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Our best discoveries in the Netherlands

Recently we were going through the photos we’d taken during our trip to the Netherlands in 2020, and we realized we wanted to share some of our favorite discoveries from the handful of towns we visited: 

The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, Gouda, Zandvoort, Amsterdam.

Now that it’s winter break here and we have no new travel plans on the horizon with the current situation, we’ve been reminiscing about our recent trips. 2020 was supposed to bring us to the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, where we would finally explore legendary cities like Samarkand and Bukhara, like we’ve dreamed of doing for many years. We’ve had to give up on that dream, if only for the time being …

Instead, we chose a destination that was much closer, for about a week-long trip: the Netherlands. After the lockdown in France in the spring of 2020, our goal was simply to get some fresh air and get away for a while. We needed a change of scenery, to take the time to be outside, walk around, and enjoy a little freedom (with all the necessary safety measures).

From Strasbourg, you can get to Amsterdam by plane (a direct flight with Air France-KLM takes 1 hr and 25 mins), by train (6 or 7 hrs via Paris) or by car (6.5 hrs). You could try other modes of transport (magic carpet, unicorn, bike, scooter …), but we’re not too sure about the travel times.

Suring our stay, we were based in Gouda (yes, like the cheese!). We explored a new city every day and travelled by train to avoid the regularly gridlocked Dutch highways. The pre-paid travel card  OV-chipkaart (which you can easily top up at the train station ticket office) is very handy here. You can use it on all public transport in the Netherlands, including trains.

The Hague

The Dutch government and parliament are based in The Hague, which is the administrative capital of the Netherlands. It’s not a rare sight in town to spot the Prime Minister pedal by you on his bike …

Our discoveries

• The Parliament district and especially de Hofvijver (the Court Pond) at the foot of the houses of Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Office is located in a small tower directly overlooking the pond. Right next to the Parliament, you’ll find one of the country’s most famous art museums: het Mauritshuis

• Not far from the houses of Parliament – het Lange Voorhout, with its antique market, and the little streets behind the exclusive Hôtel des Indes.

• The pedestrian city center, with its luxury boutiques near Paleis Noordeinde (the royal palace) and more trendy and cool shops near de Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk (the Great or St. James’ Church).

• The Passage: this neo-Renaissance-style shopping gallery is the oldest shopping center in the Netherlands, dating back to 1885.

• The façade and interior of The Sting department store

Rotterdam

One of the Netherlands’ most modern cities – located by the Nieuwe Maas river. The architecture is almost entirely contemporary, because of the massive bombings the city endured during WWII. Rotterdam is particularly dynamic and is constantly reinventing itself.

Our discoveries

• De Kubuswoningen (Cube houses): these purposely wonky-looking, cube-shaped houses, as well as the pencil-shaped building Het Potlood, were designed by architect Piet Blom. 

• Markthal: the largest market hall in Holland. This indoor market serves a double function – both commercial (with market stalls and restaurants) and residential (with apartments on the upper floors). Inside the building, the ceiling and walls are entirely covered with a massive mural depicting fruit, vegetables and grains.

• De Erasmusbrug (Erasmus bridge): this cable-stayed bridge has become one of the city’s icons. It’s almost as tall as Strasbourg Cathedral (the bridge is 139 m and the Cathedral spire is 142 m). We recommend crossing the bridge on foot.

• The Wilhelminapier peninsula. After the bridge, take a right on the peninsula and walk along the waterfront. If the weather permits, have a seat on a bench in the sunshine and watch the boats glide by. 

• For a little treat: enjoy an afternoon tea at Hotel New York (at the very end of the Wilhelminapier). This hotel used to be the main office of the Holland-America Line, which ran cargo and passenger ships between Rotterdam and New York.

Delft

The city where Vermeer lived, and birthplace of the blue and white Royal Delft pottery that carries its name.

Our discoveries

• Het Prinsenhof (the prince’s court): the former residence of William the Silent, Prince of Orange in the 16th century, is a puzzle of ancient buildings, archways and little gardens

• Het Stadhuis: Delft’s Renaissance style city hall in the market square

• De Oostpoort: The Eastern gate (from the early 15th century) with its two Brick Gothic towers and drawbridge

• De Voldersgracht: a canal lined with flowers and picturesque houses.

Gouda 

This town is famous for its cheese, yet underestimated for its charming streets and canals.

Our discoveries

• Het Stadhuis: Gouda’s city hall is known for its characteristic red and white shutters. One of the oldest city halls in the Netherlands

• The cheese market: To buy some very goud-a cheese, head to the cheese market – every Thursday morning from April to August (if the context allows for it). Don’t forget to bring cash! 

• The canals, which are perhaps more unspoiled than in Amsterdam, are lined with quaint houses and shop fronts reminiscent of the 19th century (antiques shops, wine and liquor stores, bookshops …).

• The neighborhood around Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church). The church is the longest in the country, and famous for its stained-glass windows.

Zandvoort

One of the few towns in the Netherlands where you can walk along the North Sea on a paved promenade or directly on the sand (and relax on the beach if the weather is nice enough). In the off season, it’s a lot calmer in Zandvoort than in Scheveningen, the seaside town next to The Hague.

Amsterdam

The vibrant capital – a labyrinth of bricks and water.

We’d had the opportunity to experience several of the city’s must-see sights during previous trips (the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Albert Cuyp market, the flower market, Dam Square, Anne Frank’s house …). This time however, we made the most of the wonderful weather and went on a very long walk, thereby avoiding waiting in line for different tourist attractions:

• We pretended to get lost for hours in the maze of canals and side streets, taking in the buildings in Jordaan (the neighborhood around Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Westerkerk, and Magere Brug)

• Strolled and relaxed in Vondelpark, a massive green lung in the heart of the city

• Went shopping around Spuistraat

• Admired the colorful façades in Damrak

Shopping tip: Many shops and stalls in the Netherlands only accept Dutch debit/credit cards or cash.

21 replies on “Our best discoveries in the Netherlands”

How wonderful! That’s exactly what we hoped to achieve with our post. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and we wish you a wonderful trip to the Netherlands as soon as travel is possible again.

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Thank you so much, Olivia! Oh yes, the Netherlands are definitely a must-see. Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but there’s so much more to explore as well! Hope you can cross it off your bucket list soon.

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Thank you for your wonderful comment ❤️ we hope you get to visit some day soon. In the mean time, we’re thrilled to contribute to your vicarious jaunting 😄

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Great post. I will revisit when I can return to Amsterdam. I too planned to step foot on the Silk Road via journeying in Georgia and Armenia, but that October 2020 trip of course was cancelled. I agree that Vondelpark is wonderful. I did manage to get lost there (yes, I know it is a circlular route) and wrote about it in my blog a few years ago when we also did a visit to the province of Friesland.

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Thanks so much, Mary Lou! It really is too bad about having all those wonderful travel plans cancelled. All we can do is hope for the next few months. Vondelpark isn’t the worst place to get lost for a while 😊 Friesland is beautiful – we visited the island of Terschelling a few years ago. Zeeland is also worth a trip!

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