Ask anyone what traveling to The Netherlands is like and most will say “Amsterdam was great! Wait, Amsterdam is in The Netherlands, right?”
Yes, Amsterdam is one of the coolest cities in Europe and, yes, it is the capital and largest city in The Netherlands. I definitely recommend that everyone visit Amsterdam at least once in their life and to do all of the touristy things there i.e. coffee shops, tulip shopping, bike riding, etc.
But there is SO much more to The Netherlands than Amsterdam. The entire country, from the chilled-out Maastricht to the remote Frisian Islands to underrated Utrecht, is worth seeing.
This Netherlands travel guide is going to cover as much of the country as possible. Yes, the nation is very small but you will soon discover that its size betrays its level of awesomeness. There is just so much to do in The Netherlands!
So give this article a read and start thinking about planning a trip to The Netherlands. We’re going to provide tips and advice for all kinds of travelers – backpackers, and weekend warriors included – so everyone should be equipped and ready to go.
Let’s get to it then and see what makes The Netherlands so freakin’ sweet!
Special thanks to local experts Mark Jonkers and Rinke Jansen for contributing to this Netherlands travel guide!
Why Visit The Netherlands?
The Netherlands, or Holland as it is sometimes referred to, is one of my favorite European countries ever. The people are awesome, getting around is super easy, and there are plenty of good times to be had. I make a habit of stopping by this country whenever I have time in Northern Europe.
The Netherlands is often reduced to one destination: Amsterdam. While there is a good reason for this – Amsterdam is indeed very charming and great for partying – there is MUCH more to the country than this one city. As you’ll see later on in this article, there are plenty of Dutch cities and places that are still worth visiting.
The real reason to visit The Netherlands is the culture. Dutch people are among the most laid back that I’ve met and never take themselves too seriously. They like to talk, drink, go to parties, and live their lives. Dutch festivals and concerts, one of the best environments to get to know the locals, are helluva a lot of fun as well.
The Netherlands is not a big country – it does not require months or even weeks to appreciate. For this reason, it is often relegated to a weekend trip or maybe a stopover when backpacking between France and Germany.
But this is also one of its greatest strengths. You don’t need to invest a lot in The Netherlands to have fun. You can just show up, go for a walk, ride a bike, pop into a pub, and fun will follow.
So be sure to include The Netherlands on your next European holiday. While you’re at it, don’t forget to set aside some time for getting out of Amsterdam; the real Holland won’t disappoint.
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Visiting The Netherlands – Travel Itineraries
Everyone visiting The Netherlands will have a different itinerary to be sure. Each itinerary should be custom designed for each traveler as well so they can get the most out of it.
To get the ball rolling and give you a couple of ideas, here are some suggestions for how to plan an itinerary for Holland!
3-Day Itinerary for the Netherlands – Amsterdam and the Vicinity
This is a pretty straight forward (and quick) itinerary for visiting The Netherlands. With only three days in the country, you’ll only get to see a city or two, and Amsterdam will most definitely be one of these.
Once you arrive in Holland, you can either base yourself in Amsterdam or one of the neighboring cities. If you stay in Amsterdam, you will obviously get to experience more of it. If you prefer the latter option, either because it will be cheaper or quieter, I suggest staying in Utrecht. Rotterdam and Den Hague are also possible places to stay in The Netherlands.
When it comes to visiting Amsterdam, be sure to set aside lots of time for just walking and wandering. Whilst there is lots to see and do in Amsterdam, I find the city most enjoyable when I’m lost along the canals. The nightlife in Amsterdam is the best in the country as well.
If you’re staying in Amsterdam, allocate two days for the city but make a day trip outside. Utrecht is like a smaller, quainter version of Amsterdam complete with its own canals. Rotterdam is the ultra-contemporary, if not slightly sterile, version of Holland and offers some cool modern architecture. Den Hague is a good place to see some older Gothic-style buildings as well as the beach.
5-Day Itinerary for the Netherlands – The Best of the Netherlands
This is an expanded version of the previous 3-day Dutch itinerary. Again, Amsterdam is the centerpiece of this trip but with an extra two days, you’ll get to see more of the capital plus a couple of other cities depending on how in-depth you want to go.
As previously mentioned, staying in Rotterdam, Den Hague, or Utrecht instead of Amsterdam are all worthwhile ideas. You can spend a couple of days hanging in one of these and still have time to see Amsterdam.
With the extra time, you could also visit more distant Dutch destinations like Maastricht or Groningen. If you’re planning on going to Belgium or Germany afterward, visiting one of these border cities makes sense as well.
If you’re visiting The Netherlands in the summer and want some beach time, then maybe consider tacking on the Frisian Islands. They’re pretty unspoiled, compared to the ones at Den Hague at least, and are pretty damn good looking. You’ll still want to bring a sweater with your swimsuit though as this is still the Baltic – evenings are chilly in the summer.
7-Day Itinerary for The Netherlands – Offbeat Places and Further
Now we’re cooking with gas. With seven days in The Netherlands, travelers will actually get to see some more authentic sides of the country! Conceivably one could even visit most of the top cities in The Netherlands as well!
Get your fill of Amsterdam – two days in or around should be good. When you’re ready to push off, head south first and stay a day or two in Rotterdam and Den Hague – both can easily be connected.
From there double back and head towards the center of The Netherlands and Hoge Veluwe National Park. If you missed Utrecht before, this would be a good opportunity to stop by on the way to the park.
From Arnhem, the gateway of Hoge Veluwe, you have two choices: head south to Maastricht or north to Groningen. Both are pretty off the beaten path by Dutch standards but are among the most beautiful towns in The Netherlands.
Take into consideration your onward travel plans – if you’re heading to Germany next, go to Groningen; if you’re going to Belgium, Maastricht would be better.
