Stroopwafels, Sinterklaus and Stinky Cheese – 25 Things to Do in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a small country with a lot to offer. Bordered by Germany, Belgium and the North Sea, it is predominantly flat with 25% of the country sitting below sea level, making it the lowest country in Europe. With direct flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from 326 destinations and an awesome bus & rail network, getting there is super easy too. A country that has everything from great food to world class museums, big cities to peaceful countryside. As of 2017, it was ranked in the top 20 safest countries in the world by the World Economic Forum, making it the perfect destination for solo travellers, couples and everyone in between. From sampling regional cheeses, scoffing on Stroopwafels and celebrating Sinterklaus, here are 25 things to do in Holland.
1. Explore Groningen
This city’s catchphrase “Er gaat niets boven Groningen” (nothing tops Groningen) is not only a nod to how great it is, but also its physical location. Sitting right at the top of the country, about 2.5 hours by train from Amsterdam, Groningen is a vibrant city with a large student population (1 in 5 residents of Groningen is a student).
Groningen is easily reachable in a day trip from Amsterdam and you can cover most of the city in a short amount of time. Start by exploring the meandering pathways, ponds and fountains of Nooderplantsoen (North Park), climb the tower in the city centre, shop the weekend markets in the main square (Grote Markt) or have a drink in De Drie Gezusters, Europe’s largest bar complete with revolving floor.
2. Celebrate Kings Day
On the 27th April the country comes alive to celebrate King’s Day, making it the ultimate time to visit. The day marks the birth of King Willem-Alexander and Dutch people and tourists alike flock to the streets to celebrate. Dress head to toe in orange (the national colour) and enjoy platefuls of great food and lots of drink.
3. Wave Hello To Sinterklaus
If visiting in Spring/Summer isn’t an option for you, be sure to time your winter break with the day of Sinterklaas on December 5th. On this day, Dutch people celebrate the beginning of the festive season by giving each other gifts and writing poems. Traditionally, children will leave out a shoe the night before and wake up to a gift the next morning. Visiting The Netherlands on December 5th is the perfect chance to catch Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) riding a sleigh accompanied by carol singers and excited children – even the biggest Scrooge will feel festive. Make sure you also try some traditional pepernoten ginger biscuits, the heavily spiced biscuits are delicious incredibly moorish.
4. Eat Stroopwafels
You may think that you’ve tried stroopwafels before, but you haven’t really tried them until you’ve had them in The Netherlands. This circular wafer/caramel delight originated in Gouda and is now internationally known. To get the full, authentic Stroopwafel experience, place one over your cup of tea or coffee for a few minutes before eating it. The heat would have softened the caramel making the centre gooey. Be sure to cram as many packets possible into your bags to bring back home…
5. Cycle the Countryside
With more bikes than people and 35,000km of cycle tracks, have you really been to The Netherlands if you didn’t ride a bike? Bike rental shops can be found in every city, but if cycling among the commuters, busy junctions & vehicles in the city is a bit intimidating, consider taking a ride through some of the beautiful Dutch countryside.
The entire country’s bike paths are built on a grid of approximately 50 numbered cycle loops. Grab a map (or download one for free online) and customise the ideal route for your location and desired length.
6. Take a Train Trip
Rail travel in The Netherlands is incredibly reliable and convenient, right from the moment you fly into Schiphol Airport and can board a train 30 seconds from baggage collection. Due to its compact size, you can easily choose one city as a base and explore multiple destinations as day trips to avoid carrying your luggage around or checking in & out of hostels.
Try combining Gouda & Delft or Rotterdam & The Hague and enjoy the efficient and comfortable journey, while taking in the picturesque, tulip-filled Dutch countryside en route.
Top Tip: Look out for the deals in Albert Hein supermarkets, as a few times a year all day unlimited rail passes are sold at discounted rates.
7. Visit Anne Frank’s House
Her name & diary are recognised globally, but to truly understand the world of Anne Frank and her family’s story you have to visit the house in which she hid for two years. Based in Amsterdam, the tour is an absolute must to understand the scale and intensity of the situation in the country and Europe during World War II. Even if you haven’t read the book, the artefacts and stories told within the house/museum will take your breath away.
