Earth : Europe : Benelux : Netherlands
The Kingdom of the Netherlands, The Netherlands in short, (Dutch: Nederland, also commonly called Holland in English, in reference to the provinces North-Holland and South-Holland) is a Benelux country and a founding member of the European Union. The Netherlands border Germany to the east and Belgium to the south. To the west, the country faces the North Sea and the United Kingdom. The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".
The southern part of the country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the Middle Ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.
Following the Dutch Revolt, led by national hero William of Orange (Willem van Oranje), the Netherlands became a de facto independent republic in 1572. The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces (including Flanders) signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579. It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Dutch Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw). During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including the Netherlands East Indies (currently Indonesia) and New Amsterdam (currently New York City), which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1805, the country became a kingdom when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. In 1815, it became the 'United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) together with Belgium and Luxembourg under King William I (Willem I). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxembourg received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, as the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.
Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848 and new adopted Treaty, The Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. In 1944, the Low Countries formed the union of the Benelux in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together. The country was a founding member of NATO in 1949 and the European Community (EC) in 1957, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.
Quite a few travelers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude: prostitution is decriminalized, but only for those prostitutes registered at a permitted brothel. Safe sex and use of condoms is common practice, and the prostitute will usually have these available. It is illegal for sex workers to solicit for customers on the street and prostitutes are most common in the capital Amsterdam, where red-light districts are popular, even if tourists only visit as a momento of the visit. In more rural areas, prostitution is almost non-existant. Sex shops, sex shows, sex museums and drugs museums are also popular. The sale, possession, and consumption of small quantities of cannabis while technically still illegal, is officially tolerated, but coffeeshops are subject to increasing restrictions. Harder drugs (eg. ecstasy or cocaine) remain illegal both in theory and practice. In the same open minded atmosphere is the Dutch ease towards homosexuality, gay marriage is legalized. Also the practice of Euthanasia is legalized under strict conditions.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. No matter where you go, you are never far away from civilization. Cities can be crowded especially in the Randstad area, where congestion is a serious problem. Much of the country is flat and at or below sea level making it an ideal place to cycle. Hills can only be found at the Veluwe and Southern Limburg. Much of countryside is dominated by highly industrialized farming - despite its population density, the Netherlands are one of the largest food exporters in the world. Though there are some beautiful spots scattered across the country, the tourist expecting a countryside full of picturesque villages, tulips and windmills may be in for a bit of a shock. The villages, tulips and windmills are there for sure, you just have to find them (for example, in the Waterland and Zaan Region). The most beautiful places are most of the times the places only known by the Dutch themselves. Asking a Dutch(wo)man for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise just visit local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV, they can be found in all the larger towns.
The geography of the Netherlands is dominated by water features. The country is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast of the Netherlands has one of the most beautiful North Sea beaches that can be found, attracting thousands if not millions of people every year, among them a lot of Germans as well.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Even though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are quite diverse and have plenty of cultural and linguistic differences. They can be divided in four regions:
The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below are nine of the most notable ones:
These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.
See National Parks in the Benelux for a full list of national parks.
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. Visas and long-term residence permits for non-EU nationals are handled by IND .
There are a number of ways to get into the Netherlands. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel. Visitors from the United Kingdom can also travel by boat.
Schiphol Airport  , near Amsterdam, is a European hub, and after London, Paris, and Frankfurt the largest of Europe. It is by far the biggest international airport in the country, and a point of interest in itself, being 4 metres below mean sea level (the name actually translates as Hollow of Ships). Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with The Netherlands' biggest airline KLM .
From Schiphol there are excellent railway connections: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and most large cities have a direct train service. 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.
Some budget airlines also fly to the Netherlands. Jet2.com , Easyjet  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.
Other international airports are Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Rotterdam - The HagueAirport, and Groningen-Eelde Airport. These smaller airports are mainly attended by low-cost airlines. Eindhoven Airport and Maastricht/Aachen Airport are mostly used by Ryanair , while Rotterdam Airport is frequented by Transavia , the low-cost subsidiary of KLM for tourists. The operator CityJet does an expensive commuter trip to London city. A direct bus connection, either to the local railway stations and then take the train are the best way to get to Amsterdam or any other town. There is a direct bus service between Eindhoven Airport and Amsterdam Central Station.
It is also possible to come to the Netherlands via airports lying in surrounding countries. Much-used airports are Düsseldorf International Airport  and Brussels Airport . European low cost carriers (Ryanair and Air Berlin ) also use the airports of Münster-Osnabrück and Weeze/Niederrhein which are near or just at the Dutch/German border. From these two airports there are frequent flights to the major European destinations.
(High speed) trains may be the most comfortable mode of transport between major European cities. While some low cost airlines offer cheaper deals, remember that international high speed lines connect city centres, rather than airports that are usually located outside of the city. Also, trains do not require you to be present one hour before departure and can be part of the holiday experience: they allow you to enjoy the landscape, meet new people, have cup of coffee in the board restaurant or bring along a good bottle of wine.
