The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland, also commonly, but incorrectly, called Holland) is a European country, bordering Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and France in the Caribbean as the Dutch territory Sint Maarten borders French territory Saint-Martin. The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to, in English, as "Dutch".
With over 17 million people on an area of just 41,543km², 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 is 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 official name of the country is the Netherlands. In the rest of the world, the name Holland is commonly used for the entire country. However, when used correctly, the name Holland only refers to the area covered by the provinces of North and South Holland. Indeed, in this area, which contains the largest cities and largest part of the population, this use is common as well. However, outside of this area, and particularly in the South and North, this use is often considered quite insulting, and the Netherlands is preferred. Consider how a Scot would feel if called English. In these areas, you are likely to be corrected with a slightly annoyed explanation of the difference between Holland and the Netherlands.
The southern part of the country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Franks. 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 centres, 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. 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 memento 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 (e.g. 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, and the public is generally very gay-supportive and gay-friendly. 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 is 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 maritime temperate climate, which means that summers are generally cooler and winters are generally milder. 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 constitutional monarchy. that means it has a king who has limited power, 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 travellers. Below are nine of the most notable ones:
These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.
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, Croatia, 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).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
A Schengen visa is generally not valid for travel to the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands. If you require a visa for that part, you will need to apply for a separate visa valid for that part at your nearest Dutch embassy or consulate.
As of 1 January 2014, the requirement to register your visit at the police has been abolished for all travellers staying for a maximum of 90 days. Only under special circumstances registration will be required, in which case either your nearest Dutch embassy or consulate or the Dutch Royal Military Constabulary will inform you .
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 neighbouring 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, situated 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 Hague Airport, and Groningen-Eelde Airport. These smaller airports are mainly attended by low-cost airlines. Eindhoven Airport and Maastricht/Aachen Airport are mostly used by Ryanair, while Rotterdam Airport is 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 (eg Ryanair) 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, can by pricy, 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).
A slow, but cheap alternative for trips to Brussels or Antwerp is the Intercity train. Take into account you may have to change trains. A local train runs hourly from Antwerp to Roosendaal, where you can catch a domestic train to Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
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 and Switzerland
CityNightLine and Euronight trains did provide direct overnight connections from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Prague, Warsaw and Moscow until 13 December 2016. There are currently no regular international night trains from/to the Netherlands.
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 you are under 26 of age.
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 Herzegovina 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 train ride from anywhere on the Greater Anglia  network (including London and Norwich) to Harwich, the ferry, and the train ride 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 regional buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, and Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht also have trams.
Whenever you're walking through the bigger cities (especially Amsterdam), be aware that cyclists are a serious part of traffic! Be careful when you cross the street and keep clear of the special biking lanes (marked by red asphalt or a bike symbol).
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:
Choosing a card to fit your needs, you best consider how often and for what period you visit 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's usually cheaper 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.
Travellers can buy a travel product, for example a single ride, 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 refunded after filling refund forms from the travel company (refund forms can be found [here https://www.ov-chipkaart.nl/klantenservice/zelfregelen/nietinofuitgecheckt/?taal=en] and at the counters of the travel company ). Loading travel credit can be done at station ticket machines, at ticket offices and some tobacco shops and supermarkets, note that with the only exception being the ticket machines at stations, most other locations charge a small fee (around €0,50). During a trip, personnel can check cards with a mobile card reader. You must be travelling away from the point where you checked in.
Using the chip card
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 (gates open with the reader at your right hand). When travelling by tram or bus, travellers check in and out when entering and leaving the vehicle. Card readers are placed near each door for this purpose. Changing buses or trams of the same company (as is likely within cities) travel costs will be combined (no double entrance fee, as you would pay when you check out and in between trains of the same company, see next).
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 (these locations are usually marked with big signs with the text Overstappen (Transfer)). This is order sensitive (so check out first before checking in). If you expect to travel by train only, it's usually easier to buy single-use OV-Chipcards. If you also want to travel by bus, tram, metro or ferry an Anonymous OV-Chipkaart is recommended since it's easier to use and will save you money in the long run. If checking out is impossible (i.e. the check-out device is defective), you can claim refunds with the public transport company involved.
Amsterdam: Checking in/out at combined stations Beware of different gates for train (NS) and metro in combined train+metro stations. Check in at the correct gate.
