Difference between revisions of "Netherlands"
Revision as of 23:37, 2 February 2013
The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland, also commonly called Holland in English) is a European country, bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the south. The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".
With over 16 million people on an area roughly twice the size of New Jersey, it's a densely populated country with its gorgeous capital Amsterdam being just one of many interesting cities. Once a great naval power, this small nation boasts a wealth of cultural heritage and is famous for its painters, windmills, clogs and notoriously flat lands. A modern European country today, it preserved its highly international character and is known for its liberal mentality. As a founding member of EU and NATO, and host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands are at the heart of international cooperation. Its small size, welcoming attitude to travellers and many sights make it a unique and fairly easy to discover destination and a great addition to any European trip.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Even though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are quite diverse and have plenty of cultural and linguistic differences. They can be divided in four regions:
This article describes the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Caribbean islands Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba are "special municipalities" fully integrated in the Netherlands proper. Beside the Netherlands proper, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below are nine of the most notable ones:
These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.
The southern part of 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 the Dutch Revolt, led by national hero William of Orange (Willem van Oranje), the Netherlands became a de facto independent republic in 1572. The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces (including Flanders) 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 Dutch Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw). During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including the Netherlands East Indies (currently Indonesia) and New Amsterdam (currently New York City), which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1805, the country became a kingdom when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. In 1815, it became the 'United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) together with Belgium and Luxembourg under King William I (Willem I). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxembourg received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, as the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.
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. In 1944, the Low Countries formed the union of the Benelux in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together. 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.
Quite a few travellers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude: prostitution is decriminalized but only for those prostitutes registered at a permitted brothel. Safe sex and use of condoms is common practice, and the prostitute will usually have these available. It is illegal for sex workers to solicit for customers on the street and prostitutes are most common in the capital Amsterdam, where red-light districts are popular, even if tourists only visit as a momento of the visit. In more rural areas, prostitution is almost non-existent. Sex shops, sex shows, sex museums and drugs museums are also popular amongst tourists. 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, gay marriage is legalized. Also the practice of euthanasia is legalized under strict conditions.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in 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 may be found only at the Veluwe and Southern Limburg. Much of countryside is dominated by highly industrialized farming: despite its population density, the Netherlands are one of the largest food exporters in the world. Though there are some beautiful spots scattered across the country, tourists 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, but you just have to find them (for example, in the Waterland and Zaan Region) and most Dutch have never been there actually. The most beautiful places are most of the times the places known only by the Dutch themselves. Asking a Dutch person for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise, just visit local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV, 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.
The Netherlands have a temperate climate, which means that summers are generally cool and winters are generally mild. Every month of the year has rainfall, some are although very dry or wet. The best time to go is from May to September (daily maximum 18/19°c up to 23°c), but also April and October can once be pretty good months to come, if you're lucky.
The Netherlands is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration, but not Customs, at the first country and then continue to your destination where your baggage will have customs checks but there will be no further immigration controls. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
Nationals of EEA countries (EU and (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) only need a valid national identity card or passport for entry - in no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length.
Nationals of non-EEA countries will generally need a passport for entry to a Schengen country and most will need a visa. Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information.
Only the nationals of the following non-EEA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work - see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries - see the New Zealand Government's explanation.
If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt, unless you are Andorran, Monégasque or San Marinese), make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you cannot obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
Further note that
(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,
(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa and
(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in the Netherlands without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.
All non-EEA or Swiss travellers must register their residence within 3 business days of entry with the Aliens' Police. Hotels, however, normally will handle the registration formalities for their guests.
Applications for visas and long-term residence permits are handled by the IND . Generally speaking, travellers to the Netherlands who do not require a short-stay visa may be able to get a residence permit upon arrival without a long-stay visa, but consult your nearest Embassy/Consulate for information.
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.
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 is derived from "ship hole" since Schiphol is built in a drained lake). Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with the Dutch largest airline KLM .
Some budget airlines also fly to the Netherlands. Jet2.com , Easyjet , Transavia  and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe. Especially flying to/from the British Isles and the Mediterranean countries can be relatively cheap. It's important that you book as early as possible, as prices tend to get higher closer to departure.
From Schiphol there are excellent railway connections: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and most large cities have a direct train service. International high speed trains depart to Brussels and Paris and Intercity trains to Germany. 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.
Other international airports are Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Rotterdam - The HagueAirport, 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 frequented by Transavia , the low-cost subsidiary of KLM for tourists. The operator CityJet does an expensive commuter trip to London city. A direct bus connection, either to the local railway stations and then take the train are the best way to get to Amsterdam or any other town. There is a direct bus service between Eindhoven Airport and Amsterdam Central Station.
It is also possible to come to the Netherlands via airports lying in surrounding countries. Much-used airports are Düsseldorf International Airport  and Brussels Airport . European low cost carriers (Ryanair and Air Berlin ) also use the airports of Münster-Osnabrück and Weeze/Niederrhein which are near or just at the Dutch/German border. From these two airports there are frequent flights to the major European destinations.
(High speed) trains may be the most comfortable mode of transport between major European cities. While some low cost airlines offer cheaper deals, remember that international high speed lines connect city centres, rather than airports that are usually located outside of the city. Also, trains do not require you to be present one hour before departure and can be part of the holiday experience: they allow you to enjoy the landscape, meet new people, have cup of coffee in the board restaurant or bring along a good bottle of wine.
Remember that the cheapest tickets are often sold out early and that reservations are generally possible 3 (normal) to 6 (CityNightLine) months in advance. Bookings can be made via NS Hispeed (Dutch railways) or its German and Belgian counterparts.
From France, Belgium, United Kingdom
The Thalys high-speed train , 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. Direct trains depart from Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, for the south of the country has excellent connections via Liège-Guillemins (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany).
An alternative for trips to Brussels or Antwerp is the Fyra high-speed train . Until May 1, a jump-on ticket is sold at the Ticket & Service counter at Amsterdam and Rotterdam station, without requiring a prior reservation. Tickets with reservations are also sold online. There is a refreshment trolley on board of each train for drinks and snacks.
London st. Pancras station is connected to the Netherlands by Eurostar high-speed trains via Brussels Midi/Zuid/South station. Use one of the connections mentioned above.
From Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Russia
There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:
Eurolines  is the main 'operator' for international coaches to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a common brand-name used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily service, such as from Poland, London, Milan, Brussels and Paris , but this is the cheapest way to travel and you get a discount if your age is less than 26.
Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990s, there are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours  runs several times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx. 135€ for a return ticket.
The Netherlands has good roads to Belgium and Germany, and ferry links to Great Britain. The country has a dense, well-maintained trunk-road network. Borders are open under the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Cars may be stopped at the border for random checks, but this rarely happens. There are car ferry services from the United Kingdom, see below. As the UK is not part of the Schengen zone, full border checks apply.