Even in seven days, that’s still a lot of ground to cover! If travelers are able to spend more than a week in Holland, they would have more leisure time as well as have the chance to visit even more offbeat Dutch locations, like the Frisian Islands. Think about extending your trip!
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Places to Visit in the Netherlands
Partying aside, which we’ll get to later, Amsterdam is one of the most entertaining cities in Europe. The endless canals, rows of tulips, hidden hipster hideouts, all of these and more make the city a very unique place to visit.
Everyone should go to the Rijksmuseum. Its art collection is very impressive and no itinerary for Amsterdam should exclude it.
Ultimately, the best way to experience Amsterdam is to just wander around. Grab a bike, go for a ride along the canals (Herengracht is a good start), and pop your head into anywhere that seems interesting. You may find a hidden gem in some dusty corner or get yourself into a little trouble…
Speaking of which! Partying in Amsterdam: what’s the deal?
Let’s call a spade a spade: Amsterdam is associated more often than not with progressive drug use. Hear the name, and most people’s minds immediately go to spliffs, raves, and red-light districts.
Whilst not everything in Amsterdam is allowed, it does feel like an extremely open place. You can do just about anything you want here (as long as it’s respectful), and run very little risk of feeling alienated.
Want to get high? Visit a coffee shop or a ‘smart-shop’ and pick your poison.
Not into drugs or partying? There’s still plenty to see in Amsterdam that doesn’t involve getting blasted.
Make no mistake: Amsterdam can still be a tourist trap. Just because you can do all of this cool stuff here, doesn’t mean it’s always high quality. You can still be ripped off and there are still massive crowds to deal with.
Day Trips from Amsterdam
Technically, just about everywhere in The Netherlands is a day trip away from Amsterdam. This is, after all, one of the smallest countries in Europe.
But let’s not split hairs here: there are a number of cool towns near Amsterdam that are among the best places to visit in The Netherlands. The fact that many of these are only 30 minutes away, makes them even more desirable day trips!
- Haarlem – A very well preserved Medieval town that is very close to Amsterdam. Features a very impressive Gothic Church (St. Bavo) and square that is good for afternoon beers. Visit on Saturdays to attend the local Grote Markt.
- Kinderdijk – Windmills, tulip fields, bicycles, canals; the only thing missing from this postcard Dutch town is a tap dancer in wooden clogs. A good day trip from Amsterdam for travel photos.
- Lisse – Home to the Keukenhof Botanic Garden, which is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Only open in the spring when the flowers are in bloom though. A very magical place that reminds one of Alice in Wonderland.
- Alkmaar – The so-called “cheese capital of Holland.” Come here if you fancy a bit of cheese mongering and stealth farts.
- Edam – Another cheese-loving town. You can bike here from Amsterdam too if you like!
- Leiden – Birthplace of Rembrandt. Very similar to Haarlem. Lots of natural history museums for those who want to take a break from the artsy stuff. Leiden is a bit further from Amsterdam but makes a good pit-stop on your way to Den Hague.
Visiting Den Hague
The coastal city of Den Hague is mostly known for having some very beautiful royalist buildings, a beach, and an extremely important international court. It is an altogether much different city than Amsterdam but is still quintessential Dutch.
It is important to distinguish that while Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, Den Hague is the home of the International Court of Justice. Domestic affairs are handled in the former, and international court materials are handled by the latter. So when someone is brought to court for war crimes or such, it’s in Den Hague.
Now the International Court isn’t so much of a tourist attraction but it is still a key part of the local community. If you’re walking around Den Hague aimlessly and see a big crowd of people outside of a very pretty building, it’s probably the Court. Remember to be respectful of protesters if they’re there.
There are plenty of other things to do in Den Hague. The Binnenhof is a gorgeous row of buildings set against a man-made lake; photographers will love to shoot this spot. There are lots of excellent museums in Den Hague as well, like the Gemeentemuseum (modern art), Mauritshuis (Dutch art), and the Panorama Mesdag.
The Madurodam miniature museum, though kitschy and touristy as hell, can also be fun. It features a series of historical sites in The Netherlands built at 1:25 scale, which means you appear about 50 meters tall comparatively. If you ever had a Godzilla fantasy, then this would be the place to do it. (Don’t go full Godzilla.)
Den Hague is also somewhat famous for its sand dunes. If you want a good travel workout, running up these is a real thigh burner.
Rotterdam is a complete 180 from Amsterdam and Den Hague. Gone are the winding canals, opulent buildings, and cozy coffee shops; in are skyscrapers, ultra-modern architecture, and converted warehouses.
Rotterdam even has an area officially deemed (no-joke) ‘The Cool District’ complete with a Mobile Suit Gundam Statue. Beat that Amsterdam!
Let’s be honest: try as it might, Rotterdam still can’t help but be a little boring. Business and trade are its primary focuses and the port, once the busiest in the world, is the center of the city. It sure is interesting to look at, but most will probably get their fill in a day or two.
On the surface, Rotterdam’s architecture is the most interesting part of the city. There are so many weird and funky buildings in this city that some areas feel like open-air modern art museums.
The Cube Houses and Market Hall are pretty over the top, and De Rotterdam hotel is probably the most interesting skyscraper in the city. Photographers will really enjoy shooting these buildings and may also like visiting the Netherlands Photo Museum as well.
Beyond the architecture, you’ll really have to go searching for things to do in Rotterdam. If you have time to kill, I suggest walking across the iconic Erasmusbrug bridge and then head for Katendrecht. This former industrial area once hosted derelict warehouses; now they’re all been converted into breweries, food halls, and music venues.
If you’d like to stay in this city a day or two, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the best hostels in Rotterdam.
In my opinion, Utrecht is the best city to visit in The Netherlands. It is like a smaller, less touristy version of Amsterdam and is way more local. There is a big ol’ canal in the middle, lots of cool hidden restaurants and bars, and, of course, plenty of room to ride a bike around. This is one of the great hidden gems of The Netherlands.