Remember that the cheapest tickets are often sold out early and that reservations are generally possible 3 (normal) to 6 (CityNightLine) months in advance. Bookings can be made via NS Hispeed (Dutch railways) or its German and Belgian couterparts.
From France, Belgium, Great Britain
The Thalys high-speed train , which connects the Netherlands with France and Belgium, is a bit expensive, but if you book a return in advance or if you're under 26 or over 60 you can get good deals. It is also faster, normally cheaper and more convenient than flying. Direct trains depart from Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, for the south of the country has excellent connections via Liège-Guillemins (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany).
For trips to Brussels or Antwerp it is usually cheaper - and almost as fast - to catch the Benelux train, which runs hourly from Amsterdam, via Schiphol, The Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Roosendaal. No seat reservations are required - just buy your ticket and get on board.
Between Maastricht and Brussels runs a new hourly intercity service called the Maastricht Brussel Express, which also stops at Liege. Maastricht-Liege takes around 30 minutes, Maastricht-Brussels takes about 1½ hours. Tickets can be bought at the stations or on-line on Express' website .
From Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Russia
There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:
Eurolines  is the main 'operator' for international coaches to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a common brand-name used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily service, eg.from Poland, London, Milan, Brussels and Paris . But this is the cheapest way to travel and you get discount if your age is less than 26.
Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990'ies there are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours  runs several times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx 159€ for a return ticket.
The Netherlands has good road and ferry links to Belgium, Great Britain and Germany. 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 Ferries To Amsterdam . Dutchflyer is a combination ticket that includes the trainride from anywhere on the National Express East Anglia  network (including London and Norwich) to Harwich, the ferry, and the trainride from Hook of Holland to anywhere on the NS (dutch railways) network. Rotterdam is also the second largest port in the world, and (in theory) a good place for Freighter travel.
The Netherlands has a fine-grained, well-organized public transport system. Virtually any village can be reached by public transport. The Dutch public transport system consists of a train network which serves as backbone, extended with a network of both local and interlocal busses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, and Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag and Utrecht also have trams.
The country is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent. There are two main types of trains: Intercity trains, and trains which stop at all stations (previously called 'Stoptrein'). (The Intercity is not as fast as 'Intercity' services in some other countries, and it stops more often). Both types of train have the same prices. 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 30 minutes; only some rural lines run every 60 minutes. Where more lines run together, the frequency is of course higher. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 12 trains per hour on main routes.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)  operates most routes. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.
Because of the high service frequency, delays are quite common. However, the delay is usually not more than 5 or 10 minutes. Note though that the NS boasts a punctuality of 80-85% (meaning that percentage of trains departs/arrives within 3 minutes of the scheduled time), which could be higher than you're used to. Trains can be crowded during the rush hour, especially in the morning, but you should nearly always be able to find a seat. Reserving seats on domestic trains is not possible.
One particular mistake tourists often make is getting on the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, both parts will be separated and will continue on their own to their respective destinations. In that case, the signs over the platforms will show two destinations and which part goes where: achterste deel/achter means back and voorste deel/voor means front, referring to the direction of departure. Feel free to ask other passengers.
There is a convenient night train service (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, Den Haag, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam, and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. There is a direct and hourly night train service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between Rotterdam and Utrecht. In the nights Friday onto Saturday and Saturday onto Sunday, North-Brabant is also served. You can get to Dordrecht,'s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda.
Tickets are available between all stations, NS and non-NS, and there is only one national tariff system. Tickets are valid on both sprinter and intercity services; there is no difference in price. The most used tickets are the single (enkele reis) and return tickets (retour). The latter are 1.67 times the price of a single (or a single is 60% of the return price) and are valid only for return on the day itself, or in case of the weekendretour (same price as a normal return) between Friday 19:00 and Monday morning 4:00. Tickets are valid in any train on the route (as opposed to being valid in only one fixed train). It is allowed to pause the travel at any station on the route (even on stations on the route where you don't have to change). Like in many countries, there is a difference between first and second class. A second class ticket is 60% of the price of a first class ticket. The main advantage of first class is that it's less crowded, also seats and aisles are generally wider. For children 4-11 years accompanied by adults, a Railrunner ticket can be bought for €2.
Tickets cannot be purchased cheaper in advance like in some countries. The ticket price is uniform and depends on distance. Note that you can buy a ticket without a date in advance, which has to be validated when entering the platform, but this doesn't make the ticket cheaper, it's just for convenience. If you have a ticket without a date printed on it, do not forget to validate it by putting it in the small yellow boxes which are usually located at the platform entrance.
