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The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is a relatively small but charming country in the low-lying river delta of northwestern Europe. Its landscape of famously flat lands, much of it reclaimed from the sea, is dotted with windmills, blooming tulip fields and picturesque villages. With over 16 million people living in an area roughly twice the size of the American state of New Jersey, this is a densely populated modern European country. Still, even the largest of its cities have retained a rather laid-back small-town atmosphere and many are packed with historic heritage.
The country is commonly referred to as Holland, but this name technically refers only to two of its twelve provinces and is unpopular among the majority of the population.
After the Eighty Years' War that led to the country's de facto independence from Spain in 1581 (recognized de juré by Spain in 1648), the Netherlands became a great naval power and one of the world's most powerful nations in a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. Because of its naval history, this small nation boasts a wealth of cultural heritage visible in many towns across the country. This period also constituted a cultural peak that produced renowned painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Their works and many others fill the top-class Dutch museums that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Over the course of centuries, the Netherlands has gained a reputation for tolerance and progressivism: the country was the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and Dutch people generally have an open attitude to cannabis and prostitution. As a founding member of the EU and NATO and host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands is at the heart of international cooperation.
With its international airport Schiphol and its advanced network of motorways and international high speed train lines, The Netherlands is easy to reach from anywhere in the world. Its small size, welcoming attitude and interesting sights make it a unique and easy to discover destination and a great addition to any European trip.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Even though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are relatively diverse and have plenty of cultural and linguistic differences. We've divided them into four regions:
|Western Netherlands (Flevoland, North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht)
This is the heart of the Netherlands with its four biggest cities as well as the typical Dutch countryside, with many monuments of the famous water management. Most of the region is commonly called the Randstad, referring to its urbanisation.
|Northern Netherlands (Drenthe, Friesland, Groningen)
The least densely populated area, mostly unexplored by foreigners, but popular among the locals. The West Frisian Islands are excellent destinations for a few days out, as are the Frisian Lakes.
|Eastern Netherlands (Gelderland, Overijssel)
Home to the largest national park of the Netherlands, Hoge Veluwe National Park, as well as the beautiful Hanzesteden, seven medieval cities along the IJssel River with a traditional historic centre, such as Zutphen, Zwolle, Doesburg, among others.
|Southern Netherlands (Limburg, North Brabant, Zeeland)
Divided from the rest by its Catholic history, carnival celebrations, beer culture and its "Burgundian way of life".
This article describes the European Netherlands. The Caribbean islands Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba are "special municipalities" fully integrated into the Netherlands proper. Beside the Netherlands proper, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travellers. Below are nine of the most notable ones:
- Amsterdam — impressive architecture, lovely canals (grachten), museums and liberal attitudes
- Delft — historic unspoiled town with the world-famous blue and white ceramics
- Groningen — student city with a relaxed atmosphere and nightlife till the sun gets up
- The Hague — the judicial capital of the world, the seat of government and the royal house
- Leiden — historic student city with the country's oldest university and three national museums
- Maastricht — fortified mediaeval city showing the different culture, style and architecture of the south
- Nijmegen — one of the oldest cities of the country, known for the Four Days Marches and its large student population
- Rotterdam — modern architecture, good nightlife, vibrant art scene and the largest port of Europe
- Utrecht — historic centre, antique stores and the Rietveld-Schröder House
These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities.
- Efteling — renowned theme park with fairytale elements like elves and dwarves
- Hoge Veluwe National Park — perhaps the most visited national park, with heathlands, sand dunes and woodlands
- Keukenhof — more than 800,000 visitors see these enormous flower fields each spring
- Kinderdijk — these windmills show the typical Dutch landscape in all its glory
- Schokland — old island evacuated in 1859, a well-preserved ghost village remains
- South Limburg — hilly green landscapes, picturesque villages, castles and orchards
- Texel — largest island suited for cycling, bird watching, walking, swimming and horse riding
- Zaanse Schans — open air museum with Dutch windmills and Zaan houses
- Zaanstreek-Waterland — typical Dutch villages and polders with clogs, wooden houses and windmills
See also the Netherlands section of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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). A few historic city centres and several castles from this Spanish period remain today.
Following the Dutch Revolt, led by national hero William of Orange, 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. The Netherlands 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 Netherland (which at its height extended along the East Coast of today's United States, from Rhode Island to the Eastern Shore of Maryland); the latter was traded with the British for Suriname in 1667.
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 together with Belgium and Luxembourg under King William I. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. During the liberal revolutions of 1848, a new constitution was adopted and the Netherlands became a constitutional monarchy. The personal union with Luxembourg ended in 1890 as Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.
The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I, but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by neighbouring Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is a large exporter of agricultural products. In 1944, the Low Countries formed the union of the Benelux in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together. The country was a founding member of NATO in 1949 and the European Community (EC) in 1957, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.
Quite a few travellers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude (more or less true, especially for the centres of larger cities), which includes relaxed treatment of marijuana use, legal prostitution, a right to euthanasia under strict medical conditions, and just about complete acceptance of gays and lesbians, including the right to marry one's same-sex partner.
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. A few individual hills may be found only at Salland, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug the Veluwe. South Limburg, the most southern tip of the country, is the only region characterised by rolling hills. This hilly nature (combined perhaps with its distinct culture) have gained it a reputation of being almost "foreign", and have made it a popular holiday destination for the Dutch. The rural countryside throughout the Netherlands is dominated by highly industrialized farming and wide grasslands. It is only because of this industrialisation that the Netherlands can be one of the largest food exporters in the world while being so densely populated.
Cycling is also a good way to discover picturesque rural landscapes, villages and windmills. While the main cities and attractions are easy to find and navigate, its rural beauty can at first seem a bit harder to find between the extensive development of the countryside. The excellent network of VVV tourist information offices are most helpful for anyone wishing to explore the Dutch provincial areas. They can also provide you with countless biking and hiking routes, especially designed to take you right along the best spots in any region.
The geography of the Netherlands is also famously influenced by water features. The country is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and dikes, and the beach is never far away. The western coast has extensive sandy beaches and dunes, attracting many Dutch and German visitors. Since the 17th century, about 20% of the entire country has been reclaimed from the sea, lakes, marshes and swamps. The Frisian Lakes define much of the geography of the North-West.
The Netherlands has a temperate climate, which generally means that summers are cool and winters mild. Every month of the year has rainfall, with no wet or dry season. The best time to go is from May to September (daily maximum 18/19°C up to 23°C), but April and October can also see mild and sunny weather.
In spring, temperatures vary greatly. Frost can occur until the start of May, but temperatures exceeding 20°C are not uncommon either. The sun shines 4 to 7 hours a day on average, increasing throughout the season. Although spring is the driest season (and April is the driest month), always prepare yourself for some rain.
In summer, the temperature rises generally to above 20°C and frequently to 25°C. Colder weather is mostly combined with rain. Temperatures in excess of 30°C are not unknown, and occur for a few days most summers. A heat wave usually ends with a thunderstorm. The sun shines 7 hours a day on average.
In autumn, temperatures decrease, but in September and October, the temperature is still a pleasant 15-19°C, sometimes exceeding 25°C in September. Rain is abundant, and the number of sunshine hours decrease markedly. In November, frost is more common and temperatures at daytime fluctuates around 9°C, but freezing daytimes and snow are not unheard of. Autumn mornings are quite foggy.
In Winter, temperatures are around 0-6°C most of the time, although frosty periods occur each winter, generally down to -5°C, but frosts of -10°C are common too. Precipitation is common, although more often in the form of rain rather than snow. Any amount of snowfall generally unfortunately derails public transport.
Whenever it freezes longer than a day, many Dutch people will take their skates out of the closet. The few Dutch who still don't have skates are likely to buy a pair. Soon the whole country's full of skating areas just created on frozen little canals or, when it really freezes hard, on larger water surfaces. It's also common to organize little fields for skating by spraying water over them. Many Dutch like to go on skates as a form of sport. So hard winters offer many ice tours, with the famously severe Frisian Elfstedentocht (eleven town tour or eleven cities tour) as by far the most popular event. Unfortunately it has to freeze real hard for many days to make this national celebration possible.
Tourist offices in the Netherlands can be recognized by a blue logo with three characters VVV. This abbreviation means: Vereniging voor Vreemdelingenverkeer. In the main cities and tourist places you will find VVV offices, sometimes run by volunteers. Staff usually speaks English and especially in areas frequently visited by international travellers, printed information in English is available too. The main goal is to inform and advise visitors about the main tourist attractions in the community and region, assist with hotel reservations and to inform about museums, opening hours, etc. Often you can buy tickets for events or gift certificates. Informative leaflets and simple maps are available for free. More advanced maps, books and souvenirs can be bought.
The Netherlands is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in The Netherlands without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay.
All non-EEA/Swiss travellers must register their residence within 3 business days of entry with the Aliens' Police (Vreemdelingenpolitie). Hotels normally will handle the registration formalities for their guests.
Applications for visas and long-term residence permits are handled by the IND. Generally speaking, travellers to the Netherlands who do not require a short-stay visa may be able to get a residence permit upon arrival without a long-stay visa, but consult your nearest Embassy/Consulate for information.
There are a number of ways to get into the Netherlands. From neighbouring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel. Visitors from the United Kingdom can also travel by boat.
Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, is a European hub and, after London, Paris and Frankfurt, the largest in Europe. It's a point of interest in itself, being 4 metres below mean sea level. Travellers can easily fly in from most parts of the world and then connect with The Netherlands' biggest airline KLM.
Some budget airlines also fly to the Netherlands. Jet2.com, Easyjet, Transavia and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe. Especially flying to/from the British Isles and the Mediterranean countries can be relatively cheap. It's important that you book as early as possible, as prices tend to get higher closer to departure.
From Schiphol there are excellent railway connections: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and many other cities have a direct train service. International high speed trains depart to Antwerp, Brussels and Paris. 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. Illegal taxi services are frequently offered outside the airport, but these will charge large sums of money for even short trips. Some hotels in Amsterdam and around the airport have a shuttle bus service.
Other international airports are Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Rotterdam - The Hague Airport, and Groningen-Eelde Airport. These smaller airports are mainly attended by low-cost airlines. Eindhoven Airport and Maastricht/Aachen Airport are mostly used by Ryanair, while Rotterdam Airport is frequented by Transavia, the low-cost subsidiary of KLM for tourists. The operator CityJet does an expensive commuter trip to London city. A direct bus connection, either to the local railway stations and then take the train are the best way to get to Amsterdam or any other town. There is a direct bus service between Eindhoven Airport and Amsterdam Central Station.
It is also possible to come to the Netherlands via airports lying in surrounding countries. Much-used airports are Düsseldorf International Airport and Brussels Airport. European low cost carriers (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 to be present one hour before departure and can be part of the holiday experience.
