The Netherlands may not inspire visions of grandeur at first sight, as this pancake flat nation is hardly bigger than the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
However, having had a former empire that ranged from the Caribbean to Indonesia, holding a hammerlock during the 17th century on global trade, and being a leader in the 21st century global economy, this country has long been and continues to be a major force on the world stage, with a historical and cultural pedigree to match.
When circuiting the continent on a Euro Trip, don’t do this country injustice by limiting your exposure to the “coffee shops” of Amsterdam, as this place has so much more to offer than that.
Languages: Dutch, Frisian
What To Do
Once you get settled in Amsterdam, start your tour of the Netherlands by visiting the Rijksmuseum. This institution is the state museum of the nation, and it focuses on art from their most creatives and historical artifacts that dates as far back as the 13th century. Over 8,000 pieces are on display covering over 800 years of history and Holland’s best artists, from Rembrandt to Johannes Vermeer.
While it might be one of the more touristy things to do in Amsterdam, dropping by the Anne Frank House is an almost mandatory stop, as this building personified the secret terror of Jews hiding from Hitler’s genocide machine during the course of World War II. Diarist Anne Frank and her family were unsuccessful in evading the SS for the entire war, but by exploring the Secret Annex, which was hidden behind a bookcase in the offices of a former spice factory, you’ll understand their desire to survive against the odds that were stacked against Jews stuck in Nazi-dominated Europe.
One of the more enduring symbols of Holland in the collective imagination of foreigners is none other than the windmill. These wooden behemoths harnesses the power of the wind to pump the water that irrigated its fertile fields over the centuries, as well as to grind the grain once harvest time came around.
Many of these national treasures have disappeared in modern times, but more than eight of these beauties have been preserved in Zaanse Schans. If you wish to visit them all, buying an all-access pass for €10 is the best way to save some serious cash if you are determined to capture one of the Netherland’s most recognizable icons.
Another thing that this country has become known for in modern times is its innumerable acres of thriving flower farms. The best place in the entire nation to melt your brain with dazzling technicolour displays of various types of this attractive flora is in Lisse.
Only recently passed by the Dubai Miracle Garden as the largest display of flowers in the world, the Keukenhof Gardens is home to over seven million plants, which includes the country’s most famous export, the tulip. From English to Japanese style sections, it will prove to be an excellent way to spend a morning or afternoon in the Dutch countryside.
While there are over twenty to choose from across this tiny nation, Hoge Veluwe National Park is one of the oldest and the best of the lot. Containing sizable sand dunes, scrubland, and forest that have been protected since 1935, this place is home to the largest tract of protected land in the country.
In addition to the natural features here, there are considerable populations of deer, wild boar, sheep, and fox that can be found here, and there are a couple museums dedicated to art and natural history for those that tire of the outdoors. For those that can’t get enough, be sure to take advantage of the bike sharing program, as it is free of cost with admission to the park.
What To Eat
Those looking for the quintessential Dutch snack to sustain themselves while strolling the streets of Utrecht or Amsterdam should keep their eyes peeled for stands selling Bitterballen. As you might imagine, these are ball-shaped morsels of meaty goodness, with either beef or veal being chopped and minced up and combined with meat broth, flour, butter, spices and seasoning.
After being firmed up in the fridge, they are then coated in egg wash and covered in breadcrumbs, with the final step involving them being deep-fried before your hungry eyes before being dished up to you with a mustardy dipping sauce. Watch out, as these little treats can be rather addictive!
Those looking for a core-warming lunch during the midst of a Dutch winter will want to track down some Snert. While it does has a funny name, this pea-based soup is served up with chunks of pork, celery, onions, carrots and potato, often with a piece of bacon and bread on the side. Look for it along canals when out skating during chilly winters in the Netherlands.
Europe is a great place to be a dessert enthusiast, and the Netherlands is no exception. Vla is its most distinctive after dinner treat, as this velvety custard comes in a variety of flavours, from the ever popular chocolate and vanilla to rum and blackcurrant. Look for it grocery and convenience stores in cartons or bottles.