The central attraction in Utrecht is the imposing Dom Tower, located just off the main canal. This is a good place to orient yourself. Around this tower are lots of craft stores and cafes so if you’re looking for some Dutch souvenirs, these are good places to look.
The main canal in Utrecht is Oudegracht and it runs right through the heart of the city. Unlike the canals of Amsterdam, this waterway still has its original cellars on the banks. Historically, these were used for storing goods being transported along the river.
Nowadays, the cellars host super charming waterfront restaurants and cafes. If you like live music, head for ‘t Oude Pothuys along the canal.
Thanks to the presence of the University of Utrecht, the city feels quite young. Nights are usually happening and there is a lot of good energy around. The institution itself is also quite cool – the library (UBB) is ultramodern and great to get lost in. There are quite a few awesome hostels in Utrecht, making it a great spot for budget backpackers too.
But the best place in Utrecht has to be the Belgisch Biercafe Olivier. Not only does it have a FANTASTIC beer selection but it also has a fascinating story to go along with it. It was once the home of a wealthy merchant but was then converted into a secret church for marginalized Catholics in the 19th century. Thus, the facade looks residential but the interior is full of religious iconography.
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Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands and probably one of the most lowkey. Far fewer tourists and an easygoing local attitude makes Maastricht a very easy place to explore. With lots of old, medieval architecture to see and no sense of urgency, one could easily get stuck here for more than a couple of days.
I’ve heard a couple of people call Masstricht one of the most beautiful places to visit in The Netherlands and it’s obvious why. There is a ton of old architecture here that dates all the way back to the Roman era.
The most noteworthy structure in town is the St Servaas Church in the center of town. The Basilica of Our Lady, with its distinct, monolithic facade, is also worth visiting and could be reached by walking from St Servaas.
Aside from these usual attractions, there are a couple of other things to do in Maastricht. The city is famous for its caverns that were used for shelter during bombing runs. Further outside the city you’ll also find the highest mountain in The Netherlands, Vaalserberg, which is a staggering 322 meters high.
Visiting Hoge Veluwe National Park
Ah the great outdoors! In The Netherlands! Yes, there are things to do in The Netherlands that don’t involve brown bars or getting baked in coffee shops. You can get high here the old fashioned way as well: in the woods and nature of Holland’s largest national park.
Hoge Veluwe is located smack dab in the middle of the country. It is fairly large and actually features quite a few varied landscapes including forests, sand dunes, and meadows. It isn’t the Alps by any means but it is still charming in its own special way.
Most people explore Hoge Veluwe by bike as there is an extensive system of trails around the park. There are several bike stations throughout the park where you can pick up a set of wheels. The entrance ticket allows you to rent these for free.
One of the coolest parts of Hoge Veluwe is the Kröller-Müller Museum. This museum, located inside the park, hosts one of the largest collections of Van Gogh in the world, including the lauded “Gates of Eternity” piece. Given Van Gogh’s interest in landscapes later in life, a national park seems like a very appropriate place to preserve his work.
Architecture buffs should also try and visit the old residence of Jachthuis Sint Hubertus inside the park. The opulent building puts most lakeside mansions to shame.
There are a couple of ways to enter Hoge Veluwe. The most convenient way is via the small town of Arnhem. Arnhem is a cool little spot with a couple of attractions and accommodation options for those who want to stick around. Also, there’s a great pub called Sugar Hill that makes a bomb burger, American style.
Welcome to the Northern Netherlands! Few tourists actually make it this far, which is their loss I say! The largest city in the north is Groningen. Aside from feeling much more local, Groningen has a sizable student population and a pretty damn good nightlife as well.
The most prominent landmark in Groningen is the Martini Belltower (like the drink), located in the also equally noteworthy Grote Markt. Many Dutchmen have walked through this square at night and made a joke about drinking the world’s largest martini, shaken not stirred of course. Alas, you’ll need to go elsewhere for that.
While Gronigen is a pretty city to walk around, complete with all the usual Dutch hallmarks like canals and boathouses, it really stands out after hours. There are some very, very cool bars in Groningen and quite a few Dutch students come here for the weekend to get their kicks.
The best bars in Groningen are Groote Griet, Kleine Griet, and De Drie Gezusters. Together these three locations form a holy trinity that will bring you to your knees – probably in one of the bathroom stalls while bent over a toilet. They are big, they are rowdy, AND they’re all connected so gaining access to one allows you to visit them all.
Football fans will also appreciate that Groningen has a team, which is well-known for being the launching point of Luis Suarez’s career. Don’t make any ear jokes.
If you have the chance, make sure you make a day trip to Giethoorn from Groningen. This is a tiny little village with tiny canals and tiny little homes. It’s like if everyone in The Hobbiton owned a boat and built a moat. This is good for a couple of hours, though it’ll probably get a bit boring after long.
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Top Things to Do in the Netherlands
Here’s what to do in The Netherlands when you visit!
1. Getaway to Amsterdam’s more authentic neighbor: Utrecht
Yes, Amsterdam is the shit, but it’s also super crowded with tourists. For a breath of fresh air and a more local experience, head to the Dam’s neighbor Utrecht, which is one of the best places to visit in The Netherlands.
2. Kickback in Maastricht
By Dutch standards, Masstricht is on the fringe. Fewer tourists visit, locals are more idiosyncratic, and life moves at a different pace here. For a more alternative adventure in Holland, head to Maasricht and just chillax. Laze about the town, eat or drink when you want, and be content with the easy local lifestyle.
3. Eat Stroopwafel
No Netherlands travel guide is worth a damn if it doesn’t mention the gloriousness that is the stroopwafel. A confectionery wonder, an afternoon delight, a gift from God; call them what you will but they are one of the best treats on the entire planet. (I’m in withdrawal of them, obviously.)
