Netherlands

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The Netherlands is a charming little country in the low-lying river delta of northwestern Europe. Its landscape of famously flat lands, much of it reclaimed from the sea, is dotted with windmills, blooming tulip fields and picturesque villages. With over 16 million people in an area roughly twice the size of the American state of New Jersey, it's a densely populated country, but even its largest cities have a laid-back atmosphere that make it feel like a big village. After the Eighty Years' War that led to the country's independence from Spain in 1581, the Netherlands became a great naval power and one of the world's most powerful nations in a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. Because of its naval history, this small nation boasts a wealth of cultural heritage visible in many towns across the country. This period also constituted a cultural peak that produced renowned painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Over the course of centuries, the Netherlands has gained a reputation for tolerance and progressivism: the country was the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and Dutch people generally have an open attitude to cannabis and prostitution. As a founding member of the EU and NATO and host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands is at the heart of international cooperation. With its international airport Schiphol and its advanced network of motorways and international high speed train lines, it is easy to reach from all across the globe. Its small size, welcoming attitude and interesting sights make it a unique and easy to discover destination and a great addition to any European trip. (less...) (more...)

Population: 16,805,037 people
Area: 41,543 km2
Highest point: 862 m
Coastline: 451 km
Life expectancy: 81.01 years
GDP per capita: $42,900
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About Netherlands

History

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, 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 Netherland (which at its height extended along the East Coast of today's United States, from Rhode Island to the Eastern Shore of Maryland); the latter was later traded with the British for Suriname in 1667.

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 together with Belgium and Luxembourg under King William I. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. During the liberal revolutions of 1848, a new constitution was adopted and the Netherlands became a constitutional monarchy. The personal union with Luxembourg ended in 1890 as Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.

The Netherlands 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 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.

Climate

The Netherlands has a temperate climate, which generally means that summers are cool and winters mild. Every month of the year has rainfall, with no wet or dry season. The best time to go is from May to September (daily maximum 18/19°C up to 23°C), but April and October can also see mild and sunny weather.

In spring, temperatures vary greatly. Frost can occur until the start of May, but temperatures exceeding 20°C are not uncommon either. The sun shines 4 to 7 hours a day on average, increasing throughout the season. Although spring is the driest season (and April is the driest month), always prepare yourself for some rain.

In summer, the temperature rises generally to above 20°C and frequently to 25°C. Colder weather is mostly combined with rain. Temperatures in excess of 30°C are not unknown, and occur for a few days most summers. A heat wave usually ends with a thunderstorm. The sun shines 7 hours a day on average.

In autumn, temperatures decrease, but in September and October, the temperature is still a pleasant 15-19°C, sometimes exceeding 25°C in September. Rain is abundant, and the number of sunshine hours decrease markedly. In November, frost is more common and temperatures at daytime fluctuates around 9°C, but freezing daytimes and snow are not unheard of. Autumn mornings are quite foggy.

In Winter, temperatures are around 0-6°C most of the time, although frosty periods occur each winter, generally down to -5°C, but frosts of -10°C are common too. Precipitation is common, although more often in the form of rain rather than snow. Any amount of snowfall generally unfortunately derails public transport.

Ice skating

Whenever it freezes longer than a day, many Dutch people will take their skates out of the closet. The few Dutch who still don't have skates are likely to buy a pair. Soon the whole country's full of skating areas just created on frozen little canals or, when it really freezes hard, on larger water surfaces. It's also common to organize little fields for skating by spraying water over them. Many Dutch like to go on skates as a form of sport. So hard winters offer many ice tours, with the famously severe Frisian Elfstedentocht (eleven town tour or eleven cities tour) as by far the most popular event. Unfortunately it has to freeze real hard for many days to make this national celebration possible.

Geography

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. No matter where you go, you are never far away from civilization. Cities can be crowded especially in the Randstad area, where congestion is a serious problem.

Much of the country is flat and at or below sea level making it an ideal place to cycle. Hills may be found only at Salland, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug the Veluwe and Limburg. To be complete, almost the whole western coast is formed by dunes. The rural countryside is dominated by highly industrialized farming: despite its population density, the Netherlands are one of the largest food exporters in the world.

