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Top Destinations for 2016: The Netherlands

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Whilst full of people (most of them very tall, most of them on bikes), The Netherlands in reality is not a very big country at all - it's actually the size of the US state of Maryland (i.e, rather tiny, in the grand scheme of things).

The fact that The Netherlands is tiny but full of people has, over hundreds of years, resulted in the creation of numerous small villages and towns nestled amongst the bigger cities, each with individual identifying factors, like accents and dialects unique to that area alone.

Two-thirds of this very flat landscape is devoted to agriculture, but that doesn’t refer to massive supplies of plant-like drugs the country is known for having. The nation is in fact, one of the world’s largest agricultural producers, making for some stunning scenery to admire from the back of a bike - an integral part of life and culture in the Netherlands. And this is just scratching the surface regarding the sights and destinations to be explored in this small country. History is big here, if you hadn't heard.

Where to Go

It’s best to start your journey in Amsterdam, allowing you to travel on later from the country's most famous city. A pleasant combination of historical features and fresher, modern ones, Amsterdam does live up to its reputation of having a lot to offer visitors.  

Night view of Amsterdam canal with dutch houses

The Anne Frank Huis, home to the tragic, eponymous writer, that has been converted into a walkthrough museum. Other important museums in Amsterdam include the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, where Rembrandt’s works are on display.  

The intricate and beautiful Royal Palace is worth stopping at, as well as walking through the district of Jordaan and the West, a small section of pubs, galleries and markets perfect for a relaxing time spent along the canal.

Outside of Amsterdam, another peaceful place to visit is Den Haag, or The Hague, home to the country’s government; this city is far less overwhelming than Amsterdam, whilst retaining all of the charm. There are numerous embassies, parks, museums and cafes here, as well as Scheveningen, a small, but popular beach suburb.

The Netherlands' Parliament, The Hague

Staying with this theme of peaceful cities, Utrecht is worth a trip, one of the country’s oldest cities, with warehouses lining the canals on two levels, providing a unique experience for diners and drinkers alike.  The city is also where the student population is the highest in the country, so there is plenty to do here at all hours of the day and night.

Utrecht 

For some more electrifying adventures, Rotterdam should be the next spot to cover. The Netherlands’ second-largest metropolis, Rotterdam's contemporary architecture gives this port city an exciting vibe, and it too is full of nightlife and partying options.

Aloha bar, Rotterdam (Credit: Sophia van den Hoek)

To complete a visit to the Netherlands, one should visit the Frisian Islands. A major tourist destination during the summertime, these remote islands are full of hiking and cycling trails, as well as charming villages; a pleasurable and tranquil way to wrap up your time in the country.

Tjasker Zandpoel in Wijckel, Friesland

What to Do

Go on a Cycling Tour

There is almost no way you can go to the Netherlands and not go cycling at least once - more than a quarter of all journeys countrywide are made by bike. Your level of experience and skill doesn’t really matter either, with the terrain being predominantly flat. There are a variety of bicycle tours offered all around the country and it’s also a fun way to admire the landscape and the cities of The Netherlands.

Mills Kinderdijk, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Alblasserdam

Taste the Cuisine in a Cafe

This country is far too well known for its cafe culture for a visitor to not experience it themselves. These spots are made for conversation and good company. While you enjoy the camaraderie, try a Dutch snack.

A popular one is Bitterballen, especially if you’re drinking beer. This is a breadcrumb-covered ball filled with a mixture of chopped beef, beef broth, flour, butter herbs and spice, and usually served with mustard for dipping.

Raw herring is a famous dish here as well, and it’s worth trying to at least to say that you did it. Haringhandels (herring carts) can be spotted all over the city of Amsterdam and it’s said that the best way to eat this Dutch speciality is a ‘broodje haring’ which is basically the fish served in a small sandwich with pickles and onions.

If the herring is a little too much for your taste buds there are desserts such as Stroopwafels, which are chewy waffle cookies, with syrup in the middle, often served with tea. Eating liquorice is practically a national pastime in this country, with the highest per capita consumption of the candy in the world.

Wadlopen

This is the Dutch term for mud-flat walking and it is a very popular activity for those in The Netherlands. People who enjoy hiking will especially like this. One of the best places to try this at is the Friesland (with an expert guide) where when the tide is low enough, you can walk and wade to the coast of all the way to the islands.

Visit Hoge Veluwe National Park

One of the largest continuous nature reserves in The Netherlands, this park has three pillars that it is based around: historic tales, art/architecture and nature /landscape. Most of the scenery that makes up the park is said to have been created during the last Ice Age. This national park can be experienced on your own time or through the many organized events often held here, like the National Stag Bellowing Championship or the monthly local market.

Medieval lodge on Hoge Veluwe in The Netherlands

Go To Efteling Kaatsheuvel 

Efteling Kaatsheuvel

This fantasy themed amusement park is the largest in The Netherlands and one of the oldest theme parks in the world. It is twice the size of the Disneyland Park in California, and has many attractions based on ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables and more. Some say that Walt Disney derived his concept for his theme park after seeing Eftling Kaatsheuvel.

Pagoda in Efteling Kaatsheuvel




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