Netherlands: Main Sights
Bustling liberal cities, Windmills, flowers, fish, cafés, cheese - and tall people
You won’t have to look far for something to do in the Netherlands. Your main problem will be trying to fit everything in, as the Netherlands offer a variety of different things to see and do – for people of all ages and every taste and interest. Explore the award winning museums that bring history to life, splendid art galleries and beautiful and colourful gardens. The attractions of the Netherlands are just too numerous to mention, but here are some of the world class attractions and sights the Netherlands have to offer.
Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square): Amsterdam
The Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) is a typical taste of Dutch life in the centre of Amsterdam. The square is lined with bars, restaurants, cafes and hotels and is a great place for all sorts of fun, or perhaps just to watch the world go by. The Rembrandtplein is popular place for Amsterdam's nightlife, and you can while away a pleasant evening here in one of its many traditional bars listening to traditional Dutch music. In the summer, you can sit on one of its terraces and enjoy a drink, or perhaps a meal. You may also want to take a look at the several diamond merchants' premises here, although you may not be too impressed by the ubiquitous souvenir shops. At the centre of the square is a small park, where you can relax, or perhaps visit the statue of Rembrandt. For those who want a more adventurous evening, you can find excellent night clubs here, including several gay venues.
The Rijksmuseum (National Museum): Amsterdam
As is fitting for the country's national museum, the Rijksmusem is the largest museum in the Netherlands, having the largest building and the largest collection of artefacts. It also employs more staff than any other museum in the country, including 45 curators who are experts in all of the subjects that are exhibited. The Museum houses over 5,000 paintings and many other works of art in 200 rooms, so you will need to be selective in what you see, if you don't want to be exhausted! You probably will want to see the Museum's excellent collection of Flemish and Dutch masters from the 15th to 19th centuries and especially Rembrandt's The Night Watch. It is hardly surprising then that more than a million people visit the Rijksmuseum every year. Not only is the Rijksmuseum internationally renowned for its exhibitions, but it is also known for its pioneering work in extending the boundaries of scholarship and in encouraging new insights into art and culture. The Museum also devotes considerable resources to education and to the decor and layout of exhibitions. Leading designers are regularly commissioned to work on Rijksmuseum projects.
Vrijthof: Maastricht, Limburg Province
Vrijthof is one of the main squares in Maastricht and is situated right in the centre of the city. A tour of Vrijthof will give you a snapshot of the colourful history of Maastricht and its surrounding area. It is also one of the most famous squares in all of the Netherlands.
The Vrijthof has been an open space since time in memoriam (the name vrijt means free). Over the years, it has been used for a variety of purposes and originally started off as a cemetery. Later on, it became the parade ground for the local garrison and you can still see the former Guard-House, which lies on one side. Nowadays it is a wonderful place in which to pass the time and take in the scenery. In summer, the bars and terraces are always crowded there and many people enjoy the sun by lying in the centre of the square. It is also a wonderful place to view 2 of Maastricht's 3 churches, Sint Servaasbasiliek and St. Jan's Church, which are popular with many tourists. In winter, an ice-skating track provides a great opportunity to enjoy the square in a rather different way. The Vrijthof is at the centre of Maastricht' s vibrant nighlife, so when the sun goes down the square can be enjoyed in a completely different way.
The former home of the Dutch East India Company, Delfshaven is steeped in history. This is the place where the Pilgrim Fathers spent the night before setting off for North America. It is also where the Dutch naval captain and folk-hero Piet Hein lived, when he was not fighting the Spanish, or being held captive by them. Today, Delfshaven is a fun-shoppers paradise that is full of antique shops, art dealers, and other small shops selling bric à brac, glass and bridal fashions. Delfshaven also has two museums, an imposing church, two theatres and a corn mill. No visit to Delfshaven would be complete without a visit to De Dubbelde Palmboom. The site of a former warehouse, the building was converted into a museum in 1975, but it still retains all of the atmosphere of its former role. De Dubbelde Palmboom contains the full story of Rotterdam's past, as well as its present, with each floor highlighting a different aspect of this great seaport's unique and colourful history and life. If you want to find out more about Piet Hein, then visit the free exhibition devoted entirely to him there. Amongst other things, you can learn how he captured the entire Spanish silver fleet 1628.
Binnenhof: the Hague
The Binnenhof is the centre both of political power in the Netherlands and the geographical centre of the Hague itself. Its buildings are grouped together rather irregularly, some being quite ancient and others more modern, around a central courtyard. This rectangular complex of buildings faces a large man-made lake. The Binnenhof's history began in about 1250 when Count William II of Holland began building a castle there, which was later completed by his son Floris V. The Binnenhof became the residence of the Stadholders (Dutch Sovereigns) after the House of Orange came to power in the Netherlands. As the Binnenhof grew in political importance, the village of The Hague grew up around it. This rise to prominence took place during the protracted struggles to free the Netherlands from Spanish rule, when the Dutch States General proclaimed their independence. Today the term States General is used as the combined term for both houses of the Dutch Parliament. Today, The Binninhof's buildings house both chambers of the Dutch Parliament, as well as a number of government departments and the Dutch Prime Minister.
