Netherlands travel guide
From its cheese museums to its shipyards, this is the Netherlands you need to know
A spacious yet compact country, the Netherlands offers so much more than just its beautiful capital city of Amsterdam. Taking only a couple of hours to travel across the country from Holland to the Achterhoek region, in each direction you’ll see something beautiful – from vibrant tulip farms and windmills on the Waterland, to country houses and castles, and some of the best museums, galleries and shopping experiences, too.
Traditionally, the Dutch had no curtains in their windows (apparently so the Golden Age traders could show their honesty), but now this just adds to the ambience of an evening meander along the canals in some of the Netherlands’ most magnificent cities.
If you have a few days that you’d like to fill with wonderful things, then Haarlem is the perfect city to visit. It’s like a scaled down, less populated Amsterdam, with several excellent museums, relaxed cafes and restaurants, and streets full of interesting shops. It’s easy to walk around Haarlem and feel comfortable and connected. On some days you’ll find a street market, full of all sorts of collectables and vintage goods – nothing fancy, just honest bric-a-brac to have a good rummage through for treasures to bring home.
Where to stay
Hotel Lion d’Or
Perfectly located just opposite the train station, the hotel is peaceful and welcoming. The rooms are calm and subtly decorated (with comfortable beds and good showers), the staff are kind and helpful, and the breakfast includes tiny ring doughnuts with jam in them.
What to do
Corrie Ten Boom House
Corrie and her family sheltered around 800 people during Nazi occupation in the Second World War. Corrie was imprisoned in a concentration camp, and released due to an administration error. A week later, all the women of her age – around 90,000 of them – were killed in gas chambers.
She returned home and opened her doors to the mentally disabled who were in hiding. After the war she created a rehabilitation centre for anyone who needed it, and then spent the rest of her life travelling the world, preaching. The house remains as it was, and the tour starts with everyone seated in the living room. You need to book in advance, but it’s well worth it for an intimate tour and a real insight into this incredible and significant story.
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This is the oldest museum in the Netherlands, opened in 1784, and utterly magnificent. Marble columns, glass domed ceilings, a galleried library, and beautiful original display cases filled with some of the finest fossils and minerals are just some of its attractions. This world-renowned museum is brimming with fascinating objects of fine art and enlightened science. After a decade of renovation, and for the first time, the adjoining founder’s house is now open, showcasing the well-preserved splendour of this 18th-century home.
Frans Hals Museum
Frans Hals was one of the most influential artists of the Dutch Golden Age. This museum, based in two separate locations, is dedicated to his art, along with other pieces such as Sara’s Dollhouse, a stunning scaled version of an 18th-century home, like a miniature museum of life.
Book this ‘brewery in a church’ for lunch or dinner, or try the tasting menu of six beers paired with small plates, whilst watching the brewing in action. Look out for the Koyt beer, brewed with Bog Myrtle to an original recipe from 1407. Legend has it that, to avoid its hallucinogenic properties, Bog Myrtle can only be picked at full moon by nude witches.
A great antique and vintage bookshop with multiple rooms filled with piles of lovely stuff, and suitable for all pockets – starting with charming old Edwardian calling card portraits for under a Euro.
Edam is a snapshot of history; the Dutch idyll. This 14th- and 15th-century fortress town was once one of the country’s most important commercial centres, with thriving shipbuilding, timber and cheese trading industries. Many of the buildings have been beautifully restored and maintained, and it really is like stepping back in time. Spend a day wandering the canals, enjoying the houses, then stop off at the shipyard or visit a winkel to buy some cheese.
Where to stay
This lovely historical building, once a merchants’ tavern, is centrally placed and full of charm. You can stay in one of 11 cosy boutique rooms – think chandeliers, gilt frames, lots of velvet, and possibly even a piano at the end of your bed! L’Auberge is also a lovely place for dinner or drinks, inside or outside on the attractive terrace.
What to do
Visit this 15th-century shipyard for a real insight into a historic industry. The Dutch Golden Age was built on the network of canals and the great ships that enabled travel and trade with the rest of the world.
The old cheese-weighing house, dating from 1778, has a permanent exhibition on cheesemaking. And in summer, the Kaasmarkt, a traditional cheese traders’ market, takes place every Wednesday morning. The ringing of a special bell, by a dignitary or famous person, signals the market’s opening and closing.
This small city museum, in an old merchant’s house, explores the history of Edam; its shipbuilding, ceramics and architecture. Most interestingly it has a floating cellar, with a floor that moves up and down on the groundwater below.
Den Haag, as we should say, is the home of the Dutch royal family and the Dutch government, as well as the United Nations International Court of Justice. It’s a city steeped in history, and on 27th April each year it comes alive for King’s Day, with fairs and flea markets across the city, and parties the night before.
Where to stay
Hotel Des Indes
Originally built in 1858 as a mansion for the treasurer of King William III, this now-hotel offers five-star splendour right in the heart of the city, with easy access to everything, including the hotel’s famous afternoon tea.
What to do
A short stroll from Hotel des Indes, you can see the exterior of the Noordeinde Palace, the working palace of the Dutch royal family. The palace lies on Noordeinde, a street filled with design and interiors shops, galleries and restaurants.
Haagse Antiek en Boekenmarkt
Antiques markets are held regularly in the square outside the Hotel Des Indes, and have been for the past 50 years. Even if you’re not there for shopping, it’s worth visiting for the absolute beauty of it all.
One of the finest museums in the world, Mauritshuis celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2022. The museum is home to many Dutch masterpieces, including Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
This ancient Gothic castle, next door to the Mauritshuis museum, is the home of the Dutch government and Knights’ Hall. There’s a golden neo-Gothic fountain and an incredible array of architecture, not to be missed.
A trip to the charming city of Delft can be combined with your visit to The Hague; just a 40-minute direct tram ride, or even quicker by train. Famous for its ceramics, particularly its tiles, Delft was also the home of Vermeer. There are many lovely independent shops, as well as the famous Royal Delft Museum.
What to do
Royal Delft Museum
You don’t need to go anywhere else for collections of iconic Delftware. Visit the historic factory to see how everything is made and painted traditionally. There’s a great shop and brasserie, and you can even take a painting workshop to decorate your own vase.
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