The Netherlands is a small but populous country in western Europe. It covers an area of 41,865 km2 (16,164 sq mi) with a population of over 17 million people. Almost a third of the Netherlands is situated below sea level. The lowest point is 6,76 meters (22 feet) below sea level.
The Netherlands is known for its capital Amsterdam, having more bikes than people, windmills, clogs, tulips, and of course, its liberal laws when it comes to soft drugs. It’s also known for being home to some of the best electronic music festivals in Europe and the festivities around King’s day.
The city of Amsterdam is without a doubt the country’s top attraction. Before the corona pandemic hit, the city welcomed approximately 22 million tourists. Visitors from all around the world flock to see the beautiful city with its canals, centuries-old houses, world-class museums, and its infamous Red Light District and Coffee shops.
It’s the country’s cultural and financial hub with a vibrant expat and student community. You can easily spend a week here and not be bored so plan enough time to enjoy everything the city has to offer if you are planning a visit.
The Red Light District
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is also called De Wallen in Dutch. This area is the oldest part of the city and is most known for its collection of coffee shops and prostitution. However, it also offers other late-night pursuits such as strip clubs, sex shows, sex theaters, and peep shows.
The area isn’t dangerous, and you can walk around here even if you aren’t planning on indulging in its most famous activities. Instead, you can opt for a bit more a cultural activity by visiting the Museum of Prostitution, the Museum of Cannabis, or the Museum of Erotism.
Coffee is one of the last things you may buy if you visit a coffee shop in the Netherlands. Here, coffee shops refer to alcohol-free establishments where you can purchase and use cannabis (weed, hash, marijuana).
Shops usually have a menu that you can order from. The menu lists the type of cannabis, the flavor, and how strong it is. You can also buy space cakes from most coffee shops. These are usually different types of cakes and brownies baked with cannabis.
In some cities, only Dutch residents are allowed to buy cannabis, but in Amsterdam, tourists are free to purchase cannabis.
Anne Frank Museum
One of the most famous museums in the country, the Anne Frank house, is the house where Anne and her family hid for more than two years in a secret annex at Prinsengracht 263. The rooms are all empty except for documents and the belongings of the eight people that hid there.
This is an extremely popular museum, so you need to plan ahead by purchasing a ticket online in advance to secure a time slot.
Amsterdam is famous for its beautiful canals, most of which were built in the 17th century. There are more than 60 canals in the city, and combined they are over 100 kilometers long (60 miles). Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North thanks to its picturesque canals and many bridges. The city has over 1700 bridges, that’s 1300 more than Venice has!
The best way to explore the canals is by taking one of the many cruises on offer. Here you’ll see that many people actually live on the canals in one of the 3000 or so houseboats in the city.
Thanks to the country’s flat terrain, cycling everywhere is easy to do. However, more than just having an ideal terrain for cycling, the infrastructure in the country is built around cyclists as it’s often the primary means of transport for people.
In large cities, cycling somewhere is often much quicker than driving. There are more than 22.9 million bicycles in the Netherlands, including 2.4 million electric bicycles. This means that there are significantly more bikes than people in the country, as the population is around 17 million. Still, about one million bicycles are sold annually in the country.
If you only have time to visit one museum in the country, it has to be the Rijksmuseum. It opened its doors more than 200 years ago, and it’s still the country’s top museum today. The museum is housed in a stunning building and has more than 8000 objects spread out over 80 galleries.
The museum’s permanent exhibition tells the story of Dutch art over the past 800 years, from the Middle Ages to Mondrian. In addition to this, there are always excellent temporary exhibitions on. Some of the most famous works that call the Rijksmuseum home are Rembrandt’s Night Watch and The Milkmaid by Vermeer.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has the world’s most extensive collection of works by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). In addition to over 200 paintings by van Gogh, the permanent collection includes 500 drawings and over 750 letters. Other museum exhibitions focus on art history from the 19th century.
The building is located on Museumplein, where you’ll find the city’s most well-known museums. The square is filled with little food stalls and locals relaxing on the grass. During the festive season, you’ll find a Christmas market and temporary ice rink here.
Rotterdam is home to Europe’s largest port as well as being known for its daring architecture. While the city was founded in the mid-13th century, it has a very modern feel. This is partly due to the fact that German bombers almost wiped it out during the Second World War. As a result, when it was rebuilt, it looked completely different than most old European cities.
When visiting, look for the famous Cube Houses, one of the city’s iconic landmarks. Other architectural wonders include the city’s train station known as ‘the shark’s mouth’ and the Erasmus Bridge.
