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The Netherlands is a flatter than flat country most commonly associated with tulips, windmills, clogs and cheese. While such clichéd images of the Netherlands still hold true, this country offers travellers much more than the stereotypical national quirks. It's a small, vibrant nation that can be traversed in a few hours - but it begs a longer stay than that. If you can, try and fit in at least a week outside the capital.
Amsterdam is the notorious capital, known for everything from its liberal approach to drugs and prostitution, to its network of canals, world-famous museums and historic architecture. But it's not only Amsterdam that deserves a visit, although for many travellers it's the only stop in the Netherlands. There are dozens more historical cities and although the country is rather flat, it also offers the curious traveller an insight into one of the most challenging landscapes in Europe, one with many parts of the country below sea level.
The Low Countries (current-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) have been inhabited by Germanic tribes since 600 BC when the Romans conquered it around 10 BC. The cities of Utrecht, Nijmegen and Maastricht were the Netherlands' first major cities. built during the Roman occupation.
The Low Countries passed in and out of foreign hands during the Middle Ages, going through a Burgundian period and a spell under the Austrian Habsburgs, before Phillip II of Spain took control in the middle of the 16th century. His suppressive regime sparked a revolt in 1568, the declaration of a republic and led to the 80 Year War, which eventually ended in 1648 with the Treaty/Peace of Münster, where Dutch independence was recognized by Spain. After independence, the new republic became one of the leading countries on the world seas with a colonial presence in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Japan in Asia, Angola and South Africa in Africa and parts of Brazil, and the settlement of New Amsterdam, now known as New York. Due to the wealth in that period of the 17th century, it was dubbed the Golden Age. This lasted until the end of the 17th century. At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, France invaded the Netherlands three times.
In 1795 France again invaded the Netherlands, this time under command of Napoleon. After his defeat in 1813, a new Dutch Kingdom was declared by William VI of Orange. During the French occupation the Netherlands gave its colonies in 'safekeeping' to the United Kingdom but most of them were never returned. Only the colonies of the West-Indies (now Indonesia) were returned to the Netherlands in 1824.
The Netherlands and Belgium separated and became independent countries in 1830. Both are constitutional monarchies. The split was a result of the division in religion between the protestant North, and the Catholic South. It was only in 1839 that the Netherlands recognised the independence of Belgium.
The Netherlands was neutral during the 1st World War, and apart from a blockage which caused a restriction on imports, didn't suffer from military action.
At the beginning of WWII the Netherlands hoped to remain neutral but the country was invaded on the 5th of May, 1940. After four days of resistance, the Luftwaffe bombed the centre of Rotterdam, and almost the entire centre was reduced to rubble. After the Germans threatened to do the same to Utrecht, the Netherlands surrendered. Out of 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands before the war, only 40,000 survived. Among the victims was Anne Frank, whose diary has become one of the most-read books in literature.
During the war, the Netherlands also lost control of Indonesia, when Japan invaded the colony in 1942. After the war in Europe had ended, the Netherlands launched military actions in Indonesia, which by than had declared independence, to try to regain control of the country. However by 1949 it had become clear that this was a pointless goal, and also due to mounting international pressure, the Netherlands had to withdraw and recognise Indonesia as an independent country. In 1975 Suriname also gained independence from the Netherlands, but in a more peaceful way.
In February of 1953 a storm caused flooding and huge devastation, mainly in the province of Zeeland. The flood resulted in 1,800 deaths, and left many more homeless. In the wake of this disaster the Dutch government launched the "Delta Works", which is designed to protect the vulnerable lowland from the Northsea.
The second half of the 20th century saw the resurrection of the Dutch economy and the Netherlands started to play an active role in international organisations such as NATO and the EEC (which later became the European Union), the signing of the Schengen treaty, and the introduction of the Euro.
Recent Dutch history has been marked by two notorious killings, both of which had a political and religious aspect: the murder of politician Pim Fortuyn and film director Theo van Gogh.
For more information, read the full article on Dutch history.
The Netherlands' surface, as its name indicates ("nether" means low), is mostly below sea level and protected by dikes. Where it rises above sea level, the land is still rather flat and generally only rises several meters above sea level. Only a very small portion of this already small country is hilly. This is in the southeast, in the province of Limburg, where the Vaalserberg on the border with Belgium and Germany ("berg" means mountain) is the Netherlands' highest point at about 320 metres above sea level. Much of the land in the Netherlands has been reclaimed from the sea - like the entirety of Flevoland, the 12th province. Flevoland is now in the IJsselmeer ("meer" means lake), but used to be submerged in the Zuiderzee ("zee" sea).