De Hoge Veluwe National Park: Gelderland
De Hoge Veluwe National Park is the oldest and largest national park in the Netherlands, but is a treasure that remains undiscovered by many visitors to the Netherlands. It consists of some 5,500 hectares of woodland, heathland, lakes and sand dunes, all of which are protected. If you are interested in art as well as nature then De Hoge Veluwe is worth a visit, because the Park also has its own art collection, containing one of the world's largest collections of Van Gough paintings, as well as some stunning architecture in and around the St Hubertus Hunting Lodge. For those who are interested in the outdoor life, there are plenty of opportunities for cycling and hiking. For example, the Park has over 26 miles (42 kilometres) of cycle paths, and free bicycles are available in the park. You can also go hiking, either with the help of a guide, or on your own. De Hoge Veluwe also has a game reserve in the south, which is home to many endangered plant and animal species. The reserve provides excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife. Entrance to the Park costs about £6.
Texel Island: Noord Holland
Texel, the largest and most south-western of the Dutch Wadden islands, will offer you and the family a wide variety of things to do and see. The island is only 50 miles (80 kilometres) north of Amsterdam by train/car and ferry, yet it could not be further away in terms of its atmosphere and ambience. The journey from Amsterdam will take you only 2.5 hours and includes a boat trip from Den Helder harbour on the mainland to Den Burg in Texel. The island's proximity to Amsterdam makes it an ideal venue for a day trip, but you will find more than enough there to enjoy a few days' stay. Texel has retained much of its original character and is quite different in many respects from the mainland of the Netherlands. You may want to savour the the unique tidal areas of De Muy and De Slufter near De Koog, with their fascinating interplay of land, sea and wind. Another place to visit is Eierland (Egg Land) in the northern part of the island, which is a breeding ground for thousands and thousands of migratory birds. Den Burg is the largest town in the island and has a good shopping centre. If sunbathing is your thing, then visit De Koog, which is Texel's best known seaside resort. Another place that is not to be missed is EcoMare, a centre that offers a host of information about local environment and nature. EcoMare also includes a bird sanctuary, a wild-life museum and a rehabilitation centre for seals.
Texel is a wonderful location for cycling with 75 miles (120 kilometres) of dedicated cycle tracks. You can do many other activities on the island too, including hiking, swimming, canoeing, windsurfing, catamaran sailing and even parachute jumping.
If you want to experience an old Dutch town that has largely been by-passed by other tourists, and which has an old centre that is relatively unspoilt, then Deventer should not be missed. Deventer's origins are extremely old, stretching back to the era of Charlemagne and there is even some evidence that the site of the town was occupied 3,000 years ago. Whatever its origins, by the early medieval period Deventer had developed into an important trading town, becoming a member of the Hanseatic League and receiving its municipal charter in the 13th century. It was the birthplace of the theologian Geert Groote (1340-84), founder in 1376 of the monastic community of Brothers of the Common Life. Among members of the Brotherhood were Erasmus, who lived in Deventer between 1475-76) and Thomas à Kempis, who also was associated with the town. You will be entranced and delighted by the Brink, Deventer's spacious main square, which is surrounded by old houses with their picturesque façades. Amongst the other attractions worth seeing are the Grote Kerk, an enormous Gothic basilica built in the 15th century and the Bergkwartier. This old district of Deventer, on the banks of the Ijssel, has a distinct and rather melancholy character. Its name is thought to be derived from the local fishermen who sailed to Bergen in Norway. The district contains many old houses that have been restored.
Take a Trip around the Dutch Bulb Fields: Keukenhof, Zuid Holland
Keukenhof is considered by many to be one of the the most beautiful places in the world when spring bursts out in all of its colourful majesty. Here you will be inspired and can relax in its magnificent park environment and enjoy the vast arrays of colour. As well as its millions of blooming flower bulbs and fantastic flower shows, Keukenhof also has the largest sculpture garden in the Netherlands and is one of the most photographed locations in the world. The Keukenhof Park was formerly a part of the estate of Slot Teylingen and was originally rather wild in appearance. The estate was later owned by several rich Dutch merchant families, eventually, Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt. The Baron and his wife had the lands around the castle landscaped in the English style and this became the basis for Keukenhof today. Nowadays Keukenhof is owned by the Corporation of Lisse. In 1949, the Mayor of Lisse, along with a number of leading flower bulb growers and exporters, held an open air flower exhibition was organised there for the first time. Over the years, the exhibition was expanded to the extent that today it draws tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Zuiderzee Museum: Enkhuizen Noord Holland
The Zuiderzee Museum is unique reconstruction village life around the Zuiderzee in around 1900. In this open air Museum, you will feel as if you are actually walking down one of the streets of a real Zuiderzee fishing village over 100 years ago. The open air setting makes it all come to life. As well as the village, the Museum contains one of the largest collections of ships throughout Europe. You can make your way down and wander around among the boats. The wooden ships are the Museum collection’s show pieces and include an ‘ijsvlet’ (ice boat), a transport ship and a Frisian hunting boat. As well as the Museum itself, there are art exhibitions, a museum park, a collection of over 2,400 artefacts from the Zuiderzee area, as well as paintings that depict aspects of life in the locality. The Museum has many activities aimed at children, including a visit to a 100 year-old sweet shop, dressing up, walking on stilts and treasure hunts.