The Kingdom of the Netherlands is often associated with a single city – Amsterdam, and most of the tourists go there. However, apart from the capital, there are many other beautiful cities and sights to see in the Netherlands. The best and cheapest way to travel through this country is by car, and that’s what we did. A week is enough to see the country’s most exciting places. Here’s my personal list.
It’s the second largest city in the Netherlands, but I would start the journey through the land from it. Why? Because the prices here are 30% lower than in the tourist-oriented Amsterdam. Which means that renting an apartment or a hotel room is much cheaper here. You can get to the capital pretty fast from here, by the way: it’s just 80 km away, so you don’t have to overpay for accommodation. Rotterdam’s architecture is like no other. It’s immediately noticeable that the architects’ imagination was not limited in any way. Finding an ordinary house in the city is not an easy task so you will be surprised literally on every step. The cube houses, which are built upside down for some reason, are especially noticeable. Interestingly enough, these are not museums. They are actually inhabited by people, albeit rich people, as this is very prestigious housing. The Erasmus Bridge is the calling card of Rotterdam and one of its main attractions. It’s a cable-stayed bridge across the Maas River. The locals often call it “The Swan”. The bridge is 802 metres long and is one of the thinnest bridges in the world. At the same time, it’s very resilient against strong winds, which are very common in the Netherlands. Rotterdam also has the most unusual market hall, the Markthal, that also serves as a residential building with 228 apartments. Many trading spots inside the market offer various goods and delicious foods from local producers. Make sure to come here hungry. Dedicate up to 2 days to get properly acquainted with Rotterdam.
An old city that is very similar to Amsterdam, but several times smaller. The same channels, the same twisting streets, but no tourist masses. It’s the second city in the country where you can legally use light drugs like marijuana and hashish. This is only allowed in particular establishments called coffee shops. Even if you have no intention of smoking anything, do visit them to see the people that attend these places and what they do. I’m sure you have a negative perception of those who consume such substances but don’t be too quick to judge. For example, when we visited a coffee shop, we saw people sitting in smoke reading books, listening to music, and even playing chess – in other words, spending their spare time in a very civilised manner. Also, the coffee shops are cheaper in Utrecht than in Amsterdam, which means the city is less popular with tourists.
You can take a boat ride down the channels, but if you already did so in the capital, you won’t see anything new.
Utrecht also has an incredible market with street food that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. Be sure to visit it. This is where you’ll be able to try the famous Dutch delicacy – herring with onions on dark bread. It might not sound like a delicacy but trust me – it’s incredibly tasty. There is a proper way to eat the herring: lift it by the tail and start taking bites from this position followed by the onions and bread. If you are still sceptical about this being the Dutch national pride, know that the start of the herring catching season is massively celebrated. The celebration is called the Herring Festival and coincides with the first yield of the fish, which happens at the end of May or the beginning of June. It’s also believed that not trying the herring is practically the same as not going to the Netherlands at all. Try not to miss the opportunity to have some of this delicacy.
This city would never appear on the tourist map of must-see places in the Netherlands if not for a sculpture of a bizarre creature. That is the adorable and somewhat awkward Homunculus loxodontus installed in the Leiden University Medical Center. It was created by sculptor Margriet van Breevoort. She was inspired by the pose of the people sitting on bus stops and in lines with hands put together in a typical fashion. Homunculus loxodontus has the head of an elephant seal, the body of a giant grub and the arms of an elderly man. It has no legs. After the sculpture appeared on the Internet, it became insanely popular in its Russian-speaking segment. Inexplicably, Homunculus loxodontus became so famous that its image started to replace people on renowned pictures and spawned an incredible amount of Internet memes. The creature even has its own fan-clubs. Margriet was surprised by the popularity her Homunculus gained in the post-Soviet space. Word is, she asked people to send her translations of the phrases written next to the sculpture. So, as you can surely understand, there was no way we could miss on the opportunity to give this cute fellow a hug. His author has a wide range of other bizarre sculptures, but none are as popular as this one. The complete list of the extraordinary beings is available on her website: http://margrietvanbreevoort.nl/
If you’ve read the Bible, you know about the doings of the prophet Moses. He did the impossible by leading the Jewish people across the bottom of the sea while its waters separated before him. This story inspired the Dutch architects that built a remarkable bridge in the village of Halsteren. It seemingly cuts through the water, going under it. And, of course, it is called the Moses Bridge. This imaginative project, which looks more like a piece of art, got the well-deserved “Best Building of 2011” award. Its construction cost 250,000 euros, but now many people come to cross it. The bridge itself is an addition to the pre-existing historical monument Fort De Roovere, a pentagonal island surrounded by a ditch. Fun fact: the water level is regulated by a dedicated construction that prevents flooding even during a downpour. The Moses Bridge is often included in the lists of the world’s most unusual bridges. If you’re travelling from Belgium, it’s most convenient to get here by car.
Everyone has heard about the International Court of Justice in the Hague, where global conflicts are regulated, and the legitimacy of different events is decided upon. But it’s worth coming here not only to take a look at the Court’s exterior, but also to see the miniature Netherlands. This is where you’ll find Madurodam, a park where the most famous Dutch sights are gathered at a 1:25 scale. This is actually a great starting point for your journey in this country because you’ll be able to decide which places you want to go to and what can be skipped.
Madurodam was built in 1952, and it has been a major tourist attraction ever since. It’s not just a park, but a mini-city with its own mayor who is elected by the municipal youth council. Nearly all the miniatures are movable: you can see the boats going down the channels of Amsterdam, the speed of the working windmills, the frequency of flights departing from Schiphol Airport, and more. This is a great place that will be interesting for both adults and children. You can buy tickets online, as well as check the working hours and the best ways to get to the park on its official website: https://www.madurodam.nl/en
As you can see, the Netherlands have quite a few cities that are worth checking out. The country isn’t large, so it’s pretty easy to move around it – you won’t have to cover a lot of distance between the cities. I also strongly recommend keeping an eye on exhibitions and museums that are opened here almost every season. No matter what time you pick to visit the Kingdom of the Netherlands, you’ll have a pleasant and fulfilling experience.