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The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal g's (not in the south) and sch's (also found, for example, in Arabic). Written Dutch might be semi-intelligible to someone who knows other germanic languages (English, German, Scandinavian languages), but the spoken language sounds rather different from English.

Even though the Netherlands is just a small country, dialects can still be found everywhere. Dutch people can easily tell where other people were raised just by their dialect/accent. Dialects are hardly used in everyday life in most of the country. Near the borders this is different, especially in Limburg, in the south, which still cherishes its dialects. The Carnaval period is another exception, when many cities even get renamed. Although dialects haven't died out, everyone can still speak standard Dutch perfectly.

Officially the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. When travelling through Fryslân you will come across many roadsigns in two languages (similar to Wales). This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free. In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people (especially amongst the younger generation) can speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo (Surinam) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).

The hackneyed phrase "They all speak English there" is in fact pretty accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages (mostly German and French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent. Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors, however - or finding yourself in a family atmosphere - will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.

Buy

A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of 100, 200 and 500 euro, out of paranoia for counterfeits and shoplifting. Shops used to open by 9 O clock in the morning and they use to close by 5.30 or 6 in the evening.Sunday's there won't be any shops opened, unless otherwise it's first Sunday of the month.In Amsterdam centrum area is exception to this case and you can see the shops open till 9 O clock in the evening.

Costs

Accommodation and food is on the expensive side. Rail travel, museums, and attractions are relatively cheap. Retail prices for clothing, gifts, etc. are similar to most of Western Europe; consumer electronics are a bit more expensive. Gasoline, tobacco and alcohol are relatively expensive due to excise taxes.

Shop

The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers. Outside florists, you can buy them pre-packaged in most supermarkets.

Klompen

The Netherlands is famous for its wooden shoes. However, nowadays almost no one except for farmers in the countryside wear them. You could travel through The Netherlands for weeks and find no one using them for footwear. The only place where you'll find them is in tourist shops. Wearing wooden shoes in public will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals.

If you however try them, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at schiphol and Amsterdam's damrak street, and instead look for a regular vendor which can usually be found in towns and villages in rural areas. The northern province of Friesland has a lot of stores selling wooden shoes, often adorned with the bright colors of the Frisian flag.

Eat

Dutch traditional cuisine is basic. However, due to influences from Indonesian, Surinam, Chinese, Turkish and (North) African immigrants there is an abundancy of foodcultures to choose from.

In the big cities you can eat good Thai food (on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam for instance) for a bargain price, and in the Chinese quarters you can get authentic Chinese food. You will also be able to find a restaurant from every corner of the world (especially in Amsterdam).

Every bigger village has its own Chinese restaurant where you can eat a lot for little money. The taste is aimed at the Dutch citizen. They have been influenced by the Dutch-East Indies from the times as they were a colony of the Netherlands, like the famous 'Dutch Indonesian Ricetable' with a variety of small dishes. It is also a bit comparible with Chinese or Eastern take-away-shops in other countries. These restaurants often advertise as "Chin.Ind." meaning "Chinese/Indonesian". Most of them have a sit-in area and a sepa rate counter for take-away with lower prices.

Also around every corner in a city centre, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters is a 'snackbar', also known as 'friture' or 'cafetaria'. It mainly sells french fries (also known as "patat" or "friet" (pommes-frites)). You can have a lot of things added to your french fries: mayonnaise ('frites sauce'), (tomato-)ketchup, curry sauce (different than the regular curry, this curry sauce tastes more like ketchup), pinda sauce (peanut- or satay sauce), cut raw onions, etc. They also sell all kinds of other fried snacks, like "kroketten" ('croquettes') and "frikandellen" Other snacks you could try there are: "broodje kroket" (a roll with a ragout-filled, crispy covered kroket snack), "frikandel speciaal" (a long cylinder of spiced meat, cut open and adorned with mayonaise, ketchup or curry sauce, and optionally sprinkled with raw onion) and "patatje/frites oorlog" (french fries with mayonnaise and pinda sauce, optionally sprinkled with onion). Note that "mayonnaise" in the context of French fries is distinctly different from French mayonnaise, and is more accurately described as "frietsaus" (fries sauce); it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. The snacks listed here are very much the antithesis of high cuisine, but among with other "typically dutch" food, some of the things Dutch expats miss most about their country.

