Would you like to visit the homeland of Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt? Would you like to see boundless fields seeded with vividly coloured tulips, countless canals and bridges, fascinating windmills and a state of the art architecture? If your answer is “yes”, then you are in for a big treat during your trip to The Netherlands.

Despite its small size, The Netherlands always played an important role throughout the history. It was one of the first countries in the world to have a parliament and the democratic principles. The Dutch were always good at international trade and sailing and they stood at the basics of the modern New York city. The Dutch painters are represented in world finest art galleries across the globe. The country is also known for its liberal views on such sensitive questions as gay rights, legal marijuana and prostitution.

In addition to all of the above, The Netherlands brags with scenic landmarks and historical sights.

The best time to visit Holland would be in April-May for several reasons. First of all, the tulip blooming season falls exactly on the spring months sparkling with various colours across the country’s fields and parks. Secondly, the weather is almost perfect in those months. You should not encounter freezing or unbearably hot weather during that period, although I would suggest bringing some warm clothes and wear layers. After all, the Dutch wouldn’t just accidentally build so many WINDmills if it wasn’t for constant winds. And finally, if you come on the 27th of April, you will be amazed by the colossal celebration of the main Dutch national holiday – King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day before 2014), when Amsterdam turns orange and people are having fun outdoors all day long.

King's Day Amsterdam. Image by olmed0 / CC2.0

King’s Day Amsterdam. Image by olmed0 / CC2.0

I have lived in Holland for a year and traveled numerous times across the country. I would like to share my experience and suggest a great travel route for a short vacation in The Netherlands. Regardless of the size of the country, there are plenty of places to visit.

There are two options for transportation across the country: using its extensive public transportation network or renting a car to get around. Trains are very common to overcome long distances, while buses are more convenient for local routes. I do have nothing against renting a car in The Netherlands as the roads are perfect, however you might consider checking the parking costs if you would like the park in central locations. There is always an option to park at a free park-and-ride facility to save your budget.

I would assume that you are flying in to the Schiphol Airport thus I will start the sightseeing route with Amsterdam. There is also an option to fly to the Eindhoven Airport if you fly with low-cost airlines. In this case you should reverse the itinerary and follow it down-up instead.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam gets its name from the river Amstel and stands on the main canals. The canals are the result of thorough planning and engineering thus all of the canals are man-made. Amsterdam is also often labeled as the Venice of the North for having a large portion of its territory close to the water. Back in the days the canals served the purpose of the water management and the transportation arteries. While it’s still very common to see boats sailing the Amsterdam canals, it has been a long time since the main city transportation moved to the ground.

Amsterdam Canal. Image by *_* / CC2.0

Amsterdam Canal. Image by *_* / CC2.0

Speaking of the transportation, the whole country is riding the bikes. Almost all of the Dutch cities have their own bicycle lanes which could be considered as an enormous piece of infrastructure. During my first visit the The Netherlands I was shocked by the effort to make biking easy and comfortable. There are separate lanes almost everywhere, specially designed traffic lights, several story bike parkings and everything that a person needs to use the bike as the main mean of transportation. Locals ride it to go to work, to go out, on the special occasions and on the regular days. As a person who lived in Holland, I’m delighted to say that it was a great experience to be riding a bike almost every day and it is truly an amazing mean of transportation.

Amsterdam Bike Lanes. Image by jakeliefer / CC2.0

Amsterdam Bike Lanes. Image by jakeliefer / CC2.0


For the transportation in Amsterdam I would suggest renting a bike or using the extensive network of trams.

There are plenty of places to see in Amsterdam but here are my favourite spots:

Museumplein – the square of the museums is located right at the foot of such famous museums ar Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. Rijksmuseum is all about the Dutch history and art while Van Gogh museums speaks for itself. Both museums are great and I would advise the see them both if you have enough spare time.

Museumplein. Image by daryl_mitchell / CC2.0

Museumplein. Image by daryl_mitchell / CC2.0


I like the Leidseplein and the small square right in front of Hard Rock Cafe. You can see people playing human sized chess in the square. There are plenty of tasty and affordable eateries in the surroundings of the Leidseplein.
Leidseplein. Image by daryl_mitchell / CC2.0

Leidseplein. Image by daryl_mitchell / CC2.0


I also like walking the Leidsestraat. It’s a popular touristic street with chain cafe’s and restaurants, it takes you through the canals so that you can observe the beauty of Amsterdam and it also leads you to the Bloemenmarkt (flower market in Dutch). Apart from the flowers, you can also buy tulip bulbs and other flower seeds to grow them at home, which could be an interesting idea for a souvenir.

You should also check De Dam square and walk the Nieuwendijk street if you’d like to do some shopping or visit Madame Tussauds wax museum.