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The Netherlands is bordered by Belgium to the south and Germany to the east. The North Sea lies to the north and west, home to the Wadden Islands, the Wadden Sea is a unique ecosystem that is part of the provinces of North Holland (Noord-Holland), Friesland and Groningen. At low tide it is possible to walk from the mainland to the islands with a guide.
The provinces of the Netherlands are:
In addition to the provinces, another important region is Randstad, which is roughly the triangle between Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam. With half of the Dutch population living in this area, it is of considerable economic and cultural significance.
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Amsterdam, the vibrant capital of the Netherlands, is relatively small compared to other cities in Europe but has much to offer for the traveller, with a wide range of museums and beautifully restored old buildings along its canals. It's also the place to visit if you like museums, whether classical ones with great pieces of art, or quirky ones about sex and drugs.
Located in the southwest of the country, The Hague is the political heart of the Netherlands. It also plays an important role in international law, as the International Court of Justice is located here along with another 150 international legal organisations. Its centre is a nice mix of squares, little shopping streets and of course 'Het Binnenhof', the political centre of the city.
Centrally located in the country, Utrecht is a city of some 300,000 inhabitants with a great atmosphere. Just like its bigger counterpart, Amsterdam, it enjoys a system of canals with old Dutch buildings on both sides. As it is just half an hour from Amsterdam by train, you can easily enjoy 1 or 2 days in this city and see the famous Dom tower yourself.
Almost totally destroyed in the Second World War, this second biggest city in the country is quite different to cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht or The Hague which still have a historical heart. But still, with its many museums, Erasmus bridge and large shopping district, the city deserves a visit when you have some spare time. Rotterdam also has one of the biggest ports in the world and a visit to the massive Maasvlakte by car could be one of your highlights as well if such things interest you.
One of the most striking things in the history of Zeeland occurred in early February 1953, when, after severe northwestern storms, coastal areas were flooded and around 1,800 people got killed. Nowadays, the huge Deltaworks, which prevents the sea from rising too much when storms occur, is the most important tourist attraction in Zeeland. The Neeltje Jans Expo displays history of the flooding and explains how the Deltaworks work.
Waddling is the act of walking on the bottom of the sea at low tide and can be done in the north of the Holland, mainly in the provinces of Friesland and Groningen. Routes will last for approximately 3-4 hours. The Wadden Islands do not only exist in the Netherlands, but also are found in Germany and Denmark. Apart from this activity, the Wadden Islands are a great place to explore one of the only true bigger natural areas of the country. For more information about this environment check the Wadden Islands homepage, or read more about waddling here.
Despite the fact that the Netherlands is very small, it boasts about 20 national parks. In these national parks, which are almost all in the less densely populated areas of the north, east and southwest, you can cycle, walk and watch birds and other animals. On the National Parks Website of the Netherlands you can find lots of details about routes, flora, fauna, where it is located and how to get there in the first place.
The Netherlands have an impressive number of historical cities, both big and small. Amsterdam and Utrecht are the most impressive bigger ones, with beautiful canals, old restored trading houses and several museums to be admired as well. But there are also several smaller ones, like Delft, Leiden, Gouda, Haarlem, Deventer and 's Hertogenbosch which are worth a visit.
There are also even smaller places with an almost complete defensive structure (walls) including the surrounding water around it. You can walk on these walls and enjoy the historical town from any viewpoint. The most impressive ones are at Willemstad, Hulst and Brielle.
For a more Burgundian way of life, visit Maastricht, a city in south eastern Netherlands, near Belgium. There are many terraces where you can enjoy good food and drinks, while soaking in the historical setting of churches, squares and beautiful restored buildings.
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, the Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout consists of 19 windmills, built in 1740. If you want to appreciate the windmills, it is best to go on foot or better; rent a bicycle and take a ride along all of the windmills. Sometimes, it is possible to visit one inside. For more detailed information visit the Kinderdijk website.
Of course, there are more windmills than the ones in Kinderdijk. Actually, when visiting smaller towns in the Netherlands, you are likely to see lots of them and a visit to one of them often is a possibility. For more general information about windmills and locations in the Netherlands, check the Windmill website.
If you are only in the Netherlands for a few days and aren't sure whether to visit the countryside, other cities, islands or anything else, a visit to
Madurodam will enable you to see it all in one day! Madurodam is the Netherlands on a 1:25 scale. You can enjoy most major cities and important buildings in the country by visiting this park in The Hague. For detailed information about prices, getting there and things to see, visit the Madurodam website.
The Keukenhof gardens are the world's largest flower garden and if you are visiting the Netherlands between late March and mid-May and enjoy flowers, then this is an attraction you won't want to miss. Around 7 million bulbs are planted on an area of some 32 hectares. The gardens are located near the town of Lisse in South Holland. Although the history of the gardens goes back several hundred years, its current incarnation goes back to 1949 when it was set up to provide a place for Dutch flower growers to showcase their blooms to the world.
