The Netherlands is a small monarchy in the Northwest of Europe, between the North Sea, Belgium and Germany, known for much more than cheese, windmills, tulips.
Its recorded history starts with the Roman invasion halfway the first century A.D. but it had its heydays in the 17th century when it disputed hegemony of the Seven Seas with the English and the Spanish empires. In that period New York, parts of India, a series of forts along the African Coast and the Colonies in Indonesia formed part of the vast Dutch Empire.
Though most historic town centers in The Netherlands date back to the Dark Ages, most building was done in era of oversea expansion and in the nineteenth century when the country finally took the industrial revolution seriously. In Amsterdam, Leiden or Utrecht you can see the big 17th century mansions once owned by the commanders of the Dutch fleet and those of the rich merchants who financed the wars with their overseas gains. They were the Dutch elite by lack of real aristocracy. The preferred small items of great value stashed away in their mansions over baroque palaces. Though the Dutch never were really extravagant and did not have a real court like there were in Germany, France and Spain, they were very proud of themselves. This can still be seen in the countless portrait paintings they commissioned. They also were the patrons of the famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Van Hals or Vermeer.
Apart from the glory days of the 17th century there is much in the Netherlands to attract the present day visitor. Visitors will find a very open, relaxed and international atmosphere, some great museums with both modern art and historical chef-d’oeuvres. Due to the bombardment that levelled the city and the reckless renovations that followed Rotterdam is the only real modern town of The Netherlands (not to mention, the largest seaport in the world), not counting boring suburbs like Lelystad or Almere. Especially compared to mega cities like New York, London, Paris or even Cologne, the Dutch cities are all somewhat provincial and lacking the great gesture. Nonetheless places like Den Bosch (‘s Hertogenbosch) and Arnhem are also certainly worth a visit, with the latter being close to the national park ‘Hoge Veluwe’.
Maastricht is the most important city of the South. The atmosphere is quite different from the North. The town is pretty and is a good base for exploring the countryside as well as making daytrips to Aachen and Liege.
Because of its size and flatness The Netherlands is a great country to explore by bicycle. Public transport is another good option because parking is problematic in most town centers. Trains and buses provide excellent transport in the entire country, though in the eastern part it sometimes pays off to rent a car.
Finally, the young mainly visit The Netherlands for two characteristics: the permissive attitude towards sex (prostitution is legal) and drugs (possession of small quantities of softdrugs for personal use is legal, and marihuana – in small quantities for personal use – is for sale legally in ‘coffee shops’ throughout the country). This, however, does not mean harddrugs are tolerated – nor is illegal prostitution. Both examples of leniency were instituted to better control these problems. The result is less crime and better working conditions for legal prositutes – a recipe slowly being picked up by the rest of the world. The Dutch always try to stay one step ahead though, and for several years now gay couples have been allowed to marry legally and properly, like any couple.
Amsterdam is one of the coolest cities in Europe. Beautiful, hip, laid back, lots to do, lots to see, many pubs, food from all over the world and very friendly people.
A visit to this very beautiful city is sometimes like taking a walk in the 17th century. The center of Amsterdam has a lot of charming architecture dating from this period. It’s an excellent city to tour on foot. However, Amsterdam may boast a lot of 17th century architecture, but that’s about all that’s old fashioned about the place.
Amsterdam was originally built on the shores of the saltwater ‘Zuiderzee’ but as a result of centuries of land-reclamation projects the city now borders the freshwater of IJsselmeer. The center of Amsterdam is shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by four famous canals called the “Singel”, “Herengracht”, “Keizersgracht” and “Prinsengracht”. These are best to walk along if you want to see the city’s beautiful gabled houses. At the open end of the “horseshoe” you will find the ornate Central Train Station.
Amsterdam is home to some of the most beautiful sights in Europe. The canals that flow through the city give it great character and style and the museums are renowned all over the world.
Amsterdam has several excellent museums and two of the best are next to each other. The Van Gogh Museum is a must for anyone interested in the artist’s work. It house’s some of his most famous masterpieces beginning with his time in Holland to the period of his death in France. On the same square is the 250-room Rijksmuseum, which contains among its treasures a handful of exquisite Vermeers and one of the best Rembrandt collections in the world. “The Night Watch” is exhibited in the Hall of Honor and is most definitely a “work of art”. Astonishing is only a portion of the original painting which had to be cut down to fit its intended spot in the city’s old town hall. There is a copy of an uncut version of the painting hanging in the room just before the Hall of Honor.