Tickets can be purchased from machines in stations using debit cards (international debit cards are accepted if they have the Maestro symbol on it). Some of the machines – at least one at each station – also accept coins (but no notes!). Only larger stations have a ticket counter — you pay €0.50 more than at the machine, per ticket. Ticket machines come in two kinds: an older version with an two-line greenish LCD display, and a new version with a big touch screen. The latter has English-language menus available. There is also a demonstration of this system  on the internet. A common mistake made by foreigners is accidentally getting a 40% discount ('korting') ticket from the machine. A special discount-card is required for these tickets, although you can travel on other people's discount cards too. (See Discount rail pass). If you have trouble using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks English and will help you out. It is also possible to buy e-tickets  online, although at the moment a dutch bank account for payment (iDEAL) is necessary.
You must buy a ticket before travelling — since 2005, you can no longer simply buy a ticket from the conductor, as in some other countries. If you buy a ticket onboard, you will have to pay the normal price plus a € 35 fine. If the ticket machines are defective, go to the conductor immediately when boarding. The conductor is not allowed any discretion on this policy, though being polite and pretending to be an ignorant tourist might help you – but is not guaranteed – to get away with having an invalid ticket. In worst case though, if you do not have either enough cash, or a passport, you could be arrested by railway police.
In the station
While many villages have small stations with only one or two platforms and no railway staff, cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht have large central stations with up to 14 platforms. It can take 5-10 minutes to move from one platform to another, especially for people not familiar with the station. The platforms are all numbered. When platforms are so long that two or more trains can halt at the same platform, the different parts of the platform are indicated with the lowercase letters a/b/c. On some stations, capital letters are used to indicate which part of the train stops at which part of the station. Do not confuse the lowercase and uppercase letters.
Time tables can be found in the station hall and on the platforms. All train tables are yellow. Departing train tables are printed in blue, arriving train tables in red. Unlike in other countries, the trains are not ordered by time of departure, but by direction. Additionally, more and more stations have blue electronic screens, indicating the trains departing during the next hour.
Discount rail pass
Visitors planning to travel by train in the Netherlands should consider the Eurail pass with the Benelux package. This allows for unlimited train travel within Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg over multiple days. Europeans, not being eligible for Eurail passes, should look into Inter Rail Passes for their discount train travel.
If two or three people want to travel around the Netherlands together for a few days during the summer, the Zomertoer may be used. This pass gives them two, not necessarily consecutive, days of unlimited travel. An add-on also allows you to travel on all other public transportation in the country. In autumn weekends, the Herfsttoer also gives some discounts.
If you're thinking of staying a longer time in the Netherlands it can be a good deal to get the "Voordeelurenkaart" (Off-Peak Discount Pass), which gives the cardholder (and up to three additional persons travelling with him or her) 40% off for one year. 40% discount tickets are valid after 9:00AM on weekdays and the whole day in weekends, on national holidays and in the months July and August. Price €55 for one year (2009). The voordeel-urenkaart must be applied for in advance and can take some weeks to process. A temporary card, which can be used for four weeks, will be issued right away when you apply. Since 2007, applying for a card requires a photograph.
If you're only in the Netherlands for one day and want to see much of the country by train, you may want to get an "OV-Dagkaart". It's on all-inclusive ticket for all public transportation for € 45 (2009). But note: it may be cheaper to just buy a ticket. For example: to get your money's worth on the OV-dagkaart would require about 6 hours train travel in one day.
Slightly more adventurous is to make use of the extra advantages of 'Off-peak Discount Passes' or people who have a 'Year Pass' (most students or some cival servants). It is possible, but some people may be offended when asked by strangers. There is a way to travel cheaper without having a pass yourselves: find a student with an 'O.V.-kaart' (Year Pass for Public Transportation), or someone who possesses a 'Voordeel-urenkaart' who travels on the same traject as you do. They are allowed to take up to three fellow travelers (this would be you) who can enjoy a 40% discount. You have to buy the discounted railway-ticket in advance (no need to show your Pass at the desk or buy it from an automatic ticket machine), but it won't be a problem to find someone accompanying you. This deal only works during weekends, or during weekdays after 9:00AM, on national holidays and in the summer months July and August. When the conductor asks for you 'cheaper' railway-ticket; the fellow who is accompanying you must show his 'Discount' or 'Year Pass'. It doesn't matter who it is as long as someone helps you out during your travel (when they come to check the tickets). Please note that both passengers should travel the same route. So only when you traveling with a discount card this should be taken in attention. Travelers with a 'O.V.-kaart', don't need to by a additional train ticket so there journey is unknown when they check the tickets.
The network of regional and local buses in the Netherlands is fine-grained and frequent and usually connects well with the train network; you can reach most small villages easily. However, for long-distance travel, these regional buses are not convenient at all, and are much slower than the train.
Fast long-distance buses are only available on a small number of routes that aren't covered by the rail network; these buses have special names that differ by region, such as Q-liner, Brabantliner and Interliner, and special tariffs.