The Hague is the third-largest city in the Netherlands and home to the seat of government and the Royal Family. It’s also known as being the global home of Peace and Justice due to the institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and other institutions.
The Hague is also the gateway to the popular resort town of Scheveningen. It used to be an old sleepy fishing village that’s been completely transformed. In the summer, locals from all over the country flock to the big sandy beach to enjoy the watersports and seaside restaurants.
Many people refer to Keukenhof as the Garden of Europe as it is the world’s largest flower garden. Keukenhof Park covers an area of 32 hectares, where approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted every year.
If you would like to see this paradise of flowers, you need to plan your trip around its opening times between March and May. It’s only in this season that all the flowers are in full bloom. It’s relatively close to Amsterdam, but the best way to get there is by booking a tour that departs from Amsterdam Central Station.
Windmills at Kinderdijk
The windmills at the village of Kinderdijk are one of the country’s top attractions. There are 19 windmills built around 1740 as part of a larger water management system to prevent floods. You can walk around these windmills and even go into some to get an understanding of how the Dutch have been controlling water for over 1000 years.
In 1997 UNESCO declared the windmills a World Heritage Site. When you visit Kinderdijk, you should definitely pop into the three Museummolens (museum mills) and watch the multiscreen movie at the ‘Hulpgemaal De Fabriek’ (auxiliary pumping station).
King’s Day (formerly known as Queen’s Day) is celebrated every 27 April and is one of the most colorful festivals in The Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam. If you aren’t a fan of massive crowds, then definitely skip this day. Big festivals are held all over the country on King’s day but also on King’s night.
The royal family bears the name: House of Oranje, which literally translates to the House of Orange. Consequently, orange became the country’s national color. On King’s day, all the festival-goers dress up in orange and even wear orange wigs or make-up.
The Netherlands is one of the top destinations for electronic music in the world, and many of the world’s top DJs hail from this tiny country. Over 1000 festivals are held annually in the country, and about 300 of those in Amsterdam alone.
Most of the festivals are held during the warmer months, but one of the biggest EDM events is held in October. The Amsterdam Dance Event is a five-day electronic music conference and festival held annually in mid-October.
Like windmills, wooden clogs are one of the most typical things associated with the Netherlands. The country has been famous for making these wooden shoes since the 13th century.
You might be disappointed to find out that the only clogs you encounter in the cities are little keychain souvenirs. However, if you travel to rural parts of the country, you might still find farmers wearing this traditional footwear.
If you are traveling to Volendam and Zaanse Schans, you might spot a few local craftsmen that still carve these clogs in the traditional way.
Delft Blue Pottery
You might have seen plates or other pottery in blue and white with distinct patterns. Those pottery pieces are known as Delftware, Delft pottery, or Delft Blue. It’s now a general term for Dutch tin-glazed earthenware usually made in the typical blue and white color.
The name comes from the city of Delft, which used to be the major center of production in the country. Unfortunately, only one producer remained of the estimated 32 manufacturers in the area in the 17th century. Fortunately, you can visit this manufacturer, De Porcelyne Fles, to get a behind-the-scenes look at how this pottery is produced.
The Netherlands has produced some of the world’s most famous artists. Not only van Vincent van Gogh, but Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jheronimus Bosch and many others.
Not only can you admire their work in the many museums the country has to offer, but you can see the homes and studios where they spent their lives. So, for example, you can visit Rembrandt’s house in Amsterdam or Vermeer’s studio in Delft.
In Vermeer’s studio, you get to see all of his paintings (reproductions), discover more about his life, experience his working method and even learn more about hidden references in his paintings. An art lover’s dream!
Dutch cheese is renowned all around the world. Head to the cities of Alkmaar, Gouda, Woerden, Hoorn, and Edam to see traditional cheese markets during the spring and summer months. There is even a cheese museum in Alkmaar for those that really want to learn all about the intricacies of cheese production.
Escher in the Palace
Escher in the Palace is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Dutch world-famous, imaginative artist M.C. Escher. The exhibition is held in a beautiful building that used to be a royal palace.
Highlights include approximately 150 lithographs and original prints illustrating his most popular and well-known work. The second floor of the building is especially spectacular. It’s built to be an interactive and optical illusion experience with the goal of letting the visitor see “through Escher’s eyes.”
Stroopwafels are one of the most typical local sweet treats. It consists of two thin round waffle cookies stuck together with caramel filling. There are stalls at markets or even some specialized shops dedicated to stroopwafels in cities like Amsterdam where you can get them fresh. However, you can also buy them at supermarkets.