The Euro is the only currency accepted in the Netherlands, however Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Diners Club credit cards are widely used and accepted. Most local stores, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa debit cards, but it is recommended to have Euros on hand to use at shops, restaurants, and smaller souvenir stands. Canadian and US dollars can be exchanged for Euros at your local bank before departure, or at currency exchanges or from ATM machines in the Netherlands.
The official language of the country is Dutch. It’s surprisingly similar to English, so try some greetings and phrases. Because the Netherlands is a very tourism-friendly place, English is spoken widely as well.
Best Time To Go
The mid-summer months of July and August are the busiest in Amsterdam, but any time between April and October is ideal for a visit. There is no dry season, so rain is possible any time. This also keeps the country pleasantly temperate.
The Netherlands has a mild maritime climate, with generally warmer winters and cooler summers than many North American cities. In peak summer, temperatures average around 18 C/63 F. In low season (November-March), temperatures don’t often drop below freezing but there are occasional cold spells. Less rainfall is expected between April and September, but we always recommend having a sweater and umbrella on hand in the Netherlands.
Due to Amsterdam’s (and the Netherlands’) easy accessibility and close proximity to other European countries, this region is popular for backpackers as well as nature-lovers and adventurers. Good transit systems here make it easy for any type of traveller to get around. The country has sites that appeal to history buffs, foodies, and of course those looking to trace their ancestry.
Getting There From North America
The largest airport in the Netherlands is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, or AMS. There are smaller airports in The Hague, Eindhoven and Groningen as well, but these mostly serve other European countries. There are direct and usually high-speed trains that offer practical connections to France, England, and Belgium.
Recommended flight routes from the United States
KLM is one of the largest airlines in the world, with nonstop flights to many American cities. Major American airlines also have direct flights to Amsterdam from New York, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and more. Amsterdam is also a frequent stopover hub when flying to other European destinations like Paris or Rome.
Recommended flight route from Canada
In high season, KLM, Air France, and Delta codeshare, often flying daily to Amsterdam from major Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. This will usually mean a connection in Paris with Air France, or New York City or Atlanta with Delta, though KLM offers nonstop service from many major Canadian cities. Air Canada flies nonstop to Amsterdam from Toronto.
Essential Sights of the Netherlands
The whole country of the Netherlands is about the same size as the state of Maryland, so most visitors stay in Amsterdam and explore the area from there. Travellers can rent a bike and tour the canal rings in the heart of the city, blending in with the thousands of locals doing the same. Keep in mind when it’s time for coffee that a café (or koffeehuis) in Amsterdam serve coffees and snacks, whereas coffeeshops serve cannabis.
Almost nothing is more traditionally Dutch than their yearly bloom of tulips. Travellers should absolutely consider making a springtime trip to the Netherlands to experience the tulips in full bloom, which can only be experienced between mid-March and mid-May, predominantly at the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens. The weather is lovely and cool at this time of year with plenty of rain to help keep the tulips at their most beautiful!
Windmills in the Countryside
You don’t have to go very far from Amsterdam to find fields full of iconic Dutch windmills, dating back to the 18th century. The villages of Kinderdijk and Schiedam are located an easy 90 minutes from Amsterdam, and have a combined 27 historic windmills, including the tallest in the world, located in Scheidam. Just 30 minutes from Amsterdam, you will find the Zaanse Schans museum in the town of Zaandam, which has lots of interactive Dutch cultural exhibits, relocated 18th and 19th century windmills and local historical costumes.
The Netherlands has the unique distinction of being home to the International Court of Justice of the UN in The Hague, just about an hour from Amsterdam. Also the seat of the Dutch Parliament, a visit here could include seeing the Peace Palace for this important UN site, or perhaps even spotting a member of the Dutch royalty, who actively work out of the Noordeinde Palace. The Hague also is home to the beachside resort area of Scheveningen with its boardwalks and entertainment on the shores of the North Sea.
Other Highlights of Netherlands Off the Beaten Path
Located within the canal zone, the Heineken Experience shows off the quintessential Dutch beer, which has been brewed in Holland for over 150 years. This museum was an active Heineken brewery until 1988, when the beer’s growing popularity forced relocation to a larger facility. You’ll not only learn more about this emblematic Dutch beer and its four simple ingredients, but experience the beer making and bottling process for yourself. Included with admission is the opportunity to learn to pour the perfect pint of Heineken!
Tulip Auction in Aalsmeer
Avid gardeners and travellers interested in tulip growing in the Netherlands will enjoy a visit to the town of Aalsmeer, where tulip auctions, open to the public,sell around 20 million tulips per day to the rest of the world. Even if the tulips aren’t in bloom at Keukenhof Gardens, you can spot plenty of them here.
The Red Light District
You don’t have to lie to us. Everyone who visits Amsterdam takes a stroll through the Red Light District (De Wallen in Dutch), if only out of curiosity. Amsterdam locals pride themselves on their very liberal and tolerant attitudes, and so here you can find sex shops, museums, and bawdyhouses. Even for the more conservative traveller, it is very interesting to visit this area to look at these things from the honest perspective of the Dutch people.