4. Visit a museum
Trying to figure out what to do in Amsterdam first? Going to a museum is a good place to start. The Rijksmuseum is very impressive and hosts all sorts of exhibitions. The Anne Frank Museum, though humble itself, is still a humbling place to visit given its history.
5. Go to a coffee shop
They may be among the most touristy places in The Netherlands, but the coffee shops are still worth stopping by. There really are few other places in the world where you can order an edible and just veg out on the couch in public. You won’t be alone but maybe that’s a good thing.
6. Attend a Dutch festival
The Dutch host some of the best festivals in the world. From the sea of orange that is Kings Day to the sea of ravers that is Mysteryland, Holland holds nothing back. Attending a festival here is one of the top things you can do not only in The Netherlands but your life.
7. Ride a bike
Yes, you have to ride a bike when you visit The Netherlands. It is mandatory but it’s also a lot of fun. Ride around the canals of Amsterdam or the great outdoors of Hoge Veluwe National Park.
8. Brown bar it up
Dutch people love a good brown (bruin) bar. Something about the kitchy decorations and overabundance of lacquered wood just rouses a fire of national pride in them. I always make a habit of going to a brown bar in The Netherlands and drinking a Gouden Carolus (yes, I know the beer is Belgian).
9. Getaway to the Frisian Islands
The Frisians are indeed one of the more offbeat places to visit in The Netherlands. Yet, they really aren’t that hard to get to. The gateway, Texel, can be reached by public transit from Amsterdam and the outer islands are connected by the ferry. One could conceivably island hop as well with a good bike and the ferry!
10. Go local
To find some of The Netherlands’ most brilliant hidden gems, one simply needs to go off the beaten path. By choosing to stay in the smaller, less trafficked cities and towns, like Arnhem or Leiden, you’ll get a much more local experience.
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Accommodation in the Netherlands
I’ve already mentioned several times but staying in Amsterdam while backpacking in The Netherlands is going to mean paying more for accommodation. If you want to go on a cheap trip to The Netherlands, you’ll need to rely upon affordable backpacker accommodation and consider staying outside the capital.
Utrecht is one of my favorite places to stay in The Netherlands. It’s more low-key and less expensive than Amsterdam. There are plenty of cool hostels in the city as well.
You could conceivably stay in Rotterdam or Den Hague as well but you may find yourself running out of things to do in these cities.
Hostels in The Netherlands are pretty sweet. Amsterdam’s hostel scene is incredibly big and. Some, like Generator Amsterdam or WOW Amsterdam, are super modern; others, like Strowis Hostel in Utrecht, are more rustic and ooze character. I like my Dutch hostels like my Dutch bars: the browner, the better (means more wood is used more as a material).
If you have a little extra cash and value more privacy, go for Airbnb instead. There are heaps of apartments in The Netherlands that appeal to all sorts of tastes and budgets.
Personally, I’d avoid hotels if possible. Most are sterile, overpriced, and not really social.
Couchsurfing is also a good option when backpacking in The Netherlands. Dutch people are pretty open when it comes to sharing their personal space with others. My girlfriend spent a month crashing in a hammock in someone’s apartment and says it was one of the best things she did in Amsterdam.
Anyways, to get the ball rolling, I’ve assembled a list of some of the best hostels in Holland. Check them out below!
Where to Stay in the Netherlands
|Where||Location||Why Stay Here?!|
|Amsterdam||ClinkNOORD||Organized events almost every night, a library for digital nomads, DJ sets, and more; ClinkNOORD a poster child for European hostels.|
|Harleem||Hello, I’m a local boutique hostel||A fancier hostel that claims to be something in between a hostel and a hotel. The hostel purposely neglected to include WiFi in the rooms, so guests would be more social (I dig it).|
|Den Hague||Hostel Den Hague||A lively hostel located in the center of town. Hosts jazz concerts and a free glass of beer at check-in. Two of my favorite things!|
|Rotterdam||Hostel Ani & Haakien||Definitely one of the most stylish hostels in The Netherlands. Located in a quiet corner near the station but still close to downtown.|
|Utrecht||Hostel Strowis||A very rustic and charming hostel located in a quiet side street. Has a large common area that is serviced by a cafe and bar.|
|Maastricht||The Green Elephant||A digital nomad and backpacker health getaway. Features a meditation room, spa, gym, and theater. Good for when you need a mini holiday from a longer holiday.|
|Arnhem||Stayokay Arnhem||Another Dutch Stayokay hostel. Located closer to Hoge Veluwe than the city. Pretty large property with separate facilities for dorm rooms and common areas.|
|Groningen||Rebel Rebel Hostel||A dooopppe hostel built from old containers in an old sugar factory lot. Located on the edge of town but has lots of amenities. Features an on-site bar, garden, and even a “beach.”|
How Much Does a Trip to The Netherlands Cost
The Netherlands is one of the more expensive European countries. Amsterdam can be especially expensive as well. But for those with good spending habits The Netherlands can still be an affordable place to visit. Seasoned broke backpackers will know what to do to save money.
A low-medium daily budget for The Netherlands would be around $50-$70. This price applies to those who stay in hostels, buy their drinks from the store, cook at home, and practice the usual backpacker habits, some of which we will cover soon.
- Food – Dutch food is okay. Good sometimes but usually not great. Given how expensive eating out in The Netherlands is, I’d stick to cooking food at home or in the hostel. Groceries are cheap.
- Transportation – Buying individual tickets, whether you traveling in or out of the city, can be expensive. If you think that you will be using the bus a lot, buy some sort of pass. Better yet, walk or find a bike.
- Accommodation – Hostels can be very cheap in The Netherlands. A basic dorm room can be booked for as little as 10 euro per day. Airbnb’s and hotels are much more expensive, especially in Amsterdam. If you have a tent, there are many urban campgrounds in the Netherlands, but most are only slightly cheaper than a hostel.