Remember that the cheapest tickets are often sold out early and that reservations are generally possible 3 (normal) to 6 (City Night Line) months in advance. Bookings can be made via NS Hispeed (Dutch railways) or its German and Belgian counterparts.
From France, Belgium and 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.
Intercity Brussels, a service which uses a normal intercity carriage, runs between Amsterdam and Brussels. Tickets are lower priced than Thalys, while discounts are available during the weekend when travelling from (and to) Belgium.
NB: The former high speed Fyra service on this route has been withdrawn shortly after its introduction.
London's St Pancras station is connected to the Netherlands by Eurostar high-speed trains via Brussels-South railway station. Use one of the connections mentioned above.
From Germany, Switzerland, Denmark...
There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:
- Between Groningen and Leer trains run every hour.
- There are trains between Enschede and Münster every hour, also between Enschede and Dortmund every hour.
- Trains run hourly between Venlo and Hamm, via Mönchengladbach and Düsseldorf.
- Trains run every hour between Heerlen and Aachen and further to Eschweiler / Stolberg (Rheinland).
- The local train between Hengelo and Bad Bentheim has been suspended as of 2014; it will be revived in 2017.
- For a list of border-crossing buses between Germany and the Netherlands, look here.
- For a list of border-crossing buses between Belgium and the Netherlands, look here.
- Apart from being a peculiar result of ancient European history, the town of Baarle (formally Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is a possible change point, since the town's main bus stop Sint-Janstraat is operated by both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
- The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a border-crossing bus between Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are termini in the respective country's railway network.
Until the 2010s decade Germany and France had no intercity buses to speak of and consequently few if any connections to the Netherlands were available. However both German and French laws have since been changed and there are now several lines and operators connecting points in the Netherlands with Germany, France, Belgium or Luxembourg.
Eurolines is the main 'operator' for international coaches to the Netherlands. (In fact the name Eurolines is a common brand-name used by different operators). Services are limited: only a few main routes have a daily service, such as from Poland, London, Milan, Brussels and Paris, but this is the cheapest way to travel and you get a discount if your age is less than 26.
Deutsche Bahn runs an express bus London-Antwerp-Eindhoven-Düsseldorf.
Postbus serves a few places in the Netherlands themselves and others in cooperation with other companies (which means some amenities are not available on those routes)
Flixbus serves international routes throughout the Netherlands and the neighboring countries as well as domestic services
Student Agency is a Czech company serving some points in the Netherlands
Berlinlinienbus serves a handful of stops in the Netherlands
Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990s, there are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours runs several times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx. €135 for a return ticket.
The Netherlands has good roads to Belgium and Germany, and ferry links to Great Britain. The country has a dense, very well-maintained and modern highway/motorway network. However the quantity of traffic makes most main roads liable to serious congestion. Borders are open under the terms of the Schengen Agreement. While cars may be stopped at the border for random checks, 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.
Car Shuttle train (Channel Tunnel)
From the United Kingdom the Netherlands can also be reached via a little part of France and Belgium by the Channel Tunnel shuttle train. From the Terminal of Calais, most of the Netherlands can be reach via Autoroute A 16 to Dunkerque. Continue in direction Bruges (Brugge), Gent (Ghent) and Antwerpen (Antwerp). Near Antwerpen, Rotterdam will be signposted (via de Liefkenshoek tol tunnel) as well as Breda (for Utrecht and The East) and Eindhoven (for the South East). See for more information: eurotunnel.com.
There are three ferry services from the UK:
- Stena Line between Harwich and Hook of Holland. Dutchflyer is a combination ticket that includes the train ride from anywhere on the National Express East Anglia  network (including London and Norwich) to Harwich, the ferry, and the train ride from Hook of Holland to anywhere on the NS (the Dutch railway) network. Rotterdam is also the second largest port in the world, and (in theory) a good place for Freighter travel.
- DFDS Seaways between North Shields near Newcastle upon Tyne and IJmuiden on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
More information, timetables and ticket prices for the North Sea ferries are available at AFerry.co.uk.
Cycling or Walking
Thanks to the little differences in height and all the good facilities it's well possible to travel to the Netherlands by bike or foot from Belgium, the North of France, Germany or even from England.
The Netherlands is situated on the North Sea Cycle Route, which follows the whole North Sea coastline. This route makes also a connection to The British National Cycle Network. See for more information Northsea-cycle.com and Sustrans about National Cycle Network.
The LF route-long distance cycle network is shared with Belgium. The LF 1/Noordzeeroute even continues to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France.
From the East the German R 1 connects Berlin eventually to the LF 4/Midden-Nederlandroute which ends in The Hague.
For walkers the network of dutch LAW-paden are connected with Belgian Grote Route paden.
Near all cycle and walking route there are usually hotels, campings sites and budget facilities. Most certain in Belgium.
The Netherlands is served by an extensive public transport network, making this a good way to get around and discover the main sights. Motorists can rely on an extensive system of Autosnelwegen (Highways/motorways) and Autowegen (semi-highways). Of course the Netherlands is known as one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world. A truly extensive bicycle infrastructure makes cycling an excellent way to get around.
The Netherlands has a fine-grained and well organised public transport system. Most villages can be reached by public transport although services may be infrequent, especially at weekends. The Dutch public transport system consists of a train network which serves as the backbone, extended with a network of both local and inter-local buses. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a metro network, each of only a few lines, although Rotterdam's line E reaches The Hague. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague also have extensive networks of trams. Utrecht only has two tram lines which serve mainly as links to the surrounding suburbs of Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.
- 9292.nl - a journey planner for all Dutch public transport - All public transport companies participate in the OV Reisplanner, which can plan a door-to-door (or tourist hotspot-to-hotspot) trip for you using all public transportation types. The site mostly relies on scheduled detours, but delays are incorporated to a limited degree. 9292 -information is also available by telephone: 0900-9292 (€0.70 min, maximum: €14).
- Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways)- Information about 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. For the information of the other transport types they use 9292ov information.
- Google Maps (Transit) - Some public transport is also in Google Maps, although the planner is not always reliable and does not include all public transport information. This year more transport companies will participate and Google will enhance the planner.
- At a railway station - At large railway stations there are (yellow) information desks; at most smaller stations there is an information/SOS kiosk. If you push the blue information button you are connected to a 9292 operator. If you ask railway staff, they'll often look for you in their smart-phone journey-planner.
Many trains have digital displays with current travel information. Most train platforms and some bus stops have electronic information.
Over the past few years, the Dutch public transport system has seen an almost complete shift from paper tickets to contactless smart cards called OV-Chipkaart (OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer meaning "Public Transport"), sometimes also called the Public transport chipcard. Unfortunately, this means that any old "strippenkaarten" or un-dated paper train tickets you might have from previous visits are now invalid.
In buses and trams you are usually still able to buy single paper tickets when getting in but you'll pay extra. Single use swipe cards are available for trains, but come at a €1 surcharge too. In short; unless you plan to use the public transport system only incidentally, your best option is to obtain an OV-chipkaart upon arrival as it's convenient and soon cheaper.
The OV-chipkaart comes in three versions:
- Disposable or single-use OV-chipkaart sold with a travel product that cannot be recharged or reloaded with another product, e.g. a single ticket. It does not contain an electronic purse and is meant for people who rarely use public transport in the Netherlands. These are only by some public transport companies available for a range of fares, such as a three-day pass to all public transport in one city.
- Anonymous OV-chipkaart are more commonly used. The purchase price for an "empty" card is €7.50 (as of 2014) and is non-refundable. These cards are available at ticket offices and vending machines valid up to 5 years. This card is reusable and has an electronic purse. It is transferable, and therefore cannot be used for discounted travel, or for monthly or annual season tickets. However, the anonymous card can contain multiple products simultaneously, as long as those are 'simple' travel products, like those available for the disposable card.
- Personal OV-chipkaart is useful for anyone entitled to travel with a discount. It is also the only type that can hold a monthly or annual season ticket. Because of these characteristics, the personal card is non-transferable and features the holder's photograph and date of birth. The personal OV-chipkaart has an electronic purse. In addition, it can be set to automatically top its balance up when it drops below a certain level. The personal card is the only one that can be blocked if it is lost or stolen.
Travellers can buy a travel product, for example a one-day pass for an entire city or a monthly season ticket for a certain route. When they check out after the trip (see next section), the system will recognise that a certain product has been used and, if necessary, deactivate it. The other option is to use money from the electronic purse on the OV-chipkaart. On checking in, the system will charge a checking-in fee (€20 for NS trains, €4 for metro, tram and bus), which will be refunded as soon as the traveller checks out, minus the fare for the trip actually made. If a user fails to check out, the checking-in fee, which is higher than the fare for most actual journeys, is not refunded. Loading travel credit can be done at station ticket machines, at ticket offices and some tobacco shops and supermarkets. During a trip, personnel can check cards with a mobile card reader. You must be travelling away from the point where you checked in.
When travelling by train or metro, the OV-chipkaart is held against a card reader as soon as the traveller enters the station or the platform. The card has now been 'checked in', and the boarding fee will be charged to the card. When the passenger ends the journey at another station, the card is held against the card reader again in order to 'check out'; the boarding fee is refunded (minus the fare for the journey actually made if the traveller is using the e-purse). There are two types of card reader systems on train and metro stations: free-standing card readers, and card readers integrated into ticket gates. When travelling by tram or bus, travellers check in and out when entering or leaving the vehicle. Card readers are placed near each door for this purpose.
Checking in and out is always required, except when you transfer from one train to another from the same operator. Changing trains from one operator to a different operator requires checking out at a card reader of the first operator and checking in at a card reader of the second operator. When you cannot check-out (i.e. the check-out device is defective), you can claim costs with your public transport company.
Note that different operators may deploy train or bus services from the same station. At those stations, different card readers may be present. Make sure you know which operator (e.g. NS, Arriva or Veolia) operates the line you intend to take, and check in at the right counter.
Buying and charging
Anonymous cards and appropriate disposable cards are obtainable at ticket machines on train stations and the Amsterdam (GVB) and Rotterdam (RET) metro. Also many supermarkets, tobacco shops and Bruna bookstores sell anonymous cards. Most places where cards can be bought offer the ability to load a credit, but may need a debit card with PIN code. Further note that bus and tram stops usually don't have any means to buy cards or load credit.
You can apply for a personal card at Ov-chipkaart.nl. This requires an address in The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany.
It is possible to get a refund of unused credit on Personal and Anonymous cards at a ticket office for a € 2.50 fee. The anonymous and personal OV-chipkaart have a validity of four to five years. Any credit that's still on an old card can be transferred to a new card; for free if the old card is still valid, or for € 2.50 if it isn't.
Most of the Netherlands is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent to most big cities and larger villages and towns in between. There are two main types of trains: Intercities which only stop at major stations and Sprinters which stop at all stations. All types of train have the same prices. Also, there are high-speed trains called 'Intercity Direct' between Amsterdam and Breda, which only requires a supplement ticket between Schiphol and Rotterdam. Travelling all the way from the north of the country (Groningen) to the south (Maastricht) takes approximately 4 hours.