De Dam Square. Image by keriluamox / CC2.0

De Dam Square. Image by keriluamox / CC2.0

Go to see Rembrandtplein for some nice bars and a great nightclub – Escape

For the beer lovers – you can either visit the Heineken experience to learn about Heineken Group and its breweries, however my personal advice is to skip this tourist attraction and head to small but also popular breweries. My absolute favourites are Brouwerij ‘t IJ and Brouwerij Troost. The first one is an old brewery with tile walls and a windmill outside the building. The latter one is a new brewery with modern design bar and great snacks such as sausages and pickles.

Food is great in Amsterdam, but there are some places that I really like. For example, I would recommend eating at Cafe de Klos. You will probably have to make a reservation in advance or wait for your table up to 40 minutes, but it is well worth the wait. You can get huge portions of delicious meat with great sides and luscious beers. Alternatively head to Los Argentinos grill restaurant by the Leidseplein for affordable steaks.

And now for the fun part! Amsterdam is well known among the tourists for legal drugs and prostitution.

To smoke marijuana you should go to coffee shops instead of buying the pot from the dealers on the street. Buying on the street is illegal and can get you arrested. When smoking, pace yourself, be careful, have a bottle of water and some sweets with you. I would suggest avoiding the “space muffins” as their effect could be very strong and persist for a long time before the muffins are completely digested in your stomach. For the coffee shops I would suggest Rusland (the first coffeeshop in Amsterdam) and Happy Feelings coffee shop.

Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and you can observe it at any time of the day in the District of the Red Lights. Ladies (and not only ladies) are standing in the glass showcases enticing people to come in. Be aware of the “no photo” signs everywhere. You’d better obey the rules as the girls will chase you if you will try to take pictures of them.

Apart from prostitution you can visit a real life sex theater or a peep show in the Red Light District, go to a Sex Museum just next to the Amsterdam central station or just head to one of the many sex shops around Amsterdam.

Red Light District. Image by  mattmangum / CC2.0

Red Light District. Image by mattmangum / CC2.0


Nightlife in Amsterdam is abundant. You will find numerous bars and clubs all around the city. There are also several large dance events held in Amsterdam throughout the year, e.g. Sensation in July or Amsterdam Dance Event in October. After all, it’s the home for the world famous Dutch dance music!

In general, you can manage to see Amsterdam in two days if you do sightseeing and visit a couple of museums. Of course, there are plenty of other things to do in Amsterdam and you could spend a whole week here. For example, you could attend Ajax game in Amsterdam Arena, take a boat tour on the Amsterdam canals, visit Amsterdam Zoo and so on. It all depends on your timeline and budget.

For accommodation I would recommend staying in NH Amsterdam Museum Quarter as it is affordable, perfectly located hotel with the great canal view from the room balconies. You can check for other hotel options depending on your preference and budget on Booking.com.

Keukenhof

To continue your Dutch journey I would suggest going to Keukenhof gardens. You can reach Keukenhof by car or by bus from Schiphol, Leiden or Haarlem. The gardens are only open from late March till mid-May from 8:00 till 19:30. Ticket costs 16 EUR.

Keukenhof is probably the most beautiful spring garden in the world proudly having 32ha of blooming flowers of different kind. It’s not just about the flowers because every year the park names a theme and sticks to it in composition of flowers. 2015 is the year of Vincent van Gogh and I bet it’s going to be exciting to see famous van Gogh paintings made of the blooming tulips. Some of the previous themes were – Holland, From Russia with Love, Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers and so forth.

I would suggest to schedule the optimal 4 hours for the Keukenhof visit.

Keukenhof. Image by *S A N D E E P* / CC2.0

Keukenhof. Image by *S A N D E E P* / CC2.0

The Hague

This is the governmental capital of The Netherlands as all of the governmental institutions including the parliament are situated here. It’s also the home of Hague Tribunal – the court of the United Nations.

The Hague Skyline. Image by Christopher A. Dominic /  CC2.0

The Hague Skyline. Image by Christopher A. Dominic / CC2.0


Apart for being an important political landmark it’s also a beautiful city by the North sea with great parks, cosy streets, and a nice beach.

You can get to Den Haag (name in Dutch) by car or by train. I would suggest walking from the central station or from the station Den Haag HS towards the sea. It’s quite a long walk, but you will get to see the city.

First I would go see the Binnenhof – the old gothic castle with serves the the political center of Holland. It is beautiful to go inside the Binnenhof yard as well as to observe from the lake in front of the castle.

Next I would head to International Court of Justice or the Peace Palace on the Carnegieplein, the main court of United Nations established in 1945.

Court Building The Hague. Image by Luke,Ma / CC2.0

Court Building The Hague. Image by Luke,Ma / CC2.0


On your way towards the sea you could check Madurodam, which is a park with miniature model of a Dutch city.