Modern Dutch restaurants and cafés serve good quality food. Mostly consisting of meat, fish, served with fries,saute or boiled potatoes and vegetables or salad. If you eat in a café then food is affordable, you can also go to upmarket restaurants where prices go up equally. Most of the time profit is made from the drinks, so be careful there if you're on a budget.

Expect service in restaurants to be like in most other European countries. There is not as much emphasis on fast or overly-attentive service. Going to a restaurant is generally not seen as a quick way to eat food, but as a special night out with friends or family. Service is not included in the menu prices and tipping is not mandatory, but rounding up is the polite and kind thing to do. Usualy keep 10% in mind when you tip.

Traditional highlights are:

  • Herring (haring) eaten "raw" (cured in salt). New herrings ('Hollandse Nieuwe') is a special treat available around june.
  • Sweet ("zoet") or savoury ("hartig") pancakes in variety of tastes like with apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. ('pannenkoeken' available in 'pannenkoekenhuizen')
  • 'Poffertjes' or small slightly risen pancakes with butter and powdered sugar (available in 'poffertjeshuizen')
  • Mashed potatoes with onions & carrots. Served with slowly cooked meats or sausage. (hotch-potch or 'hutspot')
  • Pea soup ('erwtensoep' or 'snert') made of green-peas and smoked sausage.
  • Stroopwafel. Two thin layers with syrup in between. Available packaged from any supermarket or made fresh on most street markets and specialized stalls.

Other "typically dutch" foodstuffs are:

  • Chocolate sprinkles ("Hagelslag"), used to sprinkle on top of buttered slices of bread (much like jam),
  • Chocolate spread on bread (like Nutella),
  • Bars of unadorned chocolate,
  • Dutch peanut butter on bread, which is considerably different from e.g. US peanut butter. Dutch peanut butter is also the basis for Dutch Indonesian or 'Indo' saté (satay) sauce which also contains lots of Asian herbs and spices.
  • A bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese for lunch, rather than more elaborate lunches,
  • Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed),
  • Oranjebitter (orange, bitter liquor drunk only on Koninginnedag), jenever (the predecessor of gin), Dutch beers,
  • Rookworst (literally "smoked sausage"), available to go from HEMA outlets, but also widely available in supermarkets,
  • "Limburgse vlaai" (predominantly in the South of the Netherlands), dozens of kinds of cold sweet pie, usually with a fruit topping.

Some of these "typically Dutch" foodstuffs taste significantly different from, but do not necessarily improve upon, specialties from other countries. For example, while Dutch coffee and chocolate can instill feelings of homesickness in expats and might be seen as "soulfood", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies.

Liquorice ("drop") is something you love or hate, you can buy all kinds of varieties. You can get it from sweet to extremely salty (Double salt) and in a hard or soft bite.

If you are a vegetarian, you don't have many options. You can get some sandwiches, breads with cheese, and vegetarian burgers are available. When ordering, say "No Meat" and "No Fish," since the Dutch typically treat fish as a vegetarian food.

Drink

The legal drinking age is 16 for LOW alcohol percentages (beer, wine and other beverages with less than 15% alcohol) and 18 for high alcohol percentages (brandy, whisky etc).

  • Beer

Although the Dutch beer "Heineken" is one of the most prestigious beers in the world, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc.

Traditional beers come from monasteries in the South of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the 'Trappistenklooster'. It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it's not so traditional any more.

Most breweries have nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt. Which consist sometimes 0% or less than 0,5 alcohol and is very suitable for people who would like to drive and don't drink (or sometimes called "de Bob" as promoted in its campaign).

In Amsterdam you can visit a local brewery located in a windmill called "brouwerij 't IJ"

  • Tea

Dutch drink black tea, and it comes in many different tastes, from traditional to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you're English, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling!) water, so you can make your own version. Milk in your tea is almost unheard of and only given to children.