Though there are some beautiful spots scattered across the country, tourists expecting a countryside full of picturesque villages, tulips and windmills may be a bit disappointed at first sight. The villages, tulips and windmills are there for sure, but sometimes visitors have to search for them (for example, in the Zaanstreek-Waterland) and are aimed mostly at tourists. Often, beautiful places are off the beaten path and know only to the locals. Asking a Dutch person for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise, just visit the official local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV (run partially by volunteers), found in all the cities. On the other hand, tourists who take a bicycle may be surprised by what they might find on the quite lovely cycle paths.

The geography of the Netherlands is dominated by water features. The country is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast has extensive sandy beaches, attracting many visitors from as far afield as Germany.

Since the 17th century, about 20% of the entire country has been reclaimed from the sea, lakes, marshes and swamps.

Activities

One of the most popular activities among the locals is cycling. And for a reason — the Netherlands has about 22,000 km of dedicated bicycle paths, which criss-cross the country with many of them numbered. It's as easy as getting a map, picking a number, and start cycling! Particularly scenic areas well suited for cycling include the Green Heart, Hoge Veluwe National Park, South Limburg, and the Zaanstreek-Waterland. Just be aware that winds can be strong (because of the flat lands), and that winters can be cold and rainy.

The Dutch coastline measures 1,245 km of coastline with many beaches. Popular activities include swimming and sunbathing, but these are mostly restricted to warm summer days. Expect Scheveningen to be extremely crowded when temperatures rise towards tropical levels. More mellow and family friendly beaches include Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, Bergen, and the West Frisian Islands.

Water sports is another activity mostly undertaken by the locals. Lakes can be found in every province, but the Frisian Lakes are outstanding, especially during the annual Sneekweek that starts the boating season. Boating can be done without licence as long as the boat is not longer than 15m and/or faster that 20 km/h. Other lake-rich areas include Wijdemeren, Kaag, and Aalsmeer. Most of these lakes are very calm, with parasailing and rafting impossible.

Music

The Netherlands has long been known for its great musicians and composers, and today is no different, with high-level performances in a wide variety of styles throughout the country. The Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's major symphony orchestra, is considered by many connoisseurs to be one of the best if not the very best in the world.

Festivals

  • Every two years, the country goes football crazy as either the European Championship or the World Cup is held. Complete streets will be decorated with orange flags, the country's national colour. It's not uncommon for literally fifty percent of the population to be watching a game if it's a particularly important one. Often bigger cities will put up large TV screens for the general public, like on the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam. Likewise, cafes and bars are another popular place to watch games.
  • In the Southern Netherlands (North Brabant, Limburg and to a smaller extent also in Twente, Overijssel and the south of Gelderland), the Catholic celebration of Carnival is held since mediaeval times. It occurs immediately before Lent; which is usually during February or March. Parades can be seen almost in any town on Sunday, sometimes also occurring on Monday. Parades can also be held in the evening, usually on Saturdays all the wagons are then lit up by numerous small lights. The other days of the week, many activities can be found ranging from street painting (stoepkrijten) to beer drinking contests. The cities of 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda and Maastricht are advisable for attending Carnival.
  • King's Day (Koningsdag, until 2012 this was Queen's day) is held every year at April 27 all over the country (except if this day is a Sunday, then it will be held at the Saturday before). Every village, town and city, organizes free markets and authentic Dutch games. Nowadays King's day much more becomes a day of festivals and parties. It is advised to wear orange clothing, as most Dutch people walk around in their national colour. An advisable city to attend at this day is Amsterdam, because it's one of the largest events of the year there. In several larger cities (most notably The Hague and Utrecht), the festivities start in the evening of the 29th of April. The Hague even has most of its festivities on the night before.
  • Pinkpop. Is a three-day pop festival every year with Pentecost ("Pinksteren") in Landgraaf, Limburg.
  • Lowlands. Popfestival - every last weekend of August at Biddinghuizen, Flevoland.
  • Summercarnaval. A big parade through the centre of Rotterdam. One of the biggest events in The Netherlands.
  • Heineken Dance Parade. A big dance parade through Rotterdam. Much in the spirit of the popular Love Parade in Germany.
  • Northsea Jazz Festival. Big summer jazz festival, held in the Ahoy stadion, Rotterdam since 2006 as it moved there from The Hague. Around 1,800 jazz, blues, funk, soul, hip Hop, Latin and r&b acts play during this 3 day event.
  • Vierdaagsefeesten. Summer festival in Nijmegen lasting seven days, during the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse, which always starts on the 3rd Tuesday in July. The celebrations though start already the weekend before and over 1 million people attend. During the festival, there is a section for all the top Dutch bands such as Moke and Racoon, De Affaire which is focussed on alternative and rock, The Matrixx which has all your electronic dance music needs, and of course the numerous terraces and bars.
  • Sensation - (Formerly known as 'Sensation White') One of the best-known parties in the world organized by ID&T.[20] 40,000 people all dressed in white gather to hear some big and upcoming house music DJs. Tickets usually sell out very fast. Several international editions are being organized several times a year around the world with the main concert being held in Amsterdam ArenA every summer. Sensation Black (with hardstyle music) was previously hosted annually in the same location but is now being held in Belgium instead.
  • Dance Valley. The largest dance festival, with over 40,000 visitors. Annually mid July in park Spaarnwoude, near Schiphol Airport. The focus is on celebrating summer, and has circus tents in which every tent is a different genre in dance music.
  • Mystery Land. Dance festival with a flower-power theme. In the last week of August near Schiphol Airport. Most dance genres are present, including even electro. Also has activities such as workshops and theatre, which are usually uncommon with dance festivals.
  • Defqon.1. Dance festival focussing on the harder dance styles, such as hardstyle and hardcore. Residing in Flevoland, usually in mid June, but in 2009 is held in mid September.