Driving in the Netherlands
Road rules, markings and signs are similar to other European countries but have some particularities:
Urban driving: Urban driving in the Netherlands is considered by many tourists and locals alike to be an exasperating, time consuming and expensive experience. City roads are narrow, riddled with speed bumps, chicanes and a large variety of street furniture (with knee-high, asphalt-coloured anti-parking poles being probably the most dangerous threat to paintwork as they tend to either blend into the background or be beneath the driver's view)
Other hazards are:
Parking: Parking in city centres can be expensive. Particularly in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam street parking is sometimes limited to only a few hours and prices range between 3 and 6 euros per hour. Generally, underground car parks cost between 4 and 6 euros per hour and may be by far the best choice for practical and safety reasons.
There are three ferry services from the UK
More information, timetables and ticket prices for the North Sea ferries is available at AFerry.co.uk . Dutchflyer is a combination ticket that includes the trainride from anywhere on the National Express East Anglia  network (including London and Norwich) to Harwich, the ferry, and the trainride from Hook of Holland to anywhere on the NS (the Dutch railway) network. Rotterdam is also the second largest port in the world, and (in theory) a good place for Freighter travel.
The Netherlands has a fine-grained, well-organized public transport system. Virtually any village can be reached by public transport. The Dutch public transport system consists of a train network which serves as backbone, extended with a network of both local and interlocal buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, and Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht also have trams.
Public Transport tickets
The contactless smart card OV-Chipkaart (OV-Chipcard ) can be used on all forms of public transport (OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer meaning Public Transport).
Card types and obtaining a card
The OV-chipkaart comes in three versions:
Which card you should choose, depends on how often and how long you are in the Netherlands and how often you use public transport. If you are likely to use the bus/tram/metro three times or more per year, it usually pays to get an anonymous card, rather than buy a disposable one for every trip. If you are likely to do a lot of travelling in a relatively short time, you could opt for a disposable one-day or multi-day card.
Travelers can buy a travel product, for example a one-day pass for an entire city or a monthly season ticket for a certain route. When they check out after the trip (see next section), the system will recognise that a certain product has been used and, if necessary, deactivate it. The other option is to use money from the electronic purse on the OV-chipkaart. On checking in, the system will charge a checking-in fee (€20 for NS trains, €4 for metro, tram and bus), which will be refunded as soon as the traveller checks out, minus the fare for the trip actually made. If a user fails to check out, the checking-in fee, which is higher than the fare for most actual journeys, is not refunded. Loading travel credit can be done at station ticket machines, at ticket offices and some tobacco shops and supermarkets. During a trip, personnel can check cards with a mobile card reader. You must be travelling away from the point where you checked in.
When travelling by train or metro, the OV-chipkaart is held against a card reader as soon as the traveller enters the platform. The card has now been 'checked in', and the boarding fee will be charged to the card. When the passenger ends the journey at another station, the card is held against the card reader again in order to 'check out'; the boarding fee is refunded (minus the fare for the journey actually made if the traveller is using the e-purse). There are two types of card reader systems on train and metro stations: free-standing card readers, and card readers integrated into ticket gates. When travelling by tram or bus, travellers check in and out when entering or leaving the vehicle. Card readers are placed near each door for this purpose.
Checking in and out is always required, except when you transfer from one train to another from the same operator. Changing trains from one operator to a different operator requires checking out at a card reader of the first operator and checking in at a card reader of the second operator. At this moment, when traveling by train, it is advisable to buy paper tickets instead of using the OV-chipkaart since the boarding fee will be deducted from your card on every transfer. When you cannot check-out (i.e. the check-out device is defective), you can claim costs with your public transport company.
It is possible to get a refund of unused credit on Personal and Anonymous cards at a ticket office for a €2.50 fee. The anonymous and personal OV-chipkaart have a validity of four to five years. Any credit that's still on an old card can be transferred to a new card; for free if the old card is still valid, or for €2.50 if it isn't.
The country is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent. There are two main types of trains: Intercity trains and Sprinter (or sometimes 'Stoptrein') trains which stop at all stations. An intermediate type 'Sneltrein' is found in a few places. All these types of train have the same prices. Also, there are high-speed trains called 'Fyra' between Amsterdam and Breda, which are more expensive. Travelling all the way from the north of the country (Groningen) to the south (Maastricht) takes about 4.5 hours.
Most lines offer one train every 15 minutes (every 10 minutes during the rush hours), but some rural lines run only every 60 minutes. Where more lines run together, the frequency is, of course, even higher. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 12 trains per hour on main routes.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)  operates most routes. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.
Because of the high service frequency, delays are quite common. However, the delay is usually not more than 5 or 10 minutes. Note though that the NS boasts a punctuality of 85% (meaning that percentage of trains departs/arrives within 3 minutes of the scheduled time), which could be higher than you're used to. Trains can be crowded during the rush hour, especially in the morning, but you should nearly always be able to find a seat. Reserving seats on domestic trains is only possible on the Fyra.
One particular mistake tourists often make is getting on the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, both parts will be separated and will continue on their own to their respective destinations. In that case, the signs over the platforms will show two destinations and which part goes where: achterste deel/achter means back and voorste deel/voor means front, referring to the direction of departure. Feel free to ask other passengers or an employee.
Another frequently made mistake involves travelling from Schiphol to Amsterdam. From Schiphol you can go to either Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid (South). These railway stations are not connected directly and many tourists with the idea of going to Amsterdam Centraal wind up at South. Therefore always check the destination of the train. From Amsterdam Zuid you can take the metro to Centraal, or a train to Centraal with a interchange at station Duivendrecht (2nd floor). If you discover it too late you might wind up in another part of the country, especially in the case of intercity trains. If you're found out by the conductor stay polite and play the inexperienced tourist, this mistake is regularly made.
There is a convenient night train service (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Haugue, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam, and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. In the nights Friday onto Saturday and Saturday onto Sunday, North-Brabant is also served. You can get to Dordrecht,'s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda.
Many intercity trains, (almost all single-deck trains and a few double-deck trains) have free WIFI internet access. See the screens in the train on how to access. Electrical outlets are only available in a few Intercity trains, and then only in First Class.
Most trains have two comfort classes (1e klasse and 2e klasse). Some regional lines don't have first class. First class can be recognizes by having an white stripe on the outside. The seats have an red color. Second class have blue seats. Some zones in train are silent zones. If you are in this sort of zones you aren't allowed to talk.
Train travel with OV-Chipkaart
If you travel by train using more than one operator it is advisable to use paper train tickets to avoid paying a boarding rate every time you change from one operator to another. Somewhere 2013, this should be corrected within the OV-chipkaart system. If you want to use your OV-Chipkart card for travelling on train, you should get it activated from the ticket office; otherwise the card will give error. While activation, you can tell your class of service (1 or 2, 2 is cheaper) to the officer activating it. Generally the card is activated for 2nd class, by default. So if you want to travel with 1st class, mention specifically.
There is one national tariff system for train travel. You don't need separate tickets for other operators. Tickets are valid on both sprinter and intercity services; there is no difference in price. The most used tickets are the single (enkele reis) and return tickets (retour). The latter is valid only for a return on the day itself, but the price is equal to two singles, therefor a return offers no price advantage over buying singles.