There are four main bus companies in the Netherlands, Connexxion, Veolia, Arriva and Qbuzz. A few large cities have their own bus company.
A cheap way to get across the Netherlands is to buy a "buzzer" ticket. It costs €10 a day, and is valid after 9AM on every single Connexxion bus for two grownups and up to three children. On weekends and holidays it is also valid before 9AM. Because Connexxion has a near monopoly on the bus market, you can get from Groningen to Zeeland this way in a day, and it undercuts the train. A big downside though is that bus lines are very indirect. For example, if you want to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, you have to change three or more times to get all the way there. In short: bus journeys will almost always take longer than train travel. For example, trip to Rotterdam from Utrecht will take 40 minutes, but in the Bus it will take 1 hour and 30 minutes. However, if you want to enjoy the countryside and villages you can prefer the bus trips.
Many companies and regions have their own bus discount tickets, which are often cheaper than the strippenkaart.
Park-and-ride-(travel-)tickets: some towns and cities have special cheaper bus tickets from car parks near the city limits to the city centre, for outside rush hours, usually a return ticket.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht offer public transport at night. Only Amsterdam has a service all night and every night; in the other cities it is more limited, e.g., to the first part of the night, or only during the weekend. Several other cities and regions also have night buses, usually even more limited.
In general these request extra (cash) payment on top of the ordinary ('day-time') strippenkaart or special night-bus tickets. In some cases the ordinary 'strippenkaart' is not valid at all and only to be used for daytime travel.
The two largest cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network which runs mainly on elevated railways outside the city centers, and underground within the center. Furthermore there is a large city tram network in the agglomerations of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; Utrecht has two sneltram lines (fast tram or light-rail).
Public Transport tickets
(National) Strippenkaart (multiple-strip-/zone-card)
Note that strippenkaart is slowly being phased out in the Netherlands over the coming years in favour of the new OV-Chipkaart. Please read the section below, especially if you're travelling in Rotterdam or Amsterdam.
In bus, tram and metro (but not trains), there is a national ticketing system, called the strippenkaart OV-Info. Strippenkaarten of 15 or 45 strips are available for €7.60 and €22.50 respectively (2010). A trip always costs the number of zones you travel through, plus one. So a trip through one zone costs two strips, a travel through two zones costs three strips, etc. For example: starting fee + Amsterdam center + Amsterdam east = 3. A trip on the bus within a city is usually 2 or 3 strips of the card (1 or 2 zones). You can change buses and trams (even between companies) an unlimited number of times, or pause your trip and return in opposite direction for a fixed amount of time dependent on the number of strips:
When using the strippenkaart, it is often most convenient to tell the bus driver your destination, and he will stamp the card in the right place. In some busses and trams, you can stamp the card yourself at the yellow boxes at the platforms or inside. On the sneltram in Utrecht, this is even necessary as you cannot speak to the driver.
You can get 15- and 45-strippenkaarten in many places, including bus stations, post offices, cigar/magazine shops and some supermarkets (at the service desk or from a vending machine). On the bus smaller strippenkaarten of 2 and 3 strips are available. These are more more expensive (it costs about twice as much) and not recommended, unless you don't want to use the buses more than once or twice.
The strippenkaart can also be used for multiple-party travel for yourself and other people at the same time. In this circumstance, stamp the last strip for every passenger. For example, when travelling with two passengers for three zones (which corresponds to three strips) on a blank card, stamp strip number four and eight.
If the card is nearly full, you can split up a trip on the old card and a new card. In this case, also stamp the last strip of the old card.
In general this 'card' is valid up until one year after new pricing. If you are eligible for discount (due to the fact that you are a Dutch student with special student-OV-card, or under 12 or over 65) you can buy special reduced - cheaper - pink ones, which will get you the same mileage for a better price.
Keep in mind that you don't pay to get to a certain destination, but rather for the distance that you travel from your departure point. For example, if you stamp 2 zones in The Hague center, the following ride is possible:
The Hague center -> The Hague Southwest -> The Hague center -> Scheveningen
because it's all in a 1 zone radius from The Hague center. Again, be sure that your stamp is still valid (you can always ask the driver).
The strippenkaart is not valid on some highway (Interliner) busses and night busses.
The strippenkaart is being replaced by the contactless smart card OV-Chipkaart (OV-Chipcard ) on all forms of public transport (OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer meaning Public Transport). The system is now operational in all forms of public transport in Rotterdam and Amsterdam (metro, trams, buses), in trains operated by NS, and most (but certainly not all!) buses in the rest of the country. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam it's the only way of traveling in metro, tram and bus: the strippenkaart system has been abandoned on these forms of public transport. On this map of the Netherlands the pink colour indicates where the chip card can currently be used. Current plans are that the chipcard has to be operational in the whole country for all forms of public transport by 11 February 2011, and that the Strippenkaart system will be abandoned completely by April 2011.