The Netherlands have a lot of beautifully located and restored castles. Many of these castles are in the central parts of the country and in the southeastern province of Limburg. One of the most beautiful castles is Castle De Haar. You can have a look at this Castles in the Netherlands map, with links to most castles.
In 2015, the Tour de France will start in the Netherlands. It is scheduled to start in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Saturday 4 July 2015, with a short time trial of about 14 kilometres. The second stage on Sunday 5 July, starts in Utrecht en ends in the province of Zeeland after 166 kilometres. It will be the sixth time the Tour de France starts in the Netherlands, after 1954 (Amsterdam), 1973 (Scheveningen), 1978 (Leiden), 1996 ('s-Hertogenbosch) and 2010 (Rotterdam). This is a record for a country that has no direct border with France.
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In 2013, the Dutch throne was passed on to King Willem-Alexander and what used to be Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) will from 2014 become Koningsdag (King's Day). The date will be changed to the 27th of April, which is the king's birthday. In 2014 however it will be on the 26th of April because the 27th falls on a Sunday. On this day the streets of almost every sizable town in the country come alive with activity. The centre of the action is in Amsterdam, but, if you prefer things a little less crowded, Utrecht is also a popular destination. Both cities have canals and it's just perfect to watch a boat parade with music while you are drinking a beer along the canal side terrace. There are also large outdoor concerts throughout the country, though the one in Amsterdam is the most popular. Several cities have night-markets which actually start the night prior to Koningsdag and last for about 24 hours.
Sinterklaas is the original Santa Claus. He arrives in the Netherlands in November each year on a steamboat from Spain and is then paraded through the streets, much to the excitement of Dutch children. The event is shown live on TV. On the 5th of December, the eve of Sinterklaas Day, people sit around the fireplace (or the modern equivalent) and sing songs before a bag of gifts is delivered by Sinterklaas or one of his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten. Traditionally, the holiday celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of, among other things, children.
The Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour) is an outdoor speed skating competition held in Friesland when the ice is thick enough. The tour is almost 200 kilometres in length and takes place on frozen canals, rivers and lakes. Because of the large number of participants, the race requires a minimum ice thickness of 15 centimetres. As a result and because of generally warmer winters, the event only occurs irregularly. In the last 100 years, the race has been held only 15 times. The last time it was staged was in 1997, though it was a tough call in 2012 after a few weeks of seriously cold weather. If it takes place, the start and finish are in Leeuwarden and the race travels clockwise through places like Sneek, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Harlingen, Bolsward and Dokkum.
Although Dutch people complain a lot about the weather in their country, it is actually not that bad. There are no real extremes, like excessive heat or cold, hurricanes or extreme snow- or rainfall. That said, summers are relatively cool with average daytime temperatures around 20-23 °C. Winters, on the other hand, are mild, and temperatures below 0 °C during the day do not occur that often. A snow carpet lasting for more than a few days is relatively rare. The best months to travel around the Netherlands are probably May to July, when days are long and apart from occasional showers, rainfall is lowest.
Although it is a small country, summer temperatures can vary from one place to another enormously. The coast is always nice with a breeze, but the east can be hot at certain times when a heatwave strikes the country and temperatures can be 35 °C. Usually, this kind of heat is ended with sometimes severe thunderstorms and rainfall. Most of the annual precipitation in the Netherlands falls during the warmer 6 months of the year, though autumn and winter have more days with some precipitation, usually less mm.
But most of the time, weather in the Netherlands is nothing special, so complaining about it like the Dutch really is not necessary. For current conditions, you can check the official KNMI website.
The airport is located to the north east of the city along the A2 motorway. The airport is connected to the centre of the city by busline 401.
The most important international connection is the east corridor from Amsterdam via Utrecht towards Duisburg in Germany. The luxurious and faster ICE train also uses this line. To the south, there are connections to Antwerp, Brussels and from there to Paris and London. The Netherlands is about to connect with a High Speed Train system which shortens travel times even further. What's more, if you book months before you travel, train travel can be a better bargain than flying, and takes less time as well.
Excellent roads lead into the country from the neighbouring countries of Belgium and Germany. You are unlikely to face any delays at border crossings as frontier formalities between the Netherlands and Belgium and Germany are gone now. The most important roads into the country are the E19 from Antwerp to Breda, the E34 from Antwerp to Eindhoven and on to Venlo for crossing into Germany again, the E25 from Maastricht to Liege in Belgium, the E35 from Utrecht to Oberhausen in Germany, the E30 and the E22 in the north from Groningen to Bremen in Germany.
