The Netherlands is one of the safest, greenest, and most culturally interesting countries in the world. Its tourist attractions are clearly and uniquely its own – the wooden clogs, the windmills, and even its infamous Red Light District in the capital city of Amsterdam.
When visiting here, as it is true, whenever you travel to a foreign land, it is important to have a plan. Holidays can end so quickly and be more expensive than you thought they would go, if you did not plan ahead of time. Any seasoned traveller will tell you always to research ahead before you go.
There is a lot to do here that it’s easy to lose track of time. To help you get the most of your visit, here are ten helpful tips when traveling around the Netherlands.
Book in advance
In this age of digitisation and fast-speed internet, booking a hotel or destination is easy and very convenient. You don’t even have to dial your phone and wait on hold. Make the most of technology by booking all the places you intend to visit in the country.
Booking in advance is wise, and much more in the Netherlands, because most of its tourist attractions are always crammed with excited visitors. Let’s take Anne Frank House, for example.
Anne Frank House (Anne Frank Huis) on Prinsengracht in the chic Jordaan neighbourhood is a tourism magnet. This is the actual home of Anne’s family, one of the world’s best-known Holocaust victims, where they hid during the Second World War. People admire how the home has been wonderfully maintained as it was during Anne’s time. It is so popular that you would need to buy tickets about two or more months in advance online.
There is a limited number of tickets available each day. If you haven’t booked online, you would most likely end up waiting for hours in a line that usually stretches around the block.
Van Gogh Museum is very popular worldwide for having the most extensive collection of the artist’s works –200 paintings, 500 etchings and drawings, and 700 letters written to (and by) friends and family, to be exact. On the other hand, Rijksmuseum boasts an impressive collection of cultural artefacts dating from the 13th century to the modern day, including more than 8,000 important paintings.
Buying the I Amsterdam City Card ahead will be very helpful. It offers free entrance to both the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, as well as the Tulip Museum and others. It also includes unlimited use of public transport for the duration of your card.
Book in advance online, especially when you plan to come during peak season (between June and August).
Get the museum card
As you already know, there are many interesting and must-see museums in Amsterdam and other major cities, as the Netherlands is considered by many as the centre of European art and culture. Try to get the museum card to help you save money and see more museums than originally planned. For only 60 euros, this card will help you explore around 32 museums in the capital city and more than 400 all over the country.
Come in spring
Visiting the Netherlands in spring is perfect for two reasons – you avoid getting crammed with thousands of other tourists during the peak season, and the Tulip period begins in spring (mid-April) and would only last for 6 to 8 weeks. This is true every year.
If you wish to see 7 million flower bulbs blooming in unimaginable splendour, plan to arrive late March to late May. Make your way to the 32-hectare Keukenhof Garden, a.k.a “Garden of Europe” in Lisse, to experience the spectacular and stunning sight of millions of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.
Also, it is within this window of time when the world’s largest flower warehouse FloraHolland or Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam is open for you to see or buy beautiful Holland tulips.
Come in winter
Don’t feel bad if you can’t make it in spring, because visiting here in winter is like stepping into a white, snowy winter wonderland. Come particularly to the quaint medieval village of Giethoorn in the province of Overijssel.
Seeing the glittering snow fall and cover wooden bridges and thatch-roofed homes is spectacular. The canals and lakes in Giethoorn transform into the perfect place to skate.
Also, December promises a unique experience for foreigners, because in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas on the 5th of December is more popular than Christmas Day.
Sinterklaas is a Dutch traditional feast celebrated with family and friends. Children (the nice and behaved ones) get lots of gifts and chocolates shaped in the first letter of the children’s names.
Bring your cycling shoes
Amsterdam is known as the “City of Bikes”. The Dutch love their bicycles. For them, “two-wheeling is a way of life here,” as they would often say.
The best way to see the Netherlands is on a rental bike. You can find bicycles for rent in most train stations to help you get to your hotel. Short bike rentals are actually considered an extension of the public transportation system. The city of Amsterdam alone claims to have over 1 million bicycles, making it easy for you to find a place to rent one.
There are more than 20,000 kilometres of bicycle paths in the country, and you shouldn’t worry about your safety as car drivers are accustomed to giving way to bikers. It also helps that the Netherlands has virtually a flat landscape throughout. Bike rental centres and tourist information offices give out brochures outlining dozens of scenic bicycle routes.
If for some reason you refuse to rent a bicycle, be watchful when walking the streets, because cyclists won’t give way for you. They would rather run you over than stop when you happen to be standing on the designated bike lanes.
Remember that the Netherlands is not Amsterdam only
All too often, travellers only plan enough time to see and explore Amsterdam. They would love to see the canals, museums, and red lights, but Holland is much more than that.
Plan to also visit nearby cities or villages, including Giethoorn, Volendam, Utrecht, or Maastricht. It is in these quaint places where you truly experience Dutch culture in its truest form.
Get the trains
Moving from Amsterdam to other parts of the country is really easy, thanks to the trains. The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railway) maintains a rail system connecting nearly every town. They are also known to be very efficient and reliably punctual.
There are three options to choose from: high-speed, express, and local.
High-speed trains are convenient and quick. They can take you from Amsterdam to Rotterdam in less than an hour. Also, delicious foods are served during the trip. Express NS trains, on the other hand, cover much of the rest of the Netherlands, crisscrossing regions and joining cities like Amsterdam with Utrecht, the Hague, Delft and Haarlem.
Finally, local NS trains are the slowest, because they stop at every station along the rails. This is good if you intend to see more places and spend more time viewing the countryside. They are also the least expensive.
Language barrier is not a problem
Traveling by train is one of the best ways to meet locals. You shouldn’t worry about engaging in conversations because the Dutch are great English speakers, better than the Swedes and Danish.
Don’t be afraid to ask for directions, recommendations or just have a chat and make friends with anyone in English. Almost all locals, especially in Amsterdam, speak English and jump at the chance to practice and show off their skills.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a normal street during the day
People normally have prior ideas about how a Red Light District looks and works. Amsterdam’s Red Light District is different and quite unique in the world, as nowhere else is a district such as this considered legal in a modern, developed country. It is located in De Wallen neighbourhood, and during the day, the neon lights and buzzing atmosphere disappears and the neighbourhood becomes normal.
The action happens every night when red lights tint the area and the streets illuminate in all its glory.
Don’t be afraid to learn more
One of the best things when travelling is you get to learn and experience new things. What may be normal to the locals becomes funny and strange to foreigners. For instance, don’t be surprised if you develop a feeling of being dwarfed when walking the streets in the Netherlands. Dutch men are known to be the tallest in the world, measuring an average of 1.84 metres (6+ feet).
Also, you might be shocked that when you ask to go to a coffee shop, people would assume you are looking for weed. Make sure to look for a café if you want your cup of coffee.
It is these interesting and trivial facts that make tourism very interesting. Sometimes it’s good to feel “lost” in an unfamiliar city, especially if you are an expert traveller. However, it is still best to learn about your destination before you arrive. Hopefully, the above tips about the Netherlands will help you start packing your bags and be ready to begin your Dutch journey.