The OV-chipkaart comes in three versions:
Which card you should choose, depends on how often and how long you are in the Netherlands and how often you use public transport. If you are likely to use the bus/tram three times or more per year, it usually pays to get an anonymous card, rather than buy a disposable one for every trip. If you are likely to do a lot of travelling in a relatively short time, you could opt for a disposable one-day or multi-day card.
Travelers can buy a travel product, for example a one-day pass for an entire city or a monthly season ticket for a certain route. When they check out after the trip (see next section), the system will recognise that a certain product has been used and, if necessary, deactivate it. The other option is to use money from the electronic purse on the OV-chipkaart. On checking in, the system will charge a checking-in fee (€20 for NS trains, €4 for metro, tram and bus), which will be refunded as soon as the traveller checks out, minus the fare for the trip actually made. If a user fails to check out, the checking-in fee, which is higher than the fare for most actual journeys, is not refunded. Loading travel credit can be done at station ticket machines and at ticket offices. During a trip, personnel can check cards with a mobile card reader. You must be travelling away from the point where you checked in.
When travelling by train or metro, the OV-chipkaart is held against a card reader as soon as the traveller enters the platform. The card has now been 'checked in', and the boarding fee will be charged to the card. When the passenger leaves at another station, the card is held against the card reader again in order to 'check out'; the boarding fee is refunded (minus the fare for the journey actually made if the traveller is using the e-purse). There are two types of card reader systems on train and metro stations: free-standing card readers, and card readers integrated into ticket gates. When travelling by tram or bus, travellers check in and out when entering or leaving the vehicle. Card readers are placed near each door for this purpose.
Checking in and out is required when you transfer from any one form of transport to another, except when you transfer from one train to another. When you cannot check-out (i.e. the check-out device is defect), you can claim costs with your public transport company.
It's possible to get a refund of unused credit on your card but it seems to be discouraged: you can only do this if the amount on your card is between €5 and €30, and you pay an administration fee of €2.50. The anonymous and personal OV-chipkaart have a validity of four to five years. Any credit that's still on the old card can be transferred to the new card; for free if the old card is still valid, or for €2.50 if it isn't.
All public transport companies participate in the OV Reisplanner  (Public Transport Travel Planner), which can plan a trip for you using almost all public transportation types. They only know about scheduled detours, however. This is also available by telephone: 0900-9292 (€ 0,70 per minute).
Information about the trains can be found at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) website , which includes a trip planner which uses the latest information about train delays and detours.
A car is a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as Veluwe, parts of Zeeland and The North Sea islands. The motorway network is extensive, though heavily used. Congestion during peak hour is usual and can better be avoided. Roads are well signposted. When driving in cities, always give priority to cyclists when turning across a cycle lane. If you are involved in a collision with a cyclist, you will be automatically liable (though not guilty). If you only wish to see cities a car is not the best option. Due to limited road capacity and parking, cars are actively discouraged from entering most bigger cities.
Public transport buses have the priority when leaving a bus stop, so be careful as they may pull in front of you expecting that you will give way.
Drive on the right. The speed limit in built up areas is 50 km/h with some zones limited to maximum of 30 km/h. Outside of towns speed is limited to 80 km/h (this includes most N-roads). On some local roads the speed limit is 60 km/h. On the highways the limit is 120 km/h except on some roads where the limit is 100 km/h. During rush hour signs above many roads indicate the current speed limit. On semi-highways and some of the N-roads the speed limit is 100 km/h.
Your speed will be checked nationwide by the police and fines are heavy. Pay extra attention to Trajectcontrole signs: that means that in the road you're driving there is an automatic system that checks your average speed on a long section. Radar detectors are illegal devices to have in your car. They will be impounded and you will be fined €250. Keep in mind that the police use so-called radar detector detectors to track down radar detector users, so it is best to turn them off. Drinking and driving is not allowed and this is enforced strongly. Breathalyzer tests occur frequently, both on an individual basis (i.e. you get pulled over and the police see it necessary for you to undergo a breathalyzer test) as on a bigger scale (i.e. the police has set up a designated control checkpoint on a highway). A unbroken yellow line next to the sidewalk means no stopping, a broken yellow next to the sidewalk means no parking. Some crossings have "shark teeth" painted on the road, this means you have to give way to the other traffic.
Note that police also use unmarked traffic surveillance cars, especially on the highways. They have a video surveillance system and often they don't stop you right after doing a violation but they keep on following you. That means if you do more violations, you'll be fined for everything you did. Note that the policemen in unmarked cars are obliged to identify themselves after pulling you over, which means you shouldn't have to ask. Policemen in marked cars only have to show their ID when you ask them for it, but they too are obliged to show it when asked.