Eurolines has cheap and reliable connections from several places in the Netherlands as far as Turkey and Morocco. In the Netherlands there are stops in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Breda, Den Bosch, Den Haag, Deventer, Eindhoven, Enschede, Groningen, Heerlen, Hengelo, Maastricht, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
There are connections from the Netherlands, mainly to the United Kingdom.
There are also daily services between Eemshaven in the north of the province of Groningen and the German Wadden Island of Borkum with Borkumlijn (in dutch).
The Icelandic cargo ship Eimskip has two vessels, the Dettifoss and Goðafoss which travel the route Rotterdam-Hamburg-Göteborg-Århus-Fredrikstad-Tórshavn-Reykjavík. It takes 8 days in total and the return trip goes via eastern Iceland and Tórshavn only. The vessel can take a maximum of 3 passengers but only between mid-April and mid-October.
Not the long trip as the ferries above, but you can enter the Netherlands on a cable-ferry across the river Meuse (Maas) in the South-East of the country. Only the cable-ferry between Berg and Meeswijk carries cars. There are 4 other ferries (Ohe en Laak - Ophoven, Grevenbicht - Rotem, Geulle - Uikhoven and Eijsden - Lanaye) that will only take on bikes, and persons.
Public transport is quite well developed, especially around and between the bigger cities. Utrecht is the main centre of the train transport in the Netherlands. If you know how to ride a bike, then cycling in and around the cities of the Netherlands is a great way to enjoying Dutch life. You can rent a bike at almost any train station or bike shop. If you want to see more than just cities and surroundings, renting a car is also a great option though relatively expensive.
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Thanks to the flat Dutch landscape and relatively small distances, getting around by bike is an enjoyable (and cheap) option. Bike paths are plentiful and often take you through beautiful peaceful settings that could not be reached otherwise. You can spend the night in one of the many camping sites scattered throughout the country if you have a tent. Youth hostels are also a feasible option, or homestays which cater specifically to cyclists. To arrange the latter, you need to sign up with Vrienden op de Fiets (Cycling Friends). Membership fees are currently €9 (2007). A night at someone's home will cost no more than €17 (breakfast is included, dinner is an extra €8). There are over a thousand addresses throughout the Netherlands and Belgium in the system, so this can be a great way not only to move around cheaply, as well as providing a nice way to meet some welcoming locals.
The only parts of the Netherlands to which no overland travel is possible are the Wadden Islands. To visit them, you need to take a ferry. These leave from Den Helder (to Texel), Harlingen (to Vlieland, Terschelling and Schiermonnikoog), and Holwerd (to Ameland). In summer, there is an additional ferry between Texel and Vlieland.
For more information on getting to Texel, check the Teso website. Rederij Doekse provides ferries between Terschelling and both Vlieland and Harlingen, while Wagenborg has boats to the Wadden Islands of Amerland and Schiermonnikoog.
Veolia Transport (dutch only) provides ferries (passengers and bikes only) between Vlissingen and Breskens in the province of Zeeland.
On the larger Dutch rivers, there are numerous smaller ferries especially for cyclists and pedestrians, howevre some of them also take on cars, and even trucks, which enable you to plan a tour through the country without having to include each and every major bridge. On this website, you can find more information about them.
Taxis in the Netherlands are not a feasible means of transport. They are ridiculously expensive, most drivers are incredibly rude and will try to rip you off, plus there are good alternatives with public transport on almost every conceivable route.
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As the Netherlands is a relatively small country with good roads, renting a car is a good option to get around, although it's not cheap. Bear in mind that in most cities you have to pay to park your car, which can be a nightmare, especially in Amsterdam. Prices can be as high as €6 an hour, but most of the time prices are around €2 an hour. Parking is more expensive on streets than in designated parking garages, especially in major cities. During rush hour (roughly 7:00-9:00am and 4:00-6:00pm), traffic usually comes to a standstill nationwide, so that's not the best time to go sightseeing in a car.
Hitchhiking is very uncommon in the Netherlands, and you will have a hard time finding people willing to take you along. Hitching rides is not permitted at highway exits.
Unless signposted otherwise, the maximum speed on highways is 120 km/hour, while the maximum speed in built-up areas is 50 km/hour. The latter automatically applies when entering a built-up area, usually signposted with the city's or town's name. In most residential areas, a maximum speed of 30 km/hour applies, while on some main roads within cities the limit could be 70 km/hour. On provincial roads, the maximum speed is 80 km/hour and sometimes 100 km/hour, while in rural areas the limit is generally 60 km/hour or sometimes still 80 km/hour. Note that many highways in the urban west of the country and near other large cities is generally 100 km/hour, but since 2011 some roads have increased the maximum speed to 130 km/hour. For more information about roadworks, check the Van A Naar Beter website and for current traffic situations including traffic jams, see the official Traffic Information Service website.
