The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland, also commonly called Holland in English, in reference to the provinces North-Holland and South-Holland) is a Benelux country located in Western Europe and a founding member of the European Union. The Netherlands is bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the south. To the west, the country faces the North Sea and the United Kingdom. The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are quite diverse and have plenty of cultural differences. These provinces can be divided in four regions:
The western part is the most urban and industrialized. This is the place to be for shopping, going out and most of the touristic sights. No wonder that about half of the population lives in and around this area. The four largest and most dominant cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) are located in this region, together with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Port of Rotterdam. The Randstad is a collective name for these and surrounding urban areas.
The northern part is the least densely populated region. It's mostly an interesting region for tourists who are interested in the cultural heterogenity of the Netherlands. These provinces all have their own distinct dialects and languages. Nature and beaches can be enjoyed on the West Frisian Islands.
The east offers ancient historic cities in rural and wooded landscapes. You can head out to the forest for a weekend or experience the earliest Dutch towns the way they were in the middle ages.
All provinces in the south are separated from the north by three large rivers, the Rhine and it's main distributary Waal, as well as the Meuse. These rivers function as a natural barrier between earlier fiefdoms, and hence created traditionally a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable north and south of these "Large Rivers" (de Grote Rivieren). In addition to this, there was, until quite recently, a clear religious dominance of Catholics in the south and of Calvinists in the north.
The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below is a list of nine of the most notable (because of population size, status as provincial capital, or historical reasons)
These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.
The country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the Middle Ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.
Following a revolt led by national hero Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), the Spanish were kicked out as part of the Thirty Years' War (known as the Eighty Years' War in the Netherlands: 1568-1648). The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579.
It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Gouden Eeuw, or Golden Age, in the Netherlands. During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including Indonesia ('Netherlands East Indies') and New York ('New Amsterdam'), which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1805 it became a kingdom (its status being somewhat ambiguous before that), when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. And in 1815 it became its own Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (or 'Kingdom of the Netherlands') together with Belgium under Koning Willem I ('King William I'). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxemburg (or Luxembourg) received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, because the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler. In 1944 these three countries formed the union of the Benelux (or 'BeNeLux') as in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together.
Quite a few travellers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude: prostitution is legalized and licensed and the sale, possession and consumption of small quantities of cannabis or magic mushrooms, while technically still illegal, is officially tolerated by the authorities under a policy of gedogen (tolerance). 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, making the Netherlands one of the most gay-friendly countries on the planet. To experience these freedoms, you're best off in Amsterdam with coffeeshops and clubs. On a note unrelated to tourism— but still relating to its liberal culture— Euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage are also legal.
The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated countries on the world. No matter where you go, you are never far away from civilization. Cities can be crowded especially in the Randstad area, where congestion is a serious problem. Much of the country is flat and at or below sea level making it an ideal place to cycle. Hills can only be found at the Veluwe and Southern Limburg. Much of countryside is dominated by highly industrialised farming - despite its population density, the Netherlands are one of the largest foodexporters in the world. Though there are some beautiful spots scattered across the country, the tourist expecting a countryside full of picturesque villages, tulips and windmills may be in for a bit of a shock. The villages, tulips and windmills are there for sure, you just have to find them. The most beautiful places are most of the times the places only known by the Dutch themselves. Asking a Dutch(wo)man for some ideas of what to see could be helpful. Otherwise just visit local 'tourist shops', known as the VVV, they can be found in all the larger towns.
The geography of the Netherlands is dominated by water features. The country is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast of the Netherlands has one of the most beautiful North Sea beaches that can be found, attracting thousands if not millions of people every year, among them a lot of Germans as well.
The Netherlands is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in the Netherlands too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or the Netherlands have special treaties.
Only the citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into the Netherlands. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in the Netherlands:
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela. The Chinese Special Administrative Regions of Macau and Hong Kong are also exempt.