Tickets are valid in any train on the route (as opposed to being valid in only one fixed train). It is allowed to break at any station on the route (even on stations on the route where you don't have to change). Like in many countries, there is a difference between first and second class. A second class ticket is 60% of the price of a first class ticket. The main advantage of first class is that it is less crowded, and seats and aisles are generally wider. For children 4-11 years accompanied by adults, a Railrunner ticket can be bought for €2.50.
Tickets cannot be purchased cheaper in advance, unlike in some countries. The ticket price is uniform and depends on distance. Note that you can buy a ticket without a date in advance, which has to be validated when entering the platform, but it makes the ticket no cheaper: it is only for convenience. If you have a ticket without a date printed on it, do not forget to validate it by stamping it in the small yellow boxes usually located at the platform entrance.
Tickets can be purchased from machines in stations using Dutch bank cards or Maestro debit cards. No international credit cards are accepted (except MasterCard for an additional fee (1 euro) at Schiphol and Amsterdam Centraal station). Some of the machines, at least one at each station, also accept coins (but no notes). Only larger stations have a ticket counter: you pay €0.50 more than at the machine, per ticket, if this ticket could also have been bought at the machine. An exception is made for the elderly. The ticket machines have English-language menus available. A common mistake made by foreigners is accidentally getting a 40% discount ('korting') ticket from the machine. A special discount-card is required for these tickets, although you can travel on other people's discount cards too. (See Discount rail pass). If you have trouble using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks English and will help you out. It is also possible to buy e-tickets  online, although a Dutch bank account for payment (iDEAL) is necessary.
You must buy a ticket before travelling—since 2005, you can no longer simply buy a ticket from the conductor, as in some other countries. If you buy a ticket onboard, you will have to pay the normal price plus a € 35 fine. If the ticket machines are defective, go to the conductor immediately when boarding. The conductor is not allowed any discretion on this policy, though being polite and pretending to be an ignorant tourist might help you get away with having an invalid ticket. In worst case though, if you do not have either enough cash, or a passport, you could be arrested by railway police.
In the station
While many villages have small stations with only one or two platforms and no railway staff, cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht have large central stations with up to 14 platforms. It can take 5-10 minutes to move from one platform to another, especially for people not familiar with the station.
The platforms are all numbered. When platforms are so long that two or more trains can halt at the same platform, the different parts of the platform are indicated with the lowercase letters a/b/c. On some stations, capital letters are used to indicate which part of the train stops at which part of the station. Do not confuse the lowercase and uppercase letters.
Time tables can be found in the station hall and on the platforms. All train tables are normally yellow, with exceptions for the different schedules during planned maintenance works (blue) and queen's day (orange). Departing trains are printed in blue (on yellow tables), arriving train tables in red. Unlike in other countries, the tables themselves are not ordered by time of departure, but by direction. In some cases, more than one table is necessary to cover a single day for a certain direction. Additionally, most stations have blue electronic screens, indicating the trains departing during the next hour.
Discount rail pass
Visitors planning to travel by train in the Netherlands should consider the Eurail pass with the Benelux package. This allows for unlimited train travel within Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg over multiple days. Europeans, not being eligible for Eurail passes, should look into Inter Rail Passes for their discount train travel.
If two or three people want to travel around the Netherlands together for a few days during the summer, the Zomertoer may be used. This pass gives them two, not necessarily consecutive, days of unlimited travel. An add-on also allows you to travel on all other public transportation in the country. In autumn weekends, the Herfsttoer also gives some discounts.
If you're thinking of staying a longer time in the Netherlands it can be a good deal to get the Dal Voordeel Abonnement (Off-peak discount), which gives the cardholder (and up to three additional persons travelling with him or her) 40% off for one year on NS trains, except when traveling during peak hours (working days 6.30-9.00h and 16.00-18.30h, except holidays). Price €50 for one year (2011). The subscription includes a personal OV-chipkaart which takes 2 weeks to process. If you already have one, the subscription can be loaded onto your own personal OV-chipkaart. Remember that you always have to check in and out, the discount will be automatically applied, depending on the time of check in. Depending on your travel pattern, NS also have monthly and yearly subscriptions for free travel in weekends, off-peak hours or the entire subscription period including peak hours, and also a subscription that offers a 40% discount for the entire period including peak hours.
If you are in the Netherlands for only one day and want to see much of the country by train, you may want to get a "Dagkaart" (day pass), for € 47 (2011)), valid in 2nd class on all non-surcharge trains in the Netherlands (thus excluding the FYRA and international trains, but including local companies). Sometimes different stores sell "Dagkaart" at a cheaper rate (€ 13 or € 16), however those are just tokens (only valid in a certain time period possibly weeks AFTER the day you purchased these tokens) you use on the NS website in order to change them to tickets (see instructions on the token or receipt itself). These tickets are bound to a name and date and the procedure is all in Dutch but pretty self explanatory. You also need to print these cards out, tickets displayed on electronic screen will not be accepted. The cheaper € 13 ticket is only valid on weekends (saturday, sunday and holidays) while the € 16 ticket is valid every weekday after 9 AM and all day in the weekends and holiday. Stores that sell these reduced day tickets are Kruidvat, Blokker, Intertoys, HEMA and Albert Heijn as long as supplies last.
But note: it may be cheaper to just buy a ticket. For example: to get your money's worth on the dagkaart would require about 6 hours train travel in one day. For an additional 5,50 you get the OV-Dagkaart, which adds free transport on bus, tram and metro.
The NS train service also has a special website  with which you can buy combined tickets to various tourist attractions (e.g. 20% discount + free train connection). However, the website is all in Dutch and a Dutch bank account is needed in order to buy the tickets.
The network of regional and local buses in the Netherlands is fine-grained and frequent and usually connects well with the train network; you can reach most small villages easily. However, for long-distance travel, these regional buses are not convenient at all, and are much slower than the train.
Fast long-distance buses are only available on a small number of routes that aren't covered by the rail network; these buses have special names that differ by region, such as Q-liner, Brabantliner and Interliner, and special tariffs.
There are four main bus companies in the Netherlands, Connexxion, Veolia, Arriva and Qbuzz. A few large cities have their own bus company.
A cheap way to get across the Netherlands is to buy a "buzzer" ticket. It costs €10 a day, and is valid after 9AM on every single Connexxion bus for two grownups and up to three children. On weekends and holidays it is also valid before 9AM. Because Connexxion has a near monopoly on the bus market, you can get from Groningen to Zeeland this way in a day, and it undercuts the train. A big downside though is that bus lines are very indirect. For example, if you want to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, you have to change three or more times to get all the way there. In short: bus journeys will almost always take longer than train travel. For example, trip to Rotterdam from Utrecht will take 40 minutes, but in the Bus it will take 1 hour and 30 minutes. However, if you want to enjoy the countryside and villages you can prefer the bus trips.
Many companies and regions have their own bus discount tickets, which are often cheaper than using credit on the OV-chipkaart.
