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Netherlands

Getting to know Netherlands

Windmills, canals, and tulips are synonymous with the Netherlands, and today’s visitors will find them among the country’s many tourist attractions.

Along with the country’s numerous gorgeous gardens and picturesque towns, visitors will also discover dynamic cities like Amsterdam, which are packed with museums reflecting the country’s rich artistic legacy (think Rembrandt and Van Gogh). Numerous medieval castles and cityscapes, as well as a 13,800-acre national park and a tide control system called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, are all worth seeing.

Considering the relatively small size of the Netherlands, all these fun attractions and activities are located in a relatively compact area and the landscape is quite flat (the highest elevation is only three hundred meters above sea level).

Jordaan and Amsterdam's Canals

Canals are as much a part of Amsterdam’s cityscape as they are in Venice, and time spent exploring the city’s spectacular waterways is one of the most unforgettable experiences for any visitor.  While many of Amsterdam’s  tourist attractions, including many of the major museums and art galleries, are easily accessible by boat  or water taxi, nothing beats meandering through the smaller, quieter streets along rivers.  Particularly enchanting is the Jordaan, a neighborhood created in the early 1600s to house laborers and immigrants drawn to the city for its religious tolerance. Look out for the neighborhood’s many ‘hofjes’, those lovely inner courtyards hidden behind  buildings, as well as its little canal-side houses.

Keukenhof

Tulips, the country’s most popular flower, come to mind when you think of the Netherlands. And one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Netherlands has a fantastic display of these and other spring bulbs. It’s a fun and easy day trip from the country’s main city, given its convenient location  to Amsterdam, it’s 45 minutes by car or just under an hour by public transport.  Keukenhof, often known as the “Garden of Europe”, is located on the outskirts of the town of Lisse, in what is known as the  “bulb belt” of the Netherlands. Since it occupies more than 70 acres of what was once the country’s kitchen garden (or “keuken”), it is the world’s largest public garden.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A treasure trove of priceless works of art and historical relics can be found on Museumplein in Amsterdam thanks to the world-famous Rijksmuseum (Museum Square). Not surprisingly, the museum’s art collection has grown to include 5,000 paintings in over 250 halls and a 35,000-book library.

One of the world’s most impressive museums, the Rijksmuseum houses an impressive collection of Dutch artifacts, including traditional handicrafts, medieval sculpture, and contemporary art. To fully appreciate this museum’s vast collection, plan to spend the better part of a day or more perusing its offerings.

Historic Binnenhof, The Hague

The Hague (Den Haag) is the political capital of the Netherlands and is known around the world as the home of the International Court of Justice. It is here that the country’s government works and where the Dutch Royal Family’s house, Noordeinde Palace, is located.

The Hague is also a fantastic travel destination for anyone interested in learning more about the country’s rich past. Start your journey in the city’s ancient Binnenhof neighborhood, whether you’re staying for a few days or going as a day trip from Amsterdam. The Binnenhof, literally translated as “Inner Court,” dates back to 1250 CE. It’s the city’s oldest neighborhood, and it’s a joy to go about in.

Arranged around a central courtyard, the charming old buildings  once housed the country’s ruling classes and have been remarkably well preserved. The crown jewel here is the  Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal). Built in the 13th century, this impressive castle-like building with its twin towers is still used for government events, including the opening of parliament each September. Highlights include the Gothic Hall with its stained glass windows and wood-beamed ceiling.

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

When visiting Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House is a must-see. This fantastic little girl wrote her famous diary on Prinsengracht, in the house where Anne’s family hid for much of World War II (they were exiled Jews from Frankfurt). Although she died just two months before the end of the war, her words have been translated into 51 languages ​​and her legacy lives on.  The fully restored rear of the  house where the Frank family hid has been kept as close to its original state as possible and serves as a grim memorial to a tragic chapter in world history and a young woman courageous  woman who continues to inspire people all over the world.

Oude Haven, Rotterdam

The port city of Rotterdam, which is only a one-hour train trip from Amsterdam, is well worth a visit for its beautifully-preserved Old Harbour, or Oude Haven. Because of its location on the Nieuwe Maas, a branch of the Rhine River, and its closeness to the English Channel, the city has a long and rich nautical history.

Oude Haven is located in Rotterdam’s excellent Maritime District and is ideal for visitors who enjoy walking around the city. The harbor is brimming with antique sailing ships and houseboats, many of which are on show in the Maritime Museum Rotterdam.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The stunning Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is placed an astonishing #2 in a leading list of the world’s top art museums, garnering about 1.5 million people each year, as befitting one of the world’s greatest artists.

This spectacular gallery and museum, which houses the world’s biggest collection of Van Gogh paintings – many of which were donated by the artist’s family – was expressly designed to display the artist’s massive collection of more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters.

There are also works from his contemporaries on exhibit. The museum’s new “Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience,” which offers a fascinating, high-tech, interactive look into the artist’s life and times, as well as his best-known work, is a highlight.

The Windmills of Kinderdijk

The famous Kinderdijk (“Children’s Dike”) on the River Noord between Rotterdam and Dordrecht gets its name from an incident during the St. Elizabeth’s Day flood of 1421, when a child’s cradle was trapped on the dike.

The magnificently restored 18th-century windmills are the big appeal these days. The 19 Kinderdijk windmills, which were built between 1722 and 1761 and are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are the Netherlands’ biggest surviving cluster of windmills.

These stately buildings, with their huge 92-foot sails, were originally used to drain the fenlands and are open to the public from April to October, including special Mill Days when the sails are set in action.

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

You might be shocked to learn that the Netherlands, despite its tiny size, has one of the most diverse national park systems in the world. The largest is De Hoge Veluwe National Park (Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe), which is located between Arnhem and Apeldoorn and is widely regarded as one of the best places in the Netherlands to visit for outdoor enthusiasts.

This national park, which spans almost 13,800 acres, is the country’s largest continuous natural reserve and one of the most popular day trip destinations for both locals and visitors. The area, which includes extensive woodlands in the north and an unique sculpture park, was formerly a country estate and hunting reserve, and is still home to numerous red and roe deer today.

The best preserved part of the park comprises an area of ​​spectacular dunes interspersed with moorland and woodland and interrupted to the south and east by moraines up to 100 meters high. It’s also a popular area for bird watching, as well as hiking and biking (use of bikes is free for visitors).

Cathedral Square, Utrecht

The Dutch city of Utrecht, known for its many excellent ancient structures, should undoubtedly be included on any Netherlands trip itinerary.

Cathedral Square is a great place to start your exploration of this pedestrian-friendly city. St. Martin’s Cathedral, or Dom Church, is located on the Domplein, as it is known locally (Domkerk). Much of what you see dates from the 14th and 15th centuries, despite the fact that it was founded in 1254.

The Domtoren, a surviving stand-alone church tower built in the 1300s that stands far above the surrounding structures, is also worth a visit. Make the ascent to the viewing platforms for breathtaking views of Utrecht.