Food

Dutch cuisine

The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, as it is simple and straightforward. A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. The country's food culture is best described as rustic. High in carbohydrates and fat, the country's food culture reflects the dietary need of farm laborers, but as society moved on to work in the services sector, its food culture has remained largely the same. The Dutch national dish is stamppot, potatoes mashed with one or several vegetables. The variety with endive and bacon is considered the most traditional. Hutspot is a variety with carrots and onions.

Dutch cuisine differs strongly by region. Western cuisine is known for its many dairy products, including prominent cheeses such as Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer and Beemster. Being a coastal region, it has a seafood culture best represented by raw herring (haring), usually served with chopped onion and occasionally plopped into a bun (broodje haring). Northeastern cuisine is oriented on meat due to the relative lack of agriculture in this region. Metworst, a dried sausage, is particularly prized for its strong taste, and Gelderse rookworst, a traditional smoked sausage, became an institution for the country as a whole and is often served together with stamppot.

Southern cuisine is historically influenced by the Dukes of Burgundy, which ruled the Low Countries in the Middle Ages and were renowned for their splendor and great feasts. As such, it is renowned for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes. It is the only Dutch region which developed an haute cuisine that forms the base of most traditional Dutch restaurants. Typical main courses are biefstuk, varkenshaas, and ossenhaas, premium cuts of pork or beef.

Dutch people are generally not proud of their cuisine, but highly praise their specialties and delicious treats. Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet (zoet) or savoury (hartig) come in a variety of tastes, like apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. Poffertjes are small slightly risen pancakes with butter and powdered sugar. Both are served in restaurants specifically dedicated to them. Syrup waffles (stroopwafels), two thin layers with syrup in between, are made fresh on most street markets and specialized stalls.

Sandwiches are consumed for breakfast and lunch. Chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) are sprinkled on top of buttered slices of bread in the morning. Lunch consists of a bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham. Dutch peanut butter is considerably different from the U.S. variety.

Some food traditions are seasonal. Pea soup (erwtensoep) is a winter dish made of green peas and a smoked sausage. It is very hearty and often eaten after ice skating. Oliebollen are traditional Dutch dumplings consumed at New Year's Eve. Asperges flamandes are white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, crumbled hard-boiled eggs and served with boiled new potatoes. Highly seasonal and usually only eaten between spring and summer.

Restaurants

Restaurants in the Netherlands serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Profit is often made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget. Service fees and taxes are included in menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory and seen as a sign of appreciation, not as means to make up a tiny salary. In case you do want to tip, as a rule of thumb rounding up to the next euro is normal or 10 percent. Going to a restaurant is generally seen as a special night out with friends or family, not as a quick way to eat food. As such, dining with Dutch people can take a couple of hours.

Smoking is banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only outside or in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may enter such smoking rooms only in emergency situations.

