With a total of five million tourists a year, it does not come as a surprise that Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is one of the greatest small cities in the world. The abundance of canals, baby-doll houses coupled with a relaxed atmosphere undoubtedly make the ‘weed’ capital the perfect holiday destination for Brits wanting to explore life on the other side of the Channel. And yet, whilst there is nothing wrong with Amsterdam’s cultural hotspots, bustling nightlife and the attraction of the only legal ‘coffee shops’ in the world, the Netherlands has so much more to offer. Extend your stay with a few days and follow this handy guide to discover the secrets of the country of tulips, cheese and insanely tall people.
Instead of elbowing your way through the crammed streets of Amsterdam, why not visit Utrecht, the capital’s cuter sister? A mere twenty-minute train ride away, Utrecht offers as many bikes, cobblestone streets and canals as its bigger brother, whilst avoiding the hubbub of the capital. The majestic Dom Tower, which stands at the heart of the city, is not to be missed: overlooking the historic city centre, the tower provides an amazing overview of Utrecht’s canals and wharves. There’s no need to worry about your wallet: hosting an internationally renowned university, Utrecht is home of many student-friendly pubs and restaurants.
- Activity: Rent a bike and cycle along the Oudegracht.
- Eat: Go to De Muntkelder for the best Dutch pancakes in town.
- Drink: Whether you’re starting or finishing an Utrecht night out, Café België is a must.
The port city and former European Capital of Culture (preceding Liverpool, a city Rotterdam is often twinned with) always turns out to surprise first-time visitors, especially when they come armed with preconceived notions that have dogged the city’s reputation since who knows how long. Because Rotterdam does not reveal its secrets very easily, many people seem to overlook its historical significance. Ambitious high-rise mixed with historic buildings and old warehouses scattered throughout the city make Rotterdam a utopia for every urban explorer. Plus, the cool city centre with dozens of art galleries, coffee shops (the ones with coffee, not the weed!) and quirky boutiques make Rotterdam more than just the ordinary port city.
- Activity: Hop on the watertaxi and soak up the impressive skyline.
- Eat: Let the watertaxi drop you off at Hotel New York, a beautiful historic building from which the first ships from mainland Europe to the States departed and which has been turned into a magnificent restaurant overlooking the river Maas.
- Drink: Visit Rotown for a unique rock & roll experience.
The Hague (Den Haag/’s-Gravenhage)
While Holland has plenty of water, the only place to properly feel the sea breeze blowing through your hair is the country’s political capital The Hague. Before heading out to the seaside though, make sure you’ve seen one of the most famous international and national buildings: the world-famous International Court of Justice and Het Binnenhof, where the official offices of the Dutch Parliament are situated. After having strolled around the Queen’s Palace Gardens, hop onto a tram that leads you to the city’s wonderful seaside Scheveningen. Listen to the seagulls, bypassing trams (a quintessential Dutch sound) and breaking waves and you will understand why this is Holland’s most popular seaside resort.
- Activity: Stroll along the boulevard of Scheveningen and watch the sun sink into the North Sea.
- Eat: For the Dutch version of fish & chips, find a seaside stall that sells ‘kibbeling’.
- Drink: Mingle with the locals in Het Zwarte Paard.
Magnificently perched on the Dutch and Belgian border, Maastricht is different from any other place in the Netherlands. Because Maastricht was ruled by the Celts, Romans and French, and even invaded by the Spanish during the Eighty Years’ War, the city’s rich history is woven into virtually every brick. The bourgondic, Francophile lifestyle can be traced back when visiting the city’s excellent pubs and restaurants. Oh, and don’t forget to visit the Selexyz bookshop, which is situated in a 13th dominicanen church with frescoes and has a café settled in the altar.
- Activity: After having explored the city centre, hire a bike and make your way to the famous St. Pietersberg caves just outside Maastricht.
- Eat: Sjinkerij de Bóbbel serves amazing regional specialties.
- Drink: The ‘Onze Lieven Vrouwen’ Square is full of bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as outdoor seating areas perfect for enjoying city sights.