As a travel destination, the Netherlands packs quite a punch. Within its sixteen thousand square miles reside some of the world’s finest museums, countless fields of tulips, centuries-old windmills, tiny medieval towns, and hip ethnic restaurants. The country is home to the International Court of Justice and the famous blue-and-white Delft china, Heineken brewing and countless Indonesian “rijstafel” (rice table) restaurants. By incorporating elements of the modern, global lifestyle into its traditional character, the Netherlands has emerged as a vibrant European country that offers the traveler a vast array of exciting opportunities.
Any visit to Holland should include time in Amsterdam, one of the main ports. Amsterdam is considered one of Europe’s most colorful cities, boasting gorgeous architecture and vibrant flower markets.
Take a cruise down the canals and gaze at the centuries-old buildings lining the streets above you. For a spectacular view of the entire city, climb the wooden staircase leading to the belfry of the city’s oldest church, Museum Amstelkring Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder, built between 1661-1663. Amsterdam is full of such historic architectural sites, including the building in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. You can tour her home, which she named “The Secret Annexe” in her now-famous diary.
If you crave even more history and art, Amsterdam is home to several of the Netherlands’ finest museums. No travel should miss the Rijksmuseum and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. The latter houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s beautiful works, as well as permanent and visiting exhibitions of others who were friends are contemporaries of the artist. The Rijksmuseum is Holland’s largest museum – its “treasure trove,” as some say – and prides itself on its collection of famous works from the country’s Golden Age. This collection includes paintings by native sons Vermeer and Rembrandt, most famously Rembrandt’s world-renowned masterpiece The Night Watch. The museum contains thousands of works, however, and could easily provide a full day’s viewing for the devoted art lover.
After all that trekking through fine art, you’re bound to be thirsty, so head over to the Heineken brewery for a tour and a nice bottle of Holland’s oldest and most famous brew! The Heineken Experience is a multimedia exhibition where you can learn everything there is to know about Heineken beer. If the weather is lovely, you can head back outdoors to the Hortus, Amsterdam’s 400-year-old botanical garden. Created as a herb garden for doctors of the seventeenth century, the Hortus now houses over six thousand different plant species.
All of that merely scratches the surface of this amazing port city. Amsterdam also produces the majority of Holland’s diamonds, gives home to one of Europe’s most infamous red light districts, and has an outstanding Jewish history museum, to name a few (and varied!) of its attractions. And of course, who can ignore the restaurants! The Dutch East India Company was the first to import from Indonesia to Europe, and in addition to goods, the Dutch brought back the Indonesian “rijstafel”, or rice table. Over the course of a rijstafel dinner, small dishes arrive at the table for the diners to share, with rice and traditional sauces. Eating at least one rijstafel meal while in Holland is a fantastic way to share in the Dutch imperial tradition, for the residents of the Low Countries took to the cuisine of the East Indies long ago. Of course, you can also find traditional Dutch, Thai, French, German, and nouvelle cuisine in Amsterdam. The Dutch love to dine, and dine well!
Of course, while you could easily spend your entire visit in Amsterdam, the rest of this small country provides great travel appeal too. A detour into the countryside will invariably bring you to at least one of the Netherlands’ traditional landmarks, the windmill. There are also countless parks and gardens, full of the ubiquitous tulips but also showcasing the Dutch love of horticulture with carefully tended plants and flowers of all kinds. Depending on your interests, pop into the town of Edam and have a taste of their delicious cheese, or head to Delft and visit an artisans shop to see how they continue to produce their fine blue-and-white china by age-old methods. Many towns still have a traditional market as well, where you can buy handmade crafts and delicious treats such as stroopwafels, thin wafers sandwiching a treacle syrup that are delicious eaten alone or softened over a steaming cup of coffee.
Or drive up the coast to Scheveningen and Den Haag (The Hague). Standing on the beach of the North Sea, you can admire Scheveningen’s monument to the Dutch resistance fighters who held the beach as the Germans advanced in World War II. Heading into the city on the easily accessible tram line, you can visit the Peace Palace, a gift from Andrew Carnegie and contributed to by many nations as a sign of cooperation. Among the many residents of the Peace Palace is the International Court of Justice, where the International Tribunal tries crimes against humanity. The palace is as imposing and somber as its function demands, inspiring awe and reflection in even the most jaded traveler. After that solemn stop, head to the Mauritshaus, the Royal Picture Gallery housed in a historic mansion. This is the home of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Rembrandt’s The Medical Lesson, two more of the Dutch masters’ most world-famous and awesome works. Or lighten up a bit by visiting the new M. C. Escher museum and turning your head a little bit upside-down and sideways! Parliament and casinos, photography museums and amusement parks and spas – Den Haag is an ideal place to get a little taste of all things Holland.
Because of its size and location, the Netherlands can be a perfect getaway for a weekend or an extended trip. No matter what you seek, there’s something for you in Holland. Geniet van (enjoy)!