Destination The Netherlands

Destination The Netherlands

The Netherlands is marked in orange.

This page is divided into to sections. The first section contains general information about The Netherlands and the secound part contains information about all the cities I have been to.  

General information about The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a country in Europe. bordering Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and France in the Caribbean as the Dutch territory Sint Maarten borders French territory Saint-Martin.

The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".

Once a great naval power, this small nation boasts a wealth of cultural heritage and is famous for its painters, windmills, clogs and notoriously flat lands. A modern European country today, it preserved its highly international character and is known for its liberal mentality. As a founding member of EU and NATO, and host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands is at the heart of international cooperation. Its small size, welcoming attitude to travellers and many sights make it a unique and fairly easy to discover destination and a great addition to any European trip.

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Even though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are quite diverse and have plenty of cultural and linguistic differences. 

The official name of the country is The Netherlands. In the rest of the world, the name Holland is commonly used for the entire country. However, when used correctly, the name Holland only refers to the area covered by the provinces of North and South Holland. This area, which contains the largest cities and largest part of the population, this use is common as well. However, outside of this area, and particularly in the South and North, this use is often considered quite insulting, and the Netherlands is preferred. It would be pretty much the same thing if you  called someone from Scotland English.

The southern part of the country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the Middle Ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centres, and a few castles.

Following the Dutch Revolt, led by national hero William of Orange (Willem van Oranje), the Netherlands became a de facto independent republic in 1572. The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces (including Flanders) signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579. It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Dutch Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw). During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including the Netherlands East Indies (currently Indonesia) and New Amsterdam (currently New York City), which was later traded with the British for Suriname.

In 1805, the country became a kingdom when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. In 1815, it became the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) together with Belgium and Luxembourgunder King William I (Willem I). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxembourg received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, as the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.

Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848 and new adopted Treaty, the Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. In 1944, the Low Countries formed the union of the Benelux in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together. The country was a founding member of NATO in 1949 and the European Community (EC) in 1957, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.

The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal gs (not in the south) and schs (also found, for example, in Arabic). Dutch, especially in written form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages (especially German and Frisian), and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.

Besides Dutch, several other languages are spoken in the Netherlands, in the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe and Gelderland people speak a local variety of Low Saxon (Grunnegs or Tweants for example). In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a language unique in Europe because of its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words (for example: 'Veer' with a high tone means 'we', while the same word with a low tone means 'four').

Officially, the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. Frisian is the second closest living language to English. Despite its status as official language, it is spoken almost exclusively in the province of Friesland. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Friesland you will come across many road signs in two languages (similar to Wales and South Tyrol). This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free.

"They all speak English there" is quite accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages (mostly German and to a lesser degree French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent, and the second most English-proficient country in the world where English isn't official (after Sweden; 90% of the population speaks at least some English). Oblivious travellers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors or finding yourself in a family atmosphere, however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.

In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people (especially amongst the younger generation) can also speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Berber, Sranan-Tongo (Suriname) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).

Foreign television programmes, films and are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. The same is true for segments in locally/nationally-produced programmes that involve someone using a foreign language. The major exception is children's programmes, which are dubbed into Dutch.

For many foreigners, nothing captures the idea of the Netherlands more vividly than windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, and remarkably flat lands. Although some of these characteristics have evolved into stereotypes far off from the daily lives of Dutch people, there's still a lot of truth to them and plenty of authenticity to be found. The Dutch have preserved many elements from this part of their past, both for touristic and for historic reasons.

The Dutch are famous for their struggle with the sea. As a former naval power, the Netherlands owed its 17th century Golden Age to the water, and still depends heavily on it for modern day trade and fisheries, as the massive, modern port of Rotterdam demonstrates. However, with much of the country's land below sea level, the water also caused terrible floods and great losses over centuries.

Dutch attempts to protect their lands with dikes are well recorded from the 12th century, but started around 2,000 years ago. An enormous flood in 1287 created the large Zuiderzee, an inland sea that is now known as the IJsselmeer. From that period onwards, a long process of reclaiming lands lost to the sea began. Windmills and extensive networks of dikes were created to pump out the water, slowly creating the characteristic polders. One of these polders is the Beemster Polder, and when you visit you get a few fortifications of the Defence Line of Amsterdam included as a bonus.

After another devastating flood in 1916, the country started the Zuiderzee Works, a massive undertaking to reclaim and tame the Zuiderzee once and for all. In the 1930s, the impressive Afsluitdijk was finished, which turned the inland sea into a fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer. The Zuiderzee Museum in lovely Enkhuizen is devoted to the cultural heritage and folklore of the region, as well as the maritime history of the Zuiderzee.

Another devastating flood struck the country in 1953, recording 1,836 deaths in the province of Zeeland. In the following fifty years, the famous Delta Works were constructed to protect the south-western portion of the Netherlands from flooding. It can be visited at various visitor centres, the most notable of which is the Neeltje Jans park near the Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier). The American Society of Civil Engineers have recognised the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works collectively as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

The Netherlands is famous for its wooden shoes. However, nowadays almost no one, except for farmers in the countryside, wears them. You could travel through the Netherlands for weeks and find no one using them for footwear. The only place where you'll find them is in tourist shops and large garden stores. Wearing wooden shoes in public will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals.