Park-and-ride-(travel-)tickets: some towns and cities have special cheaper bus tickets from car parks near the city limits to the city centre, for outside rush hours, usually a return ticket.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht offer public transport at night. Only Amsterdam has a service all night and every night; in the other cities it is more limited to the beginning of the night or only during the weekend. Several other cities and regions also have night buses, usually even more limited.
You might need special night-bus tickets so be sure to check the city pages.
The two largest cities, Amsterdam] and Rotterdam, have a metro network which runs mainly on elevated railways outside the city centers, and underground within the center. Furthermore there is a large city tram network in the agglomerations of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; Utrecht has two sneltram lines (fast tram or light-rail).
A car is a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as Veluwe, parts of Zeeland and The North Sea islands. The motorway network is extensive, though heavily used. Congestion during peak hour is usual and can better be avoided. Roads are well signposted. When driving in cities, always give priority to cyclists when turning across a cycle lane. If you are involved in a collision with a cyclist, you will be automatically liable (though not guilty). If you wish to see only cities, a car is not the best option. Due to limited road capacity and parking, cars are actively discouraged from entering most bigger cities.
Public transport buses have the priority when leaving a bus stop, so be careful as they may pull in front of you expecting that you will give way.
Drive on the right. The speed limit in built up areas is 50 km/h with some zones limited to maximum of 30 km/h. Outside of towns speed is limited to 80 km/h (this includes most N-roads). On some local roads the speed limit is 60 km/h. On the highways the limit is 120 km/h except on some roads where the limit is 100 km/h or 130 km/h. During rush hour signs above many roads indicate the current speed limit. On semi-highways and some of the N-roads the speed limit is 100 km/h.
Your speed will be checked nationwide by the police and fines are heavy. Exeeding the maximum speed with more than 50km/h will result in seizure of your driving licence. After that driving is considered a criminal act. Pay extra attention to Trajectcontrole signs: that means that in the road you're driving there is an automatic system that checks your average speed on a long section. Radar detectors are illegal devices to have in your car. They will be impounded and you will be fined €250. Keep in mind that the police use so-called radar detector detectors to track down radar detector users, so it is best to turn them off. Drinking and driving is not allowed and this is enforced strongly. Breathalyzer tests occur frequently, both on an individual basis (i.e. you get pulled over and the police see it necessary for you to undergo a breathalyzer test) as on a bigger scale (i.e. the police has set up a designated control checkpoint on a highway). A unbroken yellow line next to the sidewalk means no stopping, a broken yellow next to the sidewalk means no parking. Some crossings have "shark teeth" painted on the road, this means you have to give way to the other traffic.
Note that police also use unmarked traffic surveillance cars, especially on the highways. They have a video surveillance system and often they don't stop you right after doing a violation but they keep on following you. That means if you do more violations, you'll be fined for everything you did. Note that the policemen in unmarked cars are obliged to identify themselves after pulling you over, which means you shouldn't have to ask. Policemen in marked cars have to show their ID only when you ask them for it, but they too are obliged to show it when asked.
If your car breaks down on the highway you might go to the nearest roadside emergency telephone; these "praatpalen" can be recognized as they are about 1.5m high, yellow and have a rounded bunny-eared cap on top. This is the direct connection to the emergency and assistance services.
Alternatively, you might use a mobile phone to reach the ANWB  autoclub via toll-free number 0800-0888; your membership of a foreign autoclub might entitle you to discount rates on their services. Leased (business) cars and rental cars are usually serviced by the ANWB services included in the lease/rental price; but you may want to check any provided booklets.
If you are involved in an accident, both drivers need to complete and counter-sign a statement for their respective insurance companies (damage form/"schadeformulier"). You are required to have this form on hand. The police need to be notified if you have damaged (public) property (especially along the highways), if you have caused any sort of injury, or if the other driver does not agree to sign the insurance statement. It is illegal to hit and run. If the other driver does this, call the police and stay at the scene. The emergency telephonenumber is 112 (tollfree, will even work from disconnected mobile phones); the telephonenumber for non-emergency police presence is 0900-8844.
Road signs with directions are plenty, but having a map is useful, especially in cities where there are many one way streets, and getting from one part of the city to another is not always so straightforward. Be careful not to drive on bus lanes, often indicated with markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, nor on cycling paths, marked by the picture of a bicycle, or by a reddish color of asphalt. Also, do not use the rush-hour-lanes (Spitsstrook) when the matrix display above the designated lane indicates a red "X" - this means they cannot be used.
Fuel is easy to come by, but extremely expensive! The Netherlands have the doubtful title for having the most expensive fuel prices in the world for 20 years. It is better to refuel your car for 100% before going in the Netherlands, since the Belgian and German fuel prices can be €0,30 lower. If it's truly desperately needed, only try to tank at unmanned gas stations, such as TanGo or Firezone. They save up to 10 cents, but are still far more expensive than their Belgian counterparts. Prices of fuel are, as of 2012, €1,84 ($2.20) a litre in manned stations. Along highways many gas stations are open 24/7. More and more unmanned gas stations can be found, even along highways, selling petrol cheaper. These unattended stations accept all common debit and credit cards. All gas stations sell both petrol and diesel; the "premium" brands have the same octane level (they alledgedly contain compounds that improve fuel efficiency to offset the higher price). Liquid Petroleum Gas is sold at relatively many gas stations along the high ways, but it is never sold in built-up areas. The symbol for LPG gas is a green-colored gaspump-icon, set beside the general case black-colored gaspump-icon. LPG fueled cars need regular petrol to start the motor, and can also be operated using strictly petrol, though it is more expensive.
If you come in the Netherlands with your LPG fueled car, probably you will need an adaptor. If you buy in your country, ask for the specific Dutch adaptor. The plug sold as "european" (screw style), is used in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany but won't fit Dutch pumps.
Taxi service was traditionally a tightly guarded monopoly. In recent years, the market was deregulated, but prices are still high. Taxi drivers are licensed, but they do not, as of yet, have to pass a proficiency exam, providing they know the streets. This is planned in the future, since the taxi market is being re-regulated. In the bigger cities taxi drivers can be un-friendly to very rude. One will find that especially in the western part of the country the cost of a taxi are very high for very little politeness and service. The public transport system often proves to be cheaper and a lot faster.
Some taxi drivers refuse short rides (e.g. under €10). This is illegal, but it's hard to enforce this prohibition. There is a maximum tarriff, and it's built into the taxi meters. If you negotiote a price before you get in, the price you have to pay is the negotiated price, or the metered price, whichever is lower. Getting in a cab without enough money to pay for the ride is illegal, so it's wise to negotiate a price.
All legal taxis have blue license plates. So do some other vehicles for group transport, such as minibus services for the handicapped.
Making your way on thumb is accepted and locals that take you typically expect no payment in return. It's less suited for short rides from small towns or minor streets, as the lack of traffic may cause a long wait. Hitch-hiking on the highways/motorways is not allowed but generally tolerated on the interchanges/access points, provided you do not create a dangerous traffic situation. Try to stay before the traffic sign "highway/motorway" on a spot where cars have slow speed and where it is possible for drivers to stop and let you get in. The same safety rule applies to highway gas stations and rest places, and to traffic lights on non-motorway roads.