The Spoorkaart is an map of the railway system and shows all services. Connections with only one train per hour are shown in thinner lines.
Most lines offer one train every 15 minutes (every 10 min during the rush hours), but some rural lines run only every 60 min. Where more lines run together, the frequency is, of course, even higher. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 12 trains per hour on main routes.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) operates most routes. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.
Because of the high service frequency, delays are quite common. However, the delay is usually not more than 5 or 10 minutes. Trains can be crowded, especially in the morning rush hour. Reserving seats on domestic trains is only possible on the Intercity Direct.
One particular mistake tourists often make is getting on the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, both parts will be separated and will continue on their own to their respective destinations. In that case, the signs over the platforms will show two destinations and which part goes where: achterste deel/achter means back and voorste deel/voor means front, referring to the direction of departure. Feel free to ask other passengers or an employee.
Another frequently made mistake involves travelling from Schiphol to Amsterdam. From Schiphol you can go to either Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid (South). These railway stations are not connected directly and many tourists with the idea of going to Amsterdam Centraal wind up at South. Therefore always check the destination of the train. From Amsterdam Zuid you can take the metro to Centraal, or a train to Centraal with an interchange at station Duivendrecht (2nd floor).
There is a convenient night train service (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam, and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. In the nights F-Sa and Sa-Su, North-Brabant is also served. You can get to Dordrecht, 's-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda.
Most trains have two comfort classes (1e klasse and 2e klasse). Some regional lines don't have first class. First class and second class are usually distinguished by different colour schemes. Signs with either "1" or "2" next to outside doors and carriage doors indicate class. Some zones in train are silent zones. Noise is to be kept to a minimum in these areas. They are indicated either by a stylised face in silhouette holding a finger to the lips, or a yellow oval with "Ssst".
Free Wi-Fi is available at almost all major train stations and in many Intercity trains. Electrical outlets are only available in a few Intercity trains, and then only in First Class.
There is one national tariff system for train travel. You don't need separate tickets for other operators. All train companies in the Netherlands now use the OV-chipkaart: paper train tickets are no longer issued. Travellers have the following options for ticketing:
- Anonymous or personal OV-chipkaart: either costs €7.50 per card. Note that if you already bought one of these cards from a provider that is not NS, you need to activate it for NS train travel. This happens automatically when loading money onto the card at one of the NS ticket machines.
- Disposable OV-chipkaart for each journey. These are for sale at ticket machines, but the ticket price is €1 higher than the price on a non-disposable card. Note that a disposable card can be bought for a single or for a return, so in this case a return (1x €1 surcharge) is cheaper than two singles (2x €1 surcharge).
- E-ticket. There is no surcharge for these.
International trains arriving in or departing from the Netherlands may use separate ticketing systems. International discount passes such as the Eurail pass do not use the Chipkaart system either.
The ticket price is uniform and depends on distance. Tickets are valid on both Sprinter and Intercity services — there is no difference in price in either case. However, for domestic travel with Intercity Direct or ICE trains, you will need a surcharge which you can buy at the ticket machine, to be used directly. With Intercity Direct, this fee is only needed when travelling between Schiphol and Rotterdam. The most used tickets are the single (enkele reis) and return tickets (retour). The latter is valid only for a return on the day itself, but the price is equal to two singles, therefore a return offers no price advantage over buying singles (except when using a disposable OV-chipkaart).
Tickets are valid in any train on the route (as opposed to being valid in only one fixed train). It is allowed to break at any station on the route (even on stations on the route where you don't have to change). Like in many countries, there is a difference between first and second class. A second class ticket is about 60% of the price of a first class ticket. The main advantage of first class is that it is less crowded, and seats and aisles are generally wider. For children 4–11 years accompanied by adults, a Railrunner ticket can be bought for €2.50.
Buying train tickets
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 on board, you will have to pay the normal price plus a €35 fine. If the ticket machines are defective, go to the conductor immediately when boarding. The conductor is not allowed any discretion on this policy, though being polite and pretending to be an ignorant tourist might help you get away with having an invalid ticket. In worst case though, if you do not have either enough cash, or a passport, you could be arrested by railway police.
- From a ticket machine. Tickets can be purchased from machines in stations using Dutch bank cards or Maestro debit cards. A 0.50 euro fee is required for payments with Visa or MasterCard credit cards. Some of the machines, at least one at each station, also accept coins (but no notes). Only larger stations have a ticket counter. The ticket machines have English-language menus available. A common mistake made by foreigners is accidentally getting a 40% discount ('korting') ticket from the machine. A special discount-card is required for these tickets, although you can travel on other people's discount cards too. (See Discount rail pass). If you have trouble using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks some English and will help you out.
- Online. Tickets could be purchased in advance online (e-tickets), although a Dutch bank account for payment (iDEAL) is necessary. Note that pre-bought tickets are personal, and train conductors may ask for ID. There is no price difference compared to travelling with an anonymous or personal OV-chipkaart, however e-tickets are €1 cheaper than a disposable OV-chipkaart. Alternatively, e-tickets could be bought at the Belgian Rail's SNCB Europe site, including some Dutch domestic routes, usually at the same price as the Dutch NS (check to make sure). Unlike the Dutch NS site it does accept foreign bank cards, but it takes a surcharge (€2) per transaction if a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) is used. There is no surcharge though for a debit card (like Maestro).
Discount rail pass
Visitors planning to travel by train in the Netherlands should consider the Eurail pass with the Benelux package (see eurail.com). 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 (see interrail.eu).
For tourists thinking of travelling by train for some days it can be a good deal to get a Dal Voordeel Abonnement (Off-peak discount), which gives the cardholder (and up to three additional persons travelling with him or her) 40% off for one year on NS trains, except when travelling during peak hours (working days 6.30-9.00h and 16.00-18.30h, except holidays). Price €50 for one year (2014). The subscription includes a personal OV-chipkaart which takes 2 weeks to process. If you already have one, the subscription can be loaded onto your own personal OV-chipkaart. Remember to always check in and out, the discount will be automatically applied, depending on the time of check in.
NS also have monthly and yearly subscriptions for free travel in weekends, off-peak hours or the entire subscription period including peak hours, and also a subscription that offers a 40% discount for the entire period including peak hours.
Travellers who are in the Netherlands for only one day and want to see much of the country by train, may want to get a Dagkaart (day pass, €51). But note: it may be cheaper to just buy a ticket. The dagkaart would require about 6 hours train travel in one day. There are also special deals on the Dagkaart from stores such as the Hema, Blokker, Kruidvat or Albert Heijn which you buy for a discounted price (€13-16) and then print out at home. It is important to note the validity of such tickets (e.g. not valid during morning rush hours, and valid for all days or just Saturday-Sunday, and the time period for which they are valid). Using one of those tickets is probably the cheapest way to get around in the Netherlands by train, especially for round trips.
At the station
Most stations are small with only one or two platforms. Stops at towns or villages in general aren't provided with railway staff. However cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht have large central stations with up to 14 platforms. It can take 5, maybe even 10 minutes to move from one platform to another, especially for people who 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 lower case and upper case letters.
Time tables can be found in the station hall and on the platforms. All train tables are normally yellow, with exceptions for the different schedules during planned maintenance works (blue) and queen's day (orange). Departing trains are printed in blue (on yellow tables), arriving train tables in red. Unlike in other countries, the tables themselves are not ordered by time of departure, but by direction (Please notice this is actually by line, from bigger stations some cities are reach by several lines! Tourists better ask someone, which line is fastest for your destination.). In some cases, more than one table is necessary to cover a single day for a certain direction. Additionally, most stations have blue electronic screens, indicating the trains departing during the next hour.
The network of regional and local buses in the Netherlands is fine-grained and frequent and usually connects well with the train network; by bus travellers can reach most small villages easily. However, for long-distance travel, these regional buses are not convenient and much slower than the train.
Until recently, long-distance buses were 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. Recently, however, German long distance bus company Flixbus has been expanding its range of domestic connections in the Netherlands, with expected ticket prices between 6 and 9 euros for most routes.
There are four main local and regional 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 adults and up to three children. On weekends and holidays it is also valid before 09:00. Because Connexxion have a wide-spread network, 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, getting from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, would require three or more changes. 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 1.5 hr. However, if you want to enjoy the countryside and villages you can prefer the bus trips.
Many companies and regions have their own bus discount tickets, which are often cheaper than using credit on the OV-chipkaart.
Park-and-ride-(travel-)tickets: some towns and cities have special cheaper bus tickets from car parks near the city limits to the city centre, for outside rush hours, usually a return ticket.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht offer public transport at night. Only Amsterdam has a service all night and every night; in the other cities it is more limited to the beginning of the night or only during the weekend. Several other cities and regions also have night buses, usually even more limited. Some night buses cover quite a distance, such as Amsterdam-Almere.
You might need special night-bus tickets so be sure to check the city pages.
The two largest cities, Amsterdam (map) and Rotterdam (map), have a metro network which consist of mainly elevated railways outside the city centres, and some kilometres underground railways within the centre. Line E of the Rotterdam metro has a start/final destination at The Hague Central Station.
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).
Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer and more convenient than in many other countries, because of the infrastructure - cycle paths, cycle lanes, and signposted cycle routes - and because of the small distances and flatness. All these factors plus many more additional facilities such as numerous picnic places, terraces, small ferry-connections and camping places, makes it often preferable to discover the country by bike rather than by car.
The proliferation of bicycles also means that you're seen as a significant part of the traffic mix - motorists will let you know if you don't keep to the rules and presume you are aware of other traffic. This is specially important to know in the very busy (chaotic) centres of the biggest cities. Here it can be sensible to get off your bike for a few hundred metres and/or leave the centre entirely by taking the bike onto a train, metro or randstadrail-tram).
Some things to know:
- Cycle lanes and cycle paths are indicated by a round blue sign with a white bike icon, an icon on the asphalt, or by red asphalt. Using them is considered mandatory.
- Cyclists must obey the same traffic signs as motorists, unless exempted. For example, a cycle icon under a no-entry sign, usually with the text 'uitgezonderd' (except), means cyclists may use the street in both directions.
- Where there is no cycle lane or path, use the regular road. This is unlike the rule in Germany and Belgium, where you are supposed to use the footpath in many places. Cyclists are not allowed on all (semi-)highways indicated as "Autosnelweg" or "Autoweg"
- On some narrow streets that do have a cycle path parallel to them, mopeds may be required to use the cycle path, rather than the main street (as is usual).
- Bicycles must have working front (white) and rear (red) lights. Reflectors are not sufficient. You may be fined (€40) for cycling in the dark without a light, and you seriously endanger yourself and other traffic by doing so. Small, battery-operated LED lights attached to your person are allowed.