- Nightlife – It should go without saying but drinking and partying all the time will deplete one’s funds VERY quickly. Prefade before going out for the night. Beer/wine is cheaper at the shops and public drinking is allowed.
- Attractions – The Netherlands hosts some of the finest art galleries in Europe, courtesy of its many prolific painters. Entry to a good museum usually starts at around 20 euro. So pick your Dutch museums wisely.
A Daily Budget for the Netherlands
|Expenses (per day)||Backpacker||Midrange||Big Spender|
Money in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a part of the Eurozone, thus it uses the Euro as currency. The Euro is used by 24 other countries and is interchangeable among them all. As of February 2020, the euro is worth about 1.08 USD.
Euros can either be traded for at a currency exchange store or taken directly from an ATM. Most Dutch ATMs accept Visa and Mastercard and are generally reliable. If you’re coming from outside Europe, make sure that you’re able to use your card before traveling to The Netherlands.
Since 2018, the Euro has been steadily losing its value compared to the USD. If you’re traveling to the Eurozone from the USA, you can get a great exchange rate as of the beginning of 2020. There has never been a better time to visit The Netherlands if you’re budget conscious, though time will tell if this trend continues.
Tips for Visiting the Netherlands on a Budget
On a shoestring budget? Here are some ways to cut the costs of a trip to the Netherlands:
- Try couchsurfing – How’s a free bad sound? Finding a place crash isn’t always easy but when you do score one, it’s a sweet deal. Hosts are sometimes really friendly and can show you a different side of a country as well.
- Sleep outside of Amsterdam – Amsterdam is fun, but it ain’t cheap. It might be more wise to stay in a neighboring town, like Utrecht or Arnhem, and then make day trips to the capital when you want to explore it.
- Use a refillable water bottle – Is there ever a reason to buy a plastic water bottle in The Netherlands? Dutch tap water is perfectly fine to drink. So bring a good travel water bottle with you and go nuts.
- Try camping – A good backpacking tent is a traveler’s best buddy. Sturdy in strong winds, warm on cold nights, always ready to go at a moment’s notice. Take advantage of the many campgrounds in Holland and save some money in the process.
- Rent a bike for a longer period – You can score better deals when you rent a bike for longer than a week. Book one and take it with you wherever you may go.
- To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
- Cook your own food – It’s budget backpacking 101. Cooking at home will always be cheaper than eating out. If you are without a kitchen, invest in a portable camping stove.
- Find cheap flights– A wiseman once said: “Only suckers pay full price.” Use apps like Skyscanner to find cheap plane tickets. It’s not unheard of to find a round-trip ticket from the West Coast to Amsterdam for $300.
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Best Time to Visit the Netherlands
Being Northern Europe, the Netherlands is not exactly known for its warm weather. Seasons tend to blend together and the difference between the winter and summer is that the rain is a bit warmer during the latter. It doesn’t really snow much here either, especially if you’re on the coast.
Dreariness aside, there are still some sunny days in the Netherlands, even if they are infrequent. There really is not nothing more enjoyable than a warm, clear day. There is a manic energy in the air when the weather is good as well and it seems everyone is fixing to go somewhere, either a park, a DJ set, the coast, wherever.
Summer (June-August) is, without a doubt, the best time to visit the Netherlands. The weather is reliable, temperatures hover around a lovely 65-70 Fahrenheit, and the days are quite long (almost 17 hours at the summer solstice). Prices can be VERY high during this time though.
The rest of the year is kind of the same. The shoulder months (May & September) can be warm depending on the year but October-April are pretty much just grey and rainy. If you want the best prices, the off season is time to visit.
Spring is the best time of year to see the tulips bloom in Holland. Most of the bigger gardens, like Keukenhof, will be packed.
One of the biggest factors that you should consider when planning a trip to the Netherlands are the festivals. The Netherlands organizes some pretty amazing festivals (see Dutch Festivals section) and you should definitely consider planning your trip around one. Amazingly, the Dutch festival season is quite long as well: the first big electronic show (Sneeuwbal) is in February and Christmas pretty much lasts for a large part of December. That’s one month of break.
Festivals in The Netherlands
The Dutch love a good party, in particular a big party. The Netherlands has to be one of the most festival-loving countries that I’ve ever visited in Europe and it seems there is always one happening.
Dutch festivals are extremely diverse. Some are pretty small, maybe taking place in a park, whilst others are enormous multi-day events. They can either be more traditional, cultural celebrations or full-on raves (with some middle ground). There is a party for everyone in The Netherlands.
Listing them all out would take a whole other article. Just give you an idea of what the parties are like, here some of the best festivals in The Netherlands:
- King’s Day (April 27th) – Celebrates the birth of the Dutch King (or Queen). Less snooty, more revelrous, and MUCH more orange than you’d think.
- Pinkpop (June) – The oldest pop and rock festival in the world. Another notch on Holland’s proverbial festival belt. Location: Landgraaf.
- Best Kept Secret Festival (June) – An up-and-coming festival that attracts a lot of big acts from various genres. Good mix of music. Location: Hilvarenbeek.
- North Sea Jazz Festival (July) – The largest jazz festival in The Netherlands. Location: Rotterdam.
- Oh My! Music (July) A hip-hop/rap-themed music festival. Only one day. Location: Amsterdam.
- Amsterdam Gay Pride (August) – Amsterdam is one of the most gay-friendly cities to travel to in Europe and spares no expense for Pride. Features fabulous floats in the canals.
- Mysteryland (August) – Groundbreaking EDM festival that has been going on for almost three decades.One of the first of its kind. Location: Haarlemmermeer.
- Amsterdam Dance (October) – Citywide electronic festival that features hundreds of venues and attracts hundreds of thousands of people. Five days long.
