North Holland

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Travel Guide Europe Netherlands North Holland

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Introduction

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

© enjaho

North Holland is one of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands and has about 2.5 million inhabitants, of which about one third lives in the capital of the country, Amsterdam. The capital of North Holland on the other hand is Haarlem. The province was founded in 1840 after the bigger province of Holland was split into a southern and northern part, the other part being of course South Holland. Like its souther counterpart, it has a well developed economy, especially in the southern areas of the provinces where the main cities are located and one of the two Dutch mainports, Schiphol international airport, provides numerous jobs throughout the country.

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Geography

North Holland is in the northwestern part of the Netherlands and apart from the central southern areas is totally surrounded by water, either by the North Sea or by the IJssel Lake which used to be the Zuidersea, but now is a lake after the Afsluitdijk was created to prevent areas from flooding. Along the total coastline of the Northsea are good beaches and one of the highest dune areas of the country. One of the Wadden Islands, Texel is part of the province and can be reached by boat from Den Helder. North Holland is one of the lower parts of the country and has numerous (small) rivers, polders, lakes and wide panoramic views over the flat countryside, especially in the northern half.

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Cities

  • Amsterdam is the capital of the country for many visitors is the first and sometimes the only place they visit.
  • Haarlem is the capital of North Holland only a short trip away from Amsterdam and although smaller it has some great architecture and a long history. It is less busy than Amsterdam but therefore just as enjoyable.
  • Alkmaar is famous for its cheese market.
  • Hilversum is the home of the Dutch Radio and Television companies, and also focal point of the Dutch music industry.
  • Den Helder
  • Hoorn

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Sights and Activities

Cycling is a fun activity that many of the locals do daily. Many visitors rent a bicycle and cycle their way through the centre of Amsterdam. It is a great way to see the city, just make sure to lock it properly — bicycle theft with more than 1 million cases a year just in Amsterdam is almost a national sport. You can also take a bicycle taxi that brings visitors to any place they request, such as one of the museums.

The locals like to spend their weekends cycling through the nature of the surrounding areas. If you want to see the typical Dutch polder landscape and picturesque villages, consider a cycling route through Waterland. Hilversum is a good starting point for cycling through affluent villages, forests and heath of the Gooi en Vechtstreek. Another interesting cycle is through the forests and dunes of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park.

The beaches are a fun activity during warm summers. Kennemerland generally has a lot of calm beaches that are very family-friendly. Zandvoort is the busiest one, while Bloemendaal, Bergen and Egmond are calmer options. Many locals go to Texel for a few days to breeze out on its windy beaches.

Water sports can be done at the lakes that North Holland has to offer. The artificial lakes of Wijdemeren, which literally means "Wide Lakes", are a popular destination for this. Aalsmeer is home to the Westeinderplassen, which can also be used for water sports. The lakes are very calm, so activities are limited to renting a motorized or rowing boat (don't expect to go rafting or parasailing).

Historic Towns

North Holland has dozens of historic town centres that are worth visiting. The most well-known is obviously the historic centre of Amsterdam, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Its characteristic architecture and lovely canals (known as grachten) demand some pictures to be taken. But there are a lot more of them in the province — every region of North Holland at least has one town with a historic town centre.

Many visitors to Amsterdam incorporate a day-trip to Alkmaar or Haarlem, the largest towns of their respective regions with a historic core. Its a great walk (or cycle) through the romantic narrow streets in Alkmaar, and once a week a traditional cheese market is held. In Haarlem you can visit the Grote Markt (Grote Markt), a beautiful square in the centre of the city. Hoorn and Enkhuizen are also beautiful historic towns well worth a visit.

The nearest fortified town from Amsterdam is Weesp, which is just a 14-minute train ride. It has a quiet historic centre on the river Vecht with windmills. From there, it's an easy bicycle ride to Muiden, which is home to the Muiderslot, an amazing 13th-century castle, as well as other mediaeval remains. Close-by is Naarden, which is also worth a trip as its 17th-century fortifications are among the best preserved in Europe.