The excellent Stedelijk Museum displays contemporary art including traveling exhibits from other countries. Museum Amstelkring also known as “Our Lord in the Attic” is set in a 17th-century merchant house. It contains a secret Catholic church on the top floor. The house has its original furnishings giving a good idea of what life at that time was like. [Note: the Stedelijk is currently closed for renovations – February 2004]
If time permits take a look a Rembrandt’s house near the Waterlooplein (the artist lived there 1639-1657). And the church where he is buried at the Westerkerk, (you’ll walk passed it on the way to The Anne Frank House). Have a look for the crown on top of the church given to Amsterdam by Maximilian I in 1489 and you can also climb the spire for a great view of the city. There are also a number of other Rembrandt-related sites: the 13th-century Oudekerk (Amsterdam’s oldest church), where Rembrandt’s wife Saskia is buried. The 15th-century Waag (weigh station) where Rembrandt painted “The Anatomy Lesson” (it now houses the Jewish Historical Museum) and the Zuiderkerk (South Church) where he painted “The Night Watch”.
This large and modern port city has risen phoenixlike from the ashes of World War II. In 1940 the Germans bombed the city to force a fast surrender of the Netherlands. Most demolition was actually done in the process or rebuilding the city to modern standards. Only three large buildings in the center have survived miraculously: the city hall, the St. Laurence church and the White House.
Today Rotterdam’s the most modern city in the Netherlands, with the high rising towers of company buildings in the center. Some people think it became a playground for architects trying their theories and thus making Rotterdam one giant wind tunnel, but you can really feel things are happening here if you are interested in architecture. However, don’t expect this to be the place for a decent night out. Though Rotown has decent, though small acts and is well-known internationally, Nighttown is the place to be for dance and house, and De Doelen is a wonderful venue for classical music, ttheatre is sorely missed. Not even the city theatre and the Luxor theatre can compensate, as the programming there is uninspired and only aimed at the Dutch.
Symbol of Rotterdam is the Euromast Space Tower, 605-ft-/184-m-tall that had to be extended several times to keep its leading position as highest building of the Meuse city. From this tower with its revolving sit-down elevator you have an excellent over the city and the surrounding industrial harbour landscape. The harbour is one of the busiest in the world is a draw in itself and still the largest one if you count by pure volume.
A city like this can’t do without Museums. A collection of painting, sculpture and design worth seeing is displayed at the Boymans-van-Beuningen Museum. Half a day in Rotterdam is really sufficient for most, but you can also spend several days if you want to see it all. The Dutch institutes of photography and of architecture are located right near the center, and there are lots of galleries. In February there’s always the Film festival and every other year there’s a photo biennale. The Kunsthal, designed by the famous architect Rem Koolhaas, has changing exhibitions on all sorts of expressions of art and culture.
The people, though claiming to be one of the friendliest of Holland, are actually fairly prejudiced towards foreigners – a fact clearly demonstrated by the 2004 city laws to forbid people from poorer families to settle in the city. This law came to be, when all other recources were depleted to stop poverty from becoming ever more popular. It is therefore no surprise Rotterdam was also the home of the ultra right wing politician Pim Fortuyn, who became the first victim ever of political assassination in The Netherlands when he was killed on May 6th, 2002. There is a statue you can visit, which still regularly has flowers put underneath it.
Do come to Rotterdam – for the architecture, the museums, the music or just some shopping, but buy a return ticket. There is a reason why the average tourist only spend $15 and three hours in town…
Forget about The Hague, forget about Rotterdam, it’s Utrecht you are heading for after visiting Amsterdam.
At first sight, you may not see the charm of Utrecht. Arriving by train or car, you’ll probably think that it is just one of those cities taken over by big companies. Can you be more wrong? Utrecht, Hollands’ most centrally located city, has so many faces that it will leave you flabbergasted. The city canals cleave the centre and contribute to the specific character of the inner town. Along the canals, you’ll find packed terraces in the summertime (or brown cafes filled with people grown numb with cold in the wintertime).
The shopping heart beats throughout the city and especially at Hoog Catharijne, the biggest indoor shopping centre. Nearby is the museumquarter, a collective of six impressive museums. When you don’t know where to start, just go to the ‘Domplein'(Domsquare), take a deep breath and climb the 465 steps of the Netherlands’ highest tower and observe Utrecht’s hustle and bustle.
Be sure to visit the Maliesingel as this is the most beautiful place ever seen. Many many 30’s houses there with great views, people who live there are so blessed. Man O man these guys rock.