If your car breaks down on the highway you might go to the nearest roadside emergency telephone; these "praatpalen" can be recognized as they are about 1.5m high, yellow and have a rounded bunny-eared cap on top. This is the direct connection to the emergency and assistance services. Alternatively, you might use a mobile phone to recht the ANWB  autoclub via toll-free number 0800-0888; your membership of a foreign autoclub might entitle you to discount rates on their services. Leased (business) cars and rental cars are usually serviced by the ANWB services included in the lease/rental price; but you may want to check any provided booklets.
If you are involved in an accident, both drivers need to complete and counter-sign a statement for their respective insurance companies (damage form/"schadeformulier"). You are required to have this form on hand. The police need to be notified if you have damaged (public) property (especially along the highways), if you have caused any sort of injury, or if the other driver does not agree to sign the insurance statement. It is illegal to hit and run. If the other driver does this, call the police and stay at the scene. The emergency telephonenumber is 112 (tollfree, will even work from disconnected mobile phones); the telephonenumber for non-emergency police presence is 0900-8844.
Road signs with directions are plenty, but having a map is useful, especially in cities where there are many one way streets, and getting from one part of the city to another is not always so straightforward. Be careful not to drive on buslanes, often indicated with markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, nor on cycling paths, marked by the picture of a bicycle, or by a reddish color of asphalt. Also, do not use the rush-hour-lanes (Spitsstrook) when the matrix display above the designated lane indicates a red "X" - this means they cannot be used.
Fuel is easy to come by. Along highways many gas stations are open 24/7. More and more unmanned gas stations can be found, even along highways, selling petrol for a lower rate. These unattended stations accept all common debit and creditcards. All gas stations sell both petrol and diesel; the "premium" brands have the same octane level (they alledgedly contain compounds that improve fuel efficiency to offset the higher price). Liquid Petroleum Gas is sold at relatively many gas stations along the high ways, but it is never sold in built-up areas. The symbol for LPG gas is a green-colored gaspump-icon, set beside the general case black-colored gaspump-icon. LPG fueled cars need regular petrol to start the motor, and can also be operated using strictly petrol, though it is more expensive.
If you come in the Netherlands with your LPG fueled car, probably you will need an adaptor. If you buy in your country, ask for the specific Dutch adaptor. The plug sold as "european" (screw style), is used in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany but won't fit Dutch pumps.
Taxi service was traditionally a tightly guarded monopoly. In recent years, the market was deregulated, but prices are still high. Taxi drivers are licensed, but they do not, as of yet, have to pass a proficiency exam, providing they know the streets. This is planned in the future, since the taxi market is being re-regulated. In the bigger cities taxi drivers can be un-friendly to very rude. One will find that especially in the western part of the country the cost of a taxi are very high for very little politeness and service. The public transport system often proves to be cheaper and a lot faster.
Some taxi drivers refuse short rides (e.g. under €10). This is illegal, but it's hard to enforce this prohibition. There is a maximum tarriff, and it's built into the taxi meters. If you negotiote a price before you get in, the price you have to pay is the negotiated price, or the metered price, whichever is lower. Getting in a cab without enough money to pay for the ride is illegal, so it's wise to negotiate a price.
All legal taxis have blue license plates. So do some other vehicles for group transport, such as minibus services for the handicapped.
Generally okay. Not okay for a quick travel from small towns or non-highway due to lack of traffic; sometimes you will get help from hospitable locals. But gas-stations at highways are quite good places. So try to stay on the highways/motor-ways! However, the large amount of highway crossings in the Netherlands and the lack of fuel stations between them in the Randstad makes it difficult to travel fast over long distances.
There are official hitchhiking spots (liftershalte(s)) (lift-stops) at the center or edge of 7 major cities:
Alternative spots / other directions:
(It is recommended for the directions West-/South-Netherlands)
Alternative spots / other directions:
Cycling in the Netherlands is much less hazardous than in other countries, because of the infrastructure - cycle paths, cycle lanes, and signposted cycle routes. However, the proliferation of bicycles also means that you're seen as a serious part of traffic - motorists will hate you if you don't keep by the rules. Some things to know:
There are four ways to use a bicycle:
Bike theft is a serious problem in the Netherlands, especially around train stations, and in larger cities. Never park a bike near a station, use the guarded bike parking ('stalling'). 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. In fact they 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.
There used to be scheduled domestic flights from Amsterdam (Schiphol Airport) to Maastricht, but as of 2010 they are no longer in operation due to lack of demand.
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal gs (not in the south) and schs (also found, for example, in Arabic). Dutch, especially in spoken form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages (especially German and Frisian), and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.
Besides Dutch, several other languages are spoken in the Netherlands, in the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe and Gelderand people speak a local variety of Low Saxon (Grunnegs or Tweants for example). In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a language unique in Europe because of its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words (for example: 'Veer' with a high tone means 'we', while the same word with a low tone means 'four').
Officially, the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. Frisian is the closest living language to English. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Fryslân you will come across many roadsigns in two languages (similar to Wales and South Tyrol). This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free. In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people (especially amongst the younger generation) can also speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo (Surinam) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).