  • Coffee

Coffee is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often "Koffie?" and it is served in small cups (a half mug) with cookies.

If you're from the States or Canada, you can drink one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order 'koffie verkeerd' (which literally means a "wrong coffee") you get the French 'café au lait' which is less strong with fresh milk.

  • Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you after a cold walk. In the summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it's made from powder as opposed to the traditional kind, and doesn't taste that good.

  • Bitters

Also popular in winter are alcoholic bitters. Originally from the province of Friesland the bitter called Beerenburg is served in the entire country. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter.

Smoke

The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.

You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (under 5 grams) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop. These are abundant in most larger towns. Only a small handful of Coffeeshops are allowed to sell alcoholic beverages (i.e. most do not sell alcohol, but a few such as 'Rookies' in the Leidseplein area of Amsterdam have a special license to sell both), and minors (under 18) are not allowed inside. They are also prohibited from advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view.

Fresh (but not dried) hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms are entirely unregulated, on the basis that these occur readily in natural forests. These may be bought at a smartshop, along with other natural highs and smart drugs. The latter are drugs that are designed to have the same effect as illegal substances (such as ecstasy) by using chemically similar substances. Often, effective smart drugs are outlawed after a while. The Dutch government has announced its intention to ban fresh mushrooms in the near future.

Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is generally much stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff, and be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cake") as it's easy to eat too much by accident. Magic mushrooms have even greater potential to trip up the unaccustomed, so be sure to consult the staff concerning proper dosage and other precautions.

It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.

Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs, eg. ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms, is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.

The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possesion is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.

At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.

Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in The Netherlands' liberal climate

  • while marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal, and not regulated well. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers.
  • some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of commiting illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in The Netherlands.

 

 

 

Netherlands

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland, also commonly called Holland in English, in reference to the provinces North-Holland and South-Holland) is a Benelux country located in Western Europe and a founding member of the European Union. The Netherlands is bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the south. To the west, the country faces the North Sea and the United Kingdom. The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".

Regions

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are quite diverse and have plenty of cultural differences. They can be divided in four regions:

  • The West - the most urban and dominant area with most touristic sights.
  • The North - the least densely populated area, mostly unknown to tourists.
  • The East - historic cities and forests to explore.
  • The South - divided from the rest by its Catholic culture.

West

Map of the Netherlands and its provinces; the red dots mark the capitals of the provinces and the black dots are other notable cities or  towns.The western part is the most urban, with the four largest cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht), Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Port of Rotterdam. The Randstad is a collective name for these and surrounding urban areas.

North-Holland
North-Holland is probably the most important province for tourists. This province is dominated by Amsterdam, the country's capital, and has the largest airport. The north however, is also interesting for tourists who are interested in the old heritage of the Netherlands. Other notable old towns are Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Alkmaar. The west coast offers nice beaches. You can also take an island trip to Texel.

 

South-Holland
The most densely populated province of the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the largest city and home to one of the world's largest harbours. The Hague has a number of touristic sights, like the governmental square and Madurodam. The west coast beaches, like in Scheveningen, are considered the best of the country. Leiden and Delft are historic student towns, while Kinderdijk offers traditional Dutch windmills.
Utrecht
The historic city of Utrecht is a good introduction to the Netherlands. It's one of the big cities in the Netherlands, but still has a bit the feeling of a village. It has a compelling atmosphere, a proper nightlife and the shopping mall Hoog Catharijne. Outside of Utrecht, you can visit the historic city of Amersfoort.
Flevoland
Flevoland is the newest province. Its land is created on the formerly Southern Sea. Due to a large commuter population from Almere to Amsterdam, this province is often counted as belonging to the west side of the country. For tourists however, probably the only good reason to get here is the theme park Walibi World.

North

The northern part is the least densely populated region. It's mostly an interesting region for tourists who are interested in the cultural heterogenity of the Netherlands. These provinces all have their own distinct dialects and languages. Nature and beaches can be enjoyed on the West Frisian Islands.