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 (you pay about € 0,25 per kilometer). There are also a few high-speed trains (such as the 'Intercity Direct' between Amsterdam Central station, this includes Schiphol Airport, and Breda) which are more expensive and sometimes require an extra 'product' to be put on your OV-Chipkaart (see above). 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 west of the 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 limited to 5 to 10 minutes. Note though that NS boasts a punctuality of 91.6% (meaning that this percentage of trains departs/arrives within 5 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 most of the time you'll find a seat. Reserving seats on domestic trains is not possible.
Many tourists experience that they're in the wrong part of a train: many trains are split up somewhere along the way, for different destinations. So watch the signs over the platforms for parts and destinations: achterste deel/achter means back and voorste deel/voor means front, referring to the direction of departure. Sometimes trains leave in the direction they came from. Probably a more secure way to know would be the part of the platform: a or b, also mentioned at time tables etc. Most trains have displays inside (front and back wall of each train section) showing stations and destination, and even information about times and platforms for changing trains. Announcements are made in Dutch when trains are separated. Feel free to ask other passengers (most people will be able to explain in English) or an employee. When you find yourself in the wrong part of a train, don't worry: you'll have time enough to change at the station where the train is split.
Schiphol to Amsterdam city
There is a convenient night train service (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, 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, Breda, Tilburg and 's-Hertogenbosch / Eindhoven.
Many intercity trains, (almost all single-deck trains and a few double-deck trains) have free WiFi internet access (Named Wifi in de trein). Some intercity trains have electrical outlets in the First Class, but it can't be guaranteed.
Most trains have two comfort classes (First Class and Second Class, identified by big '1s and '2s on the side of the train). Some regional lines don't have first class. First class can easily be recognized since the seats are usually red (most 'Sprinters' and intercities) or black. Second class have blue or green seats. Some sections in trains are silent zones (which is indicated with a white stripe on the glass with the text Stilte - Silence. In this zone you aren't allowed to talk or make phone calls (the fine for calling in a silent zone is € 85,-).
There is one national tariff system for train travel. You don't need separate tickets for other operators (except in some international trains). Tickets are valid on both sprinter and intercity services; there is no difference in price. The most used tickets are the one way (enkele reis) and return tickets (retour). The latter is valid one day, so you should return on the same day. The price is equal to two 'one way' tickets, so a return ticket offers no price advantage. Single tickets (2nd class) can cost up to €30 and up to €60 for return on very long distances. This is the same as the price as of day passes.
Tickets are valid in any train on the route (as opposed to being valid in only one fixed train). You're free to take a break at any station on your route, even if this isn't a station where you need to transfer, and resume your journey later on. As 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 y.o. a Railrunner ticket is available for €2,50. The Railrunner ticket allows for free travel for the duration of one day; children need to be with a parent/guardian if they travel first class.
There is no discount for tickets that are bought in advance, unlike in some countries. The ticket price is uniform and depends on distance between start and destination (sometimes different routes are possible and allowed). Always make sure your OV-Chipkaart is checked in before boarding the train.
Tickets can be purchased from machines in stations. Some of the ticket machines, at least one at each station, also accept coins (but no notes). Since August / September 2014, all machines at all train stations accept Mastercard / VISA creditcards with PIN. There is a €0.50 supplement for paying by creditcard and a €1 supplement for buying a disposable, single-use, chipcard. Only larger stations have ticket counters. All 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 (Tip; you can ask a student to travel along with you, his so-called Studentenreisproduct allows for three people to ride with a 40% discount). (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. Unfortunately, some tickets can only be bought online. For example group tickets, these tickets are low-priced from €7,00 till €13.75 (only depending on group size, price for all distances) for a day retour ticket.
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 the conductor asks you for your ticket but you can't show any, you'll have to pay the ticket (without any discount) 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. The only exception to this rule is the Grensland Express that connects Hengelo to Bad Bentheim (Germany), where you have to get the ticket from the conductor and the OV Chipkaart is not valid.
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 18 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, these signs are blue and have the platform number, followed by the letter (e.g. 14b) printed on them and are usually located next to the monitors containing train information. On some stations, capital letters are used to indicate which part of the train stops at which part of the station (usually seen at stations where international trains arrive), these signs are white, significantly smaller than the blue platform signs, and have only the capital letter on them.