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. The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall. The train is the quickest and cheapest way to get around in the Netherlands. Taxis are expensive: legal taxis have blue number plates, others should be avoided. Some hotels in Amsterdam, and around the airport, have a shuttle bus service.
Some budget airlines also attend the Netherlands. Jet2.com, Easyjet, SkyEurope and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe (list of LCC flights). Especially flying to/from the British Isles and the Mediterranian countries can be relatively cheap. It's important that you book as early as possible, as prices tend to get higher closer to departure.
Other international airports are Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Rotterdam Airport, and Groningen-Eelde Airport. These smaller airports are mainly attended by low-cost airlines. Eindhoven Airport and Maastricht/Aachen Airport are mostly used by Ryanair, while Rotterdam Airport is dominated by Transavia. Trains or a direct bus connection (in the case of Eindhoven Airport) are the best way to get to Amsterdam or any other town.
from France and Belgium
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.
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 .
There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:
Eurolines are the main 'operator' for international buses to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a brand used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily direct service.
The Netherlands can be reached from Belgium and Germany by road. Road access is very good in this country. The borders are open under the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks, but this barely happens. There are car ferry services from the United Kingdom, see above. The UK is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply.
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 country is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 12 trains per hour on main routes. There are two main types of trains: Intercity trains, and trains which stop at all stations, often called 'Sprinter'. (The Intercity is not as fast as 'Intercity' services in some other countries, and it stops more often). Except for a few rural lines, the minumum weekday frequency is one train every 30 minutes. On some routes (e.g. Amsterdam to the North) there are no longer any direct trains, you must change trains (e.g. at Amersfoort). Because of the high service frequency, delays are quite common. However, they 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.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)  operates most routes. Some local lines in the north and east are operated by Syntus and Arriva and by Veolia in the south. Though tickets are available between all stations, NS and non-NS, and there is only one national tariff system. Tickets can be purchased from machines in stations using coins, debit card, or credit card. (Only credit cards with the Maestro symbol work). Only larger stations have a ticket counter - it costs €0.50 extra, per ticket. Ticket machines come in two kinds; an older version with an 2-line greenish LCD display, and a new version with a big touch screen. The latter has English-language menus available. If you have trouble using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks English and will help you out.
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. Return tickets (retour) are 1.67 times the price of a single (or a single is 60% of the return price) and is 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. 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.
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).
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 you have a valid reason (e.g. the ticket machines were defective), the fine might be refunded, but only by written application to the NS offices. The conductor is not allowed any discretion on this policy, which was widely criticised but still in place. If you do not have either enough cash, or a passport, you could be arrested. (The more you argue with the conductor, the more likely he/she will call the railway police).
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. However, travelling from Rotterdam to Utrecht this way takes nearly two hours (daytime 40 minutes). In the nights Friday onto Saturday and Saturday onto Sunday, North-Brabant is also served. You can get to 's-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg and Breda.
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 9:00 am on weekdays and the whole day in weekends, on national holidays and in the months July and August. Price 55 euro for one year (2007). 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 € 40 (2005). 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 has the same end-destination as you. 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 9:00 am, 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).
Bus travel in the Netherlands is very inconvenient for longer distances. Buses are mainly used within towns or small regions, not between them. Usually bus lines are convienient for distances up to 10 kilometres.
A cheap way to get across the Netherlands is to buy a "buzzer" ticket. It costs 10 euros 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 at Schiphol, Haarlem, Leiden, Den Haag and Delft to get all the way there.
Other public transport
In the major cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague you can use the tram, bus and metro, outside these cities you can use the bus and train. Travel plan information can be found at 9292OV Reisinformatie. Information about the trains can be found at Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) (=Netherlands Railways). Both of these sites can plan a trip for you using public transport ('Openbaar Vervoer' or 'O.V.'), but 9292OV includes almost all public transportation types. The NS website only has the trains, but it is able to display up to date information about train delays and detours.