Regular signs for bicycle routes are usually white, with a red border and lettering, more recreational/touristic routes to a town or village are green lettered. In rural areas as well as in nature areas, signposts may be so called Paddenstoelen (mushrooms). These are small boxes (more or less resembling the form of a mushroom) near the ground on which the destinations are printed.
There are different ways to use a bicycle:
- staying in a city, the bike can be used as a means of transport, to get from A to B. This is the way local people most of the time use it, for short journeys it is faster than car, bus or tram. Cyclers can also reach interesting places near the city, which may not be accessible by public transport.
- Many times bikes are also used as means to see nearby places and landscapes:
- The many signposted cycle routes are designed for this, most of them take cyclists back to the starting point. Some rural routes go through areas inaccessible by car.
- In most parts of the Netherlands it's possible to create your own routes by connecting marked and numbered points called "knooppunten". (see for more information planjeroute.nl (plan your route).)
- Except for the rush hours in the morning and at the end of the afternoon, bikes can be taken on a train. Therefore cyclers are to buy a supplementary ticket called "dagkaart fiets", which is easily obtained from the automated kiosks for €6. As an alternative, bikes can be easily rented at (or near) train stations. Folding bikes can be taken on board for free as hand luggage when folded. All trains are provided with specific bicycle entrances. Cyclists may park their bike here and also are allowed to ask people to move for this reason. Also in two western urban region's it's possible to transport bicycles for free by metro (Amsterdam/The Hague-Rotterdam) or randstadrail-tram (The Hague-Zoetermeer), except during daytime from monday-friday.
- More experienced cyclists may like to set off across the country. The national long-distance cycle routes are designed for this type of holiday; see Cycling in the Netherlands Long-distance routes.
The best online routeplanner for cyclists can be found at a wikiplanner made by volunteers of the Dutch cyclist union "Fietsersbond".
Bike theft is a serious problem in the Netherlands, especially around train stations, and in larger cities. If possible, use the guarded bike parking ('stalling') at train stations and in some city centres. They will cost up to €1.20 per day. In general, use 2 locks of different kinds (for example, one chain lock and one tube lock). This is because most bike thieves specialize in a particular kind of lock, or carry equipment best suited to one kind of lock. Ideally, you should lock the bike to a lamppost or similar. Bike thieves have been known to simply load unattached bikes onto a pickup truck, so they can crack open the locks at leisure.
In cities, bikes are often stolen by drug addicts, and they sell most stolen bikes too. They often simply offer them for sale to passers-by, if they think no police are watching. Buying a stolen bike is itself illegal, and police do arrest buyers. If you buy for a suspiciously low price (e.g. €10-20), 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 thefts should be reported to the police. Please do so.
Buy or Rent
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. For more information, see this site [dead link].
The Dutch bicycle-share system "OV-fiets" is only accessible for residents of the Netherlands or those who have a Dutch bank account. The member fee of €9 per yr and €3 per trip is debited automatically.
Extra legal protection
"Weaker" parties in traffic such as cyclists and pedestrians enjoy extra protection from the law regarding liability when an accident occurs with a "stronger" party (e.g. cars). The basic idea is that the stronger participant (e.g. a car driver) is always liable when an accident occurs between a weaker (e.g. a cyclist) and the stronger party, unless force majeure can be proven. Force majeure is here defined as (1) the car driver was driving correctly and (2) the faults of the cyclist were so unlikely that the car driver did not have to accommodate his driving for them. When this cannot be proven, the car driver is liable, but this can be limited when the accident can be attributed to the behaviour of the cyclist, up to 50% (more if the cyclist was consciously being reckless).
The burden of proof for force majeure, for faults of the cyclist and for recklessness are with the car driver. Such things can be hard to prove, which is why in practice some people will say cyclists/pedestrians always have right of way, but this is incorrect.
A car might be a good way to explore the countryside, especially places not connected by rail, such as the Veluwe and parts of Zeeland. Drive on the right.
The motorway/highway network is rather extensive, though heavily used. Congestion, especially during peak hour, is usual and can better be avoided. Roads are well signposted and many times provided with new technologies. A Motorway/highway (Autosnelweg) is indicated with a letter A/number combination which is placed in a red box. In the less urbanised parts, such as the Southwest and the North, motorways/highways are few. Many times connections there are made by a semi highway called Autoweg, or another N way. All these connections are indicated with a letter N/number combination in a yellow box. Most times motorist will automatically be directed to the nearest A or N road. So who likes to make a touristic ride avoiding mainroads, needs to follow signs to local villages.
If your car breaks down on the highway/motorway you might go to the nearest roadside emergency telephone; these praatpalen can be recognized as they are about 1.5m high, yellow and have a rounded bunny-eared cap on top. This is the direct connection to the emergency and assistance services.
Alternatively, you might use a mobile phone to reach the ANWB autoclub via toll-free number 0800-0888; your membership of a foreign autoclub might entitle you to discount rates on their services. Leased (business) cars and rental cars are usually serviced by the ANWB services included in the lease/rental price; but you may want to check any provided booklets.
Road signs with directions are plenty, but having a map is useful, especially in cities where there are many one way streets, and getting from one part of the city to another is not always so straightforward. Be careful not to drive on bus lanes, often indicated with markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, nor on cycling paths, marked by the picture of a bicycle, or by a reddish colour of the asphalt. Also, do not use the rush-hour-lanes (Spitsstrook) when the matrix display above the designated lane indicates a red "X" - this means they cannot be used.
Fuel is easy to come by, but extremely expensive. It's better to fill your vehicle before entering the Netherlands, since the Belgian and German fuel prices can be €0.30 lower per litre. Unmanned gas stations, such as TanGo or Firezone, save up to 10 cents, but are still far more expensive than their Belgian counterparts. Prices of fuel are, as of 2012, €1.84 ($2.20) a litre in manned stations. Along highways many gas stations are open 24/7. More and more unmanned gas stations can be found, even along highways, selling petrol cheaper. These unattended stations accept all common debit and credit cards. All gas stations sell both petrol and diesel; the "premium" brands have the same octane level (they allegedly contain compounds that improve fuel efficiency to offset the higher price). Liquid Petroleum Gas is sold at relatively many gas stations along the high ways, but it is never sold in built-up areas. The symbol for LPG gas is a green-coloured gaspump-icon, set beside the general case black-coloured 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.
Driving rules in The Netherlands
Road rules, markings and signs are similar to other European countries but have some particularities:
- At unmarked intersections, traffic coming from the right ALWAYS has priority. Traffic includes bicycles, horses, horse-drawn carts (recreational use and fairly uncommon), electric wheelchairs, small mopeds and motorised bicycles.
- Cycle paths are clearly marked and are widespread throughout the country.
- On motorways, on and off-ramps (slip-roads) are usually long and allow for smooth merging. However, returning onto the motorway from an exit lane is illegal. Passing on the right and needless use (other than for passing) of the outside lane(s) is prohibited. (Passing on the right is permitted only in slow, congested traffic.)
In built up areas 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.
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 (toll-free, will even work from disconnected mobile phones); the telephone number for a non-emergency police presence is 0900-8844.
The speed limit in built up areas is 50 km/h with some zones limited to maximum of 30 km/h. Note that 30 km/h zones are home of unmarked intersections (so all traffic from the right has right of way!). Outside of towns speed is limited to 80 km/h (this includes most N-roads, though some are restricted to 70 or 100). On some local roads the speed limit is 60 km/h. The maximum speed limit on the interstate is 130 km/h, however this is mostly based on the time you are driving, as well on the opening of the spitsstroken (rush hour lanes, indicated by long interrupted lines, when open, the speed limit is 100 or 80 km/h. This is indicated by a green arrow (open) or red cross (closed)). Speed limits are always designated next to the interstate, but confusing even for locals, so remember this when driving on an interstate:
- If there are no signs whatsoever, you may drive 130 km/h.
- If there are signs saying 120, 100, 80, the top speed at all times is (respectively) 120, 100, 80 km/h.
- If there is a sign saying 120 (6-19) the top speed is 120 km/h between 6 AM and 7 PM, and 130 at all other times.
- Speed indicated on the dot matrix signs above the lanes always take precedence over anything else you see, both when the speed is in a red circle (the regular speed limit) or without (an incidental speed limit, indicating traffic or construction). A white circle with a diagonal bar in it indicates 'end of all speed limits from dot matrix signs' from which moment on you obey the ordinary signs.
Your speed will be checked nationwide by the police and fines are heavy. Exceeding the maximum speed with more than 50 km/h will result in seizure of your driving licence. After that driving is considered a criminal act. Pay extra attention to Trajectcontrole signs: that means that in the road you're driving there is an automatic system that checks your average speed on a long section. Radar detectors are illegal devices to have in your car. They will be impounded and you will be fined €250. Keep in mind that the police use so-called radar detector detectors to track down radar detector users, so it is best to turn them off. Drinking and driving is not allowed and this is enforced strongly. Breathalyser 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 breathalyser test) as on a bigger scale (i.e. the police has set up a designated control checkpoint on a highway). A unbroken yellow line next to the sidewalk means no stopping, a broken yellow next to the sidewalk means no parking. Some crossings have "shark teeth" painted on the road, this means you have to give way to the other traffic.
Note that police also use unmarked traffic surveillance cars, especially on the highways. They have a video surveillance system and often they don't stop you right after doing a violation but they keep on following you. That means if you do more violations, you'll be fined for everything you did. Note that the policemen in unmarked cars are obliged to identify themselves after pulling you over, which means you shouldn't have to ask. Policemen in marked cars have to show their ID only when you ask them for it, but they too are obliged to show it when asked.
Urban driving in the Netherlands is considered by many tourists and locals alike to be an exasperating, time consuming and expensive experience. The traffic systems of most city centres are designed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, rather than vehicles. 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:
- Pedestrians protruding on the road or crossing in dangerous and not-permitted areas.
- Cyclists have more rights and are more assertive in asserting them than in most countries, which can be intimidating to unaccustomed drivers. Please, 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).
- Narrow bridges.
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 are €3–6 per hour. Generally, underground car parks cost €4–6 per hour and may be by far the best choice for practical and safety reasons. Consider using public transport to avoid traffic jams and the great difficulties involved in finding a parking 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.
The Dutch taxi system has been re-structured over recent years, in order to change its bad reputation and sometimes exorbitant rates. While legal maximum charges now apply and all taxis are obliged to have a tariff sheet visible in the window, taxis still remain an expensive way to get around. If you're travelling on a budget, public transport is a much better bet. With cluttered traffic in and around cities during rush hour, it's often enough faster too.