Friesland
Friesland is a distinct region in the Netherlands, in which many people speak the Frisian language. Signs are double-posted in two languages (just like in Wales). Frisia's culture is mostly characterized by speed skating, sailing, seafood and traditional farm life.
Groningen
Groningen can be an interesting spot for curious tourists. The city of Groningen is an ambivalent city in which old-fashioned and modern blend. The city is historic, with the Martinitower as most important building. On the other hand, it's quite a large city dominated by students. If you want,you can rock the night till the sun gets up.
Drenthe
Drenthe offers left-overs of the 'Hunnebedden'-civilization. It's also home to the largest zoo of the Netherlands in Emmen.

East

The east offers ancient historic cities in rural and wooded landscapes. You can head out to the forest for a weekend or experience the earliest Dutch towns the way they were in the middle ages.

Overijssel
A rural hinterland located behind the IJssel-river. The west side is dominated by its capital Zwolle. The east side is known as Twente and mostly dominated by the city of Enschede.
Gelderland
Gelderland is an experience into the historic Netherlands. Although Arnhem is its capital, Nijmegen is the oldest city of the Netherlands (dates back to Roman times; said to be founded in the year 6 after Christ). Another ancient town is Zutphen, which has a well-preserved city center. Nature can also be found here, it can be nice to head back into the Veluweforest for a weekend.

South

All provinces in the south are separated from the north by three large rivers, the Rhine and it's main distributary Waal, as well as the Meuse. These rivers function as a natural barrier between earlier fiefdoms, and hence created traditionally a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable north and south of these "Large Rivers" (de Grote Rivieren). In addition to this, there was, until quite recently, a clear religious dominance of Catholics in the south and of Calvinists in the north.

North-Brabant
North-Brabant has plenty of historic large towns. Notable towns are Breda, Tilburg and 's-Hertogenbosch. It's largest city is Eindhoven, a town mostly shaped by technological companies Philips and DAF Trucks. The Efteling, the largest theme park of the Netherlands, is also located in this province.
Limburg
The most interesting destination is it's capital Maastricht. The historic city has great shopping areas and many pubs in the city centre. The city is however, quite different in style and architecture than traditional Dutch cities. It's mostly a 'Burgundic' city, founded by the Romans and second oldest city of the country. If you want to head out, Valkenburg is the way to go.
Zeeland
Zeeland consists of a couple of islands and a coastal area bordering Belgium. In history, this province had a big struggle with the water which led to the Zeeland flooding disaster in 1953. To defeat water once and for all, the Deltawerken were created, a huge technological project to protect the dykes from breaking down. For tourists and youth, there are nice towns with beaches and nightlife, like Renesse.

Cities

The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below is a list of nine of the most notable (because of population size, status as provincial capital, or historical reasons)

Map of NetherlandsAmsterdam - Capital city of the Netherlands with impressive architecture, lovely canals ("grachten") that criss-cross the city (a bit like a spiderweb) and great shopping. There is something for every traveler's taste here, whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.

Delft - Historic city between The Hague and Rotterdam. It's a beautiful, unspoiled town with traditional architecture, canals, bikes, and the world famous blue and white ceramics.

Groningen - Capital of the province of Groningen. One of the older cities in the North of the Netherlands: Groningen was founded around 1100 and has a rich history, which can clearly be told from the old medieval buildings in the downtown area. Groningen won the award of 'best city center' in the category of 'large cities' for 2006.

The Hague/'s-Gravenhage (Den Haag) - Seat of the Dutch government, place of residence of the Queen, Judical Capital of the World due to the seat of the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court, Peace Palace and some other International Institutions. Also capital of the province of South-Holland and the third largest city of the country. The Hague offers great architecture, some of it picturesque, such as the medieval government complex of the Binnenhof, some grand and stately, like the mansions on Lange Voorhout. The museums in the city rank among the best in the country.

Leiden - Between Amsterdam and The Hague. Known for the oldest university in the country, the birthplace of Rembrandt and for it's beautiful, old city center which is the second biggest after Amsterdam and a plethora of pubs.