(National) Strippenkaart (multiple-strip-/zone-card)
For information about the strippenkaart, this 'foldable ticket' in various lengths to be used in bus, tram and metro (but not trains), go to OV-Info. Strippenkaarten of 15 or 45 strips are available for around €7 and €20 respectively, and one trip on the bus within a city (including all transfers within 90 minutes) is usually 2 or 3 strips of the card. Buying tickets on the bus is more expensive, unless you don't want to use the buses more than once or twice. You can get these multiple-strip-/zone-tickets-card(s) in many places, including bus stations, post offices, cigar/magazine shops and some supermarkets (at the service desk or from a vending machine). You can use it also for multiple-party travel for yourselves and other persons at the same time; in general these 'card' is valid up till one year after new pricing. If you are eligible for discount (due to the fact that you are a Dutch student with special student-O.V.-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.
Special bus-tickets of 'park-and-ride-(travel-)tickets'
Some towns and cities have special cheaper bus tickets, for outside rush hours, usually a return ticket (to the centre and back).
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. You can do it yourselves as there is a special automat-machine available. In general one basic-strip+strips according to amount of zones to be travelling.
The strippenkaart is being replaced by a pre-paid swipe card system (i.e. O.V.-chipcard) on all forms of public transport ('Openbaar Vervoer'). The system is now operational on the Amsterdam and Rotterdam metro, and will be introduced on buses and trams during 2007. At first both systems will operate in parallel. In 2008/2009 it will be expected the only way of paying your travel in Netherlands metro-/bus-/tram- and railway-system.
Amsterdam and some other big cities offer public transport at night. In general it requests extra 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-travels.
(N.B. how it will work out with the O.V.-chipcard on night-busses is not determined yet.)
A car is a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as Veluwe, Zeeland and The North Sea islands. Driving in the Netherlands is normally quite pleasant - the motorway network is dense, roads are well-signposted, and Dutch drivers are among the least aggressive in Europe. However, this one of the most densely populated countries in the world, so be prepared for heavy traffic and congestion in all but the northern part of the country. 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 assumed to be guilty (until proven innocent). 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 busses 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. On a few highways in the west of the country the speed limit has been reduced to 80 km/h since 2005. 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. 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 euros. 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 while in Holland. 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 dieseloil; 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.
Do not use diesel oil pumps meant for trucks to fuel your cars; while the diesel oil is the same, the pressure is much higher.
Parking fees within cities can be pretty hefty. When considering to go to bigger cities, especially Amsterdam, but also cities such as Utrecht, Rotterdam or even Groningen, seriously consider going there by public transport to avoid traffic jams and the great difficulties involved in finding a parking spot. Many cities use clamps or will tow away your car if it is parked too long (or in a handicapped spot). 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. Note that Amsterdam and the Hague (though only during weekends) are the only cities that offer public transport at night, apart from the night trains.
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.
Some taxi drivers refuse short rides (e.g. under EUR 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. Sometimes even the police themselves sell those bikes to arrest potiental buyers.
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.
Even though it's not common to use air travel within the Netherlands, the following carriers offer domestic flights:
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal g's (not in the south) and sch's (also found, for example, in Arabic). Written Dutch might be semi-intelligible to someone who knows other germanic languages (English, German, Scandinavian languages), but the spoken language sounds rather different from English.
Even though the Netherlands is just a small country, dialects can still be found everywhere. Dutch people can easily tell where other people were raised just by their dialect/accent. Dialects are hardly used in everyday life in most of the country. Near the borders this is different, especially in Limburg, in the south, which still cherishes its dialects. The Carnaval period is another exception, when many cities even get renamed. Although dialects haven't died out, everyone can still speak standard Dutch perfectly.
Officially the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. When travelling through Fryslân you will come across many roadsigns in two languages (similar to Wales). This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free. In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people (especially amongst the younger generation) can speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo (Surinam) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).
The hackneyed phrase "They all speak English there" is in fact pretty accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages (mostly German and French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent. Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors, however - or finding yourself in a family atmosphere - will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.