If you do want to take a taxi, you'll usually have to call one or order one online, so you might want to look up a company upon arrival. It's uncommon to hail taxis on the streets. In larger cities, you'll typically find a taxi stand at major train stations and sometimes close to entertainment districts. Drivers may want to convince you that you are obliged to take the first in line, but this is never the case. You are always free to pick the taxi of your choice. It is illegal for drivers to refuse short rides, but it's not uncommon for drivers who have obtained a front position to do so. Keep in mind that these guys sometimes wait for a long time to get to this position. If it's all the same to you, you might want to let them refer you to someone else. If you don't want to switch, or if it's the only taxi around, it may help to say you'll file a complaint and write down the taxi's number.
All taxis must have registered blue license plates and a board computer which also serves as the meter. They must have their rates visible on a tariff card and the driver has to carry a taxi driver's license card. Taxi companies are free to establish their rates, as long as they do not exceed the legal maximum. The driver is allowed to offer you a fixed price, as long as it's within legal maximum rates.
The maximum rates are the sum of the initial fee, the fee per kilometre and the fee per minute. They are set annually by the Dutch government. For a normal (4 person) cab they are €2,95, €2,17 and €0,36. This means you'll pay more if you get stuck in traffic. For small vans (5 to 8 passengers), the maximum amounts are €6,00, €2,73 and €0,41. Uber cabs are now illegal but cheaper and still operate in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Making your way on thumb is accepted and locals that take you typically expect no payment in return. It's less suited for short rides from small towns or minor streets, as the lack of traffic may cause a long wait. Hitch-hiking on the highways/motorways is not allowed but generally tolerated on the interchanges/access points, provided you do not create a dangerous traffic situation. Interchanges are indicated by a letter A/number combination printed in a red box on signposts.
Try to stay before the traffic sign highway/motorway (a bleu rectangle with two separated lanes disappearing in the distances printed in white) or the sign of the front of a car, indicating the entrance to a semi-highway. Also try to stay on a spot where cars have slow speed and where it is possible for drivers to stop. The same safety rule applies to highway gas stations and rest places, and to traffic lights on non-highway/motorway roads.
For longer distances, the large amount of highway crossings make it difficult to find a driver going to your exact destination. A simple (cardboard) plate with your destination written on it is a common way to increase chances of finding the right driver, and may also convince suited drivers that they will not be stopping in vain.
There are official hitch-hiking spots (liftplaats) (lift-stops) and recommended unofficial spots mainly at the edges of a few major cities:
- Prins Bernhardplein, before NS Station Amsterdam Amstel (on east side of the river Amstel) (past the bus stop). Leads to the ramp of the S112 of the A10, direction A1-E231/A2-E35. It is recommended for the directions Central-/East-Netherlands. For other directions/routes try also alternative spots.
Alternative spots / other directions (recommended for the directions West-/South-Netherlands):
- Amstel (on the west side of the river Amstel) near traffic-lights/Utrechtsebrug and near beginning-/end-stop of Tram-line 25. Leads to the ramp of the S111 of the A10, directions A2-E35-E25.
- Junction S109 of the A10, close to NS Station RAI (RAI Congress Centre; specially when there are large events or congresses). Leads to the ramp of the S109 of the A10, directions A2-E35-E25/A4-E19.
- At bus stop Amstelveenseweg / Ringweg Zuid just northeast from metro station Amstelveensweg. There is an on-ramp which leads to the A10 North, A4 (to the South) and A9 (both directions). What makes this location convenient is that cars can easily stop in the bus lane in order to pick you up.
- Utrechtsebaan next to the northside of the Malieveld, at the beginning of the A12-E30 towards Utrecht. Also possibilities towards A4-E19 for Delft-Rotterdam and for Leiden-Amsterdam
Alternative spots / other directions:
- Edge at the northwest-side of the Malieveld/crossing Zuid-Holland-laan, Boslaan (Utrechtse baan),Benoordenhoutseweg, towards Leidsestraatweg-N44-A44 for Leiden and Amsterdam.
- Graafseweg (Venlo and Den Bosch), at the major city-centre roundabout (verkeersplein) Keizer Karelplein (hitch-hiking on the roundabout itself is not recommended),
- near the Waalbrug/before the bridge in direction Arnhem,
- at the Annastraat, close to the Radboud University (RU)/University Medical Centre (UMC),
- at the Triavium, across shopping centre Dukenburg.
- Groningen: Emmaviaduct (200m west of Centraal Station), on the road to A28
- Utrecht close to petrol station and ramp of the Waterlinieweg near 'De Galgewaard' soccer-football-stadium, North/Northeast to A27/A28, South/East to A2/A12/A27.
- Due to reconstruction of the road, the liftershalte in Maastricht at the beginning of the A2 (near the soccer stadium De Geusselt) unfortunately has been removed in 2012.
Due to the small size of the country as well as the abundance of road and rail connections, domestic flights have proven to be unprofitable in the past. Therefore, none exist at the moment.
- See also: Dutch phrasebook
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch (Nederlands). 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.
However, the Dutch merchant tradition and international attitude have left this little country with a strong tradition of multilingualism. English as a foreign language is a compulsory part of education and is typically taught from the age of 9 or 10. With the possible exception of the elderly, the vast majority of the adult population is able to speak English relatively well, and most younger people are fluent. While less widely spoken than English, basic German is also spoken by some, especially those in the regions near the German border and is, together with French, a mandatory subject in high school for at least two years. In short, the Dutch are among the most fluent polyglots on the continent. In grammar school, Ancient Greek and Latin are taught.
In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. Immigrant languages are most prominent in urban areas: they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo (Surinam), Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles), and Indonesian. While it's perfectly possible to encounter individuals who only speak Dutch, there is usually someone else around and travellers should be able to make their way without learning a word of the Dutch language.
Besides Dutch, several regional languages and dialects are spoken. In the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijssel, Drenthe and Gelderland people speak a local variety of Low Saxon (including Grunnegs and Tweants). In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a regional 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').
Frisian is the only official language besides Dutch, but only common in the province of Friesland. It's the closest living language to English. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Friesland or South-Limburg you will come across many bi-lingual road signs (similar to Wales and South Tyrol). 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.
Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Dutch.
For many foreigners, nothing captures the idea of the Netherlands more vividly than windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, and remarkably flat lands. Although some of these characteristics have evolved into stereotypes far off from the daily lives of Dutch people, there's still a lot of truth to them and plenty of authenticity to be found. The Dutch have preserved many elements from this part of their past, both for touristic and for historic reasons.
Kinderdijk boasts a network of 19 windmills, once used to drain the adjoining polder. The Zaanse Schans has windmills as well, and a nice museum with traditional crafts and old Dutch houses on display. Schiedam, world-famous for its jenever, has the tallest windmills in the world, and they're right in its lovely old town centre.
Thinking about the Dutch countryside, you might imagine wide, flat, grasslands with black and white cows. If you do, you're not that far off. A large swathe of the country, especially the western part of it, consist of polders; reclaimed land separated by ditches. These rural areas are dotted with picturesque villages, old farms, impressive summer estates, and of course, windmills; the Zaanstreek-Waterland is especially scenic. For a touch of folklore, see the traditional clothing and fishermen boats in Volendam or Marken.
The Netherlands is a major international player in the flower industry. The tulip fields are seasonal, and are specific to the Bulb Region and some areas in North Holland. They are a lovely Dutch alternative to the lavender fields you could find in France. The famous Keukenhof, the world's largest flower garden, only opens between March and May. It is a great way to see what the Dutch flower industry has to offer.
They make great destinations for a recreational bike trip or can serve as a laid-back base, from where you can explore cities in the area. The rolling hills of South Limburg have characteristic timber-framed houses and a lot of castles. The province of Gelderland combines its many castles (Palace 't Loo in Apeldoorn being the highlight) with the natural scenery of the Veluwe. Don't worry if you're headed elsewhere: you'll find a beautiful countryside in every Dutch province.
Wandering through the magnificent city of Amsterdam, with its lovely canals and hundreds of 17th century monuments, is a delightful experience. For most people, a visit to The Netherlands would not be complete without a good day in its bustling capital. Nevertheless, it is only one of many towns in the country that offers a beautiful, historic centre.
Before Amsterdam's rise to fame in the late 16th century, the fortified city of Utrecht was the country's most important town. Much of Utrecht's mediaeval structures remain, with canals flanked by wharf-based structures, lots of buildings from the Early Middle Ages and some impressive ancient churches. Maastricht is often claimed as the most beautiful city of the country. It is known for its romantic lanes, ancient monuments, and for what the Dutch call its "Burgundian" atmosphere.
Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the oldest university of the country, is yet another beautiful place with canals, narrow streets, and over 2,700 monuments. The Hague is often called the "judicial capital of the world", as it famously hosts the Peace Palace and many international organisations. It has a spacious layout, with large estates, and the ancient Binnenhof, where the Dutch government had its seat for centuries. Also consider the gorgeous old town centres of Haarlem, Delft, 's-Hertogenbosch, Alkmaar, Gouda and Amersfoort.
Considering its small size, this country has brought forward an impressive number of world-famous painters. Arts and painting flourished in the 17th century, when the Dutch Republic was particularly prosperous, but renowned artists have lived in the country before and after that age as well.
Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael, and Piet Mondriaan are just a few of the Dutch painters whose works now decorate the walls of the world's greatest museums. Fortunately, some of these world-class museums can be found in the Netherlands as well. The Museum Quarter in Amsterdam has the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum right next to each other, all three with excellent collections. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam also has a huge collection of drawings, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and foreign masters.
The Kröller-Müller Museum is beautifully located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, with the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). Less focused on Dutch art, but with a unique modern collection, is the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. Other cities with notable art museums include Groningen with the Groninger Museum, and Haarlem with the Frans Hals Museum. The newly established Hermitage in Amsterdam has all the grandeur of its big sister in Saint Petersburg, with changing Russia-oriented exhibitions on display.
- Museumkaart. If you intend to stay for a longer period of time in the Netherlands and your affection is on visiting museums, then it is advised to apply for the 1-year museum card. It gives you free access to more than 400 museums at anytime. You can buy this card at any major museum. Adult € 59,90; up to 18 years € 32,45.
Living with the water
The Dutch are famous for their struggle with the sea. As a great naval power, the Netherlands owed its 17th century Golden Age to the water, and still depends heavily on it for modern day trade and fisheries, as the massive, modern port of Rotterdam demonstrates. However, with much of the country's land below sea level, the water also caused terrible floods and great losses over centuries.
Dutch attempts to protect their lands with dikes are well recorded from the 12th century, but started around 2,000 years ago. An enormous flood in 1287 created the large Zuiderzee, an inland sea that is now known as the IJsselmeer. From that period onwards, a long process of reclaiming lands lost to the sea began. Windmills and extensive networks of dikes were created to pump out the water, slowly creating the characteristic polders. One of these polders is the Beemster Polder, and when you visit you get a few fortifications of the Defence Line of Amsterdam included as a bonus.