Dutch food is not widely acclaimed, so most restaurants specialize in foreign cuisines. Every small to medium-sized town has its own Chinees-Indisch restaurant where you can have 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 tastes. These restaurants are widespread due to Dutch colonial ties with Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies). Typical dishes are fried rice (nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafel, which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of these restaurants have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.

The bigger cities have 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. Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinamese and Thai cuisines are also well-represented throughout the country. Most restaurants have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu or can make you one if you ask for it.

Snackbars

In town centres, near public transport stations or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch ex-pats miss them the most when going abroad. Popular chain outlets have giant vending machines attached to their stores (automatiek). Just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.

The most popular snack is French fries, known as patat in most of the country and as friet in the south. The standard way is to order them with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayo is not the same as you'd get in France or most of the rest of the world. It is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. Other options are with tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like tomato ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), speciaal (mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions) and oorlog ("war", a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and cut raw onions).

Other fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well. A croquette (kroket) is a crispy roll filled with ragout. It is served with mustard and can be ordered on bread as well. Famous are the Amsterdam croquettes of Van Dobben and Kwekkeboom. Both companies have their own cafeteria near the Rembrandtplein. A frikandel is a long, skinless and dark-colored sausage, kind of like a minced-meat hot dog. It can be ordered on bread, or speciaal (with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions). A berenklauw ("bear's claw") or berenhap ("bear's snack") is a sliced meatball with fried onion rings on a wooden skewer, often served with peanut sauce. Finally, a kaassoufflé is a cheese snack popular with vegetarians, and can also be served on bread.

Drinks

Coffee and tea

Dutch people are among the largest coffee drinkers in the world, and having a cup is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often "Koffie?". Traditionally the drink is served in small cups (a half mug) with one single cookie. However, some guests are also be treated with one of the country's typical pie-like pastries such as a tompouce, Limburgse vlaai or a piece of Dutch-style apple pie.

Dutch coffee is generally quite strong and heavy on the stomach. If you're from the States or Canada, you can order one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order koffie verkeerd (which means "coffee wrong") you get a cup of more or less half milk and half coffee, like the French 'café au lait' or the Italian 'caffe latte'.

The Dutch drink black tea, and it comes in many different varieties, from traditional to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you're British, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling) water, so you can make your own version. Milk tea is almost unheard of and given only to children.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you after a cold walk. In the summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it's made from powder as opposed to the traditional kind (regular chocolate melted and mixed with hot milk), and doesn't taste that good.

Alcoholic beverages

The legal drinking age in the Netherlands is 16 for beverages with alcohol under 15% (beer, wine, etc.) and 18 for strong alcoholic beverages. The drinking age will be raised to 18 for all alcoholic drinks on January 1, 2014.

The Dutch have a strong beer culture. Heineken is one of the world's most famous beers, but it is just one of many brands in the Netherlands. 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. Heineken or Amstel is served in the western provinces, Bavaria or Dommelsch in Brabant, Brand in Limburg, and Grolsch in Gelderland and Overijssel. Most breweries nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers.

In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch wheat beer (witbier), which is flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known pilsener varieties. Fruit-flavored wheat beers are also available. Dark beers are brewed in monasteries in the south of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg). These traditional beer breweries are excellent beer-related tourist attractions, as are the microbreweries and beer shops in Amsterdam.

Bitters are popular in winter. Dutch gin (jenever or genever) is the predecessor of English gin. It is available in two types, oude (old) and jonge (young), which have nothing to do with aging, just the distillation style. The more traditional "old-fashioned" oude is sweeter and yellowish in color, while jonge is clearer, drier and more akin to English gin.

Beerenburg is made by adding herbs to jenever. It has an alcohol percentage of around 30%. The original Beerenburg was made halfway through the 19th century with a secret mixture of spices of the Amsterdam spice merchant Hendrik Beerenburg, to whom it owes its name. Despite it being "invented" in Amsterdam, it is considered typically Frisian. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter. Orange bitter (Oranjebitter) is drunk only on King's Day (Koningsdag).

Nightlife

Nightlife in the Netherlands is very diverse. Amsterdam is known for its neighbourhood bars, Rotterdam has a clubbing reputation, and Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht have an active student scene. Bars cater to a wide array of music scenes, but dance is the leading style in nightclubs. Entering bars is legally allowed from the age of 16, but many bars and clubs have stricter policies in place and do not allow people under 18 or 21 to enter.