The Muiderslot is just one of the dozens of pieces that together form the Defence Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam) [3], a 135 km long ring of fortifications around Amsterdam. In total, it consists of 42 forts about 10 to 15 kilometres from the city centre. It's surrounded by low polder lands, which could easily be flooded in time of war. It was constructed between 1880 and 1920, but the invention of the aeroplane made the forts obsolete almost as soon as they were finished. It received recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Traditional Dutch Villages

The Zaanstreek-Waterland is home to many traditional Dutch villages with polders, clogs, windmills and traditional Dutch costumes. The most visited attraction in the area is the Zaanse Schans, an open air conservation area and museum on the bank of the river Zaan, about 25 km north of Amsterdam. It displays the traditional architecture of the area (green wooden houses) and has several functioning windmills and craftmen's workplaces, which are open to visitors.

Volendam is also very popular, which literally swarmed with visitors during the summer. It still is a traditional fishing village, although tourism took over as the engine behind its economy. Its traditional waterfront line looks picturesque, as are the local fishermen and farmers in their traditional costumes (which many visitors wear for the picture).

Less touristed and thus more authentic Dutch villages surround Volendam. Edam, which is on walk-distance from Volendam, is home to a cheese market and already feels more authentic. Marken, which used to be an island but is now connected by a dyke, is well known for its characteristic wooden houses. Other villages worth visiting include Monnickendam, Broek in Waterland and Ransdorp, the latter of which is very, very off the beaten path.

If you're interested in Holland's typical polder landscape, you might want to visit the Beemster reclaimed polder. Its land pattern bears a resemblance to the street pattern in Manhattan, New York City (except for Broadway). It's been said that the Beemster functioned as a model for the pattern in New York. In 1999 the Beemster polder was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Museums

North Holland has been a centre of history, art and crafts, and many museums are still dedicated to this cultural heritage. The South of Amsterdam has a neighborhood known as the Museum Quarter, which is home to some of the world's best museums — the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. Other neighborhoods also have museums that are definitely worth the visit. Beat the crowds by visiting the Anne Frank Museum early, or visit the Rembrandt House.

Haarlem is also home to numerous museums. Teylers Museum is the oldest museum of the Netherlands home to a very diverse collection of cultural objects, such as fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, medals, coins and paintings (including several works by Michelangelo and Rembrandt). The Frans Hals Museum is home to more than a dozen paintings of the famous painter Frans Hals. There are three other interesting museums in the city, including the Ten Boom Museum, which is about a hiding place for Jews and other underground refugees during World War II.

Hoorn and Enkhuizen both lie north of Amsterdam and in the 17th century were port towns used by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Both of these towns lie in West-Friesland, an area with a distinct dialect and culture. The Westfries Museum, that lies on Hoorn's beautiful central square Roode Steen, shows the importance of Hoorn in 17th-century VOC history. Much larger is the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. Many old Dutch houses from the 19th- and early 20th-century have been moved to this open air museum in order to preserve them for future generations. In the summer old Dutch professions are shown by museum employees.

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Events and Festivals

Koningsdag (King's Day)

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.

  • Every year in July, you can enjoy the Texel Air Show on the Wadden Island of Texel. It is the largest airshow in the Netherlands.

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Weather

Apart from the area around Amsterdam, the weather is a bit cooler in summer and slightly milder in winter compared to inland parts of the Netherlands. Along the coast in the northern parts and on the island of Texel temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees Celcius. In winter on the other hand, freezing temperatures, especially during the day, are also not very common.

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Getting There

By Plane

Most visitors of the Netherlands will arrive on the Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport, (external link: Schiphol), which has direct flights to almost every continent in the world. KLM is the national carrier, but numerous airlines use Schiphol as a hub and also some budget airlines like Easyjet provide cheap flights to neighbouring countries and beyond in Europe.