After another devastating flood in 1916, the country started the Zuiderzee Works, a massive undertaking to reclaim and tame the Zuiderzee once and for all. In the 1930s, the impressive Afsluitdijk was finished, which turned the inland sea into a fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer. The Zuiderzee Museum in lovely Enkhuizen is devoted to the cultural heritage and folklore of the region, as well as the maritime history of the Zuiderzee.
Another devastating flood struck the country in 1953, recording 1,836 deaths in the province of Zeeland and the southwestern part of South-Holland. In the following fifty years, the famous Delta Works were constructed to protect the Southwest from flooding. It can be visited at various visitor centres, the most notable of which is the Neeltje Jans park near the Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier). See the Deltawerken website for more information.
The American Society of Civil Engineers have recognised the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works collectively as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
One of the most popular activities among the locals is cycling. And for a reason — the Netherlands has about 22,000 km of dedicated bicycle paths, which criss-cross the country with many of them numbered. It's as easy as getting a map, picking a number, and start cycling! Particularly scenic areas well suited for cycling include the Green Heart, Hoge Veluwe National Park, South Limburg, and the Zaanstreek-Waterland. Just be aware that winds can be strong (because of the flat lands), and that winters can be cold and rainy.
The Dutch coastline measures 1,245 km of coastline with many beaches. Popular activities include swimming and sunbathing, but these are mostly restricted to warm summer days. Expect Scheveningen to be extremely crowded when temperatures rise towards tropical levels. More mellow and family friendly beaches include Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, Bergen, and the West Frisian Islands.
Water sports is another activity mostly undertaken by the locals. Lakes can be found in every province, but the Frisian Lakes are outstanding, especially during the annual Sneekweek that starts the boating season. Boating can be done without licence as long as the boat is not longer than 15m and/or faster that 20 km/h. Other lake-rich areas include Wijdemeren, Kaag, and Aalsmeer. Most of these lakes are very calm, with parasailing and rafting impossible.
The Netherlands has long been known for its great musicians and composers, and today is no different, with high-level performances in a wide variety of styles throughout the country. The Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's major symphony orchestra, is considered by many connoisseurs to be one of the best if not the very best in the world.
- Every two years, the country goes football crazy as either the European Championship or the World Cup is held. Complete streets will be decorated with orange flags, the country's national colour. It's not uncommon for literally fifty percent of the population to be watching a game if it's a particularly important one. Often bigger cities will put up large TV screens for the general public, like on the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam. Likewise, cafes and bars are another popular place to watch games.
- In the Southern Netherlands (North Brabant, Limburg and to a smaller extent also in Twente, Overijssel and the south of Gelderland), the Catholic celebration of Carnival is held since mediaeval times. It occurs immediately before Lent; which is usually during February or March. Parades can be seen almost in any town on Sunday, sometimes also occurring on Monday. Parades can also be held in the evening, usually on Saturdays all the wagons are then lit up by numerous small lights. The other days of the week, many activities can be found ranging from street painting (stoepkrijten) to beer drinking contests. The cities of 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda and Maastricht are advisable for attending Carnival.
- King's Day (Koningsdag, until 2012 this was Queen's day) is held every year at April 27 all over the country (except if this day is a Sunday, then it will be held at the Saturday before). Every village, town and city, organizes free markets and authentic Dutch games. Nowadays King's day much more becomes a day of festivals and parties. It is advised to wear orange clothing, as most Dutch people walk around in their national colour. An advisable city to attend at this day is Amsterdam, because it's one of the largest events of the year there. In several larger cities (most notably The Hague and Utrecht), the festivities start in the evening of the 26th of April. The Hague even has most of its festivities on the night before.
- Pinkpop. Is a three-day pop festival every year with Pentecost ("Pinksteren") in Landgraaf, Limburg.
- Lowlands. Popfestival - every last weekend of August at Biddinghuizen, Flevoland.
- . A big parade through the centre of Rotterdam. One of the biggest events in The Netherlands.
- Northsea Jazz Festival. Big summer jazz festival, held in the Ahoy stadion, Rotterdam since 2006 as it moved there from The Hague. Around 1,800 jazz, blues, funk, soul, hip Hop, Latin and r&b acts play during this 3 day event.
- Vierdaagsefeesten. Summer festival in Nijmegen lasting seven days, during the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse, which always starts on the 3rd Tuesday in July. The celebrations though start already the weekend before and over 1 million people attend. During the festival, there is a section for all the top Dutch bands such as Moke and Racoon, De Affaire which is focussed on alternative and rock, The Matrixx which has all your electronic dance music needs, and of course the numerous terraces and bars.
- Sensation - (Formerly known as 'Sensation White') One of the best-known parties in the world organized by ID&T. 40,000 people all dressed in white gather to hear some big and upcoming house music DJs. Tickets usually sell out very fast. Several international editions are being organized several times a year around the world with the main concert being held in Amsterdam ArenA every summer. Sensation Black (with hardstyle music) was previously hosted annually in the same location but is now being held in Belgium instead.
- Dance Valley. The largest dance festival, with over 40,000 visitors. Annually mid July in park Spaarnwoude, near Schiphol Airport. The focus is on celebrating summer, and has circus tents in which every tent is a different genre in dance music.
- Mystery Land. Dance festival with a flower-power theme. In the last week of August near Schiphol Airport. Most dance genres are present, including even electro. Also has activities such as workshops and theatre, which are usually uncommon with dance festivals.
- Defqon.1. Dance festival focussing on the harder dance styles, such as hardstyle and hardcore. Residing in Flevoland, usually in mid June.
The Netherlands uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.
Countries that have the euro as their official currency:
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
- Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.
A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of €100, €200 and €500, due to concerns about counterfeiting and burglary.
In many stores, especially supermarkets, it's common for the cash machine to round your total up or down to the nearest 5 eurocents. Do not be surprised; the difference will show up on the receipt as "Afronding."
Credit and debit cards
Credit card use in general is reasonably common, but not by far as much as in the US or some other European countries. The Dutch themselves often use (debit) bank cards, for which even small shops and market stands usually have a machine. In tourist destinations you will generally find credit cards widely accepted (however even there not all supermarkets will accept them), as well as in restaurants and some larger shops in the rest of the country, but ask in advance or check the icons that are usually displayed at the entrance. For safety reasons, credit card use in the Netherlands increasingly requires a PIN-code.
ATMs are readily available, mostly near shopping and nightlife areas. Even villages usually have one or more ATMs near the local supermarket.
Dutch law requires that all service charges and taxes are included in the prices that hotels, bars and restaurants publish. Tipping is therefore not necessary, but it is always appreciated as a reward for good service and it's increasingly common. Especially in tourist areas and large hotels, increased tipping is not uncommon. Many Dutch customers will leave €1 or €2, also in bars and simple diners, unless service was poor. For good service in a restaurant, feel free to leave what you feel is appropriate. A 5-10% tip on a restaurant bill is considered a generous reward for good service.
Most shops open by 09:00 or 10.00 and they usually close around 18:00. Supermarkets and DIY-shops often have broader opening hours, opening around 8.30 and closing only at 20.00 or 22.00. Traditionally, most shops are closed on Sundays, or only open on a few Sundays a year (known as "koopzondagen"). In recent years, new legislation has allowed municipalities to make their own decisions on the number of koopzondagen, or Sundays on which shops are allowed to open. As a result, most of the shops in the centres of large cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Maastricht etc.) are now open every Sunday, typically from 12:00 until 17:00 or 18:00. An increasing number of smaller cities, and especially the ones where tourism is a major economic factor, is following this trend. Unfortunately, the situation differs per location. Most smaller cities allow at least a supermarket to be open every Sunday, most have multiple Sunday openings per year, and some open every Sunday. Note that some smaller shops are closed on Monday mornings, or even close for an extra day in the week.
The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers. Flower bulbs are most suited to bring home, and can be purchased at tourist shops, garden centres and DIY stores throughout the year. Keep in mind that bulbs and their planting times depend on seasons, and tulip bulbs are typically unavailable from late winter to late summer. Fresh flowers can be bought from florists, or pre-packaged in most supermarkets. Also bear in mind that although it is not a problem taking bulbs and flowers out of the country, you may be severely restricted in bringing them back to your own country.
The country is also famous for its wooden shoes (clogs). Nowadays almost no one, except for some farmers in the countryside, wear them. Wearing wooden shoes in public outside the countryside will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals. If you do try them on, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable, and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or on a dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at Schiphol and Amsterdam's Damrak, 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 generally regarded as expensive (unless you're coming from Scandinavia). Lodging and dining is more expensive than in neighboring countries, but rail travel, museums, and attractions tend to be on the cheaper side. 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 standard cigarette packages only have 19 cigarettes in them.
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, as it is simple and straightforward. A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. The country's food culture is best described as rustic. High in carbohydrates and fat, the country's food culture reflects the dietary need of farm laborers, but as society moved on to work in the services sector, its food culture has remained largely the same. The Dutch national dish is stamppot, potatoes mashed with one or several vegetables. The variety with endive and bacon is considered the most traditional. Hutspot is a variety with carrots and onions.
Dutch cuisine differs strongly by region. Western cuisine is known for its many dairy products, including prominent cheeses such as Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer and Beemster. Being a coastal region, it has a seafood culture best represented by raw herring (haring), usually served with chopped onion and occasionally plopped into a bun (broodje haring). Northeastern cuisine is oriented on meat due to the relative lack of agriculture in this region. Metworst, a dried sausage, is particularly prized for its strong taste, and Gelderse rookworst, a traditional smoked sausage, became an institution for the country as a whole and is often served together with stamppot.
Southern cuisine is historically influenced by the Dukes of Burgundy, which ruled the Low Countries in the Middle Ages and were renowned for their splendor and great feasts. As such, it is renowned for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes. It is the only Dutch region which developed an haute cuisine that forms the base of most traditional Dutch restaurants. Typical main courses are biefstuk, varkenshaas, and ossenhaas, premium cuts of pork or beef.
Dutch people are generally not proud of their cuisine, but highly praise their specialties and delicious treats. Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet (zoet) or savoury (hartig) come in a variety of tastes, like apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. Poffertjes are small slightly risen pancakes with butter and powdered sugar. Both are served in restaurants specifically dedicated to them. Syrup waffles (stroopwafels), two thin layers with syrup in between, are made fresh on most street markets and specialized stalls.
Sandwiches are consumed for breakfast and lunch. Chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on top of buttered slices of bread are a popular Dutch start of the day. Although food habits are changing, a simple bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese or ham is still the daily lunch for the majority Dutch people. Dutch peanut butter is considerably different from the U.S. variety. As it's less common to have hot dishes for lunch, many restaurants offer a limited menu around lunch time. In smaller towns outside the main tourist spots you may even find restaurants to be closed for lunch all together.
Some food traditions are seasonal. Pea soup (erwtensoep) is a winter dish made of green peas and a smoked sausage. It is very hearty and often eaten after ice skating. Oliebollen are traditional Dutch dumplings consumed at New Year's Eve. Asperges flamandes are white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, crumbled hard-boiled eggs and served with boiled new potatoes. Highly seasonal and usually only eaten between spring and summer.