For longer distances, the large amount of highway crossings make it difficult to find a driver going to your exact destination, while the limited number of gas stations make it hard to change cars half way. A simple (cardboard) plate with your destination written on it is a common way to increase chances of finding the right driver, and may also convince suited drivers that they will not be stopping in vain.
There are official hitch-hiking spots (liftershalte) (lift-stops) and recommended unofficial spots at the centre or edge of a few major cities:
Alternative spots / other directions(recommended for the directions West-/South-Netherlands):
Alternative spots / other directions:
Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer and more convenient than in other countries, because of the infrastructure - cycle paths, cycle lanes, and signposted cycle routes. However, the proliferation of bicycles also means that you're seen as a serious part of traffic - motorists will hate you if you don't keep by the rules. Some things to know:
There are different ways to use a bicycle:
The best online routeplanner for cyclists can be found at  a wikiplanner made by volunteers of the Dutch cyclist union "Fietsersbond".
Bike theft is a serious problem in the Netherlands, especially around train stations, and in larger cities. If possible, use the guarded bike parking ('stalling') at train stations and in some city centres. They will cost up to €1.20 per day. In general, use 2 locks of different kinds (for example, one chain lock and one tube lock). This is because most bike thieves specialize in a particular kind of lock, or carry equipment best suited to one kind of lock. Ideally, you should lock the bike to a lamppost or similar. Bike thieves have been known to simply pickup unattached bikes and load them into a pickup truck, so they can crack open the locks at leisure.
In cities, most bikes are stolen by drug addicts, and they sell most stolen bikes too. They often simply offer them for sale to passers-by, if they think no police are watching. Buying a stolen bike is itself illegal, and police do arrest buyers. If you buy for a suspiciously low price (e.g. € 10 to 20), or in a suspicious place (in general, on the street), the law presumes you "know or should have known" the bike was stolen. In other words, actual ignorance of the bike's origins is no excuse.
Bike shops are the best place to buy a second-hand bike legally, but prices are high. Some places where you can rent bikes will also sell their written off stock, which is usually well maintained. Most legal (and often cheap) second-hand bike sales now go through online auction sites like marktplaats.nl - the Dutch subsidiary of Ebay.
The Dutch bicycle-share system "OV-fiets" is only accessible for residents of the Netherlands or those who have a Dutch bank account. The member fee of 9 euros a year and 3 euros per trip is written of automatically.
Extra legal protection
"Weaker" parties in traffic such as cyclists and pedestrians enjoy extra protection from the law regarding liability when an accident occurs with a "stronger" party (e.g. cars). The basic idea is that the stronger participant (e.g. a car driver) is always liable when an accident occurs between a weaker (e.g. a cyclist) and the stronger party, unless force majeure can be proven. Force majeure is here defined as (1) the car driver was driving correctly and (2) the faults of the cyclist were so unlikely that the car driver did not have to accommodate his driving for them. When this cannot be proven, the car driver is liable, but this can be limited when the accident can be attributed to the behaviour of the cyclist, up to 50% (more if the cyclist was consciously being reckless).
The burden of proof for force majeure, for faults of the cyclist and for recklessness are with the car driver. Such things can be hard to prove, which is why some people take this rule to mean that cyclists/pedestrians always have right of way, but this is incorrect.
Due to the small size of the country as well as the abundance of road and rail connections, domestic flights have proven to be unprofitable in the past. Therefore, none exist at the moment.
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal gs (not in the south) and schs (also found, for example, in Arabic). Dutch, especially in spoken form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages (especially German and Frisian), and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.
Besides Dutch, several other languages are spoken in the Netherlands, in the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe and Gelderand people speak a local variety of Low Saxon (Grunnegs or Tweants for example). In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a language unique in Europe because of its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words (for example: 'Veer' with a high tone means 'we', while the same word with a low tone means 'four').
Officially, the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. Frisian is the closest living language to English. Despite its status as official language, it is spoken almost exclusively in the province of Friesland. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Friesland you will come across many roadsigns in two languages (similar to Wales and South Tyrol). 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 also 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).
"They all speak English there" is quite 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 or finding yourself in a family atmosphere, however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.
Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Dutch.
For many foreigners, nothing captures the idea of the Netherlands more vividly than windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, and remarkably flat lands. Although some of these characteristics have evolved into stereotypes far off from the daily lives of Dutch people, there's still a lot of truth to them and plenty of authenticity to be found. The Dutch have preserved many elements from this part of their past, both for touristic and for historic reasons.
Kinderdijk boasts a network of 19 windmills, once used to drain the adjoining polder. The Zaanse Schans has windmills as well, and a nice museum with traditional crafts and old Dutch houses on display. Schiedam, world-famous for its jenever, has the tallest windmills in the world, and they're right in its lovely old town centre.
Thinking about the Dutch countryside, you might imagine wide, flat, grasslands with black and white cows. If you do, you're not that far off. A large swathe of the country, especially the western part of it, consist of polders; reclaimed land separated by ditches. These rural areas are dotted with picturesque villages, old farms, impressive summer estates, and of course, windmills; the Waterland and Zaan Region is especially scenic. For a touch of folklore, see the traditional clothing and fishermen boats in Volendam or Marken.
The Netherlands are a major international player in the flower industry. The tulip fields are seasonal, and are specific to the Bulb Region and some areas in North Holland. They are a lovely Dutch alternative to the lavender fields you could find in France. The famous Keukenhof, the world's largest flower garden, only opens between March and May. It is a great way to see what the Dutch flower industry has to offer.
They make great destinations for a recreational bike trip or can serve as a laid-back base, from where you can explore cities in the area. The rolling hills of South Limburg have characteristic timber-framed houses and a lot of castles. The province of Gelderland combines its many castles (Palace 't Loo in Apeldoorn being the highlight) with the natural scenery of the Veluwe. Don't worry if you're headed elsewhere: you'll find a beautiful countryside in every Dutch province.
Wandering through the magnificent city of Amsterdam, with its lovely canals and hundreds of 17th century monuments, is a delightful experience. For most people, a visit to the Netherlands would not be complete without a good day in its bustling capital. Nevertheless, it is only one of many towns in the country that offers a beautiful, historic centre.
Before Amsterdam's rise to fame in the late 16th century, the fortified city of Utrecht was the country's most important town. Much of Utrecht's mediaeval structures remain, with canals flanked by warf-based structures, lots of buildings from the Early Middle Ages and some impressive ancient churches. Maastricht is often claimed as the most beautiful city of the country. It is known for its romantic lanes, ancient monuments, and for what the Dutch call its "Burgundian" atmosphere.
Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the oldest university of the country, is yet another beautiful place with canals, narrow streets, and over 2,700 monuments. The Hague is often called the "judicial capital of the world", as it famously hosts the Peace Palace and many international organisations. It has a spacious layout, with large estates, and the ancient Binnenhof, where the Dutch government had its seat for centuries. Also consider the gorgeous old town centres of Haarlem, Delft, 's-Hertogenbosch, Alkmaar, Gouda and Amersfoort.
Considering its small size, this country has brought forward an impressive number of world-famous painters. Arts and painting flourished in the 17th century, when the Dutch Republic was particularly prosperous, but renowned artists have lived in the country before and after that age as well.
Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael, and Piet Mondriaan are just a few of the Dutch painters whose works now decore the walls of the world's greatest museums. Fortunately, some of these world-class museums can be found in the Netherlands as well. The Museum Quarter in Amsterdam has the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum right next to each other, all three with excellent collections. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam also has a huge collection of drawings, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and foreign masters.
The Kröller-Müller Museum is beautifully located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, with the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). Less focused on Dutch art, but with a unique modern collection, is the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. Other cities with notable art museums include Groningen with the Groninger Museum, and Haarlem with the Frans Hals Museum. The newly established Hermitage in Amsterdam has all the grandeur of its big sister in Saint Petersburg, with changing Russia-oriented exhibitions on display.
Living with the water
The Dutch are famous for their struggle with the sea. As a former naval power, the Netherlands owed its 17th century Golden Age to the water, and still depends heavily on it for modern day trade and fisheries, as the massive, modern port of Rotterdam demonstrates. However, with much of the country's land below sea level, the water also caused terrible floods and great losses over centuries.
Dutch attempts to protect their lands with dikes are well recorded from the 12th century, but started around 2,000 years ago. An enormous flood in 1287 created the large Zuiderzee, an inland sea that is now known as the IJsselmeer. From that period onwards, a long process of reclaiming lands lost to the sea began. Windmills and extensive networks of dikes were created to pump out the water, slowly creating the characteristic polders. One of these polders is the Beemster Polder, and when you visit you get a few fortifications of the Defence Line of Amsterdam included as a bonus.
After another devastating flood in 1916, the country started the Zuiderzee Works, a massive undertaking to reclaim and tame the Zuiderzee once and for all. In the 1930s, the impressive Afsluitdijk was finished, which turned the inland sea into a fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer. The Zuiderzee Museum in lovely Enkhuizen is devoted to the cultural heritage and folklore of the region, as well as the maritime history of the Zuiderzee.
Another devastating flood struck the country in 1953, recording 1,836 deaths in the province of Zeeland. In the following fifty years, the famous Delta Works were constructed to protect the southwestern portion of the Netherlands from flooding. It can be visited at various visitor centres, the most notable of which is the Neeltje Jans park near the Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier). The American Society of Civil Engineers have recognised the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works collectively as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
One of the most popular activities among the locals is cycling. And for a reason — the Netherlands has about 22,000 km of dedicated bicycle paths, which criss-cross the country with many of them numbered. It's as easy as getting a map, picking a number, and start cycling! Particularly scenic areas well suited for cycling include the Green Heart, Hoge Veluwe National Park, South Limburg, and the Waterland and Zaan Region. Just be aware that winds can be strong (because of the flat lands), and that winters can be cold and rainy.
The Dutch coastline measures 1,245 km of coastline with many beaches. Popular activities include swimming and sunbathing, but these are mostly restricted to warm summer days. Expect Scheveningen to be extremely crowded when temperatures rise towards tropical levels. More mellow and family friendly beaches include Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, Bergen, and the West Frisian Islands.
Water sports is another activity mostly undertaken by the locals. Lakes can be found in every province, but the Frisian Lakes are outstanding, especially during the annual Sneekweek that starts the boating season. Boating can be done without licence as long as the boat is not longer than 15m and/or faster that 20km/h. Other lake-rich areas include Wijdemeren, Kaag, and Aalsmeer. Most of these lakes are very calm, with parasailing and rafting impossible.
Netherlands has the euro (EUR, €) as its sole currency along with 23 other countries that use this common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of €100, €200 and €500, due to concerns about counterfeiting and burglary. Shops usually open by 9AM and they usually close by 5:30PM or 6PM. Most shops are closed on Sundays, except at the "koopzondag". "Koopzondag" means the biggest part or all the shops are open. It differs from town to town which Sunday is the "koopzondag". In most towns it is the last or first Sunday in a month. In a few cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden) the shops are open every sunday, in most cases they are open from noon till 5PM or 6PM. In Amsterdam centrum area is an exception, since you can see the shops open till 9PM and Sundays from noon till 6PM. The shops can be crowded with people coming into town from outside the city. In some areas shops are closed on Monday morning.
Credit cards & ATMs
For safety reasons, credit card use in the Netherlands increasingly requires a PIN-code. Credit card use in general is reasonable common, but not by far as much as in the US or some other European countries. The Dutch themselves often use (debit) bank cards, for which even small shops and market stands usually have a machine. In tourist destinations you will generally find credit cards widely accepted, as well as in larger shops and restaurants in the rest of the country, but ask in advance or check the icons that are usually displayed at the entrance.
ATMs are readily available, mostly near shopping and nightlife areas. The very smallest ones excluded, even villages usually have an ATM.
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. however tobacco products can be considered cheap compared to prices paid in the UK, it is possible (especially in 'Marlboro) to find packs of 20 cigarettes for as little as 4 euros.
The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers. Besides florists, you can buy them pre-packaged in most supermarkets.
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 do try them on, 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 on a 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.
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. The Dutch, however, are known for their specialties and delicious treats:
Other "typically Dutch" foodstuffs are:
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 "soul food", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies.
Other seasonal food: Pepernoten, Kruidnoten, taai-taai (for the Sinterklaasfeest at 5 december), kerststol (at christmas), paasstol (at easter), oliebollen(new years eve).
As Dutch people usually eat Dutch food at home, most restaurants specialize in something other than local fare. Every medium-sized town has its own Chinese/Indonesian restaurant, often abbreviated as Chin./Ind. restaurant, where you can eat a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. Usually you get a lot of food for a small amount of money. Do not expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine though, the taste has been adapted for Dutch citizens. These restaurants have been influenced by the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) from when they were a colony of the Netherlands. Typical dishes are fried rice (Indonesian: nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rice table (rijsttafel), which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of them have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.
Besides Chinese/Indonesian, the bigger cities offer a good choice of restaurants with Middle Eastern cuisine for a bargain price. Popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called Turkish pizza) and falafel. The Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinam and Thai cuisines are also well-represented in the Netherlands.
Modern Dutch restaurants serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Most of the time, profit is made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget. In the Netherlands, 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, which can take a couple of hours. Service fees and taxes are included in the menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory and seen as a sign of appreciation, not as means to make up a tiny salary. In case you do want to tip as a rule of thumb rounding up to the next Euro is normal or 10 percent.
Since 1 July 2008, smoking has been banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may enter such smoking rooms only in emergency situations.
In restaurants the portions of food are not big, because usually people eat 3 dishes (starter, main, dessert). Drinks are served in small glasses and there are no free refills.