The Dutch are among the most informal and easy-going people in Europe, and there are not many strict social taboos to speak of. It is unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact it is more likely that visitors themselves will be offended by overly direct conversation. Nevertheless, the standards for overt rudeness and hostility are similar to those in other western European countries. If you feel you are deliberately being treated offensively, then you probably are.

The exception to this openness is personal wealth. It is considered vulgar to for instance reveal the height of your salary, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer. Likewise, it's not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Dutch person you've met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all, and the country has a long, proud history of cultural and religious tolerance. In urban areas it is not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility.

Travel to The Netherlands
The Netherlands has good roads to Belgium and Germany, and ferry links to Great Britain. The country has a dense, well-maintained trunk-road network. Borders are open under the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Cars may be stopped at the border for random checks, but this rarely happens. There are car ferry services from the United Kingdom, see below. As the UK is not part of the Schengen zone, full border checks apply. Visitors from the United Kingdom can also travel by boat.

Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, is a European hub, and after LondonParis, and Frankfurt the largest of Europe. It is by far the biggest international airport in the country, and a point of interest in itself, being 4 metres below mean sea level (the name is derived from "ship hole" since Schiphol is built in a drained lake). Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with the Dutch largest airline KLM 

It is also possible to come to the Netherlands via airports lying in surrounding countries. Much-used airports are Düsseldorf International Airport and Brussels Airport.

(High speed) trains may be the most comfortable mode of transport between major European cities. While some low cost airlines offer cheaper deals, remember that international high speed lines connect city centres, rather than airports that are usually located outside of the city. Also, trains do not require you to be present one hour before departure and can be part of the holiday experience: they allow you to enjoy the landscape, meet new people, have cup of coffee in the board restaurant or bring along a good bottle of wine.

Remember that the cheapest tickets are often sold out early and that reservations are generally possible 3 (normal) to 6 (CityNightLine) months in advance. Bookings can be made via NS Hispeed (Dutch railways) or its German and Belgian counterparts.

Eurolines is the main 'operator' for international coaches to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a common brand-name used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily service, such as from Poland, London, Milan, Brussels and Paris, but this is the cheapest way to travel and you get a discount if you are under 26 of age.

Travelling within The Netherlands
Road rules, markings and signs are similar to other European countries. Urban driving: Urban driving in the Netherlands is considered by many tourists and locals alike to be an exasperating, time consuming and expensive experience. City roads are narrow, riddled with speed bumps, chicanes and a large variety of street furniture (with knee-high, asphalt-coloured anti-parking poles being probably the most dangerous threat to paintwork as they tend to either blend into the background or be beneath the driver's view). 

The Netherlands has a fine-grained, well-organized public transport system. Virtually any village can be reached by public transport. The Dutch public transport system consists of a train network which serves as backbone, extended with a network of both local and regional buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, and AmsterdamRotterdamThe Hague and Utrecht also have trams.

Whenever you're walking through the bigger cities (especially Amsterdam), be aware that cyclists are a serious part of traffic! Be careful when you cross the street and keep clear of the special biking lanes (marked by red asphalt or a bike symbol). What looks like a footpath, especially along a canal bank, may be a bicycle lane. Bicycle lanes are normally marked by red/purple tiles or asphalt, and a bicycle icon on the ground. However, the colour fades over time, so you might miss the difference. Don't expect cyclists to be kind to pedestrians: some consider the pavement to be an extension of the road, to be used whenever it suits them. Never stay or walk on the bicycle path or street for extended periods of time, as you will be greeted only by angry bicycle bell ringing. Keep in mind that for many Amsterdammers, the bicycle is their main form of transport, they are not cycling for fun; but instead, to get to an appointment or their work on time. So be cautious. 

Places to sleep 
In The Netherlands you may sleep in castles. In adition there are many types of tourist accommodation, ranging from hotels and pensions. You may use i.e. hotels.combooking.com or hostelworld.com to find somewhere to sleep. If you want to rent a private home Airbnb.com is somewhere you could check out.

Money and banking
The Nedtehrlands is member of the Eurozone. All major credit cards are widely accepted and you should have no problems to find an AMT. Accommodation and food is on the expensive side. Rail travel, museums, and attractions are relatively cheap. Retail prices for clothing, gifts, etc. are similar to most of Western Europe; consumer electronics are a bit more expensive. Gasoline, tobacco and alcohol are relatively expensive due to excise taxes. however tobacco products can be considered cheap compared to prices paid in the UK. A pack of Marlboro (19 cigarettes) averages about €6,00.

Vaccine and health 
There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. Few drugs are available without a prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.

If you need to seek medical attention of a doctor, be prepared to pay a fee under the table; in Latvia, it is estimated that 1 in 4 doctors take "private donations" to see patients.

Tap water is safe to drink. Purchasing bottled water is an alternative. If you live in another country that is member of the European Union be sure to bring your European Health Insurance Card along with your travel insurance.

