The Netherlands is internationally known for its tulips, clogs, coffee shops, and windmills. In the Netherlands abortion is legalized, soft drugs in coffee shops are allowed, and prostitution and human euthanasia are legitimate.
Dutch people in general are comfortable to discuss any topic. They are open and direct and may appear blunt and rude to non-residents. However, the true reason is more likely to be found in a sense and feeling of equality and a no-nonsense culture.
This country in Western Europe borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the west. Three large European rivers cross the Netherlands: the Rhine (Rijn), the Meuse (Maas) and the Scheldt (Schelde) flow through the Netherlands and drain into the North Sea. The Netherlands (“lower countries”) is a ‘flat country’ without mountains and with hills in a few areas of the country. There are some Caribbean islands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba that belong to the Netherlands as well.
The Netherlands has a population of 17.5 million people and an area of only about 42.000 km2, resulting in a density of 523 people per square kilometre. It is the 16th most densely populated country in the world and the second-most densely populated country in the European Union. Surprisingly, it is also the world’s second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products by value.
The official language is Dutch, and Frisian is considered a secondary language in Friesland, while English and Papiamento are the secondary official languages in the Caribbean.
The Netherlands knows a parliamentary democracy, in which the society and political climate are well respected. In 2017, The Economist ranked the Netherlands as the 11th most democratic country in the world. It is also a monarchy with limited powers for the King. The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces, each under a King’s Commissioner and the provinces are divided into municipalities.
The main Dutch airport, Airport Schiphol is the third busiest airport in Europe.
The four largest cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Amsterdam is the country’s capital city, the Venice of Holland with many charming canals and picturesque centuries-old canal houses. Amsterdam is well known internationally for its liberal attitude towards drugs and prostitution. You can find legal prostitution and coffee shops that sell marijuana in Amsterdam’s red-light district; de Wallen. It is nice to explore the city by boat or to wander around the busy city centre.
The Hague is the only big city with a beach straight on the North Sea coast. You can easily reach the beaches Scheveningen and Kijkduin by public transport. In the Hague the States General, Cabinet and Supreme Court reside. The King’s palace is situated at the Noordeinde. The Hague has a huge and busy inner city, you can visit museums and marvel at great architecture.
Rotterdam is a very diverse and bustling city. The Port of Rotterdam is the third busiest seaport in the world, behind only China and Singapore. Above all, Rotterdam is the architecture and innovative city of Holland with a beautiful skyline. There are many things to see and do around the busy city center, shopping, visiting museums and so on.
Utrecht is a big city populated with thousands of students, but still has an intimate atmosphere with cobbled small street and picturesque canals in the inner city. It was built around the Dom Tower. It is nice to enjoy a beer at one of the many cozy cafes along the canals and watch the crowds.
Climate change and the rising sea level are likely to have a great impact on the Netherlands. Only about 50% of its land exceeds 1 m above sea level, while approximately 26% of its land is below sea level. The Dutch constructed dikes and polders to reclaim the land below sea level. The Dutch are extremely inventive in water control, they are consulted worldwide for this knowledge.
A famous dike is the Afsluitdijk, which blocks the former Southern Sea from the North Sea, resulting in the formation of the IJsselmeer. Many square kilometres were reclaimed from the sea with the construction of the Afsluitdijk. The system of dikes to protect against floods is called the Delta works. The Delta works are extensive civil works throughout the Dutch coast. The main goal is to reduce the risk of flooding in South Holland and Zeeland by raising thousands kms of dikes, and by closing off the sea estuaries of Zeeland.
The Netherlands flourishes under a mild maritime climate and knows four seasons: autumn, winter, spring and summer.
There are many national parks and nature reserves, yet they occupy a small part of the country compared to other European countries.
Dutch cultural heritage is very extensive with contribution of internationally famed artists as Lucas Gassel, Pieter Bruegel, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Vincent van Gogh, and Piet Mondrian.
Literature flourished during the Dutch Golden Age, when Joost van den Vondel and P. C. Hooft were the most famous writers. Famed 20th century authors include Godfried Bomans, Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Hella S. Haasse, and Gerard Reve. Everybody knows Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, published after she was murdered in the Holocaust.
Famous Dutch philosophers were Erasmus, Rudolf Agricola, Spinoza and Descartes.
Famous Dutch scientists were James Hutton, Hendrik Lorentz, Enrico Fermi, and Christiaan Huygens. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first to discover single-celled organisms with a microscope.
In the Netherlands there are many styles in architecture that were built and preserved. Some of the most prominent styles are:
The Romanesque architecture (from the years 950 – 1250); mostly to be found in the provinces of Gelderland and Limburg.
The Gothic architecture (about 1230); mostly concentrated in the province of North Brabant.
The Dutch Baroque architecture (1525 – 1630) and classicism (1630 – 1700); mostly to be found in North Holland, South Holland and Zeeland.
In the south of the Netherlands there are some festivals that originated from Catholicism that rarely occur in the rest of the Netherlands. Festivities like Carnival, the celebration of Three Kings, Brabantian Day and a huge flowerfestival (bloemencorso).
On King’s Day Dutch people dress up in orange to celebrate the King’s Birthday all throughout the country.
What to eat in the Netherlands
In adherence with the no-nonsense culture, the Netherlands does not have a rich gastronomical culture. There are several Michelin star restaurants in the Netherlands, but the average Dutch person does not put a lot of time and effort in cooking. There are many dairy products. Breakfast and lunch are typically bread with toppings and dinner is usually a portion of potatoes, some meat, and vegetables. Food is generally seen a must instead of a social enrichment of life.