In town centers, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as frituur or cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch expats miss them the most when going abroad. The popular Febo  chain's outlets are basically giant vending machines, just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.
The most popular snack is French fries, known as patat in most of the country and as friet in the Southern Netherlands. The "standard" way is to order them with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayo is not the same as you'd get in France or most of the rest of the world: it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. Other sauces are tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), special (speciaal, a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and optionally cut raw onions) and war (oorlog, a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and optionally with cut raw onions). The following fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well:
Vegetarians should not have any major trouble. 4.5 percent of the Dutch population is vegetarian and most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menus or can make you one if you ask for it. Most supermarkets sell vegetarian products or even have a part of their supermarket dedicated to vegetarian products. It is advisable to specifically mention what you do and do not eat (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as not everyone has the same definition of vegetarianism. Finding a vegetarian option in a fast food restaurant might provide more of a challenge. Chip shops that sell veggie burgers are the exception rather than the rule; chips and kaassoufflés are often the only options.
The Netherlands has two drinking ages: 16 years for alcohol under 15% (beer, wine, etc.*), and 18 for stronger alcoholic drinks. Beverages with an alcohol content lower than 0.5% aren't counted, anybody can buy then, and they may be called "alcohol free" or in the case of beer "malt bier".
It's illegal for youth under 16 to buy alcohol and in liquor-shops or supermarkets they can ask for an ID before buying. Usually if you are below 20 you are required to show an ID. For most festivals people between 16 and 20 need to get an wristband before buying alcoholic drinks.
Although the Dutch beer "Heineken" is one of the world's most famous beers, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands, and many Dutchmen consider it to be only a second-rate pilsener. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc. There's a certain regional variety in the beers you'll find; whereas, in the Western Netherlands, many pubs serve Heineken or Amstel, pubs in Brabant will generally serve Bavaria or Dommelsch, in Limburg Brand and in Gelderland Grolsch.
In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch white beers (witbier), which are flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavored varieties are also available.
Traditional beers come from monasteries in the Southern 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.
There are also a lot of excellent small and micro breweries (Brouwerij 't IJ, Brouwerij de Molen, Brouwerij de Prael etc.), if you're a beer lover in Amsterdam consider visiting the beer shop "De Bierkoning" near "De Dam" (central square of Amsterdam), it has over a thousand beers, about half of it is Dutch and "Brouwerij 't IJ".
Most breweries 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).
Bitters and gin
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.
Tea and coffee
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 given only to children.
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 means "coffee the wrong way 'round") you get a cup of more or less half milk and half coffee, more like the French 'café au lait' or the Italian 'caffe latte'.
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 (regular chocolate melted and mixed with hot milk), and doesn't taste that good.
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because 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.
Note that this does not mean the Dutch are all permanently high. In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. Much of the clientèle of the coffeeshops (see below) is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.
You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (those under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit 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. In the border provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland it is now only possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you've got a wietpas ("weed pass") from may 2012. Only residents of the Netherlands can get a pass! This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is often stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff. Be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cakes") as it's easy to eat too much by accident — although there are also unscrupulous shops that sell space cakes with no weed at all. Wait at least one hour after eating!
Hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms, once legal, are banned as of December 1st, 2008. However, "magic truffles", which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.
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 such as 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 possession 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 Dutch liberal climate
Alcohol and weed
Be very careful with alcohol and weed, don't use any alcohol the first couple of times you smoke weed, drinking one beer after you've smoked can feel like drinking ten beers. However, alcohol and weed can be a very nice and trippy experience, especially for people who don't feel enough from just smoking weed (to some people weed might be a little bit disappointing, others can space the whole night on 0.5 g). Alcohol and weed amplify each other, a little bit of alcohol can cause you to intensely feel the effect of the weed, but a tiny bit too much can make you feel dizzy and/or nauseous. In the end, be careful, pace yourself and know your limits. There's loads of fun to be had, if you act responsibly.
A wide range of accommodation is available, concentrated on the major tourist destinations. They include regions popular for internal tourism, such as the Veluwe. In non-touristed areas, accommodation may be very limited.
Prices are generally high. Budget accommodation starts at around €20 per person and prices go upwards from there. Seasonal demand affects availability and can cause prices to rise dramatically, especially in Amsterdam.
Official Dutch Youth Hostels are called "Stay Okay" , but they are not as widespread as in Great Britain. Also there is no kitchen available for guests, so either you eat what's on menu or you eat out. Besides the Official Dutch Youth Hostels there are plenty of other hostels spread around the country. Popular are The Flying Pig Hostels  in Noordwijk and Amsterdam, which do provide a kitchen for one's own use and they have a liberal smoking policy.
Another option is staying at a bed & breakfast. There is a wide choice in the big cities, but there are also plenty to be found in the smaller towns and villages. Prices are generally €40-100, depending on the number of occupants and the season. Bed & breakfasts may not offer all the facilities that bigger hotels do, but the service is generally friendly and personal. Also, many bed & breakfasts are to be found along popular hiking trails and cycling paths.
Short-term apartment rental is available in cities, but may not be legal. While most have a 3 night minimum stay, the process of making reservations and checking in is generally identical to that of staying in a hotel, the notable exception being that most require a credit card deposit, and the balance payment in € on arrival.
Vacation rental homes are popular in the Netherlands, especially in rural areas. These small homes come in broad varieties: they can be simple or luxurious, individual places or part of large parks with lots of identical homes and they are operated by private owners as well as large chains. Traversia has the largest collection of vacation rentals in the Netherlands, by Dutch owners . Large chains of vacation rental home parks are Center Parks and Landal Greenparks. Where privately owned options can sometimes provide a more authentic, local experience (e.g. located in old, timber-framed houses in South Limburg), the parks will offer additional services, restaurants and swimming pools. In most cases, you have to book at least a weekend. Although generally not very cheap, they have kitchens and therefore allow for self-catering.
If you are traveling by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 3600 addresses where you can stay at private homes with bed and breakfast for no more than € 18,50 per person per night, although you must also pay € 9 for membership of this scheme. It is called Vrienden op de fiets .
The Netherlands has many universities. The country has recently converted their own titles into the bachelor/master system. There are two types of universities:
The Times Higher Education Supplement ranks 11 universities among the top 200 in the world.
English speaking students will have no problems finding suitable courses. A total of 1,456 courses are taught entirely in English. There is also the added advantage that most locals under the age of 30 are reasonably able in English.
For international students, several scholarships are available. They can be found on the Nuffic website . Here you will also find information regarding courses, institutions, housing, formalities, culture, traineeships and possible difficulties.
Work opportunities for those from outside the European Union are very restricted. Only when an employer can prove they've searched in the EU, they are allowed to hire a non-EU citizen. Official policy is to deter all non-EU immigration, unless there is an economic necessity.
Citizens of certain non-EU countries are permitted to work in the Netherlands without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay - for more information see the 'Get in' section above.
Students from other European countries are eligible for study financing only when they have a fixed 32 hour/month work contract or when they have lived in the Netherlands for five years.