The Netherlands are renowned for their 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, this is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.

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

Hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms, once legal, are officially banned. However, "magic truffles", which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms, are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.

Prostitution is decriminalized, but only for those prostitutes registered at a permitted brothel. Safe sex and use of condoms is common practice, and the prostitute will usually have these available. It is illegal for sex workers to solicit customers on the street. Prostitution is most common in the capital, Amsterdam, with its red-light district, even if tourists only visit as a memento of their trip. In more rural areas, prostitution is almost non-existent.

Shopping

Money

The Netherlands uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries. A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of €100, €200 and €500, due to concerns about counterfeiting and burglary.

Credit and debit cards

Credit card use in general is reasonably common, but not by far as much as in the US or some other European countries. The Dutch themselves often use (debit) bank cards, for which even small shops and market stands usually have a machine. In tourist destinations you will generally find credit cards widely accepted, as well as in larger shops and restaurants in the rest of the country, but ask in advance or check the icons that are usually displayed at the entrance. For safety reasons, credit card use in the Netherlands increasingly requires a PIN-code.

ATMs are readily available, mostly near shopping and nightlife areas. Even villages usually have one or more ATMs near the local supermarket.

Shopping

Shops usually open by 09:00 and they usually close by 17:30 or 18:00. Most shops are closed on Sundays, except at the "koopzondag". "Koopzondag" means the biggest part or all the shops are open. It differs from town to town which Sunday is the "koopzondag". In most towns it is the last or first Sunday in a month. In some cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Breda, Haarlem, and Leiden) the shops are open every Sunday, in most cases they are open from 12:00 until 17:00 or 18:00. Many shops are closed on Monday morning and some companies (for example many bicycle shops) will be closed a whole day next to Sunday. Supermarkets are open from 08:00 until 21:00.

The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers. Besides florists, you can buy them pre-packaged in most supermarkets.

The country is also famous for its wooden shoes (clogs). Nowadays almost no one, except for some farmers in the countryside, wear them. Wearing wooden shoes in public outside the countryside will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals. If you do try them on, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable, and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or on a dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at Schiphol and Amsterdam's Damrak, and instead look for a regular vendor which can usually be found in towns and villages in rural areas. The northern province of Friesland has a lot of stores selling wooden shoes, often adorned with the bright colors of the Frisian flag.

Costs

The Netherlands is generally regarded as expensive (unless you're coming from Scandinavia). Lodging and dining is more expensive than in neighboring countries, but rail travel, museums, and attractions tend to be on the cheaper side. 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. The standard cigarette packages only have 19 cigarettes in them.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Netherlands on Wikivoyage.

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By many considered to be the most beautiful city of the country, Maastricht is the southernmost city in the Netherlands. It's the capital of the province of Limburg and famous for what the Dutch call the "Burgundian" way of life. Dutch and international visitors alike flock in to enjoy this "joie de vie" and ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Basilica of Our Lady
  • Vrijthof
  • St. Janskerk
  • Helpoort
  • Hoge Brug
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Utrecht is a central Dutch city with a long history. With 300,000 inhabitants it’s the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. The history of the city goes back to 47 AD when the Roman emperor Claudius ordered his general Corbulo to build a defensive line along the river Rhine which was the northern most ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Dom Church
  • Town Hall
  • Cathedral of Saint Catherine
  • Dick Bruna House
  • Central Museum
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Breda is a city in the Dutch province of North Brabant. It has a long history as a military stronghold and army base. Still today, important parts of the Dutch military still reside here. The military character is still at the heart of town, as the national Dutch Military Academy resides in the historic ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Grote Markt
  • Begijnhof
  • Waalse Kerk
  • Grote Kerk
  • Breda Castle
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Hoofddorp is a city part of the Haarlemmermeer polder in North Holland, Netherlands. It has 73,000 inhabitants.

Interesting places:

  • Holland Casino Schiphol Airport
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Leiden is a town in the Netherlands. The city is known for its university (the oldest in the country), its beautiful old city centre (the second biggest after Amsterdam) and for being the birthplace of Rembrandt. It is a friendly, small city that has a large population of students.