What to Pack for the Netherlands
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
Active Roots Money Belt
This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.
GRAYL Geopress Filtered Bottle
Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink from just about any source. The GRAYL Geopress is hands-down the most effective one we’ve ever used as well!
Active Roots Microfiber Towel
Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.
Active Roots Camping Hammock
Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks), and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organize your bathroom stuff. Well worth having as it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Staying Safe in the Netherlands
As a whole the Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world. Petty crime is limited and violent crime is extremely rare. Tourists should feel especially safe when visiting The Netherlands as many of the places that they will be visiting will be patrolled.
That being said, larger Dutch cities are not completely immune to crime. Theft and burglary are the most common crimes.You should not be surprised to hear that bikes are, in particular, frequent targets for thieves, especially in Amsterdam. Being Europe, pickpockets are also active in heavily-trafficked places, like public transport and tourist attractions.
No matter where you travel, whether in Somalia or Switzerland, you should always be conscious of your surroundings. Common sense is the surest way to avoid being a victim and most tourist-related crimes can be avoided in the first place. Pay attention and remember your street smarts.
Travelers should also be cautious when riding a bicycle in the Netherlands. Accidents do happen – reportedly, there were over 200 bike-related deaths in Amsterdam in 2017 – so be aware. Follow the rules of the road and respect both your fellow cyclists and motorists. You could wear a helmet if you felt inclined, but then you’d be more likely to die of ridicule from the locals.
If need be, readers can refer to our Amsterdam safety guide for more information. If you are going to be robbed, it’ll most likely be here, even if chances are slim.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in the Netherlands
For many travelers, this is the reason for visiting The Netherlands in the first place. Legends of coffee shops, red light districts, and warehouse parties have circulated across so many college campuses and in so many bars that it’s no wonder so many people travel here to party.
Having been to The Netherlands several times, I can say that there is some validity to these tall tales.
Dutch people like to have fun and healthy fun at that. Raving is not reserved to the underground, like in Berlin or Paris. Dutch people are not sloppy drunks either. Dutch people are responsible when partying, though I’ve seen many Jonkers go bonkers.
Drug use is generally accepted in The Netherlands, although still being technically illegal. Unless you’re caught with a narco-level amount of drugs and plan on doing something with them, most cops will look the other way.
Weed is almost always found in the infamous Dutch coffeehouses. Buying herb is as straightforward as ordering an espresso: just choose your varietal and the staff will prepare it for you. Note that there is a certain amount that you can buy in a single day.
MDMA is also extremely popular in The Netherlands these days. Go to a festival or DJ set and almost everyone is dipping their fingers into baggies and doing gummies, rather than drinking. Amusingly, bottles of water often sell for more than beer now.
If you were curious about MDMA, then The Netherlands might be the best place to do some. Yes, it’s very strong but it is also very pure as the Dutch don’t like messing with the bad shit. Most likely, it’ll be the cleanest MDMA you’ll ever find. Plus, there will be some lovely people around to help in case you panic.
Travel Insurance for Netherlands
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!
Click the button below to get a quote on your insurance or read our in-depth review of World Nomads’ coverage. And then… let the shenanigans begin. 😉
Getting into The Netherlands
There are three ways to enter The Netherlands:
- By land
- By sea
- By air
Most will arrive in The Netherlands via the third option. Schiphol International is the largest airport in the country and primarily serves Amsterdam. Because the rest of the country is so accessible, most people use this airport even if they are not going directly to Amsterdam.
Eidhoven is the second busiest airport in the country and is served mostly by budget carriers like Ryanair and Wizzair. This means you can find some damn good deals if you’re flying to The Netherlands from anywhere else in Europe.
Traveling overland to The Netherlands means taking a bus, train, or private car. Buses are the cheapest way of traveling around Europe and relatively quick. Trains are the fastest option but also the most expensive. If you’re backpacking around Europe and like the idea of using the train, we suggest getting some sort of European rail pass to save money.
It is possible to travel to The Netherlands by ferry from the several UK ports: Kingstom, Newcastle, and Harwich. Taking the ferry is best for those who want to take their car with them from the UK and drive in The Netherlands or the rest of Europe for that matter. If you’re just a passenger, fly instead.
Entry Requirements for The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a part of the Schengen Zone, which is a part of the greater European Union. If you’ve never been to a Schengen country e.g. Italy, Spain, France, etc then let me tell you that there is nothing to it.
Most countries can enter the Schengen Zone visa-free for up to 90 days within a period 180 days. You don’t have to go through customs every time you cross into a new Schengen country either – you get an entry stamp from the first port you used to enter the Schengen and then an exit from the country when you leave the Schengen Zone. The system is very convenient.
Not every nationality applies for this visa-free regime with the Schengen Zone. If you use a passport from any of these countries, you will need to apply for a visa beforehand to visit The Netherlands.
Traveling to Holland During COVID Times
The Netherlands is following the EU’s travel mandates quite strictly, which means that many foreigners may not be able to enter. As of November 2020, this includes American citizens not already residing in the EU.
Those who are allowed to travel to the EU must follow all of the local restrictions as imposed by the Dutch government. The government strongly advises that one should quarantine for at least 10 days when entering the country, though this doesn’t seem mandatory.
For a more detailed breakdown of entering The Netherlands from abroad, check the official website here.
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Getting Around The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very small country and, consequently, is very easy to get around. One could travel by train from opposite ends of the country in around 6 hours depending on the route. This makes The Netherlands a very convenient country to explore as you can stay just about anywhere and not be too far away from anything.
Like all great European nations, the Netherlands benefits from a very efficient public transportation system. Using a combination of buses, trains, and trolleys, you can travel just about anywhere in the Netherlands. If all of those should fail, there’s never a bicycle shop too far away either.