To make the most of your day in Amsterdam and to avoid the lengthy queues, book a slot online in advance and walk right up to the door when it’s your time to enter.
8. Join a Walking Tour
A great way to save money is to look for a walking tour. The Netherlands is rich with history and has many interesting buildings to be explored, and taking a tour gives you a better understanding of the stories behind them. Walking tours are the best way to discover a new city and get orientated with how everything fits together, particularly if you are short of time. There are free walking tours in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Leiden, Rotterdam and The Hague to name a few. Check online before you visit to find the exact meeting point & times for the day of your visit.
9. Catch a Canal Tour
Not just reserved for Amsterdam, canal tours are an awesome way to see the city from a different perspective. The Netherlands sit below sea level and by taking a canal tour you can learn a lot about its infrastructure and the fascinating engineering that has prevented Dutch cities from flooding for so many years.
Get the best of both worlds by purchasing a hop on hop off ticket in Amsterdam and enjoy a canal cruise throughout your day as you travel between the top sights of the city.
10. Frolic in the Tulip Fields
One of the most iconic symbols of Holland is the tulips. Visit in April to see the tulip fields in their full rainbow coloured glory. Tulips can be found growing naturally in many districts in the country, but The Keukenhof Garden is the world’s biggest flower exhibition. With over 7 million tulips in over 500 varieties, it’s a sight not to be missed. You can cycle here from Amsterdam or The Hague (2 hours) or Leiden (1 hour), or if you have a car it’s an easy 40 minute drive from Amsterdam. So, get snap happy and capture the breath-taking beauty of this Dutch flower.
11. Climb inside a Windmill
Stumble upon towering windmills (about as Dutch as clogs) while cycling through the countryside. Zaanse Schans is a Dutch village full of traditional wooden houses, a bakery and 5 working windmills. Situated a 1 hour cycle from Amsterdam or Haarlem, it’s a picturesque day trip and a taste of traditional Dutch culture. Although historically a working industrial area, the village now caters primarily to tourists, with gift shops, museums and workshops offering an insight into how things ran in the 18th and 19th centuries.
12. Explore a Hidden Island
The Netherlands is not primarily known for its beaches, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a visit. At the very north of the country (yes, even above Groningen) the island of Schiermonnikoog is a mystical place. The national park in the province of Friesland has a population of under 1000 people and is a perfect escape for anyone who loves peace, quiet and wide-open spaces. The island is a mixture of grass lands, creeks, beaches and sand dunes and is best explored by bike or on foot.
13. Pull Pints at Heineken Brewery
Pull a pint of the world’s most popular beer. The Heineken factory based in Amsterdam opened in 2001 to give visitors a chance to go behind the scenes at the famous brewery. Explore the brewery, hear the history, see old advertisements and try your hand at getting the perfect (beer) head, before enjoying a complimentary pint in the bar.
14. Go Ice Skating
Get to know your hostel buddies by taking them ice skating – it’s a great way to break the ice! When the ponds and canals freeze over, children and adults simply pick up their skates and head onto the ice. Pick up some second-hand skates from a local charity shop or rent them in some of the larger cities. In Amsterdam, even when it’s not cold enough for the water to freeze, there is a large ice rink to be enjoyed in the square outside the Van Gogh Museum.
15. Be in 3 Countries at the Same Time
Yes, really! Het Drielandenpunt, ‘The Tripoint’ in the very south of The Netherlands is a place where three borders intersect (Germany, The Netherlands & Belgium). This is the highest point in The Netherlands and offers some wonderful countryside views. If you’re staying in Maastricht it’s a 2 hour cycle each way, meaning you can make a day trip of the visit. There’s a maze to explore and a restaurant to get some food. But mostly, it’s just kinda cool to say you’re in three countries at once!