Interesting places:

  • Waag
  • Stadhuis
  • Burcht
  • Pieterskerk
  • Beestenmarkt
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Groningen is a lively university city in the Northern Netherlands. It's the capital of a province with the same name and home to some 190,000 inhabitants. Its large university with some 50.000 students give the city a pleasant youthful atmosphere and plenty of things to do. Combined with the fine historic ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Martinikerk
  • Grote Markt
  • University of Groningen
  • Universiteitsmuseum
  • Groninger Museum
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Points of Interest in Netherlands

Dutch culture

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.

Kinderdijk boasts a network of 19 windmills, once used to drain the adjoining polder. The Zaanse Schans has windmills as well, and a nice museum with traditional crafts and old Dutch houses on display. Schiedam, world-famous for its jenever, has the tallest windmills in the world, and they're right in its lovely old town centre.

Thinking about the Dutch countryside, you might imagine wide, flat, grasslands with black and white cows. If you do, you're not that far off. A large swathe of the country, especially the western part of it, consist of polders; reclaimed land separated by ditches. These rural areas are dotted with picturesque villages, old farms, impressive summer estates, and of course, windmills; the Zaanstreek-Waterland is especially scenic. For a touch of folklore, see the traditional clothing and fishermen boats in Volendam or Marken.

The Netherlands are a major international player in the flower industry. The tulip fields are seasonal, and are specific to the Bulb Region and some areas in North Holland. They are a lovely Dutch alternative to the lavender fields you could find in France. The famous Keukenhof, the world's largest flower garden, only opens between March and May. It is a great way to see what the Dutch flower industry has to offer.

They make great destinations for a recreational bike trip or can serve as a laid-back base, from where you can explore cities in the area. The rolling hills of South Limburg have characteristic timber-framed houses and a lot of castles. The province of Gelderland combines its many castles (Palace 't Loo in Apeldoorn being the highlight) with the natural scenery of the Veluwe. Don't worry if you're headed elsewhere: you'll find a beautiful countryside in every Dutch province.

Historic cities

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.

Before Amsterdam's rise to fame in the late 16th century, the fortified city of Utrecht was the country's most important town. Much of Utrecht's mediaeval structures remain, with canals flanked by warf-based structures, lots of buildings from the Early Middle Ages and some impressive ancient churches. Maastricht is often claimed as the most beautiful city of the country. It is known for its romantic lanes, ancient monuments, and for what the Dutch call its "Burgundian" atmosphere.

Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the oldest university of the country, is yet another beautiful place with canals, narrow streets, and over 2,700 monuments. The Hague is often called the "judicial capital of the world", as it famously hosts the Peace Palace and many international organisations. It has a spacious layout, with large estates, and the ancient Binnenhof, where the Dutch government had its seat for centuries. Also consider the gorgeous old town centres of Haarlem, Delft, 's-Hertogenbosch, Alkmaar, Gouda and Amersfoort.

Art museums

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. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam also has a huge collection of drawings, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and foreign masters.

The Kröller-Müller Museum is beautifully located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, with the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). Less focused on Dutch art, but with a unique modern collection, is the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. Other cities with notable art museums include Groningen with the Groninger Museum, and Haarlem with the Frans Hals Museum. The newly established Hermitage in Amsterdam has all the grandeur of its big sister in Saint Petersburg, with changing Russia-oriented exhibitions on display.

Living with the water

The Dutch are famous for their struggle with the sea. As a great 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 and the southwestern part of South-Holland. In the following fifty years, the famous Delta Works were constructed to protect the Southwest 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). See for more information [19].

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.

National Monument - Amsterdam

Dom Church - Utrecht

Mauritshuis - The Hague

Erasmus Bridge - Rotterdam

Martinikerk - Groningen

Basilica of Our Lady - Maastricht

Grote Markt - Nijmegen

Waag - Leiden

Nieuwe Kerk - Delft

Markt - Roermond

Keukenhof Gardens - Lisse

Grote Kerk - Haarlem

Museum Henriette Polak - Zutphen

Drommedaris - Enkhuizen

St Joriskerk - Amersfoort

Nieuwmarkt Square - Amsterdam

Amsterdam Museum - Amsterdam

St. Nicholas Church (Sint Nicolaaskerk) - Amsterdam

Red Light District - Amsterdam

The Old Church (Oude Kerk) - Amsterdam

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