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, all stations have blue electronic screens, indicating the trains departing during the next hour (which include delays and/or cancellations).
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. These packages may or may not be available since they're bound to seasons.
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 travelling during peak hours (working days 6.30-9.00h and 16.00-18.30h, except holidays). The subscription costs € 50,- for one year (2014). 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 € 50,80 (2014)), valid in 2nd class on all non-surcharge trains in the Netherlands (thus excluding the Fyra and international trains, but including local companies. These trains are marked by a white bar on the displays stating Een extra toeslag is mogelijk van toepassing op deze trein). 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 an electronic screen (smartphone, tablet etc) 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.
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 exclusively in Dutch and a Dutch bank account is needed in order to buy the tickets (payments are processed by iDeal).
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, Keolis, EBS, Arriva and Qbuzz. A few large cities have their own bus company.
A big downside regarding the busses 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. Especially on longer rides they will be cheaper then 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, Nijmegen and Arnhem 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 centres, 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. Driving is on the Right side. 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) unless you can prove that the cyclist was in error, in which case you will be deemed half liable. If you can definitively prove that they were both in error and trying to hit you, and the person hit was 14 or older, they will 100% liable. 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.
P+R park and ride facilities are available at the outskirts of bigger cities; you can park your car cheaply there, and continue your journey via public transport (often free or with a discount when you have parked at the P+R).
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 colour of asphalt.
Rules regarding Public Transport
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. Furthermore, in cities where there are streetcars (Amsterdam especially), remember that Streetcars always have priority under every circumstance. Note that some tram stops are in the middle of the road, so passengers exiting the streetcars will cross the street in order to get to the sidewalks. Exiting streetcar passengers always have priority so be careful when driving past a streetcar that stopped.
The speed limit in built up areas is 50 km/h with some zones limited to maximum of 30 km/h. Note that 30 km/h zones are home of unmarked intersections (so all traffic from the right has right of way!). Outside of towns speed is limited to 80 km/h (this includes most N-roads, though some are restricted to 70 or 100). On some local roads the speed limit is 60 km/h. The maximum speed limit on the highways is 130 km/h, however this might depend on the time you are driving, as well on the opening of the spitsstroken (rush hour lanes, indicated by long interrupted lines; when open, the speed limit is 100 or 80 km/h. This is indicated by a green arrow (open) or red cross (closed)). This is always designated next to the highway, but this is confusing even for locals, so remember this when driving on a highway:
These limits are strictly enforced and the fines are very heavy (see below)!
Your speed will be checked nationwide by the police and fines are heavy. Exceeding 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. However, you can install the Flitsmeister app on your smartphone. This app warns you for all known radars and "Trajectcontroles". Using this app is free and legal.
Drinking and driving is not allowed and this is enforced strongly. Breathalyzer tests occur frequently (especially during the weekends), 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).
An 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.
Parking fees within cities can be pretty steep. When considering going to bigger cities, such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Rotterdam, consider use of public transportation to avoid traffic jams and the great difficulties involved in finding a parking spot. Note that a blue line on the road or on the sidewalk next to the road indicates that you need to have a parking disc indicating the time of arrival. You may stay up to half an hour (usually) without paying. Not having a parking disc or staying too long results in a fine.
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 telephone number is 112 (tollfree, will even work from disconnected mobile phones); the telephone number for non-emergency police presence is 0900-8844.
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 2017, €1,65 a litre in manned stations (which equals $6.60 per US gallon). 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 allegedly 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-collared petrol pump icon, set beside the general case black-collared petrol pump icon. LPG fuelled 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 fuelled 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.
Getting a public charging point for electric cars is quite hard to come by, and are only located in city centres generally. Public charging points can be found at .
There are currently 2 hydrogen gas stations in the Netherlands, Arnhem and Amsterdam, although more are planned in e.g. Rotterdam.
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. If you have to rely on a taxi, there is a free smartphone app  for ordering taxis in most of the major cities in the Netherlands that gets you a responsible driver, and helps you keep track of the route and price.
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 tariff (about €3.00 curb call plus €2.10 per km traveled), and it's built into the taxi meters. If you negotiate 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. Note that most taxi's only accept payment in cash, debit or credit cards cannot be used. Around Amsterdam and to some extent Utrecht, Uber taxi's are available and can be paid for online.
