Most people traveling to the Netherlands head for the unique experience of its capital city, Amsterdam. The other parts are largely unaffected by tourism, particularly the areas outside the Randstad. The southern parts of the country are transformed by undulating landscapes of shifting sands and heath moors, best experienced within the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Still south, tucked between the German and Belgian borders, lies the historical city of Maastricht.
Full country name: kingdom of the Netherland
Area: 41,528 sq Km ( 16,034 sq mil)
Population: 16,4 million
People: Over 95% of the populations are Dutch (Germanic and Gallo-Celtic stock), most of the rest are Indonesian, Surinamese or Moroccan
Language: Netherlandic (Dutch & Flemish), Friesian
Religion: Cathplic 31%, Protestant 21%, Muslim 5,5%, not religious 41%
Government: Constitutional monarchy
GDP per capita: €26,500
Unemployment rate: 6,5%
Major industries: service industries, banking, electronics, digital media, horticulture, agriculture, shipping
Major trading partners: EU (esp Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, UK), USA
Visas: European Union residents just need their EU papers to enter. No visas are required for travellers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the USA for visits of up to 90 days.
Health risks: Cholesterol and spinning out, man
Time: GMT/UTC +1
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: metric
When to go
Like much of Europe, the high season runs from June to August, which is known for its hot, sticky spells but isn’t quite the Riviera shown in some tourist brochures. Hordes of tourists pulse through the Netherlands at this time, but these are the best months to sit on the canals drinking and chatting. Many Dutch take a summer holiday, and the last July weekend is deadly for traffic. You may be surrounded by other foreigners in August, but the month is crammed with events.
Mid-March to May and September to mid-October are the shoulder seasons. Spring is wonderful, as the bulbs are in bloom – April for daffodils, May for tulips. Easter is busy in Amsterdam, but if you can visit during Koninginnedag (30 April) it’s worth fighting the crowds. Early October with its Indian summer can be an excellent time to come.
As the temperature drops, so does the number of tourists – things are calmest from mid-October to mid-March. Museums are quiet and you can mingle with the ‘real’ Dutch in cosy pubs around this time. Accommodation is also relatively cheap (except around New Year), though some hotels might be closed. The winter months (December to February) see periods of slushy snow and temperatures close to freezing.
The Netherlands is rightly known as ‘the land of bicycles’: around 15 million Dutch people regularly travel by bicycle and there are an estimated 12 million cycles in use. The popularity of cycling is perhaps mainly due to the country’s geography: distances between the cities are short and the countryside is almost totally flat, except for a few rolling hills in the east and south (the highest of which is a mere 321m/1053ft).
In The Netherlands, walking holidays are also very popular; the 300km- (188mile-) long coast has a number of scenic walks through sand dunes and nature reserves. Visitors can obtain maps with walking routes from the Foundation for Long Distance Walks (Stitching Lange-Afstand-Wandelpadsen), PO Box 846, 3800 AV Amersfoort (tel: (33) 465 3660). Visitors can also join the annual six-day walking event (beginning of August), where participants walk from Hook of Holland to Den Helder.
The Dutch coast on the western shore is well suited and well equipped for all types of watersports, including swimming and windsurfing.
A visit to one of the famous Dutch flower markets is recommended. The best ones are in Amsterdam (where the famous Bloemenmarkt along the Singel canal is a major tourist attraction), Delft and Utrecht. Dutch flower bulbs are available for sale but it is essential to make sure the vendor sells them with an official export certificate. The most popular Dutch flowers are tulips and daffodils. There are also various colorful flower parades (corso), notably the Bollenstreek flower parade (the country’s biggest).
Attractions - Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is a definitive attraction in Amsterdam. Situated in a modern building, the simple architecture subtly underscores the artists' colorful and extraordinary work. The museum houses a permanent display of several hundred of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings, many of which will be familiar even to the untrained eye. The collection is organized according to three criteria. The first of these is the work of the artist, which is divided into five notable periods. Then there is the display of work of other artists including those of his friends and contemporaries. The third section is the showcase of the museum's history recording its progress with a feature on the development of the new wing designed by Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa, built to house the temporary exhibitions.
Anne Frank House
This museum is dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank whose famous diary, recorded over a two-year period, describes the experiences of a Jewish teenager during World War II. Part of the house was used as a hiding place by the Franks and others to escape Nazi persecution. The families were later discovered and sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. Otto Frank was the only survivor. The original diary is on display as part of the permanent exhibition. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits that focus on related issues.
Red Light District (De Wallen)
A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a stroll around the notorious Red Light District. The atmosphere can be chaotic with throngs of tourists jostling for space alongside city slickers, pimps and drug dealers. The prostitutes of De Wallen are part of a legal and regulated industry that includes compulsory health checks and taxable income. Prostitution is by no means the only attraction of the area. The district's architecture comprises a scenic mix that dates back to the Middle Ages. Areas to explore include Waterlooplein, Zeedijk and Nieuwmarkt Square.
The Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)
Although the Royal Palace is the official Royal residence it is mainly used for functions as the family reside in The Hague. The building dates back to 1648 and was originally designed for use as Amsterdam's city hall. King Louis Napoleon however had other plans. In 1808 he turned the city hall into a palace. A large collection of furniture from this period adorns its interiors. Guided tours are offered to visitors (these need to be booked two weeks in advance). The Royal Palace will be closed for renovations from 8 September 2005 until early 2009.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, the Heineken Experience is not to be missed. After opening its doors in 2001, with Heineken Experience has been attracting international beer lovers for almost a decade. Housed in the original brewery, visitors will learn about the history of the famous Heineken Company and its unique brewing process, visit cutting edge interactive exhibits and enjoy free Heineken beer at the two pit stops along the way. Don't go away empty handed, a gift of Heineken memorabilia is given to each visitor to ensure they remember their Heineken Experience. Unfortunately the Heineken Experience is currently undergoing major renovations and is scheduled to reopen towards the end of 2008. The new and improved Heineken experience will include a mini brewery, a new tasting bar and an opportunity to view Heineken's iconic Shire horses.