Maastricht - Historic city in the very south of the country and capital of the province of Limburg. Great shopping areas and many pubs in the city centre. Said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands. Maastricht, however, is quite different in style and architecture than traditional Dutch cities. Most 'Burgundic' city, founded by the Romans and second eldest city of the country. Nowadays it hosts a large amount of European and international institutions.

Nijmegen - Oldest city of the Netherlands (dates back to Roman times; said to be founded in the year 6 after Christ), known internationally for its '4 Day Marches' (120-200 km's) including '7day Summer-festivities', its often left-wing politics, and its large student population.

Rotterdam - The city was known for having the world's largest port, but lost the title in 2004 to Shanghai. Still it is the country's second largest city. It may feel difficult to get in touch with the heart of Rotterdam; its natural center was bombed away during WW2 in 1940, forcing the city to renew itself completely. The result is a lot of modern architecture.

Utrecht - Capital of the province of Utrecht. Utrecht is a central Dutch city with a long history. With 290,000 inhabitants it's the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. The history of the city goes back to AD 47 when the Roman emperor Claudius ordered his general Corbulo to build a defense line along the river Rhine which was the northern most border of the empire.

Other destinations

These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.

Dolfinarium, Gelderland

Efteling, North-Brabant

Keukenhof, South-Holland

Kinderdijk, South-Holland

Scheveningen, South-Holland

Veluwe, Gelderland

Volendam, North-Holland

Walibi World, Flevoland

West Frisian Islands, North-Holland/Friesland

Zaanse Schans, North-Holland

Kuinre, Overijssel

Zwolle, Overijssel renowned for its canals and ancient traditional dutch innercity

Understand

History

The country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the Middle Ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.

Following a revolt led by national hero Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), the Spanish were kicked out as part of the Thirty Years' War (known as the Eighty Years' War in the Netherlands: 1568-1648). The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579.

It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Gouden Eeuw, or Golden Age, in the Netherlands. During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including Indonesia ('Netherlands East Indies') and New York ('New Amsterdam'), which was later traded with the British for Suriname.

In 1805 it became a kingdom (its status being somewhat ambiguous before that), when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. And in 1815 it became its own Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (or 'Kingdom of the Netherlands') together with Belgium under Koning Willem I ('King William I'). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxemburg (or Luxembourg) received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, because the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler. In 1944 these three countries formed the union of the Benelux (or 'BeNeLux') as in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together.
Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848 and new adopted Treaty, The Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO in 1949 and the European Community (EC) in 1957, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.

Culture

Quite a few travellers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude: prostitution is legalized and licensed and the sale. Possession and consumption of small quantities of cannabis while technically still illegal, is officially tolerated, but coffeeshops are subject to increasing restrictions. Harder drugs (eg. ecstasy or cocaine) remain illegal both in theory and practice. In the same open minded atmosphere is the Dutch ease towards homosexuality.

Geography

The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated countries on the world. No matter where you go, you are never far away from civilization. Cities can be crowded especially in the Randstad area, where congestion is a serious problem. Much of the country is flat and at or below sea level making it an ideal place to cycle. Hills can only be found at the Veluwe and Southern Limburg. Much of countryside is dominated by highly industrialised farming - despite its population density, the Netherlands are one of the largest foodexporters in the world. Though there are some beautiful spots scattered across the country, the tourist expecting a countryside full of picturesque villages, tulips and windmills may be in for a bit of a shock. The villages, tulips and windmills are there for sure, you just have to find them. The most beautiful places are most of the times the places only known by the Dutch themselves. Asking a Dutch(wo)man for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise just visit local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV, they can be found in all the larger towns.

The geography of the Netherlands is dominated by water features. The country is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast of the Netherlands has one of the most beautiful North Sea beaches that can be found, attracting thousands if not millions of people every year, among them a lot of Germans as well.

Get in

The Netherlands is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in the Netherlands too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or the Netherlands have special treaties.

Only the citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into the Netherlands. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in the Netherlands:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela. The Chinese Special Administrative Regions of Macau and Hong Kong are also exempt.