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, works quite well and locals that take you typically expect no payment in return. It's also suited for short rides from small towns or minor streets, there might be less traffic, but in general drivers will be more likely to stop. Hitch-hiking on the highways/motorways is not allowed but generally tolerated on the on-ramps and other 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 and other cyclists will hate you if you don't keep by the rules or if your cycling skills are not up to scratch. 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 €1.25 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 written 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 Gelderland 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 second 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 road signs 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.
"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 to a lesser degree French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent, and the second most English-proficient country in the world where English isn't official (after Sweden; 90% of the population speaks at least some English). Oblivious travellers 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.
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, Berber, Sranan-Tongo (Suriname) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).
Foreign television programmes, films and are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. The same is true for segments in locally/nationally-produced programmes that involve someone using a foreign language. The major exception is children's programmes, which 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 is 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. Another way to see the Dutch proudly present their flowers is by visiting a flower parade, called Bloemencorso. In a parade of this kind the floats (praalwagens), cars and (in some cases) boats are magnificently decorated or covered in flowers. Each parade has its own character, charm and theme. Many towns and regions in the Netherlands hold parades every year.
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. In the northeast, the provinces of Drenthe and Overijssel offer unique and less well-known impressions of the Dutch countryside. Visit the unique villages of Giethoorn and/or Staphorst near Meppel, for example. 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 wharf-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 decorate 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 south-western 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.
Sinterklaas is a traditional winter holiday figure still celebrated today in the Netherlands and a few other countries. His birthday (December 6th) is celebrated annually on Saint Nicholas' eve (December 5th). Since the celebration is a family affair, the chance is small to see the celebration as a tourist. Sinterklaas traditionally arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November (usually on a Saturday) by steamboat from Spain. The Sinterklaasintocht (his arrival and walk through the city) is public and organized by almost every city. From his arrival until his celebration, you can walk into Sinterklaas or the 'zwarte pieten' (which are his helpers) in shopping malls.
Zwarte Piet is felt by some to be racist, because these black men are the helpers/servants of the white skinned Sinterklaas. Today, Zwarte Pieten have become more modern servants and parents often tell their children that the Pieten have black faces because they climb down dirty, soot-filled chimneys. The discussion about Zwarte Piet being racist or not, intensified as of 2013. Towards December, this becomes headlining news and the Dutch in general are polarized about the subject. In order to avoid being hassled or intimidated by people either in favor or against Zwarte Piet, it is wise to be careful whilst discussing the subject. Some areas have since introduced Pieten in many different colors. Again, opinions on this change are heavily polarized. Do not however avoid the celebration because of this, demonstrations are not violent.
If want to you experience a part of the Sinterklaas tradition, your best option is to visit the arrival of Sinterklaas, called the Sinterklaasintocht. There is a big celebration in a designated city on the saturday between November 10th and 16th, and smaller celebrations in nearly all cities the day after. Also consider buying some Sinterklaas candy such as: Pepernoten, Kruidnoten, taai-taai, chocolate coins or chocolate letters. The candy is available in supermarkets and other candy selling stores from September until the fifth of December.
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.
Local non-profit tourist information organizations are mostly called 'VVV', they can inform you about organized activities during your stay.
The big organized festivals such as Lowlands, Dancevalley, Pinkpop and Sensation, usually sell out very fast. Advised is to buy tickets before you go to the festivals, to prevent disappointment buy them as quick as you can. For most free festivals such as Carnaval, Queens/Kings day and the Vierdaagsefeesten, you don't need to get a ticket.
Netherlands has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, 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 more than 330 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.
Credit cards & ATMs
For safety reasons, credit card use in the Netherlands increasingly requires a PIN-code. Credit card use in general is reasonably common, but not by far as much as in the US, UK or Scandinavia. The Dutch themselves often use local bank cards, i.e. debit cards without a Visa or MasterCard logo 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. Note that most supermarkets only accept local debit cards, not foreign credit cards. Some have an ATM on the premises where you can withdraw cash before going shopping.
ATMs are readily available, mostly near shopping and nightlife areas. The very smallest ones excluded, even villages usually have an ATM. The Dutch word for these machines is "pinautomaat", and the verb meaning both withdrawing cash from ATMs and paying with a debit card ("pinpas") is "pinnen".
