All About The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a pancake-flat nation wedged between Germany and the North Sea—in fact, over centuries the Dutch have employed dikes, canals, and windmill-driven pumps to reclaim nearly a fifth of the nation’s landmass from that sea (the Zaanse Schans district in North Holland and Kinderdijk in South Holland are best for windmill-spotting). The Dutch golden age was the 17th century, when its mercantile fleet extended the Netherlands’ reach to colonies in the New World and in Asia—which is why you’ll find great Indonesian food in Amsterdam.
Famously tolerant Amsterdam is a concentric ring of canals lined by gabled houses, where there are more bikes and boats than cars, and where the attractions run the gamut Red Light District to the Rijksmuseum (and its equally amazing neighbors, the Van Gough Museum and Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art), historic churches to sex museums, and the Anne Frank House to rollicking gin joints and those infamous “smoking cafes” selling marijuana. The riches that poured in during the Dutch golden age left cities like Haarlem (a smaller, quieter version of Amsterdam just short train ride away), Delft (famed for its pottery), and Leiden (in tulip country) lined by elegant 17th century townhomes and decorated by such homegrown Renaissance talents as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Franz Hals.
For such a small country, the Netherlands offers a wealth of experiences: A day on the dunes and beaches of the Friesland islands or at the cheese market in Gouda, a bike ride through Hoge Veluwe National Park to the Kröller Müller Museum (stupendous modern art) or a taste of the bustling city life, modern architecture and museums, and chic restaurant scenes of Utrecht, The Hague, or Rotterdam, the world’s largest port.
When to Go to The Netherlands: As with most of Western Europe, high season runs spring through fall, with a peak of crowds in July and August. Tulip-lovers will book ahead for the mid-April to mid-May blooming season. In a land a quarter of which lies below sea level, winters can get quite damp and chilly (and foggy).
Events and Holidays in The Netherlands:
|The Netherlands kicks off the official Dutch tulip season (which lasts through April) with a massive temporary garden of 200,000 tulips—free for the picking—on Amsterdam's Dam Square.|
|The pan-European pagan, role-reversal spring festival—in which mayors hand over the keys to the city to Prince Carnival, who then makes the rounds of area pubs where costumed locals greet him with an "Alaaf!" cheer—is most popular in the predominantly Catholic southern Netherlands (especially Limburg and Noord-Brabant provinces).|
|Keukenhof, the Garden of Europe, is one of the world's largest flower gardens, and it plants orderly rows of approximately seven million flower bulbs annually in its 79-acre park near in Lisse.|
|Bloemencorso means "flower parade," and while many Dutch towns feature floats magnificently decorated with flowers, the biggest parade is meanders from Noordwijk to Haarlem past the Keukenhof Gardens on April 23 (the parade sticks around Haarlem for April 24).|
|Some 950 Dutch mills are spruced up, decorated, and opened to the public in May—some even let you help turn the sails.|
|The Pinkpop Festival in Landgraaf is the world's oldest and longest running fest dedicated to pop and rock music, drawing 60,000 campers and A-list headliners since 1970.|
|Rotterdam becomes the jazz capital of the world for three days in July, with more than 1,300 acts, large and small, playing to 65,000 visitors on thirteen different stages.|
|Amsterdam—the first city in Europe to allow gay marriages and to erect a gay monument—hosts three days of gay-themed exhibitions, movies, workshops, and parties culminating in a canal parade of decorated long boats attended by half a million spectators.|
|The Jordaan Festival is a free street music festival of traditional crooners in the Jordaan district, and while the tunes range from jazz to hip hop, folk to cabaret, the biggest hits are traditional Dutch ballads sung in thick Amsterdammer accents, often in late-night singalongs in the streets.|
|The Amsterdam Marathon begins and ends at the Olympic Stadium, but is routed past many of the top sights in the downtown tourist district (including a tunnel under the Rijksmuseum). There is also a half marathon race and an 8 km option.|
|The world's largest documentary film festival receives the best entries in documentary film from around the world, its goal to promote creative documentaries and present them to as wide an audience as possible, along with a slate of debates, workshops, masterclasses, and forums.|
|St. Nicholas’ Eve is when Sinterklaas—white-bearded and dressed in his red robes and bishop's mitre—gives gifts to Dutch youngsters (older kids and adults exchange gifts along with punny poems). There are also plenty of public parties and celebrations, including festive songs dedicated to the saint, who traditionally arrives by boat on November 12 along with his helpers, the Piets (Peters).|