The Netherlands (also known as Holland
), a country in northwestern Europe, is known for a flat landscape of canals and cycling routes. Amsterdam, the capital, is home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the house where Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII. Canalside mansions and a trove of works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the city's 17th-century "Golden Age." Tradition and innovation intertwine here: artistic masterpieces, windmills, tulip fields, and candlelit cafes coexist with groundbreaking architecture, cutting-edge design, and phenomenal nightlife.
The legacies of Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Frans Hals, Hieronymus Bosch, Piet Mondrian, and MC Escher hang on the walls of the Netherlands' world-renowned museums, along with contemporary Dutch works. The Dutch influence on construction spans more than a millennia, from Romanesque and Gothic medieval marvels to Dutch Renaissance creations, revolutionary, Golden Age gabled houses, and engineering endeavors including canals, neoclassicism, Berlage and the Amsterdam School, Functionalism, modernism, structuralism, neorationalism, postmodernism, and neomodernism, with trailblazing structures making their mark on the cityscapes. The architecture here will fascinate and awe even the toughest critics.
In addition to architecture, geography also plays a key role in the Netherlands' iconic landscapes. More than half the pancake-flat country is below sea level, and 20% has been reclaimed from the sea, making rows of polders (areas of drained land) omnipresent. Uninterrupted North Sea winds have powered windmills since the 13th century, pumping water over the dykes, and milling flour and more. Some two-thirds of the surface is devoted to agriculture, including fields of tulips. 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. The villages, tulips, and windmills are there for sure, but you just have to find them. 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 authenticities 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 center.
The most beautiful places are most of the times the places known only by the Dutch themselves. Asking a Dutch person for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise, just visit local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV, found in all the larger towns. The geography of the Netherlands is dominated by water features. The country is crisscrossed with rivers, canals, and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast of the Netherlands has one of the most beautiful North Sea beaches that can be found, attracting thousands if not millions of people every year.
The flat, fabulously scenic landscapes make cycling in the Netherlands a pleasure. Cycling is an integral part of life and locals live on their bicycles: more than a quarter of all journeys countrywide are by bike, rising to more than a third in big cities. Experiencing the wind-in-your-hair freedom of cycling is a breeze. Bike-rental outlets are abundant, and the country is crisscrossed with some 32,000km of cycling paths, including the Dutch 'motorways' of cycling, the long-distance routes. Grab some wheels and start exploring.
The Netherlands have a big cafe culture, but it may not be exactly what you're expecting. When the Dutch say cafe they mean a pub, and there are thousands of them. In a country that values socializing and conversation more than drinking, cafes are places for contemplation and camaraderie. Many cafes have outdoor terraces, which are glorious in summer and sometimes covered and heated in winter. Most serve food, from bar snacks to fabulous meals. If you only have one day in Amsterdam
, don't miss out on one of these cafes!
The Netherlands is 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. Another way to see the Dutch proudly present their flowers is by visiting a flower parade, called Bloemencorso. In a parade of this kind the floats (praalwagens), cars and (in some cases) boats are magnificently decorated or covered in flowers. Each parade has its own character, charm, and theme. Many towns and regions in the Netherlands hold parades every year.
The Dutch coastline measures 1,245 km with many beaches. Popular activities include swimming and sunbathing, but these are mostly restricted to warm summer days. Water sports is another popular activity in the Netherlands. Lakes can be found in every province, but the Frisian Lakes are outstanding, especially during the annual Sneekweek that starts the boating season. Other lake-rich areas include Wijdemeren, Kaag, and Aalsmeer. Most of these lakes are very calm, with parasailing and rafting impossible. Because much of the Netherlands is below sea level and waterways are so frequent, even big cities like Amsterdam have water-based transit systems. Seeing Amsterdam by canal boat is one of the best ways to experience this exciting capital city.
The Netherlands is home to a vast assortment of different attractions, including amusement parks, water parks, ski resorts, museums, zoos, and even miniature cities, among others. Needless to say, there is a lot to be done in the Netherlands during your trip, so no matter your interests, you won't be disappointed!