Drinking and driving is strictly enforced and you are allowed up to 220 micrograms per litre of exhaled breath or 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood (0.05%). If a driver has held their licence for under five years the alcohol blood limit is 88 micrograms per litre of exhaled breath, or 0.2 grams per litre of blood (0.02%).
Other important rules include the following:
From mid-2011, almost all public transport (bus, metro, tram, train) in the Netherlands has to be paid by the OV-Chipcard (OV = Open Vervoer, meaning Public Transport). Only train tickets can be bought as paper tickets at least until the end of 2012. There are 3 types: the personal card, anonymous card and disposable card. The latter one is the one which are only used for certain travel legs and for tourists and are thrown away afterwards. This is the one visitors to the Netherlands should buy, unless they regularly visit the country. In that case, the anonymous card is the best. The personal card is especially interesting for people who can travel with a discount (children, elderly, disabled etc.) or people with a monthly or annual season ticket. For more information, visit the official website mentioned above or for a quicker and better overview visit the wikipedia website about the OV-Chipcard.
Public transport hubs in the Netherlands typically combine local and long-distance traffic in one location. Regional and local public transport use a single tariff system nationwide, where you pay for your journey by stamping zones on a (blue) strippenkaart (soon to be replaced by more modern forms of payment). Bear in mind that after midnight, your options of getting from A to B are limited if you're in Randstad and the large cities, and non-existent if you're anywhere else.
Most of the larger Dutch cities have excellent local public transport systems, which often also connect to commuter destinations nearby.
Regional buses are a pain, because they run infrequently and are relatively expensive. If you have a choice, going by train will be quicker and cheaper almost without exception.
Despite what locals may tell you, Dutch trains are reliable, reasonably priced, relatively comfortable and by far the best way to travel between cities. The various operators use a single tariff system, and jointly participate in EUrail and Interrail. Fares are based on distance; no peak fare system is currently in place. It is not possible to make seat reservations on national trains.
Train tickets can be bought easily from machines at the station. Try this excellent online simulation if you want to avoid a long queue of disgruntled Dutchmen waiting for you to complete your transaction. As of June 2009, Dutch Railways also offers e-ticketing on its website (currently only available to Dutch account holders).
More information and integrated door-to-door itinerary advice for all public transport can be obtained for free from 9292OV (Dutch only). The Dutch Railways website is available in English and provides information on train timetables and fares.
There are a few domestic flights in the Netherlands, but they are of little use to travellers as prices are soaring. Since the country is so small, there is not much of a time advantage flying domestically around the Netherlands anyway.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
If you want to stay longer than 3 months, other rules apply and citizens from some countries need an Authorisation for Temporary Residence, particularly those who want to study and/or work in the country.
For more information about details about visa and other requirements for your home country, check this website about visas for the Netherlands.
See also: Money Matters
The Netherlands, like many other European countries, uses the Euro (€) for payments. The euro comes in coins of 1 and 2 cents (not used any more for payments in cash in the Netherlands), 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 and 2 euro. On all the coins is the same portret of Queen Beatrix. Also there are banknotes of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. The banknotes of €200 and €500 are very difficult to pay with, as there might not be enough change. Sometimes it is not allowed to pay with these banknotes (like in supermarkets).
Throughout the country, there are lots of ATMs using the CIRRUS and PLUS networks and most shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards like Visa and Mastercard as well.
If you want to work in the Netherlands you will almost definitely need some sort of visa or permit. Just like working holidays for Dutch people in other countries (like Australia), it's possible for travellers from several countries to obtain a similar arrangement when visiting the Netherlands. Unfortunately, this is not possible for every country, including the United States. For more information and details about this go to the Work Permit website.
In general, finding a job in the Netherlands is not that easy compared to other countries and you might want to learn some Dutch first. English is only used at major international companies, so you need to be lucky to find a temporary job with one of these companies. For jobs requiring multiple languages you can check the Undutchables website for more information about finding one in the Netherlands.
A website used a lot for finding jobs is Monsterboard.
Dutch higher education and research generally is of good quality. Several universities rank among the top twenty worldwide in a number of fields; teaching staff are very accessible, and student facilities (except accommodation) are usually very good.
The Dutch higher education system distinguishes between hogescholen (lit. 'high schools') and universities. The former only award Bachelor's degrees, usually in applied sciences, and have lesser entry requirements. Traditionally, they are considered a lesser form of education than universities, even though their programmes generally are of high quality.
The Netherlands have 11 public universities, five of which award Science degrees only (in Rotterdam, Delft, Eindhoven, Enschede, Wageningen); the other six (in Amsterdam, Leiden, Utrecht, Groningen, Tilburg, Maastricht) are general and award Arts degrees as well. Also, there are three 'private' universities, (a protestant one in Amsterdam, a Catholic one in Nijmegen, and a private business university in Breukelen called Nijenrode); the former two are only private in name, and subject themselves voluntarily to the same regime that governs public universities.
