Amsterdam’s Canals: Take a canal cruise or stroll along Amsterdam’s picturesque canals to admire historic architecture and charming houseboats.
  2. Visit World-Class Museums: Explore renowned museums like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. In The Hague, visit the Mauritshuis for Dutch Golden Age paintings.
  3. Cycle the Countryside: Rent a bike and explore the Dutch countryside, passing through scenic landscapes, windmills, and charming villages. The Netherlands is a cyclist’s paradise.
  4. Taste Dutch Cheese: Sample a variety of Dutch cheeses, including Gouda, Edam, and Leyden. Visit cheese markets like Alkmaar and Edam for an authentic experience.
  5. Experience Tulip Season: Visit Keukenhof Gardens during spring to see millions of blooming tulips. Alternatively, explore the flower fields in the countryside.
  6. Enjoy Dutch Pancakes: Savor Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken) with a variety of sweet or savory toppings at local pancake houses.
  7. Attend a Windmill Tour: Learn about Dutch windmills and their history by visiting operational windmills like Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans.
  8. Try Dutch Snacks: Sample Dutch snacks like bitterballen (deep-fried meatballs), haring (raw herring), and kroketten (croquettes).
  9. Visit a Beach Town: Head to the Dutch coast and relax on sandy beaches in towns like Scheveningen, Zandvoort, and Noordwijk.
  10. Discover Delftware: Explore Delft’s historic center, visit the Royal Delft pottery factory, and admire the famous blue and white Delftware.
  11. Participate in King’s Day: If visiting in late April, join the festivities on King’s Day (Koningsdag) with street parties, music, and orange-themed celebrations throughout the country.
  12. Sail on an Amstel River Cruise: Take a scenic boat ride along the Amstel River in Amsterdam, passing landmarks like the Skinny Bridge (Magere Brug).
  13. Experience Dutch Markets: Explore lively markets such as Amsterdam’s Albert Cuyp Market and Rotterdam’s Markthal for local food, souvenirs, and more.
  14. Visit Historic Castles: Explore Dutch castles like Castle de Haar, Muiderslot, and Kasteel Amerongen for a glimpse into medieval and Renaissance architecture.
  15. Enjoy Dutch Beer: Taste Dutch beer at local breweries and pubs. Try Dutch specialties like Heineken, Grolsch, and Belgian-style Trappist beers.
  16. Attend a Flower Parade: If visiting during the right season, don’t miss a colorful flower parade, such as the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek.
  17. Experience Traditional Dutch Festivals: Participate in Dutch festivals like Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas’ Eve), Carnival, and the Elfstedentocht ice-skating race.
  18. Explore the Red Light District: Wander through Amsterdam’s historic Red Light District to learn about its unique culture and history.
  19. Visit Anne Frank’s House: Explore the museum located in the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II.
  20. Take a Day Trip: Venture beyond major cities with day trips to places like Giethoorn, Zandvoort beach, Utrecht, and more.

The Netherlands offers a diverse range of experiences, from cultural and historical attractions to natural beauty and culinary delights. Plan your itinerary to make the most of your Dutch adventure.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to the Netherlands, it’s important to be aware of the country’s culture and take necessary safety precautions to ensure a pleasant and secure trip. Here are some key points regarding culture and safety:

Culture:

  1. Tolerance and Openness: Dutch society is known for its tolerance, open-mindedness, and progressive values. Respect for diversity is highly valued, and the country has a reputation for inclusivity.
  2. Bicycling Culture: The Netherlands is famous for its cycling culture, and many cities have extensive networks of bike lanes. Be mindful of cyclists, and consider renting a bike to explore the cities and countryside.
  3. Language: Dutch is the official language, but the majority of Dutch people speak English fluently, especially in urban areas. Learning a few basic Dutch phrases is appreciated but not essential.
  4. Punctuality: Dutch people are generally punctual, so be on time for appointments and tours.
  5. Payment: Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Cash can also be used, but it’s not always necessary to carry large amounts.
  6. Tipping: Tipping is customary but not obligatory. In restaurants, rounding up the bill or leaving a 10% tip is common. Tipping for good service in other situations, such as taxis or cafes, is appreciated.
  7. Queuing: The Dutch value orderly queues (lines) and expect others to do the same. Cutting in line is considered impolite.

Safety:

  1. Low Crime Rate: The Netherlands generally has a low crime rate, but like in any country, petty theft can occur. Be cautious in crowded places, watch your belongings, and avoid displaying valuable items.
  2. Biking Safety: If you decide to rent a bicycle, follow traffic rules and be aware of cyclists, pedestrians, and trams. Wear a helmet if you’re used to doing so.
  3. Transport Safety: Public transportation is safe and reliable. Be cautious of pickpockets, especially in crowded trams and buses.
  4. Weather Precautions: Be prepared for the Dutch weather, which can be unpredictable. Bring suitable clothing, especially if you’re visiting in the cooler months.
  5. Cannabis Laws: While cannabis use is tolerated and regulated in the Netherlands, be aware of the laws and regulations regarding its use. It is not legal to use cannabis in public places.
  6. Emergency Numbers: Familiarize yourself with emergency numbers, including 112 for police, fire, and medical emergencies.
  7. Natural Hazards: The Netherlands is a flat country with a well-maintained system of dikes and flood protection. Flooding is a potential natural hazard, but the country is well-prepared to deal with it.
  8. COVID-19 Precautions: Stay informed about COVID-19 regulations, including mask mandates, social distancing, and vaccination requirements, which can change periodically.
  9. Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unexpected events.

Overall, the Netherlands is a safe and welcoming destination for travelers. By respecting local customs, staying informed, and taking common-sense precautions, you can have a memorable and enjoyable experience in this culturally rich and diverse country.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to the Netherlands is a journey into a world of timeless beauty, rich heritage, and vibrant culture. Whether you’re admiring iconic windmills, exploring historic cities, or cruising along picturesque canals, this country offers a tapestry of experiences for every traveler. The Netherlands’ unique blend of old-world charm and modern sophistication invites you to savor its art, cuisine, and warm hospitality. So, pack your bags, hop on a bicycle, and embark on an unforgettable adventure in a land where tradition meets innovation, and every corner tells a story. Welcome to the Netherlands!