16. Have a
Night Day at the Museum
The Netherlands has a vibrant history when it comes to art and culture, and the numerous museums across the country are testament to that. Depending on your taste and the cities you visit you’re guaranteed to find something to suit your interests. Amsterdam is home to the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh creations in the world (The Van Gogh museum), Utrecht has a fascinating Railway museum, The Open-Air Museum in Arnhem is a 44-hectare park featuring homes from throughout Dutch history, and of course there is the renowned Sex Museum in Amsterdam, which is a fun visit but perhaps not one to do with the ‘rents…
17. Seek Justice in The Hague
The original capital of The Netherlands and coined as the “International City of Peace and Justice,” Den Haag (The Hague) has a unique air of elegance that sets it apart from the others. The buildings are grand, the streets are wide and lined with trees and the atmosphere is one of importance and sophistication. Home to the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, The Dutch Royal Family and many foreign embassies and mansions, The Hague is a fascinating place for a healthy dose of culture.
18. Meander in Amsterdam
As previously alluded to in other parts of the list, no trip to The Netherlands is complete without visiting Amsterdam. A city you can never get bored in; wander along the scenic canals, explore some of the 100+ museums and galleries, take a walk through the infamous red-light district or pose by the huge Amsterdam sign. Not to mention the lively nightlife which sees groups flocking from all over Europe ready for a crazy night. If wild nights out aren’t your thing, do not fear, the city is lined with cosy bars and restaurants too so there is something for everyone.
Amsterdam is well connected to the whole of The Netherlands and fairly central, which makes it the perfect base for day trips to many of the other sights on the list too.
19. Eat Gouda in Gouda
Say CHEESE. Seriously though, the cheese in The Netherlands is SO GOOD they named an entire city after it! Just kidding… the city came first, but it is good cheese. A day trip to Gouda’s cheese market (Thursday mornings, April – August) is like taking a step back in time. The market still honours many of the city’s old traditions, such as when cheese was rolled in on carts and sold through bartering and negotiating. Even if you can’t time your visit to see the market, there are still an abundance of cheese shops, many offering free samples to taste, and The Goudse Waag (cheese museum) which is open throughout the year.
20. Celebrate the Pride Parade
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. The open and accepting culture of the Dutch people makes their Pride celebrations a must if your visit in the early August (dates vary each year). The event is one of the biggest in the Pride calendar around the world and there is a week ‘s worth of events to get involved in. In true Amsterdam fashion, the Pride parade happens on the water, with 80+ canal boats decorated in rainbow flags winding through the streets and crowds lining the water on either side to cheer them along. Expect the party to continue after the parade throughout the city and into the small hours of the night.
21. Shop the Christmas Markets
Just like it’s German neighbour, The Netherlands comes alive during the festive season. Christmas Markets spring up in town squares, fairy lights twinkle from shop windows and Christmas trees light up the streets. In Maastricht, the festivities last a full month, Vrijthof square fills up with stalls selling locally made food and handcrafted items and there is an ice rink and big wheel to ride too.
22. Enjoy Rooftop Views
Sssh, this is Amsterdam’s best kept secret. Head to the top floor of Amsterdam’s Central Library for panoramic views of the city. If the weather permits, there’s also a café up there to enjoy a coffee and some traditional Dutch Apple pie. The Library is open to visitors, so if you’re a bookworm at heart and travelling has you seeking a calmer day, you can also find a corner of the fascinating building and curl up with your favourite read for a few hours too.
23. See The Country in Miniature
In Den Haag (only 40 minutes’ drive from Amsterdam) is the fascinating world of Madurodam. This park features to-scale detailed replicas of Dutch cities and buildings. You can ride the train through time, seeing how the country looked at various moments in history, explore Amsterdam in miniature or marvel over the intricate models of the airplanes in mini-Schiphol!
24. Picnic in the Park
In a country that excels in beautiful parks, exquisite cheese and fresh bread, why not combine all three and have a chill day out on a budget at one of The Netherland’s wonderful parks. Save money by picking up supplies in a local supermarket in advance and making up sandwiches in your hostel’s kitchen the night before. Whether it’s Roel Langerakpark in Rotterdam, Westduinpark (by the beach) in The Hague or Stadspark Maastricht, there’s a perfect picnic spot on your doorstep no matter where you are in the country.
25. Get your Thrills at Walibi Holland
For the more adventurous out there, head to Walibi Holland (formerly known as Six Flags) for a day of rollercoasters and attractions at the country’s largest amusement park. Travel 0 to 90km in 3 seconds on Xpress, get airtime on Lost Gravity or ride 5 loops on Condor.
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