All of the major cities in The Netherlands have a bus and/or tram network. The ticketing system is convenient as well: almost everywhere in the country uses the OV-chipkaart. The card itself costs 7.50 euro and needs to be charged with funds to be used. Fares vary depending on the route.
Trains are usually used to travel longer distances in The Netherlands. Most are very quick and efficient. Given the small size of the country, one could easily stay in the likes of Amsterdam or anywhere central and see the rest of the country. Single tickets are usually well-priced but buying many may not be cost-effective. Look into buying a Eurorail Pass if you plan on using the train very often.
If you’re backpacking in The Netherlands and find the train too expensive, the larger, main-liner buses are usually very affordable. They do take longer to arrive at their destination though. Use Flixbus to check for prices.
Uber is in The Netherlands but it’s expensive. For traveling between cities, try using Blablacar.
If you’re trying to get around the Dutch cities, having a bike is very convenient. Rentals usually start at around 20 euro/day. If you wanted to visit ALL of The Netherlands by bike, then Al Gore would be very happy with you.
Unless you’re really hell bent on the freedom of the road, I wouldn’t suggest renting a car in Holland. Tolls are high, traffic is bad in the cities, and gas is expensive. Otherwise, you can usually find good prices on rentalcars.com.
Use Bookaway to find the best deals on transport – buses, planes, trains, and ferries. It’ll save you a load of time when organising transport and you’ll probably nab an EPIC DISCOUNT too!
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Hitchhiking in the Netherlands
Dutch people are very nice when it comes to lending a ride. They ought to be too: do you know how many Dutch people I’ve seen hitching rides across the globe?! It’s only fair that they return the favor in their own country 🙂
Hitchhiking in The Netherlands is straight out of a textbook. Simply stand in the right place, have a sign, hold out your thumb, and wait. You should score a ride in less than an hour although people usually find success in more like 15 minutes.
When it comes to being a successful hitcher, the key is choosing the right spot to throw out your thumb. Busy town centers and highways: not a good place to find a ride. Motorway turnpikes and gas stations: now we’re talking. These latter options are a hitchhiker’s prime territory.
Be aware that some gas station managers prefer that you stand in a certain place when hitching so as not to bother the customers too much. On the rare occasion you may get a dick who tells you to piss off. Forget that guy.
If you want to learn more about scoring free rides, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to hitchhiking! It’s a backpacker’s best friend.
Onwards Travel from the Netherlands
Step up and take your pick folks: there are lots of countries to head to next after wrapping your holiday in Holland. Here are the most obvious:
- Travel to Belgium – My guiltiest of pleasure holidays, the place I go to when I need to drown my sorrows in endless beer and fried potatoes. Belgium is one of the most delicious countries in the EU, not to mention one of the most underrated. Yes, the landscape is pretty dull and, yes, the weather is horrible, but give me a tripel and pot of mussels and I couldn’t really care less. Ghent is my favorite Belgium town.
- Travel to Germany – Germany is very similar to The Netherlands albeit a bit more tight-collared, especially if you head for the commercial centers of the Rhine. You can easily book a direct train ticket from Amsterdam to Berlin. Go first to Hamburg if possible; now that’s an awesome German town.
- Travel to the UK – English Channel be damned! It is very simple to travel to the UK, island nation or not. Simply take the Eurostar via the underwater Channel Tunnel or catch one of the dozens of cheap flights leaving Schiphol. If you have a car and want to go on a road trip in the UK or even Scotland (like TBB writer Chris did) then the ferry is the best option.
Working and Living in the Netherlands
So you want to stay in The Netherlands long-term and maybe work while you’re there. So does everyone else! The Netherlands offers some of the highest standards of living in the world and a government that is very supportive of the startup culture. Living here could be a dream for digital nomads; they’ll just need to be able to pay for everything.
The Netherlands is not a cheap place to live in, not by a longshot. If you want to have your own apartment you’ll need to be making quite a bit on your own at least or be employed by a local company. If you fall into the former category and want to stay longer in The Netherlands, there are ways to acquire residency.
For most backpackers, the most common way of staying in The Netherlands longer is by volunteering somewhere.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Volunteer in The Netherlands
Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst helping your host community. There are plenty of different volunteer projects in the Netherlands including teaching, construction, agriculture and pretty much anything.
The Netherlands is a very well-established, western nation that isn’t in as much need of volunteers as other, less-developed countries. Most of the opportunities you’ll find are in hospitality, where you’ll usually receive free accommodation and a meal in return for your time. More unique opportunities include assisting in holistic centers and helping out on eco-projects. You can’t volunteer off a tourist visa in the Netherlands, so non-EU/EEA citizens will need to apply for the appropriate permit before arriving.
If you want to find volunteering opportunities in the Netherlands, then we recommend that you Signup for Worldpackers – a volunteer platform that connects local hosts directly with traveling volunteers. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll also get a special discount of $10 when you sign up. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.
Volunteer programs run through reputable work exchange programs like Worldpackers are usually very well-managed and reputable. However, whenever you are volunteering, do stay vigilant especially when working with animals or children.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
What to Eat in The Netherlands
The Netherlands isn’t exactly a culinary paradise. Dutch food is, for lack of better terms, uninspiring. You can still find good food here and there but you’ll have to look hard and be willing to pay more money.
Traditional Dutch food is hearty and sometimes a little simple. Being a dairy-based culture, cheese and butter are common, especially for breakfast. Like their German neighbors, rich breads and sausages are also staples of the diet. Rounding everything out is a lot of potato based dishes and cooked vegetables. Yum.
Not to crap on the Dutch culinary tradition too much, there are some delicacies worth mentioning. It would be unfair of me to say that there isn’t good food in The Netherlands, because there is actually some very good stuff. For example, stroopwafel – a waffle sandwich with syrup or jam – is probably the best sweet treat I’ve ever had. So kudos Holland – you got me hooked.