Restaurants in the Netherlands serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Profit is often made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget. Service fees and taxes are included in menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory and seen as a sign of appreciation, not as means to make up a tiny salary. In case you do want to tip, rounding up to the next euro is already acceptable for small bills and a 5% to 10% tip is common for larger ones. A 10% tip will typically be considered generous, especially on a dining bill. Going to a restaurant is generally seen as a special night out with friends or family, not as a quick way to eat food. As such, dining with Dutch people can take a couple of hours.
Smoking is banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only outside or in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may enter such smoking rooms only in emergency situations.
Dutch food is not widely acclaimed, so most restaurants specialize in foreign cuisines, and the large cities offer a wide variety. Middle Eastern cuisine is readily available, even in smaller cities, and often comes at a bargain price. Popular dishes are shawarma (shoarma), lahmacun (often called "Turkish pizza") and falafel. Due to Dutch colonial ties with Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies), most small to medium-sized towns also have a Chinees-Indisch restaurant, serving 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, as the food has been adapted for Dutch tastes. Typical dishes are fried rice (nasi goreng), fried bakmi (bami goreng) and prawn crackers (kroepoek). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafel, which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of these restaurants have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.
Argentinian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Surinamese and Thai cuisines are also well-represented throughout the country. Most restaurants have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu or can make you one if you ask for it.
In town centres, near public transport stations or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar, sometimes known as cafeteria. These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch ex-pats miss them the most when going abroad. Popular chain outlets have giant vending machines attached to their stores (automatiek). 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 south. 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 options are with tomato ketchup, curry ketchup (unlike regular curry, tastes more like tomato ketchup), Indonesian peanut sauce (satésaus), cut raw onions (uitjes), speciaal (mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions) and oorlog ("war", a combination of mayonnaise, peanut sauce and cut raw onions).
Other fried snacks are considered typical for the country as well. A croquette (kroket) is a crispy roll filled with ragout. It is served with mustard and can be ordered on bread as well. Famous are the Amsterdam croquettes of Van Dobben and Kwekkeboom. Both companies have their own cafeteria near the Rembrandtplein. A frikandel is a long, skinless and dark-colored sausage, kind of like a minced-meat hot dog. It can be ordered on bread, or speciaal (with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and cut raw onions). A berenklauw ("bear's claw") or berenhap ("bear's snack") is a sliced meatball with fried onion rings on a wooden skewer, often served with peanut sauce. Finally, a kaassoufflé is a cheese snack popular with vegetarians, and can also be served on bread.
Coffee and tea
Dutch people are among the largest coffee drinkers in the world, and having a cup is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often "Koffie?". Traditionally the drink is served in small cups (a half mug) with one single cookie. However, some guests are also be treated with one of the country's typical pie-like pastries such as a tompouce, Limburgse vlaai or a piece of Dutch-style apple pie.
Dutch coffee is generally quite strong and heavy on the stomach. If you're from the States or Canada, you can order one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order koffie verkeerd (which means "coffee wrong") you get a cup of more or less half milk and half coffee, like the French 'café au lait' or the Italian 'caffe latte'.
The Dutch drink black tea, and it comes in many different varieties, from traditional to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you're British, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling) water, so you can make your own version. Milk tea is almost unheard of and given only to children.
Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you after a cold walk. In the summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it's made from powder as opposed to the traditional kind (regular chocolate melted and mixed with hot milk), and doesn't taste that good.
The legal drinking age in the Netherlands is 18 for all alcoholic beverages. There used to be a difference between light and strong alcoholic drinks, with people as young as 16 allowed to drink light alcoholic drinks (up to 15% alcohol by volume), but no longer.
The Dutch have a strong beer culture. Heineken is one of the world's most famous beers, but it is just one of many 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. There's a certain regional variety in the beers you'll find. Heineken or Amstel is served in the western provinces, Bavaria or Dommelsch in Brabant, Brand in Limburg, and Grolsch in Gelderland and Overijssel. Most breweries nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers.
In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch wheat beer (witbier), which is flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known pilsener varieties. Fruit-flavored wheat beers are also available. Dark beers are brewed in monasteries in the south of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg). These traditional beer breweries are excellent beer-related tourist attractions, as are the microbreweries and beer shops in Amsterdam.
Bitters are popular in winter. Dutch gin (jenever or genever) is the predecessor of English gin. It is available in two types, oude (old) and jonge (young), which have nothing to do with aging, just the distillation style. The more traditional "old-fashioned" oude is sweeter and yellowish in color, while jonge is clearer, drier and more akin to English gin.
Beerenburg is made by adding herbs to jenever. It has an alcohol percentage of around 30%. The original Beerenburg was made halfway through the 19th century with a secret mixture of spices of the Amsterdam spice merchant Hendrik Beerenburg, to whom it owes its name. Despite it being "invented" in Amsterdam, it is considered typically Frisian. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter. Orange bitter (Oranjebitter) is drunk only on King's Day (Koningsdag).
Nightlife in the Netherlands is very diverse. Amsterdam is known for its neighbourhood bars, Rotterdam has a clubbing reputation, and Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht have an active student scene. Bars cater to a wide array of music scenes, but dance is the leading style in nightclubs. Entering bars is legally allowed from the age of 16, but many bars and clubs have stricter policies in place and do not allow people under 18 or 21 to enter.
The Netherlands is renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because of international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate. Legally, this 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 (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or over to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol, and minors (those under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colours to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view.
Hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms, once legal, are officially banned. However, "magic truffles", which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms, are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.
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 customers on the street. Prostitution is most common in the capital, Amsterdam, with its red-light district, even if tourists only visit as a memento of their trip. In more rural areas, prostitution is almost non-existent.
Camp sites are widespread and available in pretty much all corners of the country, as well as close to most of the major cities. Outside the main tourist season (July-September) there's usually a place available and most camp sites will find a spot for small trekker's tents any time of year. For caravans, camper vans or family tents it's advisable to make reservations beforehand, especially during summer holidays. In popular domestic and regional tourist areas, such as the on the coast, on the West Frisian Islands, in Zuid-Limburg and on the Veluwe, high end camp sites with lots of facilities and entertainment are easy to find. In rural areas, smaller sites next to farms are very popular (see Stichting Vrije Recreatie (SVR)). Pure natural landscapes can be vividly experienced on the so called natuurkampeerterreinen (terrains for nature camping). As it comes to shopping facilities it might be possible to buy products of the place itself.
Sanitary facilities depend n the kind of camping site but quality is excellent for far most of the campsites. On some camping sites the use of warm water is not included, but needs to be paid for at the showers. It's advisable to ask whether this is the case while checking in. Even without a tent you can enjoy staying at a camping. Many sites offer cabins called trekkershut.
Please notice: wild camping is not allowed and will be strictly regulated.
Hotels in the Netherlands are abundant, particularly in Holland proper, and can be relatively inexpensive compared to other Western European countries. You may be able to find a decent hotel of international standards for €50 or less per night. Due to good public transportation options, even staying outside of the city centre, or even in a different town altogether, may still be a viable option for visiting a particular destination comfortably while remaining within budget limits.
While there are independent properties throughout the country, there is a relatively high presence of international and local hotel chains. Some of the more popular are:
- NH Hoteles. The Spanish hotel chain inherited a large number of properties throughout Netherlands by taking over the former Krasnapolsky Hotels in Amsterdam and many of the former Golden Tulips. Thus, most of the properties are older, or even historic ones. NH Hoteles in larger cities are usually what one would expect of the chain in any other country, in smaller towns the properties are usually from the 1980s and only partially refurbished since then. You can always count on a very rich breakfast buffet, which is an NH Hoteles' trademark. NH Hoteles has the largest amount of properties of all hotel chains in Amsterdam, which can be either helpful or disappointing in busy periods when hotels are prone to overbooking (you can be easily relocated to another NH Hotel across Amsterdam). Members of Alitalia, Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas and Iberia frequent flyer schemes can collect award miles/kilometres for stays at NH Hoteles in the Netherlands.
- Golden Tulip, Tulip Inn (same website as Golden Tulip) and Campanile - the remaining properties of the Dutch Tulip hotel chain now belong to the France-based Groupe du Louvre, which also operates Campanile hotels. Golden Tulips are mostly found in city centres and are of higher standards (four stars usually), Campaniles by motorway junctions and are more basic (two stars), Tulip Inns fall somewhere in between. Some properties may be rather aged, but can offer attractive rates if you don't mind them not being exactly up to snuff to their international competition. For those touring the Netherlands by automobile, Campaniles and Tulip Inns can help keep them within tighter budgets. Groupe du Louvre runs several loyalty programmes  and you can collect air miles with several airlines when staying with them.
- Van der Valk Hotels. A local hotel chain operated by the Van der Valk family focuses on upscale accommodations and resort-like facilities. The hotels are thusly usually of high standard and comfort and often feature swimming pools and other leisure facilities, but can also be quite far away from city centres. There is no loyalty scheme for guests in Van der Valk hotels, but there are often leisure-themed packages offered, which include stays and additional services or attractions.
- Hampshire Hotels. With over 80 properties, including 3 in Germany and 8 in Belgium, this is one of the largest hotel chains in the Netherlands. The standard of the hotels vary from basic three-star properties to more upscale, and often historic, Hampshire Eden and Hampshire Classic hotels. The chain does not operate a loyalty scheme, and members of most frequent flyer programmes will not be able to acquire miles for stays with Hampshire Hotels.
- Bastion Hotels. A chain of highly uniform, limited-service hotels targeting road warriors that tour Netherlands by car on business. Most of the hotels have been purpose-built in the 1990s or later, and are reminiscent of other hotel chains of similar character that can be found across Europe, like ibis hotels or Premier Inn. Usually to be found around motorways, with sometimes poor access to public transportation. While limited-service, most feature an on-site restaurant open throughout the day.
- Accor. Has a sizeable presence in the Netherlands, in particular with their Ibis, Novotel and Mercure brands. As in other countries, Mercures are often formerly independent three or four-star properties that joined the chain recently.
- The Intercontinental Hotels Group has been recently increasing its presence by opening all-new Holiday Inn Express properties in key locations across the country, with competitive rates including breakfast. There are also older Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza properties in major cities.
Other international hotel chains do maintain some presence in the Netherlands, though this is mostly limited to Amsterdam and Schiphol airport. There are also quite many Best Western-affiliated properties throughout Netherlands, but as in every country, they vary greatly in character, size, pricing and comfort.
Bed and Breakfast
There is a wide choice of bed & breakfast 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.
Even for budget facilities prices are generally high. Budget accommodation starts at around €20 per person and prices go upwards from there. Seasonal demand affects availability and can cause prices to rise, especially in Amsterdam.