However due to the influx of immigrants and the influence of several other cultures, there is a slow shift in Dutch attitude towards food. It is getting more varied and laborious.
Some delicious Dutch treats you should really try when visiting the Netherlands are:
- Stroopwafels (syrup waffles), consisting of caramel-like syrup filled waffles.
- Bossche Bol, a pastry filled with fresh cream and wrapped in dark chocolate.
- Poffertjes, similar to small pancakes and served with sugar and butter.
- Bitterballen, delicious savoury treats, comparable with small croquettes.
Fun facts about the Netherlands
- The Netherlands is the first nation that legalised same-sex marriage.
- Dutch men are the tallest in the world.
- The Netherland is the world’s biggest exporter of flowers
- One-third of the Netherlands is below sea level, even the main international airport is 3 metres below sea level
- The Netherlands is the world’s second-biggest exporter of beer after Mexico.
- Dutch farmers were the first to produce orange carrots, before carrots had all sorts of colors; white, purple and yellow. They did this through purposedly breeding and to honour the king.
- Amsterdam is built entirely on wooden poles to prevent the city from sinking.
- Amsterdam has 1200 bridges.
- The Dutch have 22 million bicycles, there are more bikes than people in the country!
- Up to 15,000 bikes are fished out of Amsterdam’s canals every year.
- In the Netherlands, there are 37,000 kilometers of cycle paths.
- Dutch people eat an average of 14.3 kilos of cheese per person per year.
Amsterdam is internationally known as the city of prostitution, drugs, and alcohol.
You can find legitimized prostitution in Amsterdam’s red-light district; de Wallen. There are coffee shops that sell marijuana to use in the coffee shops, not outside.
However, this is not only what Amsterdam is about. There is plenty to do and to see in Amsterdam for families as well.
Amsterdam is the country’s capital city, the Venice of Holland with many charming canals and picturesque centuries-old canal houses.
There are plenty historical sites to visit, great architecture to marvel at, tourists always and everywhere, restaurants serving food from all around the world in the city that never sleeps and where everything is possible.
Even to us, living in the Netherlands, a visit to Amsterdam feels like being abroad.
Amsterdam’s canal ring is UNESCO heritage site listed. There are over 100 kilometres of canals in Amsterdam. Before the 20th century Amsterdam’s canals were extremely polluted. Most people used to throw anything in the canals. Nowadays, the canals are quite clean.
The canals host several events throughout the year, including a huge gay parade during Pride and the ‘Grachtenfestival’.
There are many sites you must see when in Amsterdam like the Rijksmuseum, Westerkerk, the Heineken Museum and Anne Frank’s house. The Rijksmuseum displays thousands of great works including The Night Watch (Rembrandt) and the Milkmaid (Johannes Vermeer).
The Dam square is a busy and beautiful city square that used to be a dam, but nowadays is a lively square amidst Amsterdam’s urban centre.
Amsterdam’s Hortus Botanicus is among the oldest botanical gardens in the world and worth a visit.
Amsterdam’s central station is certainly worth a visit.
It is very useful to purchase a 24 hour OV-Chip card. These travel passes are available from ticket machines throughout Amsterdam and allow holders to freely move between the city’s trams, trains, and buses for an entire day.
Where to stay
It took us a pandemic to start exploring our own country, sadly enough. We decided we really wanted to explore Amsterdam thoroughly and chose Conscious Hotel Westerpark to stay.
Conscious hotel Westerpark, situated in the true city centre, and still an oasis of greenery situated next to Westerpark was an excellent choice!
If you are searching for accessible luxury close to or with easy access to any highlight in Amsterdam, we would recommend this hotel.
The staff is heartly and welcoming, the atmosphere is non-pretentious and friendly, and this in combination with a stylish and luxurious interior.
Ishita was occupied gazing at the stars in broad daylight. She obviously did not spot any, but our elderly children did looking through the binoculars at night!
We loved how they have incorporated sustainability in every aspect of their hotel.
They practice what they preach: the furniture is recycled, and the hotel runs completely on green energy from Dutch windmills.
They have solar panels, a delicious organic breakfast buffet, and the linen on the bed is made from fair-trade cotton. The staff actively participates in world-clean-up days like collecting garbage from Amsterdam’s canals.
This must be the cutest green-walled bar in Amsterdam Westerpark! It was great to spend some time with the kids at this cute bar. We chatted along for quite a while. At a certain moment our small kids run off to the playground next to the bar and our elderly kids went to watch the fishes in the aquarium behind the bar, there simply wasn’t time to get bored!
The location of the hotel amidst the city centre made it easy for us to explore Amsterdam just by walking.
Whenever we felt like having some time off of the bustle and hustle of the big city, the Westerpark just behind the hotel was a great park to unwind.
Staying at Conscious Hotel Westerpark made it possible for us to start every day well rested after a good night’s sleep in comfortable beds.
They serve a delicious organic breakfast. Our youngest is usually picky about her food, but she tried almost everything at the breakfast here! It was healthy, fresh and tasty.
This was the first time we explored Amsterdam thoroughly!
Watch our You Tube video of our fun time in Amsterdam:https://youtu.be/74cZvtm2fUE
Where to eat
There are countless restaurants, bistro’s and cafetaria’s in Amsterdam. You can find food and drinks 24/7 in this big city.