Visa 
The Netherlands is a member of the Schengen Agreement and there are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport. 

A Schengen visa is generally not valid for travel to the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands. If you require a visa for that part, you will need to apply for a separate visa valid for that part at your nearest Dutch embassy or consulate.

Crime 
The Netherlands is renowned for its liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because of international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that the action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. This does not mean the Dutch are all permanently high; in fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. Much of the clientèle of the coffeeshops (see below) are in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff. However: it is customary to smoke only inside coffee shops or in private places; using drugs in public streets and being excessively high is considered impolite, so, try to maintain a certain discipline.

If you are 18 or older, you are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (those under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafarian red-yellow-green colours to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view.

The Netherlands is generally considered a safe country. However, be alert in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other large cities that are plagued by pickpockets and bicycle theft, violent crimes are very rare.

Police, ambulance and fire brigade have one general emergency number 112. There is one police force, organized in 25 police regions. Visitors will deal with mostly the regional police. Some specialized forces, such as the railway police and the highway police on main roads, are run by a separate national force (highway police being the KLPD - Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten, and railway police being the spoorwegpolitie). When calling 112, if you can, advise on what emergency services what you need. When you need police but there is no life in danger or crime being executed, you call +31900-8844, with this number they will come quickly but without sirens. If you want to report a crime anonymously (e.g. because you are in fear of reprisals or a confrontation with the perpetrator) you can call +31800-7000.

Netherlandish cuisine and drink 
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. Some of these "typically Dutch" foodstuffs taste significantly different from, but do not necessarily improve upon, specialties from other countries. For example, while Dutch coffee and chocolate can instil feelings of homesickness in expats and might be seen as "soul food", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies. 

A typical Dutch breakfast or lunch is a simple slice of bread or bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham with a glass of milk or a Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed). 

A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side.

As Dutch people usually eat Dutch food at home, most restaurants specialize in something other than local fare. Every medium-sized town has its own Chinese/Indonesian restaurant, often abbreviated as Chin./Ind. restaurant, where you can eat a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. Usually you get a lot of food for a small amount of money. Do not expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine though, the taste has been adapted for Dutch citizens. These restaurants have been influenced by the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) from when they were a colony of the Netherlands. Typical dishes are fried rice (Indonesian: nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rice table (rijsttafel), which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of them have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.

Besides Chinese/Indonesian, the bigger cities offer a good choice of restaurants with Middle Eastern cuisine for a bargain price. Popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called Turkish pizza) and falafel. The Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinam and Thai cuisines are also well-represented in the Netherlands.

Although the Dutch beer "Heineken" is one of the world's most famous beers, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands, and many Dutchmen consider it to be only a second-rate pilsner. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc. There's a certain regional variety in the beers you'll find; whereas, in the Western Netherlands, many pubs serve Heineken or Amstel, pubs in Brabant will generally serve Bavaria or Dommelsch, in Limburg Brand and in Gelderland Grolsch.

In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch white beers (witbier), which are flavoured with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavoured varieties (such as Kriek) are also available.

Traditional beers come from monasteries in the Southern Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the 'Trappistenklooster'. It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it's not so traditional any more.

Cities I have been to in The Netherlands

Amsterdam
The Dutch are among the most informal and easy-going people in Europe, and there are not many strict social taboos to speak of. It is unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact it is more likely that visitors themselves will be offended by overly direct conversation. Nevertheless, the standards for overt rudeness and hostility are similar to those in other western European countries. If you feel you are deliberately being treated offensively, then you probably are.

The exception to this openness is personal wealth. It is considered vulgar to for instance reveal the height of your salary, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer. Likewise, it's not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Dutch person you've met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all, and the country has a long, proud history of cultural and religious tolerance. In urban areas it is not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility.

If you like walking tours Sandemanns New Euope have several tours in Amsterdam. 

Amsterdam's centre is fairly small, and almost abnormally flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot - from the train station, within half an hour.

Wandering through the magnificent city of Amsterdam, with its lovely canals and hundreds of 17th century monuments, is a delightful experience. For most people, a visit to the Netherlands would not be complete without a good day in its bustling capital. Nevertheless, it is only one of many towns in the country that offers a beautiful, historic centre.

Considering its small size, this country has brought forward an impressive number of world-famous painters. Arts and painting flourished in the 17th century, when the Dutch Republic was particularly prosperous, but renowned artists have lived in the country before and after that age as well.

Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael, and Piet Mondriaan are just a few of the Dutch painters whose works now decorate the walls of the world's greatest museums. Fortunately, some of these world-class museums can be found in the Netherlands as well. The Museum Quarter in Amsterdam has the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum right next to each other, all three with excellent collections. 

Amsterdam has one of the most extensive historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of which are attractively floodlit at night.

The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, few buildings from the period have survived. Exceptions are two medieval wooden houses at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. 

Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (e.g. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss are Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.

Street markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialised. A complete list of Amsterdam markets (with opening times and the number of stalls) can be found at online at Amsterdam.info in English.

Destination The Netherlands