The Hague beach is quite wide and has numerous cafe’s working during the summer. You should also visit the Scheveningse Pier if it is still open. I heard that it was closed in 2013 after a fire, but could not find an information whether it’s open for general public now. It’s an old pier built in 1959 having some shops inside, a restaurant, a tower for bungee jumping and of course a great view of The Hague coastline. In summer you can also do sunbathing and swimming on the beach.

Den Haag Beach. Image by Rene Mensen / CC2.0

Den Haag Beach. Image by Rene Mensen / CC2.0


I would bet that you would require at least 3-4 hours to visit Den Haag, therefore I would combine the visit to Keukenhof and Den Haag in one day and stay here for the night.

I would recommend staying in ‘t Goude Hooft ($$$), Novotel Den Haag City Centre ($$) or easyHotel Den Haag ($)

Delft

It’s a small typical Dutch city build on the canals. It’s well known for its blue pottery and the two churches – an old one and a new one. The old church – Oude Kerk leans a bit from the vertical and sometimes it appears that it will drop. The old church was built in 13th century.

The new church – Nieuwe Kerk was built in the late 15th century and is situated on the square right in front of Delft city hall.

Delft City Hall. Image by bertknot / CC2.0

Delft City Hall. Image by bertknot / CC2.0


You can visit both churches but the best part is that you can climb to an observation deck of the new church. The worst part of it is that you will have to climb 376 steps, which is 85m in height as there is no elevator. Please do not overestimate your ability as the climb is quite difficult, but it’s well worth it. You get an astonishing view of the Delft and surroundings from the observation deck. This place is definitely worth the climb and the visit to Delft.
Delft View from the New Church. Image by Debarshi Ray / CC2.0

Delft View from the New Church. Image by Debarshi Ray / CC2.0


The best Delft souvenir would be the blue pottery (Delftware) which was historically made in Delft from 16th century.

I would plan 2-3 hours for a visit to Delft.

Rotterdam

Rotterdam was ruined after the WWII bombing but was rebuilt once again. Today it features one of the busiest seaports in the world, modern architecture and a busy lifestyle. It is also the home for the largest university in The Netherlands – Erasmums University Rotterdam.

I would suggest visiting the Cubic Houses and the newly built Market Hall nearby. It’s an arch shaped building having the market below it and apartments in the building itself.

Cubic Houses. Image by bertknot / CC2.0

Cubic Houses. Image by bertknot / CC2.0


I would also check the Erasmusbrug – the large white bridge held by cables. It’s also a bascule bridge, meaning that a part of the bridge raises for a tall ship to pass it by.
Erasmus Bridge. Image by zoetnet / CC2.0

Erasmus Bridge. Image by zoetnet / CC2.0


I really like the Port of Rotterdam and the New York Hotel which is located by the foot of the Erasmusbrug.

Apart from that I would suggest visiting the Stadhuis (the city hall), Stadhuisplein and Lijnbaan and Witte de Withstraat streets. On the latter street you will find a great bar often visited by locals – De Witte Aap (The White Monkey).

Finally, I really like the Kralingse park, with a lake, nice restaurants around it, windmills, a beach, and an amazing view of the city skyline. I did my running trainings in the park while living in Rotterdam and I would really like to come back to the park.

Kralingse Park. Image by Wilco Schippers / CC2.0

Kralingse Park. Image by Wilco Schippers / CC2.0


I would suggest that a day would be enough to see rotterdam.

To stay for the night you could consider the following hotels: Mainport Design Hotel ($$$), Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre ($$), easyHotel Rotterdam Centre ($)

Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a village known for having 19 windmills that were built to drain the floods in the area. Nowadays the village is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Kinderdijk Windmills. Image by Zhenzation / CC2.0

Kinderdijk Windmills. Image by Zhenzation / CC2.0


You can get to Kinderdijk by car or by taking a ferry from Rotterdam that goes from the Erasmusbrug to the Alblasserdam which is approximately a 30 minute walk from the park.

You can visit the Windmill Museums to learn how a windmill works or just walk around the park and enjoy the scenery.

I would suggest taking some food with you and making a picnic. Keep also in mind that it’s quite windy there (otherwise they wouldn’t put windmills there :), so better wear layers to keep yourself warm.

And oh, if you see a goose right by the entrance to the park – say hi from me ;)

Final Words

The Netherlands is a truly amazing country with amazing sceneries and fascinating history. It also differs from rest of the Europe with its unique architecture, unique way of living and liberal views. Probably it’s the reason why it attracts so many tourists.

I hope this guide will be useful for people planning a visit to Holland and I hope you will like The Netherlands the way I do!

Check out other destinations on the Trip.Center Blogs and stay tuned for more posts!