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. A pack of Marlboro (19 cigarettes) averages about €6,00.
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, wears 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 and large garden stores. 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. A good quality wooden shoe protects your foot from falling objects up to 10 kg, so you won't feel a thing. Wooden shoes are made from willow or poplar wood. Willow is more expensive than poplar, because the wood is harder and more compressed. This means that the wooden shoe of willow is stronger and more wear-resistant. Also they are better insulated and more water resistant.
For good quality wooden shoes; avoid the kitschy tourist shops at Schiphol and Amsterdam's Damrak street, and instead look for a regular vendor (such as Welkoop) 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 colours of the Frisian flag.
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. 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 instil 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. The Dutch, however, are known for their specialties and delicious treats:
Snacks & candy
Breakfast or Lunch
A typical Dutch breakfast or lunch is a simple slice of bread or bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham with a glass of milk or a Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed). The following typical Dutch products are often placed on the bread roll:
A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side.
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.
The local website Iens[] is used by a lot of locals to judge (almost all) restaurants in the Netherlands. There is also an English version of the website here[], but you can also let the grades (1 is worst, 10 is best) speak for themselves.
In town centres, 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.
As of January 1st 2014, the legal drinking age is raised to 18, and anyone caught drinking underage will be fined €130,- Bar's and Cafe's receive a tenfold fine, so expect severe ID checks. 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 18 to buy alcohol in liquor-shops or supermarkets and 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 18 and 20 need to get a 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 pilsner. 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 flavoured with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavoured varieties (such as Kriek) 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 contain sometimes 0% or less than 0.5% alcohol and are very suitable for people who would like to drive and don't drink (or sometimes called "de Bob" as promoted in its campaign) or pregnant women.
Travellers coming from the British Isles and hoping to find a decent pint of ale will be sorely disappointed; unfortunately the Dutch beer market is utterly dominated by pilsner.
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 or green tea, and it comes in many different tastes, from traditional black to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you're British, 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. Sugar or occasionally honey is often served with it to add by yourself.
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 tastes like the best drink you've ever had.
The Netherlands is renowned for its liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because of 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 a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that the action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. 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) are in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff. However: it is customary to smoke only inside coffee shops or in private places; using drugs in public streets and being excessively high is considered impolite, so, try to maintain a certain discipline.
If you are 18 or older, you are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which 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 Rastafarian red-yellow-green colours to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view.
When the Dutch gedoogbeleid ("tolerance policy") began in the 1970s, coffeeshops were dumpy little places where a few hippies sold pot to each other from shoe boxes in their basements. Today, for better or worse, coffeeshops have grown into extremely sophisticated businesses that serve thousands of customers monthly. Their success, however, is not without controversy; some coffeeshops are operated by organized crime syndicates and serve as money-laundering operations, and many Dutch consider their presence, and the accompanying throngs of foreigners, to be a nuisance. This has caused a backlash; now many coffeeshops have closed and magic mushrooms are (mostly) banned. The "wietpas" ("weed pass"), which used to be a mandatory pass to be able to buy weed, is no longer in use. It was introduced in 2012 to prevent foreigners from buying drugs, as to reduce the problem of drug tourism. This problem, however, still exists and has led to local laws in major cities in the southern provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland preventing non-Dutch citizens from entering a coffeeshop. Since failing to comply with the law can mean instant closure and criminal charges, coffeeshops enforce this strictly. When in doubt, ask the bouncer. If rejected, do not make a scene: no really means no. Do not try to get others to buy drugs for you, this will get you in trouble with law enforcement. While it has become harder for foreigners to buy weed in the Netherlands, the use of drugs is still legal, also for foreigners.
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
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-touristy 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 "Stayokay" , 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 travelling 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 tertiary education:
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.
There are also specialist websites for English and non-Dutch speakers looking to work in the Netherlands and they are a often a good place to start: Octagon Recruitment; Blue Lynx - Employment by Language; Undutchables; Unique; and Xpat Jobs; are all useful resources.
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.
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. When you need police but there is no life in danger or crime being executed, you call +31900-8844, with this number they will come quickly but without sirens. If you want to report a crime anonymously (e.g. because you are in fear of reprisals or a confrontation with the perpetrator) you can call +31800-7000.
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). City guards 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. 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 obligated 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.