Top Activities and Experiences in the Netherlands
Anne Frank Huis
Anne Frank Huis (house) is a site of great significance in Amsterdam which was the temporary home and hiding place of Anne Frank, a teenage victim of the holocaust during WWII. This location is easily accessible in the canal zone, but admission is in high demand, so visitors should purchase their tickets in advance through the Anne Frank House website as early as possible.
Biking and Boat Rides
Did you know that there are more bicycles than there are people in Amsterdam? Over 800,000! It only makes sense then, to rent a bike to tour around the mix of modern and colonial architecture and romantic canals. Speaking of canals, the Canal Ring, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a system of 165 canals with a combined length of 100 kilometers. Take advantage of the water taxi system to get from place to place in the city, or enjoy a lovely candlelight dinner on the water.
Exploring Dutch Art
The Van Gogh Museum is a stunning museum on the Museumsplein, just outside the Canal Ring, that honours the post-impressionist painter specifically. The nearby Rijksmuseum is perhaps the Netherlands’ grandest, showing off other classic works of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals. The stylishly contemporary Stedelijk Museum completes Amsterdam’s art museum Big Three, with cutting edge painting, sculpture, design, and even the odd piece of performance art from around the world.
Essential Dutch Foods to Try
There are several Dutch desserts and pastries that you simply must try on any trip to the Netherlands. Delicacies such as stroopwafels - thin and crispy wafer-type cookies with a tasty caramel filling - are not hard to find and come from the same town that one of the most famous Dutch cheeses originates. Meanwhile, anyone fond of a New Orleans beignet will adore appelflappen, a deep fried apple-filled dessert dusted with powdered sugar.
Snacks and Cheeses
During or after a day exploring the Netherlands cities and villages, Dutch frites (fries) are a wonderful snack that can be found at chip carts or shops. These are always served with mayonnaise rather than ketchup, and usually a variety of flavoured mayos. The more daring licorice lovers should definitely try dropjes - a salted licorice candy. Edam and gouda cheese (the village of Gouda also being the birthplace of stroopwafels) are popular with locals and travellers alike. You’ll find these served in most any shop or restaurant. They even can be found at the airport before your departure!
In the Netherlands breakfast time is a big deal, featuring specialties like Dutch baby pancakes which are like large, filled American popovers or a sweet Yorkshire pudding. They are typically baked in the oven rather than the stovetop like a North American pancake, and often are filled with fruit or other savoury breakfast items. Other things you would likely find at a breakfast buffet in the Netherlands would be slices of bread or rusks (twice-baked crispy bread), topped with a variety of goodies like eggs, fruits, cheeses, or even hagelslag, which are basically cake sprinkles. Eet smakelijk! (Enjoy your meal!)
Most Popular Itineraries for the Netherlands
For short stays in the Netherlands or a stopover on the way to another destination, the 3-night Highlights of Amsterdam itinerary may be the perfect option. Stay at a beautiful centrally located hotel with ‘at your leisure’ hop-on hop-off touring, travellers also visit the Dutch countryside to see those iconic windmills.
If your ideal vacation consists of a visit to Amsterdam and the surrounding countries, consider the Classic European Sampler, which combines London, Paris, and Amsterdam via high-speed train. Spend 4 nights in each city, all while enjoying a range of touring designed to offer a wonderful sense of each country and its people.
For a more in-depth look at the history and local culture of the Netherlands, consider a river cruise along the Rhine River. This 12-day itinerary includes stops in picturesque villages in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, ending in Switzerland. Before modern day road systems took over, cities and estates were built around mighty rivers like the Rhine, so cruising the river is an ideal way to see these places in their original historic splendour.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Not only is renting a bike or taking a water taxi a fun way to get around in Amsterdam, but the roads and canals are so accessible that it’s a wonderful way to travel in a very environmentally friendly manner. Outside of the major cities, the network of trains is extensive and efficient. The Dutch government has detailed policies in place related to conservation of nature and the environment, and programmes to encourage biodiversity as it relates to tourism. This is in conjunction with local travel and tour companies who put a special focus on being eco- and environmentally-friendly. Local governments also encourage visitors to focus on areas of the country that are less ‘touristy’ in order to reduce overcrowding and over-tourism in Amsterdam (remember, you can still reach it easily by train). The Netherlands’ extensive network of windmills (over 900 of them both historical and modern), still powers grain and paper mills today, in addition to generating renewable wind power through the over 2500 wind turbines.
Where to Go Next
England, Belgium, France, and Germany are all quick train rides from Amsterdam. Cologne (Germany), Paris (France), and Brussels (Belgium) can all be reached in 2-3 hours by high speed train from Amsterdam. For those interested in seeing more cities built on extensive canal networks, Bruges in Belgium and Venice in Italy are fascinating next stops.
22 Jun 2020, 7:39 p.m.