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 however try them, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at schiphol and Amsterdam's damrak street, and instead look for a regular vendor which can usually be found in towns and villages in rural areas. The northern province of Friesland has a lot of stores selling wooden shoes, often adorned with the bright colors of the Frisian flag.
Dutch traditional cuisine is basic. However, due to influences from Indonesian, Surinam, Chinese, Turkish and (North) African immigrants there is an abundancy of foodcultures to choose from.
In the big cities you can eat good Thai food (on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam for instance) for a bargain price, and in the Chinese quarters you can get authentic Chinese food, though of a basic nature. You will also be able to find a restaurant from every corner of the world (especially in Amsterdam).
Every bigger village has its own Chinese restaurant where you can eat a lot for a little money. The taste, however, is aimed at the Dutch citizen with little 'taste' for adventure (no herbs, a lot of sugar). They have been influenced by the Dutch-East Indies from the times as they were a colony of the Netherlands, like the famous 'Dutch Indien Ricetable' with a variety of small dishes. It is also a bit comparible with Chinese or Eastern take-away-shops in other countries. These restaurants often advertise as "Chin.Ind." meaning "Chinese/Indien (Indonesian)". Most of them have a sit-in area and a sepa rate counter for take-away with lower prices.
Also around every corner in a city centre, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters is a 'snackbar', also known as 'friture' or 'cafetaria'. It mainly sells french fries (also known as "patat" or "friet" (pommes-frites)). You can have a lot of things added to your french fries: mayonnaise ('frites sauce'), (tomato-)ketchup, curry sauce (different than the regular curry, this curry sauce tastes more like ketchup), pinda sauce (heated 'peanut'butter' sauce or satay sauce), cutted raw onions, cold apple sauce, etc. They also sell all kinds of other fried snacks, like "kroketten" ('croquette') and "frikandellen" Other snacks you could try there are: "broodje kroket" (a breadroll with a ragout-filled, crispy covered kroket snack), "frikandel speciaal" (a long cylinder of spiced meat, cut open and adorned with mayonaise, ketchup or curry sauce, and optionally sprinkled with raw onion) and "patatje/frites oorlog" (french fries with mayonnaise and pinda sauce, optionally sprinkled with onion). Note that "mayonnaise" in the context of French fries is distinctly different from French mayonnaise, and is more accurately described as "frietsaus" (fries sauce); it is firmer, sweeter and contains less fat, whilst remaining just as unhealthy. The snacks listed here are very much the antithesis of high cuisine, but among with other "typically dutch" food, some of the things Dutch expats miss most about their country.
Modern Dutch restaurants and cafés serve better food lately, mostly meat, vegetables, served with fries/fried potatoes and salad. If you eat in a café then food is affordable, you can also go to upscale restaurants where prices go up equally. Most of the time profit is made from the drinks, so be careful there if you're on a budget.
Expect service in restaurants to be pretty slow, especially if you are American. This is not because you're being treated differently, but because the Dutch, like most Europeans, tend to live at a much more relaxed pace. There is not as much emphasis on fast or overly-attentive service. Going to a restaurant is generally not seen as a quick way to eat food, but as a special night out with friends or family. Service is included in the menu prices and tipping is not mandatory, but rounding up is the polite and kind thing to do.
Traditional highlights are:
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 "soulfood", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies.
Liquorice ("drop", originally a black candy) is something you love or hate, you can buy all kinds of varieties. You can get it from sweet to extremely salty (Double salt) and in a hard or soft bite.
The legal drinking age is 16 for LOW alcohol percentages (beer, wine and other beverages with less than 15% alcohol) and 18 for high alcohol percentages (brandy, whisky etc).
Although the Dutch beer "Heineken" is one of the most prestigious beers in the world, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc.
Traditional beers come from monasteries in South of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance 'Berkel-Enschot' 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 anymore.