Also, there are no border controls between the Netherlands and other Schengen Agreement states, making travel less complicated. Keep in mind that some EU-states do not belong to the Schengen Agreement (like the United Kingdom and Ireland), while some non-EU-states do belong to it (like Norway and Iceland).

There are a number of ways to get into the Netherlands. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel. Visitors from the United Kingdom can also travel by boat.

By plane

Schiphol Airport , near Amsterdam, is a European hub, and after London, Paris, and Frankfurt the largest of Europe. It is by far the biggest international airport in the country, and a point of interest in itself, being 4 metres below mean sea level (the name actually translates as Hollow of Ships). Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with The Netherlands' biggest airline KLM.

From Schiphol there are excellent railway connections: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and most large cities have a direct train service. The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall. The train is the quickest and cheapest way to get around in the Netherlands. Taxis are expensive: legal taxis have blue number plates, others should be avoided. Some hotels in Amsterdam, and around the airport, have a shuttle bus service.

Some budget airlines also attend the Netherlands. Jet2.com, Easyjet, SkyEurope and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe (list of LCC flights). Especially flying to/from the British Isles and the Mediterranian countries can be relatively cheap. It's important that you book as early as possible, as prices tend to get higher closer to departure.

Other international airports are Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Rotterdam Airport, and Groningen-Eelde Airport. These smaller airports are mainly attended by low-cost airlines. Eindhoven Airport and Maastricht/Aachen Airport are mostly used by Ryanair, while Rotterdam Airport is dominated by Transavia. Trains or a direct bus connection (in the case of Eindhoven Airport) are the best way to get to Amsterdam or any other town.

By train

from France and Belgium

TER. Regional trains : TER are slow but deserve approximatively all the stations.
The Thalys high-speed train [1], which connects the Netherlands with France and Belgium, is a bit expensive, but if you book a return in advance or if you're under 26 or over 60 you can get good deals. It is also faster, normally cheaper and more convenient than flying.

For trips to Brussels or Antwerp it is usually cheaper - and almost as fast - to catch the Benelux train, which runs hourly from Amsterdam, via Schiphol, The Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Roosendaal. No seat reservations are required - just buy your ticket and get on board.

Between Maastricht and Brussels runs a new hourly intercity service called the Maastricht Brussel Express, which also stops at Liege. Maastricht-Liege takes around 30 minutes, Maastricht-Brussels takes about 1½ hours. Tickets can be bought at the stations or on-line on Express' website

from Germany

The ICE high-speed train, runs from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, via Cologne, Düsseldorf, Arnhem, and Utrecht.

Intercity trains run from Berlin and Hannover to Amsterdam or Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, via Osnabrück, Hengelo, Deventer, Apeldoorn, Amersfoort and Hilversum..

There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:

Between Groningen and Leer trains run every two hours.

There are trains between Enschede and Münster every hour, also between Enschede and Dortmund every hour.

Trains run hourly between Venlo and Hamm, via Mönchengladbach and Düsseldorf.

Trains run every hour between Heerlen and Eschweiler / Stolberg (Rheinland) via Aachen.

By bus

Eurolines are the main 'operator' for international buses to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a brand used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily direct service. But this is the cheapest way to travel and you even get discount if your age is less than 25.

By car

The Netherlands can be reached from Belgium and Germany by road. Road access is very good in this country. The borders are open under the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks, but this barely happens. There are car ferry services from the United Kingdom, see above. The UK is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply.

By boat

There are three ferry services from the UK

Stena Line between Harwich and Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland)

DFDS Seaways between Newcastle upon Tyne and IJmuiden

P&O Ferries between Kingston Upon Hull and Rotterdam Europoort.

More information, timetables and ticket prices for the North Sea ferries is available at Ferries To Amsterdam. Dutchflyer[3] is a combination ticket that includes the trainride from anywhere on the National Express East Anglia [4] network (including London and Norwich) to Harwich, the ferry, and the trainride from Hook of Holland to anywhere on the NS (dutch railways) network. Rotterdam is also the second largest port in the world, and (in theory) a good place for Freighter travel.

 
             
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