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" and anti-Semitism. These attitudes are however almost entirely to do with migration concerns, and, being people famed for their tolerance, the Dutch are very unlikely to treat visitors any differently based on their ethnicity.
Unsafe parts of cities In the larger cities, certain areas are considered unsafe at night. A few are also unsafe in daylight (but only relatively so; the chances of you getting in trouble in one of these areas are still very small):
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, and the country has a long, proud history of cultural and religious tolerance. 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 King's Day (Koningsdag, April 27th) and during football championships. Mostly though, these nationalistic celebrations are mostly used as an excuse to party together rather than being true "nationalistic" events.
Meeting and parting
When meeting and parting for the first time, shaking hands is the default position between both men and women. When someone is introduced, he/she will shake hands and state his/her name. At the next meeting, shaking hands is not necessary, but in business situations it is common.
In the Netherlands, cheek-kissing is in certain regions and social circles a common way of greeting among women and between women and men.It is only done among people who know each other rather well. Men don't kiss other men on the cheeks. Men and women, and women among each other, will do it more often. 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. The cheek-kissing is not compulsory. If someone does not want to be kissed, he or she extends the hand for a handshake. This will not be considered odd or rude.
Dutch people will kiss three times alternating right and left cheeks. This could lead to awkward situations for Anglo people, being used to just two kisses. It is alright or sometimes even more acceptable to just press the cheeks to each other instead of actually kissing. Also, always kiss on the cheeks and never give air-kisses. Often there will not be an actual kiss, but rather the touching of the cheeks against each other. Kisses are never supposed to be wet kisses.
Phrases saying hello or goodbye differ between regions, but are generally understood everywhere. However, the use of dialectal forms, for example the Brabantic "houdoe", Limburgish "haije", Gronings "moi", and the Frisian "'goeie'" links the speaker to that region.
Addressing people: formal and informal
Dutch people quickly start calling people by their first name. In the Netherlands, a younger person, a child, a relative, a friend, or an acquaintance are addressed with an informal "je/jij" ("you"). The formal "u" is used to address people one does not know, or is only slightly acquainted with. "U" is also used to address a higher-ranking businessperson, although it can soon be replaced by the informal "je."
When meeting someone in the Netherlands for the first time, they are generally called sir or madam, but one will soon be asked to refer to them by their first name. In other countries, it takes much longer for people to associate on a first name basis. There is no special rule that tells how to deal with this, it is safe to follow the lead of the other person. When one introduces him/herself with just their first name, it is safe to assume that they prefer to be addressed with the informal "jij/je".
The Dutch do not use titles when they speak to someone. In writing, one can state the title, but only in an official letter. The only exception is the Dutch King and Queen, which will always be referred to as His and Her Majesty. However, the current King, Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, has stated that people can address him in any way they feel comfortable with.
When making a phone call, always state name (and, if appropriate, company name). Even when one calls a cab, order a pizza, or ask for information, it is polite to mention one's name.
When receiving a call, one does the same: pick up the phone and state the name. When a Dutch person answers the phone, he/she will identify him-/herself by stating their first name and/or last name. The name is usually preceded by "met" ("You're speaking with.") The caller is expected to identify him- or herself as well, before starting the conversation or asking to speak to another person.
When making a phone call, first ask if the call is convenient. If it isn't a convenient time, offer to call back later. It is best not to make personal calls before 09:00 or after 22:00 (9:00 am/10:00 pm). On Sundays, one is expected not to call before 10:00. It is also better to avoid dinner time (18:00–19:30, 6:00-7:30 pm).
When invited to a lunch or dinner, the Dutch will make it clear that you are their guest and that they intend to pay the bill, otherwise expect to "Go Dutch" and pay your fair share. No one will be embarrassed at splitting the bill.
A waiter or waitress is beckoned by slightly raising a hand, making eye-contact or calling "Ober" ("Waiter") or "Mevrouw" ("Waitress"), but not too loudly. Snapping fingers is considered very rude.