By Train

From Amsterdam, the most important train branches run east to Utrecht and south to The Hague. Check the Dutch Railways website for schedules and fares.

By Car

You can reach North Holland from neighbouring provinces on the highways A4 (from South Holland), A2 and A1 (from Utrecht), A7 (from Friesland) and from Flevoland along the Houtribdijk from Lelystad to Enkhuizen on the peninsula of North Holland.

By Boat

Getting to North Holland by boat is relatively simple from the North East of England. With regular ferries to Rotterdam (South Holland) from Hull and a daily ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam, getting to this part of the Netherlands is inexpensive and easy.

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Getting Around

There is an excellent public transport network throughout the Netherlands and particularly in the highly populated province of North-Holland. Buses and railways criss-cross the region with services reaching all but the most remote villages. Amsterdam also has trams and light railways (metros). Planning routes across the region (and throughout the country) is exceptionally easy because of the co-operation between the service providers. OV9292 provides a comprehensive point-to-point public transport route planner covering all major transport types.

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Eat

Holland is known for its cheese and North Holland is no exception. Edam cheese and Beemster cheese are among the most widely known brands of cheese and a must-try. These are not only known in Holland, but are sold all over the world, including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia. North Holland Cheese is a special kind of cheese protected by the European Union. Cheese can only bear this label if it is produced in North Holland with traditional methods and ingredients from the region. You can buy it in any supermarket in the region.

Alkmaar and Edam are world famous for their traditional cheese markets, which give an excellent opportunity to try some Dutch cheese. These are not modern commercial markets, but traditional ones as operated in the Middle Ages. They are re-enacted during the summer months for visitors. Hoorn recently reintroduced their historic cheese market as well.

Restaurants in North Holland are very diverse, but generally there is plenty of choice. As Amsterdam is the city with the most nationalities in the world, this city is filled with ethnic restaurants. There are plenty of Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Surinamese, Mexican and Argentinian restaurants in the city, among others. It is also the best place for Dutch restaurants, as they cannot easily be found elsewhere. Try to avoid tourist traps as they are expensive, not authentic and they have a pretty bad service.

The Gooi en Vechtstreek is a popular night out for affluent locals, as it is home to plenty of quality restaurants. Bussum has the best restaurants of that area, while Hilversum has more diverse options. Another affluent town in North Holland is Bloemendaal in Kennemerland. The village of Overveen nearby Bloemendaal is home to two of the best French restaurants of the province. If you're on the island of Texel, Den Burg has plenty of quality restaurants as well.

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Drink

If you're looking to dance and party all night long, look no further than Amsterdam. Its rough image is partly justified as there are plenty of bars and clubs, hundreds of so-called "coffeeshops" (for cannabis) and it is home to the infamous Red Light District. Its nightlife pretty much serves as a hub for the whole province. The nightlife in surrounding regions is less engaging, but generally the largest towns of these regions have some clubs available. Haarlem is the party hub for Kennemerland, Alkmaar for the north and Hilversum for the Gooi en Vechtstreek. Due to the media and celebrities living in the Gooi area, Hilversum has a few posh bars and clubs that might be worth visiting.

If you're wondering what to drink: North Holland is beer country. Heineken is one of the largest beer corporations in the world and its brewery has been in the South of Amsterdam for centuries. You can still visit the Heineken Experience museum if you're interested in the history of beer and the province. Another alcoholic drink that has its origins in Amsterdam is Beerenburg, a spirit that throughout history has been more and more associated with the culture of Friesland.

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Keep Connected

Internet

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.

Phone

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.

Post

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.

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Quick Facts

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Capital
Haarlem
Population
2.656.757
Area
4.091,76 km²

Contributors

as well as Herr Bert (4%), Peter (1%), bentivogli (1%)

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This is version 34. Last edited at 13:45 on May 3, 19 by Utrecht. 15 articles link to this page.

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