The Hague is not the capital of the Netherlands, but it is the seat of the government and is also the place where Queen Beatrix lives. The city center is pretty, with quite a few nice government buildings (the ugly government buildings are mostly outside of the center), stately mansions (many owned by ambassadors and or embassies) good museums (Mauritshuis, Panorama Mesdag) and a nice square to sit and have a drink (Plein).
The Hague may not have the big city atmosphere of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, nor the cosy little canals of smaller Dutch towns, but it is a nice place to go. On a beautiful day it is especially worthwhile, because the beach resort of Scheveningen (hard to pronounce) is actually part of the city. With its Pier and Casino it is one of the most fancy beach resorts of the Netherlands.
Arnhem (pop. 135 000) called the “Garden City on the Rhine ” is better known to World War II veterans as the city of A Bridge Too Far (British paratroopers tried and failed to gain a foothold across the Rhine there). A unique thing in this so-called Garden city are the trolley busses; they use electricity-wires instead of benzine and are thus very environment-friendly.
While in town see the Dutch Open Air Museum—a collection of buildings and costumes from throughout the Netherlands and take a look at Burger’s Zoo as well. This petting zoo is located on the same street as Arhem’s most famous Museums.
Arnhem rates a half-day visit when you want to enjoy the sights near the center but add more time if you want to see the Airborne Museum in nearby Grote Hartensteyn or medieval Doorwerth Castle. Art lovers will want to visit Otterloo and its collection of van Goghs at the Kroller Muller Museum. When you’re planning to stay the night in Arnhem it’s real good fun to stroll the lively squares, especially the Hotspots full of bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants and big disco’s.
Groningen is located in the North of the Netherlands. It is quite a charming city, although many the historic centre was scarred both in the second World War and in the rebuilding process that followed the war.
The Grote Markt is the heart of the centre. The Martinikerk with its famous tower dates from the 12-th century but most of what you see now is from the 16-th century. Another big attraction in Groningen is the Groningen Museum a spectacular example of modern Dutch architecture with a good collection of 17-th century paintings. The Adoration of the Magi by Rubens is the museums masterpiece.
One of the best things of Groningen is its nightlife. Groningen is an important university town and the presence of many students makes sure there is always something going on. On the Grote Markt, in the Peperstraat and the Poelestraat you’ll find many watering holes and small student restaurants.
Maastricht is located in the south of the Netherlands, close to Liege and Aachen. It has a more southern, relaxed atmosphere than other parts of The Netherlands, and attracts many international tourists not only for its rich history (founded by the Romans) but also for its beauty. The city center is split in two by the river Maas, with the train station located in the smaller part of the center.
The history of Maastricht goes back to c. 50 B.C., when the Romans built a settlement by the main road, near a ford in the river. The city’s name is derived from the Latin ‘Mosae Trajectum’, the site where the river Maas could be crossed. This settlement grew to become a walled castellum, which was abandoned towards the end of the fourth century A.D. Maastricht had its first outer walls built in 1229. Before long the town was felt to be too cramped, and at the beginning of the 14th century construction work on a new series of walls was commenced. The city was important strategically, and had to withstand many attacks during its history.
The centre of the city is especially attractive, due to its wealth of historic buildings; some 1450 monuments are protected by law. Care is taken that both new and renovated buildings maintain the period atmosphere of their surroundings. Because of its heritage value, the whole of Maastricht city centre has been declared a ‘protected area’.
Visit the main square (Vrijthof) or the Market, and admire the beautiful Basilica of Saint Servatius, Basilica of Our Beloved Lady, O.L. Vrouweplein or the famous ‘St. Pietersberg’ caves, which are the result of centuries of excavation of marl, a building stone, resulting in an enormous labyrinth of more than 20,000 passages. Visit the VVV tourist office for guided tours – even tours by boat through these enormous caves are possible.
of course, there are many opportunities to just relax, shop in one of many small streets with nice tourist shops and little pubs. No other Dutch city has so many bars per square kilometer!
Leiden is a very charming university town, halfway between Amsterdam and The Hague. It’s a very lively place, with good nightlife and many nice restaurants.
Main attractions are the Museum of Antiquities with an excellent collection of artifacts from Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Hortus Botanicus one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, planted in 1578 and the Pieterskerk with the tomb of John Robinson, leader of the Pilgrim Fathers. Most of the sights are very close to each other, on or near the Rapenburg, a major canal in the centre.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.