It is also considered rude to leave the table during dinner, even to go to the bathroom. During a long dinner, one may leave the table between courses to visit the bathroom. It is polite to ask if one may be excused. When one has finished eating, one places the fork and knife next to each other at the 3:15 position on the plate with the sharp end of the knife towards oneself and the tips of the fork down. When invited for a meal in someone's home, people are expected to eat all the food on their plate. It's better to take multiple portions of food rather than too much at once and not eating all of it (which is considered wasteful or a sign that the food didn't taste well). The Dutch will invite only very close friends and relatives they feel close to for a home dinner. It might take a long time of friendship before this will happen or it might never happen at all.
Table manners are important to the Dutch and if one breaks this etiquette, the Dutch might make remarks about it. During the entire meal, the fork is always held in the left hand when used. Knife and spoon are held in the right hand. The knife is not put down after the carving of the meat/fish. Both knife and fork are used together to eat. The napkin is placed on the lap. Eating with one's mouth open, burping, smacking, and making other eating noises are considered uncivilized. Putting new food in the mouth, drinking or speaking while there's still food in the mouth is considered rude. The Dutch frown upon breaking these basic rules. Bread is allowed to be eaten by hand. Soup is eaten with a spoon and not to be drank. Becoming tipsy is only acceptable when the dinner is held with close friends. When one does not wish to eat certain foods, it is appreciated when the host is told in advance.
In the Netherlands, men and women are equal, which means that women enjoy the same privileges as men. Enjoying lunch or dinner with a (male or female) friend will very often end up in Going Dutch (splitting the bill). When one invites someone, or if one is invited, it is only in corporate situations to be expected that the one who does the inviting pays for dinner. Otherwise bills will be split up, even sometimes when people are on a date. It is a way of showing that one is independent and self-reliant, which is highly valued in the Dutch society and insisting to pay the bill for the other party might be considered slightly offensive by the other party.
In the Netherlands, everyone receives a basic salary, tipping is optional. For example:
Within Dutch society nudity is less sexualized as in for example the Anglosphere and resembles more the views of other Northern European cultures on nudity. Saunas, gyms and swimming pools are often visited by families and therefore always mixed. (In public saunas keeping one's clothes or bathing suit on is strictly forbidden. It is considered inappropriate and unsanitary, therefore it is good manners to undress. Nudity is the norm.) Some saunas do offer special men-only or women-only evenings. At the beach and on the terraces along it, the Dutch are as sparsely clothed as possible. Do not get offended by this because to the Dutch this kind of beach dress is completely normal. Women, also older women, may also (sun) bathe topless on most beaches in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has some nudist beaches.
Weddings can range from small private affairs to elaborate parties, depending on the preferences of individuals. Dutch law only recognizes weddings as legally binding when performed by a government official, but a church ceremony may be included in the wedding festivities. Most people have a civil wedding, often conducted in the town hall. In the Netherlands there is a statutory requirement for couples intending to marry to formally register that intention with officials beforehand; allowing people who may object, time to learn of the intended marriage. This process is called "ondertrouw".
The majority of the Dutch are irreligious and religion is in the Netherlands generally considered as a very personal matter which is not supposed to be propagated in public.
The Dutch avoid superlatives. Compliments are offered sparingly, and to say that something is "not bad" is to praise it.
A person who never offers criticism is seen as either being simple-minded or failing to tell the truth. A foreigner need not worry too much about saying something the will hurt feelings. The Dutch will argue, but seldom take offense.
Dutch humor is subtle rather than slapstick.
The Dutch speak directly and use a lot of eye contact. To a foreigner, them may appear abrupt, but it is just their manner of communicating.
Do not call the Netherlands "Holland." Holland is a region within the Netherlands.
The Dutch value privacy and seldom speak to strangers. It is more likely that they will wait for you to make the first move. Don't be afraid to do so.
Smoking is prohibited in many areas. Always ask before lighting up.
Do not discuss money or prices or ask personal questions.
Don't compare the Dutch language to German, or state any similarity between Dutch and German people. For many Dutch this is a quick way to cause offence.
Gay and lesbian travellers
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 recognize 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). Be careful with openly kissing though, as it is not accepted, not even for hetero couples. (Be very careful, as in recent times incidents with Gay/Lesbian couples are on the rise due to "hate-crimes" done by individuals. Be alert when walking at night or through parks. If you do not trust it, do not walk hand-in-hand or be "openly gay". People have been hospitalized.)
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 0044 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 tariffs (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 , Ortel Mobile  and vectone  are providers that specialize in cheap rates to foreign countries.  targets those travelling 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 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.