"They all speak English there" is quite accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages (mostly German and French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent. Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors or finding yourself in a family atmosphere, however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.
Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Dutch.
A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of €100, €200 and €500, due to concerns about counterfeiting and burglary. Shops usually open by 9AM and they usually close by 5:30PM or 6PM. Most shops are closed on Sundays, except at the "koopzondag". "Koopzondag" means the biggest part or all the shops are open. It depents from town to town wich Sunday is the "koopzondag". In most towns it is the last or first Sunday in a month. In a few cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag and Leiden) the shops are open every sunday, in most cases they are open from noon till 5PM or 6PM. In Amsterdam centrum area is an exception, since you can see the shops open till 9PM and Sundays from noon till 6PM. The shops can be crowded with people coming into town from outside the city. In some area's shops are closed on Monday morning.
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.
The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers. Outside florists, you can buy them pre-packaged in most supermarkets.
The Netherlands is famous for its wooden shoes. However, nowadays almost no one except for farmers in the countryside wear them. You could travel through The Netherlands for weeks and find no one using them for footwear. The only place where you'll find them is in tourist shops. Wearing wooden shoes in public will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals.
If you do try them, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable, and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at Schiphol and Amsterdam's Damrak street, and instead look for a regular vendor which can usually be found in towns and villages in rural areas. The northern province of Friesland has a lot of stores selling wooden shoes, often adorned with the bright colors of the Frisian flag.
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. The Dutch, however, are known for their specialties and delicious treats:
Other "typically Dutch" foodstuffs are:
Some of these "typically Dutch" foodstuffs taste significantly different from, but do not necessarily improve upon, specialties from other countries. For example, while Dutch coffee and chocolate can instill feelings of homesickness in expats and might be seen as "soul food", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies.
Seasonal food: Pepernoten, Kruidnoten, taai-taai, kerststol, paasstol, oliebollen.
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 (such as the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam). 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, but rounding up is pretty much expected and polite. Keep 10 percent in mind if you want to give a tip.
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 only enter such smoking rooms in emergency situations.
In town centers, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as frituur or cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch expats miss them the most when going abroad. The popular Febo  chain's outlets are basically giant vending machines, just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.
The most popular snack is French fries, known as patat in most of the country and as friet in the Southern Netherlands. The "standard" way is to order them with mayonnaise (patat met), although the local mayo is not the same as you'd get in France or most of the rest of the world: it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. Other sauces are tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), special (speciaal, a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup and optionally cut raw onions) and war (oorlog, a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and optionally with cut raw onions). The following fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well:
Vegetarians should not have any major trouble. 4.5 percent of the Dutch population is vegetarian and most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menus or can make you one if you ask for it. Most supermarkets sell vegetarian products or even have a part of their supermarket dedicated to vegetarian products. It is advisable to specifically mention what you do and do not eat (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as not everyone has the same definition of vegetarianism. Finding a vegetarian option in a fast food restaurant might provide more of a challenge. Chip shops that sell veggie burgers are the exception rather than the rule.
The Netherlands has two drinking ages: 16 years for alcohol under 15% (beer, wine, etc), and 18 for stronger 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. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc.
In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch wheat beers (witbier), which are flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavored varieties are also available.
Traditional beers come from monasteries in the South of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the 'Trappistenklooster'. It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it's not so traditional any more.
Most breweries have nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt. Which consist sometimes 0% or less than 0,5 alcohol and is very suitable for people who would like to drive and don't drink (or sometimes called "de Bob" as promoted in its campaign).
Bitters and gin
Also popular in winter are alcoholic bitters. Originally from the province of Friesland the bitter called Beerenburg is served in the entire country. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter.
Tea and coffee
Dutch drink black tea, and it comes in many different tastes, from traditional to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you're English, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling!) water, so you can make your own version. Milk in your tea is almost unheard of and only given to children.
Coffee is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often "Koffie?" and it is served in small cups (a half mug) with cookies.
If you're from the States or Canada, you can drink one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order 'koffie verkeerd' (which means "coffee the wrong way 'round") you get a cup of mostly hot milk with a small splash of coffee -- more like the French 'café au lait' or the Italian '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, and doesn't taste that good.
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.
Note that this doesn't mean the Dutch are all permanently high though! In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. A large part of the clientèle of the coffeeshops (see below) is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.
You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (under 5 grams) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view. In the border province of Limburg, it will only be possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you've got a wietpas ("weed pass") from 2010. This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is generally much 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.
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs, eg. ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms, is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if 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 Netherlands' 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-touristed areas, accommodation may be very limited.
Prices are generally high. Budget accommodation starts at around €20 and prices go upwards from there. Seasonal demand affects availability, especially in Amsterdam.