Most breweries have nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of ther beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt. Which consist sometimes 0% or less than 0,5 alcohol and is very suitable for people who would like to drive and don't drink (or sometimes called "de Bob" as promoted in its campaign).
In Amsterdam you can visit a local brewery located in a windmill called "brouwerij 't IJ"
Dutch drink black tea, and they keep it as watery as possible and 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 literally means a "wrong coffee") you get the French 'café au lait' which is less strong with fresh milk.
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.
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.
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.
You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (under 5 grams) of cannabis or hash. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop. These are abundant in most larger towns. Only a small handful of Coffeeshops are allowed to sell alcoholic beverages (i.e. most do not sell alcohol, but a few such as 'Rookies' in the Leidseplein area of Amsterdam have a special license to sell both), and minors (under 18) are not allowed inside. They are also prohibited from advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view.
Fresh (but not dried) hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms are entirely unregulated, on the basis that these occur readily in natural forests. These may be bought at a smartshop, along with other natural highs and smart drugs. The latter are drugs that are designed to have the same effect as illegal substances (such as ecstasy) by using chemically similar substances. Often, effective smart drugs are outlawed after a while. The Dutch government has announced its intention to ban fresh mushrooms in the near future.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is generally much stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff, and be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cake") as it's easy to eat too much by accident. Magic mushrooms have even greater potential to trip up the unaccustomed, so be sure to consult the staff concerning proper dosage and other precautions.
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs, eg. ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms, is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possesion is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.
At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.
Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in The Netherlands' liberal climate
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.
Since all countries use different rating systems it might be convenient to check the Dutch Hotel star rating system in English here: http://www.hotelsterren.nl/smartsite.dws?id=195
Prices are generally high. Budget accommodation starts at around € 20 per night 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's on menu or you eat out. Stay Okay
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 € 17 per person per night, although you must also pay € 9 for membership of this scheme. It is called Vrienden op de fiets.
Work opportunites 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 (the latter almost being a national sport). In the larger cities, certain areas are unsafe at night. A small number are also unsafe in daylight.
The Netherlands has one of the best 'tap water' in the world. It is considered to be of similar quality as natural mineral or spring water and is distributed to every household and controlled by 'water authorities'. Food (either bought in a supermarket or eaten at a restaurant) shouldn't pose any problem either. The health care system is up to par with the rest of Europe and most cities have hospitals where usually most of the staff speaks English. Otherwise it's a case of common sense (i.e. washing hands before eating is always advisable).
In summer, open air recreational (mainly fresh water) swimming areas might suffer from the notorious blue algae, a rather smelly cyanobacteria which when it dies, releases toxins into the water. When these occur, a signpost at the entrance to the area or near the water should tell you so by stating something like "waarschuwing: blauwalg". If in doubt, ask someone.
When walking or camping in forests and dunes be aware of ticks and tick-carrying diseases such as Lyme disease. It is advisable to wear long sheeves and to put trousers into your socks.
The Dutch are among the most informal and easy-going people in Europe, and there are few social taboos to speak of. It is unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. (Xenophobia is another matter, but that does not affect most short-term visitors). 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 Dutch people suffered a great deal under Nazi occupation during WWII (1940-1945). Some members of the older generations still hold a grudge against Germany and some of them might even delibertly give wrong directions to people who talk German (or maybe even with a German accent). Avoid overt comparisons between Dutch and German culture, as they are likely to offend. A common faux-pas is to refer to the Dutch language as a "German dialect". Don't do it. It will not be appreciated by most Dutch people, and is incorrect anyway, as the two spoken languages are not mutually intelligible, as well as the (especially for Anglophonics, surprising) fact that the Dutch language is sometimes called more related to English, than to German. Mostly the younger generations have put the terrors of WWII behind and can get along with Germans very well. However the Dutch still have a friendly enmity towards Germans, which mostly comes from the football history they had together.
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, Telfort (owned by KPN), Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile; other operators use one of these 5 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 Holland.
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 euro 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: 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 or 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.