Here are some other worthwhile Dutch dishes:
- Bitterballen – Deep fried meatballs
- Stamppot – Mashed potatoes w/ extras
- Hollandse Nieuwe – Dutch Herring
- Gouda – Smokey cheese
- Kroket – Dutch croquettes
- Poffertjes – Fried dough balls
- Hagelslag – Sandwich w/ confectionery sprinkles*
If you want to have something besides Dutch food, there are plenty of international restaurants around. Indonesian food is particularly popular as the country was once a part of the Dutch Empire. The ubiquitous kebab can also be found at local Middle Eastern and Turkish cafes.
When eating out, it is customary to split the check evenly among friends. This is called “Going Dutch” on the bill.
*I’ve never actually seen a Dutch person eat this before and I think this is intentional. No self-respecting person could possibly eat a sandwich with nothing but sprinkles in public…
Dutch Culture and the People
Dutch people are some of my favorites in the world. They’re loyal, good-natured, lovable, and sometimes completely lacking in filters. Almost every hostel has featured some gorgeous Dutch person doing something strange and totally oblivious to their own behavior. For that, I love them.
Admittedly, most of the Dutch people that I have met are from when I am traveling. It is fair to say, and usually true, that most people are different when they’re living in their native land.
Yet, from my own experience, I can say that Dutch people are still just as warm at home as they are abroad, if not a little more mindful about staying hydrated at parties. (Who says you can’t go to a rave before a workday?)
Physically, the Dutch are true to their stereotypes. Yes, everyone here is a giant even by my already tall standards and most people are very good looking. Blond hair is common though brunettes still make an appearance here and there. The Dutch tend to be pretty lean as well.
When traveling to The Netherlands, I highly recommend trying to speak with the locals. They’re more friendly than other Europeans and most have traveled extensively themselves so they are used to the sometimes awkward approaches and conversations. At the end of the day, the Dutch are so nice that most should indulge you, at least a bit.
Speaking Dutch – Useful Travel Phrases
Dutch can sound funny. Sometimes, it’s like listening to a German nod off after they’ve already had twelve beers and accidentally taken a Claritin. After a while, everything starts to sound like a series of slurs and portmanteaus. Drunken Dutch is a whole other level.
Luckily, just about everyone speaks English in the Netherlands (between 90-93% to be exact). Only in the most remote corners of the countryside will you be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t speak English.
If you wanted to impress the locals though and have a good laugh, knowing a few Dutch phrases might be worthwhile. You may not need to know anything to order a coffee but trying to say “Lientje leerde Lotje lopen langs de lange Lindenlaan” five-times fast in a bar is sure to earn you some friends.
- ot ziens – See you later
- Alsjeblieft – Please
- Bedankt – Thank you
- Lekker – Cool/Great/Awesome
- Je lult uit je nek – Stop dicking out your neck (talking bullshit)
- Klootzak – Asshole
- Nu komt de aap uit de mouw – Now the monkey comes out the sleeve
- Alsof er een engeltje op je tong piest – Like an angel pissing on your tongue
Ain’t Dutch a beautiful language?
Books to Read about The Netherlands
These are some of my favorite travel reads and books set in Holland, which you should consider picking up before you begin your adventure…
- Girl with a Pearl Earring – Inspired by the famous Dutch painting of the same name by Johannes Vermeer. Tells a fictional story behind the painter, the painting, and the model.
- The Diary of a Young Girl – The diary and collected writings of Anne Frank who hid from the Nazis during their occupation of Amsterdam during WWII.
- Max Havelaar – or “The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.” A historical novel about the Dutch East India Company’s colonial actions in Indonesia.
- Why The Dutch Are Different – An expat from the UK shares his thoughts on the Dutch after falling in love with their country. Explores some of the more common stereotypes of The Netherlands and introduces a few nuances.
- Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City – A pretty self-explanatory book that explains why and how Amsterdam has become one of the most open-minded cities in the world.
A Brief History of the Netherlands
For much of recorded European history, The Netherlands didn’t play an enormous part. From antiquity all the way up until the 16th century, Holland and it’s people were mostly vassals of other larger, European powers. The Romans, Franks, Holy Roman Empire, and even the Spanish, have occupied current-day Holland and governed it.
It wasn’t until the Eighty Years War, also known as the Dutch Revolt, that The Netherlands shed the yoke of the conquered and became a separate political entity. At the time they, as well as Belgium and Luxembourg, were ruled by the Hapsburgs of Spain.
FUN FACT: Willem van Oranje was the champion of the revolt and founded the first Dutch Royal House. The color of his original family seal, orange, would go on to become the official color of the new royal house as well. (See King’s Day.)
Following their independence from Spain, The Netherlands took off. They became one of the greatest naval powers during the Age of Exploration and even gave the English a run for their money. At their height, The Dutch Empire had control over Indonesia (then the East Indies), Taiwan, and South Africa as well as large parts of India, the Carribbean, and New England.
Eventually, The Netherlands would get caught up in the imperial power struggles that gripped Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Napoleon came and went, the UK became the world’s superpower, and Prussia became a European juggernaut. The Netherlands managed to avoid the worst of WW1 but got beaten badly by the Nazis in WW2.
In the end, The Netherlands managed to survive some of the most tumultuous years of European history and probably came out on top. Now, Holland is one of the most prosperous nations in the EU: it’s economy is advanced, the government quite liberal, and people seemingly happy.
Final Advice Before Visiting The Netherlands
There are a ton of good times to be had while backpacking in The Netherlands but everyone, myself included, can get carried away sometimes. It is important to keep in mind that you are an ambassador for your country, which is awesome.
We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country.
Traveling often illuminates some of the great socio-economic inequalities of the world. Never take it for granted that you are healthy and financially able to go traveling.
Show the world around you some gratitude and help to make a positive impact on it. Most of all have the time of your life and spread the love!
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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