A new phenomenon in the higher education system are Colleges. While the Netherlands has no campus universities, boarding is obligatory in these institutions. They cater specifically to wealthy foreigners whom they attract with highly competitive Bachelor programmes. Currently, there are three of these (in Middelburg, Utrecht and Deventer), with several others (notably, one in Amsterdam) starting soon.
The Study In website will give you more information about studying in the Netherlands, including information about visas and other documents you need to arrange.
Dutch is the national language of the Netherlands. The standard variety originates from a dialect formerly spoken around the city of Leiden; this variety, officially known as Standard Dutch, is also one of the official languages of Belgium and Luxembourg. The second official language of the Netherlands is Frisian, exclusively spoken in the northern province of Friesland. All Frisians nowadays also speak Standard Dutch, although not all of them are equally willing to as regional pride is high.
Besides Standard Dutch, the Netherlands boast a remarkable number of local dialects for such a small territory, possibly due to the many bodies of water that made frequent interaction between the various settlements rather difficult. Furthermore, a number of regional dialects can be distinguished, of which Flemish, spoken in the northern Belgian provinces, and Twents, spoken in the eastern parts of the Netherlands, are examples you are likely to encounter.
For tourists, a special note about the Amsterdam dialect, occasionally referred to as Jordanees, is in order. Because of strong jewish presence, Jordanees features a variety of Jiddish words and expressions which, combined with the odd sense of humour that many Amsterdamians have, tend to make it a rather difficult tongue to understand. Furthermore, original Amsterdamians have a somewhat peculiar pronunciation of standard Dutch; in particular, they are unable to differentiate between /s/ and /z/, viz. the typical Amsterdam expression de son in de see sien sakke ('to see the sun set in the sea'), whereas this would be De zon in de zee zien zakken in Standard Dutch.
Most Dutch people speak at least some English; in larger cities, the command is such that you won't have difficulties to be understood at all. German is also widely understood, although traditionally met with considerable spite. Many Dutch would like to believe they speak the language as well, but this is hardly ever the case outside the eastern provinces. French, a language traditionally taught in high school, is spoken even less frequently, while command of Spanish is virtually absent.
Because of the fact that there are many foreigners from Morocco and Turkey living in the country, the Arabic and Turkish languages are spoken a lot as well, though hardly not by Dutch people themselves.
It will not be easy for you to acquire some knowledge of Dutch, mostly because locals will resort to English the minute they find out that it isn't your native tongue. Knowing how to say some basic things may help you make clear that you take a serious interest in learning. Depending on your own language background, proper pronunciation will probably be the most difficult aspect of the language to get to grips with. On this website, you can listen what your input is supposed to sound like. Another useful resource is DutchGrammar.com.
Also, check the Dutch Phrasebook article to know some basic words.
Lovers of food won't find much sensation in the Dutch cuisine, which traditionally is rather rustic. One should, however, sample the national dish, Boerenkool met worst ("Borecole with sausage"), which consists of green cabbage, potatoes, bacon and smoked sausage. Dutch cheese, beer and dairy products are considered of the highest standard and will provide much joy to the connoisseur.
Make sure you don't forget to try the special pancake restaurants, a real Dutch specialty. They produce delicious pancakes that are large enough to be considered a whole dinner. You can choose from a great variety of toppings for your pancake.
The Netherlands is well built-up for tourism, so there is ample variety of selection when it comes to finding accommodation. As with most Western cities, both budget and top class accommodation can be found. Camping is also a good alternative in the summer season, as well as youth hostels.
One of the hostel chains is Stayokay, which has about 30 hostels all over the Netherlands in the most beautiful places and in characteristic buildings. Most of the time, bed linen and breakfast is available and there is a choice of doubles and a wide range of beds in dorms up to 12 beds. You can visit the Stayokay website which has an English and German version as well.
Dutch beer (Heineken, Grolsch and Amstel) is famous all over the world. You can buy it at supermarkets, petrol stations, or have a nice beer in a bar. Also the so called whitebeer is very popular in the Netherlands and surrounding countries. One of the best is Korenwolf from the southern province of Limburg.
Some regional specialties include "jenever" and "brandewijn", drinks with high levels of alcohol, usually only drunk by a small group of (older) people. A special liqueur to enjoy with some cream is "advocaat"; it is based on eggs. For sale at supermarkets, so give it a try!
Dutch people are very keen on coffee and you will find it in lots of varieties on most menus, with cappuccino and cafe au lait being the most popular, after regular coffee.
