The Netherlands is synonymous with windmills, clogs, tulips, canals, cycling and cheese markets … Although almost half was once under water, the Netherlands today is one of the most urbanized and densely populated nations on Earth. What is great about this rather lowland country – note that the highest hill, which they call a mountain, is 323 metres high (just over 1,000 ft) – is the remarkable range of places to visit in quite a small area. Amsterdam is the capital and the largest city, with popular attractions like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum (national museum), Rembrandt House Museum and Anne Frank House. Other cities worth visiting are The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht and Maastricht. Not to mention the beautiful coastline on the North Sea, with the traditional fishing villages of Volendam and Marken. The countryside is filled with the tulips and windmills, including those at the Keukenhof flower gardens, the Zaanse Schans and Kinderdijk.
Many Dutch cities were built around canals. Once a necessity, this remarkable network of canals – note that Amsterdam itself has 1,281 bridges – became one of the main attractions in the country. Motor boats, canal tour boats, pedal boats and canoes travel up and down the canals all year round, and you can even skate through the city center during those severe winters when the canals freeze over. Although Amsterdam is the most famous, many other Dutch cities were built around canals. This includes Alkmaar, Utrecht, Dordrecht, Leiden, Groningen, Leeuwarden and Amersfoort. The Amsterdam Canal District is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the city has even been nicknamed the "Venice of the North".
The Netherlands is a country rich in fertile farmland perfect for dairy cows, so it is no surprise that the Dutch have a long tradition of cheese making; archaeologists have found remains of cheese-making equipment dating from 200 B.C. Over years, the Netherlands has become the world’s biggest cheese exporter, with 650 million kilos produced every year, two thirds being exported. The most popular cheeses are Gouda and Edam. Many cheese markets can be found around the country, the most famous being in Gouda, Edam and Alkmaar, which is also home to a real cheese museum.
Festivals in the Netherlands have been celebrated for decades. In true Dutch style, every festival in the Netherlands is a reason to celebrate and party. From the opening of Keukenhof Gardens, the greatest flower show on earth, King’s Day (Koningendag), the annual holiday in honor of King Willem-Alexander, when Amsterdam turns orange and the day when people can sell without a license, to Amsterdam Gay Pride, which is in August, which sees 150,000 people arriving in the Dutch capital to watch some 100 outrageously decorated boats cruising the canals.
Windmills are characteristic of the Dutch landscape and a symbol of the Dutch struggle with water. The most famous windmills of Holland include Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage listed group of polder mills, which gives you a great impression of how floods were prevented. The mills of Schiedam are the five largest in the world, with some over 40 meters high. They played an important role in the production of jenever (Dutch gin). Last but not least, you should visit Zaanse Schans. Some 250 years ago, well over 600 mills here? formed the first industrial site in the world. They performed a wide range of industrial duties, such as producing shelves, paint, mustard, oil and paper. Today it’s an open-air conservation area and museum, which attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Once you visit Amsterdam, you easily understand, why it is called Venice of the North. With its boat-lined canals along every street and with over 1000 more bridges, Amsterdam is a must-visit destination in the Netherlands. What makes it so attractive is the 17th century historical atmosphere combined with the mentality of a modern metropolis creating a friendly and relaxed environment. The small scale of the buildings and the intimacy of the streets, canals and squares create an atmosphere that visitors find unique. The city has the highest museum density in the world, such as the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Hermitage Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum with Rembrandt’s world-famous Nightwatch. Other well-known places of interest in Amsterdam are the Palace on the Dam, the Artis Zoo, Jewish Historical Museum and the Rembrandt House. Not to mention the Red Light District and numerous coffee shops. Take a canal tour of Amsterdam and discover the historical canal district which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011.
The Hague is one of the most extraordinary cities in Holland. Although Amsterdam is the capital, the Hague is the government city of the Netherlands and also the place where the Dutch Royal Family lives. You will find lots of green space, great architecture, shopping and a unique location on the water. The old part of the city centers on governmental buildings such as the Binnenhof. Next door you’ll find The Mauritshuis Museum, one of the best art houses in The Netherlands. Children and adults alike adore the miniature city of Madurodam, which features all the highlights of The Netherlands but on a 1:25 scale. Unique to the Hague is also its prime location on the North Sea. Travelers from all over Holland come to Sheveningen Beach to relax and play. The Pier, the largest in the Netherlands, has a 200-foot lookout tower, bungee jumping, a casino and restaurant.
It does not matter whether you are young or old – Delft has something to offer visitors of all ages. The attractions vary from a canal tour, the many markets and an introduction to the amazing technology showcased at Delft University of Technology. The town enjoys a worldwide reputation due to its connection with Johannes Vermeer, Delft Blue earthenware and the House of Orange. Find out how the world famous Delft Blue earthenware is produced at Royal Delft, the factory that has been producing the hand-painted, blue motives since the 16th century, and at Delft Pottery De Delftse Pauw. The Vermeer Center presents the life and works of painter Johannes Vermeer, master of light and creator of ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’. Yhe Old and New Church and ‘Prinsenhof’ explain the strong connection between Delft and the Dutch Royal House.
The Zaanse Schans is an open-air museum area located just a few miles north of Amsterdam. It is one of the highlights of the Netherlands, which offers a vivid impression of the Dutch life in the 17th and 18th century, showcasing authentic houses, a historic shipyard, a pewter factory, a cheese and dairy farm, an age-old grocery store, clog-making demonstrations, and lots of windmills. Take a walk through the stunning buildings and the unique peat meadow landscape. Come and watch traditional crafts such as clog- and cheese making or visit the windmills and traditional buildings. Take a boat trip, dine in one of the restaurants or explore the shops and boutiques.
Fancy tasting waffles on the canals of the city of Brugges? Or maybe exploring the statue of the little boy in Bruxelles, the seat of the European Union? Or what if we tell you of belgium chocolate or beer or maybe even the diamonds in Antwerp?
Being one of the smallest and richest european countries, juggling between the big nations to east and to west, Luxembourg is a duchy and it definitely must have had some very clever dukes else we wouldn't have a chapter opened here.