Official Dutch Youth Hostels are called since they changed their name in 2003 "Stay Okay" . They are not as widespread as in Great Britain. Also there is no kitchen available for guests, so either you eat what is on menu or you eat out. Besides the Official Dutch Youth Hostels there are plenty other hostels spread around the country. Popular are The Flying Pig Hostels  in Noordwijk and Amsterdam, they 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, and many Dutch city dwellers own a home in the country side (even though that country side is often only an hour or less from big cities). Traversia has the largest collection of vacation rentals in The Netherlands, by Dutch owners.
If you are traveling by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 3600 addresses where you can stay at private homes with bed and breakfast for no more than € 18,50 per person per night, although you must also pay € 9 for membership of this scheme. It is called frankloop!...Vrienden op de fiets .
The Netherlands has many universities. The country has recently converted their own titles into the bachelor/master system. There are two types of universities:
The Times Higher Education Supplement ranks 11 universities among the top 200 in the world.
English speaking students will have no problems finding suitable courses. A total of 1,456 courses are taught entirely in English. There is also the added advantage that most locals under the age of 30 are reasonably able in English.
For international students, several scholarships are available. They can be found on the Nuffic website . Here you will also find information regarding courses, institutions, housing, formalities, culture, traineeships and possible difficulties.
Work opportunities for those from outside the European Union are very restricted. Only when an employer can prove they've searched in the EU, they are allowed to hire a non-EU citizen. Official policy is to deter all non-EU immigration, unless there is an economic necessity.
Students from other European countries are only eligible for study financing when they have a fixed 32 hour/month work contract, or when they have lived in the Netherlands for five years.
Since 2005, the Dutch law enables what they call “knowledge immigration” the idea is to allow local companies to “import” foreign employees to work in the Netherlands. The process is straightforward and takes between 4 to 10 weeks.
The Netherlands is generally considered a safe country. However, be alert in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other large cities that are plagued by pickpockets and bicycle theft. In the larger cities, certain areas are unsafe at night. A small number are also unsafe in daylight.
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 followers of traditional Christian religions only make up about 40% of the Dutch population. In the larger cities there will be even fewer people claiming to adhere to any faith at all. In urban areas it is not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. An exception is the Dutch biblebelt which runs from Zealand into South-Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland and consists of towns with many strong Dutch Reformed Christians, who are more likely to be insulted by different religious views. Openly Nationalist sentiments are likewise viewed with some suspicion among the general public, though there are a number of nationalistic celebrations like queen's day (koninginnedag, April 30th) and during the Soccer season. Mostly though, these nationalistic celebrations are used as an excuse to party together rather than being true "nationalistic events".
Gay and lesbian travelers
As mentioned above, the Netherlands is quite liberal when it comes to homosexuality and by far is considered to be one of the gay-friendliest countries in the world. The Netherlands has a reputation of being the first country to 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 in Muslim neighbourhoods in the major Dutch cities.
The international calling code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00, so to call the US, substitute 001 for +1 and for the UK 00 44 for +44.
The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The cell phone networks are operated by KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile; other operators use one of these 3 networks. The networks are high quality and cover every corner of the Netherlands. With the exception of some low-end service providers, all mobile operators support GPRS. KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile offer UMTS (and HSDPA) service in some 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 only accept prepaidcards or creditcard. Some new public phones have been installed which accept coins again. Be aware of public phones in a more public area as well as the same types in a more public-private area, where tarrifs (per unit or amount of calling time) can differ.
(National) Directory Inquiries can be reached -since 2007- on 1888, 1850 and various other 'Inquiry-operators'. Rates differ by operator, but are usually rather high, more than €1 per call, as well as per-second charges.
International Directory Inquiries can be reached on 0900 8418 (Mon-Fri 8AM-8PM, €0.90 per minute).
0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers are charged at premium rates. Mobile phones have numbers in the 06 range, and calls to cell phones are also priced at higher rates.
If you're bringing your own (GSM) cell phone, using your existing plan to call (or receive calls) whilst in The Netherlands can be very expensive due to "roaming" charges. Receiving phone calls on a cell phone using a Dutch SIM card is free in most cases; charges apply if you're using a foreign SIM card, as the call is theoretically routed through your country of origin. It's cheaper to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card to insert into your GSM phone, or even to buy a very cheap pay-as-you-go card+phone bundle. For example: lyca , lebara  and ortel  are providers that specialize in cheap rates to foreign countries.  targets those traveling through multiple countries.
To enjoy cheap international calls from the Netherlands you can use low-cost dial-around services such as Qazza , BelBazaar , pennyphone , SlimCall , telegoedkoop , beldewereld , teleknaller or Wereldwijdbellen . Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in the Netherlands. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.
Internet cafés can be found in most cities, usually they also provide international calling booths. Many public libraries provide Internet access. Wireless Internet access using Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly popular and is available in many hotels, pubs, stations and on Schiphol, either for free, or at extortionate prices through one of the national "networks" of hotspots.