Note that the legal age for buying alcohol is 18 years! The legal age used to be 16 years for drinks with a low alcohol content, but this was changed in 2014.
Although abundant in coffee shops marijuana, or cannabis, is still a controlled substance. Possession and production for personal use are misdemeanors and can be punished by a fine. Although officially illegal, possession for personal use up to 5 grams won't lead to fines.
Even though the coffee shops have been a growing industry the new conservative government in the Netherlands plans to crack down. By the end of the end of the year, for the southern provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland, the new government wants to ban non-Dutch residents from using the coffee shops and only allow each coffee shop to have 1,500 members. These measures will then be extended to all of the Netherlands by 2012. The cities of Maastricht and Terneuzen have already restricted the sale of cannabis to foreigners.
Importing or exporting any type of classified drug is a serious offense. The penalty is 12 to 16 years for a hard drug and a maximum of 4 years for the import or export of large amounts of cannabis. It is also against the law to operate a car while under the influence of any drug and the police have the right to test anyone they suspect of being under the influence.
See also: Travel Health
The Netherlands have a very high standard of health care, both for citizens and travellers. People from other EU countries and Morocco, Cape Verde Islands, Serbia, Montenegro, Tunisia and Turkey, are covered by reciprocal health agreements. As a traveller from those countries, the availability of medical care is subject to the same conditions that apply at home. Travellers from countries other than those mentioned above are strongly recommended to obtain full medical insurance.
There are no legal requirements regarding vaccinations to travel to the country. There is no specific risk of any disease in the Netherlands, although vaccination for tetanus is recommended. Also, be wary of ticks, as a growing number of incidents of Lyme disease have been recorded recently. As for every destination, though, you should exercise sexual hygiene to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are widely available in supermarkets, drugstores, pharmacies and vending machines, in all sizes, shapes and flavours. Although they are technically prohibited from doing so, most pharmacies will sell you the Pill without problems if you show them an original strip or your own GP's prescription.
The national emergency number is 112. For less urgent matters, any pharmacy will be able to get you in touch with a doctor.
See also: Travel Safety
Though it's been on terrorist alert over the past few years, nothing has happened so far. That said, travellers are advised to read about current safety situations at all times.
In general the Netherlands is a very safe country, and with the usual precautions you won't experience any problems while travelling. You are advised not to wander around certain neighbourhoods alone late at night. Although nothing worse will probably happen to you than being the victim of a pick pocket, this is never something you would like on your holiday so be sure to keep your belongings somewhere close to your body.
Violent robberies and other crimes are rare and you are unlikely to be confronted with these forms of crime. If you are, you can always call 112 for immediate help.
Trafficwise, the Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world. The country is known for its network of bicycle lanes, which greatly improves the safety for cyclists.
The country does not experience many natural disasters other than occasional floods. Hurricanes and earthquakes are almost non existent and few people die because of any other natural disaster like heavy rains, thunder, hail, heat or cold.
All discrimination based on gender, race, religion and sexual preference (as well as some other grounds) is illegal. When discriminated against, you can file charges with the local police, who will usually take this very seriously. Obviously, homosexuality is not a crime of any kind under Dutch law.
The Netherlands have a general identification policy, meaning that everyone over sixteen must at all times be able to show valid ID. Photocopies are not sufficient. Failure to produce ID when requested by the police (they can only do this when they have a reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense) will get you a fine.
In the Netherlands, the legal age for buying alcohol and tobacco is 18 years; shops selling either are required to check your age (which is why vending machines require the use of an age coin, to be collected from your friendly bartender). Currently, only the vendor can be penalized with a stiff fine when caught selling to minors; there are plans to extend liability to underage consumers as well.
Smoking is prohibited in all public buildings. As of July 1st, 2008, it has also been banned from bars and restaurants.
Fresh psychedelic mushrooms (fresh only!) are not currently on the narcotic substances list, and as such are fully legal and subject to no restrictions. They will be shortly, however.
Possession of cannabis products for personal use (everything less than 5 grams) is not actively prosecuted. Counter to common understanding, this does not mean that it is legal; it is condoned, and only when used at home or in a coffeeshop. Elsewhere, you run the risk of incurring a fine of at least €50.
Possession of greater quantities (as well as commercial growth) is prosecuted; when caught it will land you in a police cell, awaiting deportation and extradition to your domestic law enforcement system. Possession, trade and trafficking of all other drugs (cocaine, heroin, all synthetic drugs including MDMA) is illegal. High penalties apply.
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Having sex for a living is legal in the Netherlands. Any individual over eighteen that has a working permit can set up a legitimate prostitution business. Obviously, forced sex constitutes rape, and is actively prosecuted when charges are filed. Even more obviously, sex with individuals under eighteen is child molest and gets you in BIG trouble. When visiting a prostitute, it is your responsibility to make sure of his/her age, and to make sure the sex is consensual.