Official Dutch Youth Hostels are called "Stay Okay", but they are not as widespread as in Great Britain. Also there is no kitchen available for guests, so either you eat what's on menu or you eat out. Besides the Official Dutch Youth Hostels there are plenty of other hostels spread around the country.
In nature areas the local landscape can be experienced at so called Natuurvriendenhuizen (Friends of nature houses) . These facilities are somehow in between hostels and general hotels and are especially open for cyclers and hikers, including groups. They are run by volunteers and visitors, and have communal kitchen facilities and contagious living rooms.
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 in cash on arrival.
If you are travelling by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 3,600 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 €8 for membership of this scheme. It is called Vrienden op de fiets.
Vacation rental homes (bungalows)
Vacation rental homes (in Dutch also called bungalows) are popular in The Netherlands, especially in rural areas. These small homes come in broad varieties: they can be simple or luxurious, individual places or part of large parks with lots of identical homes and they are operated by private owners as well as large chains. Traversia has the largest collection of vacation rentals in The Netherlands, by Dutch owners. Large chains of vacation rental home parks are Center Parks and Landal Greenparks. Where privately owned options can sometimes provide a more authentic, local experience (e.g. located in old, timber-framed houses in South Limburg), the parks will offer additional services, restaurants and swimming pools. In most cases, you have to book at least a weekend. Although generally not very cheap, they have kitchens and therefore allow for self-catering.
The Netherlands has many universities. The country has recently converted their own titles into the bachelor/master system.
There are two types of universities:
- Academic (focusing more on theoretical knowledge, "Universiteit")
- Applied Sciences (focussing more on practical knowledge, "Hogeschool"). Note that although these generally use the term university in their English names, under Dutch law, these are not universities, and are a lower level of tertiary education.
The Times Higher Education Supplement ranks 11 universities among the top 200 in the world.
English speaking students will have no problems finding suitable courses. A total of 1,456 courses are taught entirely in English.
There is also the added advantage that most locals under the age of 30 are reasonably capable in English.
For international students, several scholarships are available. They can be found on the Nuffic website. Here you will also find information regarding courses, institutions, housing, formalities, culture, traineeships and possible difficulties.
Work opportunities for those from outside the European Union are very restricted. Only when an employer can prove they've searched in the EU, they are allowed to hire a non-EU citizen. Official policy is to deter all non-EU immigration, unless there is an economic necessity.
Citizens of certain non-EU countries are permitted to work in The Netherlands without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay - for more information see the 'Get in' section above.
Students from other European countries are eligible for study financing only when they have a fixed 56 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 4–10 wk.
The Netherlands is generally considered a safe country. However, be alert in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other large cities that are plagued by pickpockets and bicycle theft; violent crimes are rare. In the larger cities, certain outlying suburbs are considered unsafe at night.
Police, ambulance and fire brigade have one general emergency number 112. There is one police force, organized in 10 police regions. Visitors will mostly deal with the regional police. Some specialized forces, such as the railway police and the highway police on main roads, are run by a separate national force (highway police being the KLPD - Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten, and railway police being the spoorwegpolitie). When calling 112, if you can, advise on what emergency services what you need.
Border controls and port and airport security are handled by a separate police force, the Marechaussee (or abbreviation 'KMar' - Koninklijke Marechaussee), a gendarmerie. They are an independent service of the Dutch armed forces (making them a military service, not a civil one) and have security tasks among their duties.
In most cities, there are municipal services (stadswacht or stadstoezicht) with some police tasks such as issuing parking and litter fines. They often have police-style uniforms to confer some authority, but their powers are limited. For instance, only police offers may carry a gun.
European Network against Racism, an international organisation supported by European Commission reported that, in the Netherlands, half of the Turks reported having experienced racial discrimination. The same report points out a "dramatic growth of Islamophobia" paralleled with antisemitism. Attitudes such as these, however, relate to issues with settling migrants rather than tourists, and visitors of a minority background will not find their ethnicity an issue in a country famed for its tolerance.
Cannabis may be legal, but there are some safety risks involved. It is wise to take your first spliff in a relaxed social atmosphere, for example among like-minded people in a coffeeshop. Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is often stronger than varieties elsewhere. 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!
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possession is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.
At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.
Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use:
- While marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal and unregulated. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers.
- Some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of committing illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in The Netherlands.
Be very careful with alcohol and weed. Don't use any alcohol the first couple of times you smoke weed: drinking one beer after you've smoked can feel like drinking ten beers. However, alcohol and weed can be a very nice and trippy experience, especially for people who don't feel enough from just smoking weed (to some people weed might be a little bit disappointing, while others can space the whole night on 0.5 g). Alcohol and weed amplify each other: a little bit of alcohol can cause you to intensely feel the effect of the weed, but a tiny bit too much can make you feel dizzy and/or nauseated.
The use of drugs is condemned, disapproved and sometimes feared by many Dutch people, notwithstanding the legal nature of it.
Prostitution in the Netherlands is legalised as long as it concerns voluntary interactions between adults. The minimum age for sex workers is 18 years. Exploiting sex workers or engaging them in the industry against their will is a crime. Street prostitution is prohibited in most municipalities, although Utrecht, Arnhem, Groningen, Heerlen, Nijmegen and Eindhoven allow it on dedicated "tippelzones". While brothels are permitted by law, most cities require them to have permits and enforce a maximum number of establishments in a limited part of town. Research has concluded that drug addictions are more common in the street bound activities. A client who makes use of sexual services when he could have suspected an illegal situation is already punishable by law, and more explicit legal provisions about the responsibilities of the client are in the making. Reasonable suspicion could include timid or young girls, (small) injuries but also suspicious locations such as industrial areas or garage boxes. Illegal prostitution in hotels can be raided by the police and the client as well as the prostitute can be fined or be put in jail. Hotel personnel are obliged by law to notify the police if they suspect these kinds of illegal activities. In short, it's advisable to only have paid sex in locations with a license to host prostitutes and to ask for an ID when you have any doubts about a person's age.
The Netherlands has some of the best 'tap water' in the world. It is even considered to be of similar or better quality than natural mineral or spring water. It is distributed by democratically-elected water authorities (waterschappen). Food (either bought in a supermarket or eaten at a restaurant) shouldn't pose any problem either.
The health care system of the Netherlands is up to par with the rest of Europe. Hospitals are mostly situated in larger cities, and all have English-speaking medical staff. General practitioners can be found in almost all towns, except for small villages, and they can typically speak English too. In most cases staying healthy is a case of common sense. Two health risks are particularly relevant for travellers:
- When walking or camping in forests and dunes, be aware of ticks and tick-carrying diseases. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and to put trousers into your socks. If you discover a red ring on your body in the following weeks, be sure to visit a doctor to check for Lyme disease, which can be lethal without proper medical care.
- 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.
The Dutch are supposed to be the most informal and easy-going people in Europe and there are few strict social taboos to speak of. It's unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact, it's 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.
The exception to this openness is personal wealth. For instance, it's considered vulgar to reveal how rich you are, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer.
Likewise, it's not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Dutch person you've met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all. In urban areas it's not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility. An exception is the Dutch Bible Belt which runs from Zeeland into South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland, and consists of towns with many strong Dutch Reformed Christians, who are more likely to be insulted by different religious views.
Openly nationalist sentiments are likewise viewed with some suspicion among the general public, although there are a number of celebrations like King's Day (Koningsdag, 27 April) and during football championships. Some people dress in orange and/or get drunk, but you don't have to fear hostility to foreigners.
In the Netherlands, cheek-kissing is a common way of greeting among women and between women and men. Two men will generally shake hands. Kissing is particularly suitable for informal occasions. For greetings, it's typically used for people who are already acquainted. It's also common practice when congratulating someone, and is common among strangers in that case too. Hand shaking is more appropriate for formal occasions. Trying to shake hands when offered a kiss or refusing a kiss altogether could be considered odd or rude.
Dutch people will kiss three times alternating right and left cheeks. This could lead to awkward situations for British people and many other Europeans, being used to just two kisses. Also, always kiss on the cheeks instead of giving air-kisses.
Gay and lesbian travellers
As mentioned above, the Netherlands is liberal when it comes to homosexuality and is considered to be one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. The Netherlands has a reputation of being the first country to recognise same-sex marriage, and openly displaying your orientation wouldn't cause much upset in the Netherlands. However, even a gay friendly country like the Netherlands has room for some criticisms of homosexuality, but this varies depending on where one travels. Regardless, with violence and discrimination against gays being rare as well as the legal status of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, this country may be considered a gay utopia and should be safe for gays and lesbians (except after big football matches, or in demonstrations if there is a violent attitude in general).
If you express opposition to LGBT rights, Dutch people are not likely to get angry, though they might make clear to you that they do not agree with your thoughts. Don't get mistaken by Dutch using 'gay' ('homo') as a swearword, as this doesn't mean, in many cases, that they oppose homosexuality. They just don't want to be too serious about it. Recent polls indicate that more than 90% of Dutch people think homosexuality is moral and should be accepted.
The country code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00 so, to call the US, substitute 00 1 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. If you're bringing your own (GSM) cell phone to call (or receive calls) whilst in The Netherlands, make sure to check the relevant "roaming" charges for your provider, as they vary substantially. 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 may be 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. Providers that specialize in discount rates to foreign countries include Lyca, Lebara, Ortel and Vectone.
To enjoy cheap international calls from the Netherlands you can use low-cost dial-around services such as Qazza, BelBazaar, pennyphone, SlimCall, telegoedkoop, beldewereld, teleknaller. Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in the Netherlands. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.
There are few public phone booths left in the Netherlands. They are mostly found at train stations. Telfort booths accept coins, whereas most KPN booths accept only prepaid cards or credit cards. Some new public phones have been installed which accept coins again. Note that tariffs (per unit or amount of calling time) can differ between public phones in a truly public area and the same types of machines in a more public-private area.
0800 numbers are toll-free while 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. (National) Directory Inquiries can be reached via 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). Phone numbers can also be found on the Internet, free of charge, on Telefoonboek.nl, De Telefoongids.nl and for opening times visit Openingstijden.nl or OpeningstijdenGids.nl.
With the exception of some low-end service providers, all mobile operators support GPRS. KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile offer UMTS (and HSDPA) service in almost all parts of the country, with almost complete 4G coverage for most providers. Dutch sim cards are also available with mobile internet access, typically from €10 for 1 GB and a month validity. Internet cafés are increasingly rare but can still be found in major cities and usually also provide international calling booths. Many public libraries provide Internet access, usually at a charge. Wireless Internet access using Wi-Fi is quite widely available. It's usually a free service in pubs, restaurants and many attractions. In hotels the situation differs, with free service in some and high rates in others. Free Wi-Fi is offered in many of the larger railway stations, an growing number of NS intercity trains, local trains of some of the other operators, and some regional buses, and Schiphol offers limited free service as well as better (and longer) use for a charge.