Since 2005, the Dutch law enables what they call “knowledge immigration” the idea is to allow local companies to “import” foreign employees to work in the Netherlands. The process is straightforward and takes between 4 to 10 weeks.
The Netherlands is generally considered a safe country. However, be alert in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other large cities that are plagued by pickpockets and bicycle theft, violent crimes are very rare. In the larger cities, certain areas are considered unsafe at night. A few are also unsafe in daylight:
Amsterdam: Kolenkitbuurt, Overtoomse Veld, Amsterdam-Zuidoost, Osdorp
The Hague: Morgenstond, Schilderswijk
Deventer: Heechterp/Schieringen, Rivierenwijk
Eindhoven: Woensel West
Rotterdam: Bloemhof, Hillesluis, Oude Noorden, Oude Westen, Pendrecht, Spangen, Tarwewijk, Tussendijken
Utrecht: Kanaleneiland, Ondiep
Police, ambulance and fire brigade have one general emergency number 112. There is one police force, organized in 25 police regions. Visitors will deal with mostly the regional police. Some specialized forces, such as the railway police and the highway police on main roads, are run by a separate national force (highway police being the KLPD - Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten, and railway police being the spoorwegpolitie). When calling 112, if you can, advise on what emergency services what you need.
Border controls and port and airport security are handled by a separate police force, the Marechaussee (or abbreviation 'KMar' - Koninklijke Marechaussee), a gendarmerie. They are an independent service of the Dutch armed forces (making them a military service, not a civil one) and have security tasks among their duties in most cities such as issuing parking and litter fines.
They often have police-style uniforms to confer some authority, but their powers are limited. For instance, only the police carry a gun.
Prostitution in the Netherlands is legal since 1988 if the prostitute consents. Pimping or otherwise exploiting women against their will is a crime, even in the Netherlands. Have sex only in safe locations that have a license to host prostitutes to engage in sexual activities with their clientele.
Illegal prostitution in hotels can be raided by the police and the client as well as the prostitute can be fined or be put in jail. Hotel personnel are obliged by law to notify the police if they suspect these kinds of illegal activities. Having sex with a minor (18 for prostitutes, 16 for other people) is also illegal. Always ask for an ID from the prostitute to confirm her age.
European Network against Racism, an international organisation supported by European Commission reported that, in the Netherlands, half of the Turks reported having experienced racial discrimination. The same report points out a "dramatic growth of Islamophobia" paralleled with antisemitism. Another international organisation, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, highlighted a negative trend in the Netherlands regarding attitudes towards minorities, compared to average EU results. The analysis also noted that compared to most other Europeans, in the Netherlands, the majority group is "more in favour of cultural assimilation of minorities" rather than "cultural enrichment by minority groups".
The Dutch are among the most informal and easy-going people in Europe, and there are not many strict social taboos to speak of. It is unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact it is more likely that visitors themselves will be offended by overly direct conversation. Nevertheless, the standards for overt rudeness and hostility are similar to those in other western European countries. If you feel you are deliberately being treated offensively, then you probably are.
The exception to this openness is personal wealth. It is considered vulgar to for instance reveal the height of your salary, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer. Likewise, it's not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Dutch person you've met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all. In urban areas it is not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility. An exception is the Dutch Bible Belt which runs from Zeeland into South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland, and consists of towns with many strong Dutch Reformed Christians, who are more likely to be insulted by different religious views. Openly nationalist sentiments are likewise viewed with some suspicion among the general public, though there are a number of nationalistic celebrations like Queen's Day (Koninginnedag, April 30th) and during football championships. Mostly though, these nationalistic celebrations are mostly used as an excuse to party together rather than being true "nationalistic" events.
In the Netherlands, cheek-kissing is a common way of greeting among women and between women and men. Two men will generally shake hands. Kissing is particularly suitable for informal occasions, and is also common practice when congratulating someone. Hand shaking is more appropriate for formal occasions. Trying to shake hands when offered a kiss or refusing a kiss altogether could be considered odd or rude.
Dutch people will kiss three times alternating right and left cheeks. This could lead to awkward situations for British people, being used to just two kisses. Also, always kiss on the cheeks instead of giving air-kisses.
Gay and lesbian travelers
As mentioned above, the Netherlands is quite liberal when it comes to homosexuality and by far is considered to be one of the gay-friendliest countries in the world. The Netherlands has a reputation of being the first country to recognise same-sex marriage, and openly displaying your orientation wouldn't cause much upset in the Netherlands. However, even a gay friendly country like the Netherlands has room for some criticisms of homosexuality, but this varies depending on where one travels. Regardless, with violence and discrimination against gays being rare as well as the legal status of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, this country may be considered a gay utopia and should be safe for gays and lesbians (except sometimes in religious neighbourhoods in the major Dutch cities, after big football matches or in demonstrations if there is a violent attitude in general).
The international calling code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00, so to call the US, substitute 001 for +1 and for the UK 00 44 for +44.
The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The cell phone networks are operated by KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile; other operators use one of these 3 networks. The networks are high quality and cover every corner of the Netherlands. With the exception of some low-end service providers, all mobile operators support GPRS. KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile offer UMTS (and HSDPA) service in almost all parts of the country.
There are few public phone booths left in the Netherlands. They are mostly found at train stations. Telfort booths accept coins, whereas most KPN booths accept only prepaid cards or credit cards. Some new public phones have been installed which accept coins again. Be aware of public phones in a more public area as well as the same types in a more public-private area, where tarrifs (per unit or amount of calling time) can differ.
(National) Directory Inquiries can be reached -since 2007- on 1888, 1850 and various other 'Inquiry-operators'. Rates differ by operator, but are usually rather high, more than €1 per call, as well as per-second charges.
International Directory Inquiries can be reached on 0900 8418 (Mon-Fri 8AM-8PM, €0.90 per minute).
0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers are charged at premium rates. Mobile phones have numbers in the 06 range, and calls to cell phones are also priced at higher rates.
If you're bringing your own (GSM) cell phone, using your existing plan to call (or receive calls) whilst in the Netherlands can be very expensive due to "roaming" charges. Receiving phone calls on a cell phone using a Dutch SIM card is free in most cases; charges apply if you're using a foreign SIM card, as the call is theoretically routed through your country of origin. It's cheaper to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card to insert into your GSM phone, or even to buy a very cheap pay-as-you-go card+phone bundle. For example: lyca , lebara  and ortel  are providers that specialize in cheap rates to foreign countries.  targets those traveling through multiple countries.
To enjoy cheap international calls from the Netherlands you can use low-cost dial-around services such as Qazza , BelBazaar , pennyphone , SlimCall , telegoedkoop , beldewereld , teleknaller or Wereldwijdbellen . Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in the Netherlands. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.
Internet cafés can be found in most cities, usually they also provide international calling booths. Many public libraries provide Internet access. Wireless Internet access using Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly popular and is available in many hotels, pubs, stations and on Schiphol, either for free, or at extortionate prices through one of the national "networks" of hotspots.