Porn depicting adults is legal, except when it involves animals. Be wary of what you buy, as your next destination may not be as liberal.
The usual rules apply. Foreigners must pay their fines on the spot, and face jailtime if they cannot do so. Illegal parking with a foreign car in bigger cities (esp. Amsterdam) will get you towed or wheelclamped, to be removed only after you paid your fine. In most parts of the country, spending the night in your vehicle is not allowed.
Abortion until the 24th week of carriage is legal; euthanasia is as well, if the procedure is in compliance with legal requirements. The Netherlands acknowledge same sex marriages.
Internet cafés are not as widespread as you would expect, but you can easily find one in the popular cities. Most hostels, hotels and camp sites have several computers, so you can keep connected with folk at home. Here is a list of internet cafés that could come in handy for travellers. Otherwise, most libraries have lots of computers and prices are around the €2-3 per hour range, although sometimes it can be even more expensive.
Wireless internet access using wifi is becoming more popular and is usually available at most hotels and increasingly at train stations. Also in trains (at least in most first class wagons, but also more and more in second class) and some buses you can use wifi. Finally, places like McDonald's and Starbucks have free wifi, and smaller individual business like cafés and restaurants are on the rise too offering these services. More often than not, these service tend to be free of charge, though there might be a limited time you can use the internet.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00. The general emergency number is 112, like many other countries.
0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers are charged at premium rates. Mobile phones have numbers in the 06 range, and calls to cell phones are also priced at higher rates.
From internet cafés, it is also usually possible to make long distance international calls. Like in other countries, telephone booths have almost disappeared, though some are still found around public transport stations, where you can use a few coins to make calls. It is only recommended for local calls.
The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The main providers of cell phone networks are KPN (Dutch only), T-mobile and Vodafone, who cover the whole country. Other operators, like Hollandsnieuwe, Simyo or Tele2, use one of these 3 networks basically.
It is best to buy a SIM card when in the Netherlands for use in your cellphone, as this usually works out cheaper than using the one from home. If you are planning to study or work in the country and stay for several months, buying a cellphone is the best option. A simple one, sometimes with €10 worth on it, can be bought from around €25. The simplest smartphones are around €75.
The rate for sending a postcard or letter up to 20 grams within the Netherlands is €0.64 (2014). Since 2010 there are stamps available for domestic post which no longer include the value in €. Instead, there are stamps available with either a '1' or a '2' as a substitute for value. The '1' can be used for letters and postcards up to 20 grams, while 20-50 grams require you to use the '2'-valued stamps (or two '1'-valued stamps of course).
Sending items to other EU countries and the rest of the world (there is one price since 2014) will cost €1.05. Stamps are sold at post offices, supermarkets and smaller shops/kiosks; often the place where you buy your postcards can also supply you with stamps.
Sending parcels abroad is more costly. A standard-sized parcel between up to 2 kilograms will cost you €9 for destinations within the EU and €18 (both without Track & Trace) to the rest of the world. Prices with Track & Trace start at €13 and €24.30 respectively. Parcel service is available from major post offices only; standard-size boxes are on sale there as well. For sending parcels, it might be just as competitive and fast to use a company like TNT, UPS or DHL.
If you need to receive mail while moving around, you can have it sent poste restante (to be called for) to a post office of your choice, where it will be kept for a month. If you come to claim it, bring a valid ID, and make sure to have told the sender that the name on the envelope must be an exact match with that in your passport. For addresses of post offices, as well as more information, consult the TNT website.
Ask Sander a question about Netherlands
I've lived in the Netherlands for most of my life. Which means I hardly knew anything about the country. And then I got to play tourguide for a friend who came over from the USA for two weeks, and suddenly I had a much better idea of what's worthwhile to do and where's good to visit. :)
Ask Utrecht a question about Netherlands
I live in the Netherlands and have visited all provinces and most cities, like Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Living in Utrecht, I know most about that province/city.
Ask stevieh a question about Netherlands
Where to stay in Holland's 'Green Belt'.
Rotterdam, Utrecht, Leiden, Arnhem.
Ask Demian a question about Netherlands
For a change, I don't live in Amsterdam, but in a smaller city in the centre of the country: Utrecht. It is worth visiting, since it is one of the oldest cities of the country, and has a convenient small centre. (You can walk anywhere). It hosts one of the biggest universities of the country and breaths the students life through the numerous restaurants, bars and clubs.
Ask Rraven a question about Netherlands
I moved to The Netherlands at the beginning of Feb 2008, I spend most weekends being a tourist so can help out with getting around and what to see, if I can't help directly I can ask around and help you with your research
Use our map of places to stay in Netherlands to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.
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