View of Amsterdam from the banks of the Amstel River in the Netherlands.

- © Yasonya / Shutterstock

Known for its dykes, mills and polders, the Netherlands is the land of wind, sea... and cannabis. This kingdom, which attracts tourists from all over the world, offers a wide choice of cultural activities.

Netherlands in short

Flower-filled riverbanks in Dutch towns

The Netherlands has so many clichés: windmills, cheese, tulips, canals, cannabis, cycling and art! It's a bit like the French beret and baguette, and it's hard to get rid of them, but that's also why tourists come. A small country invaded by water, the Netherlands is a land of traders and sailors. It has twelve provinces: Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Zeeland, Noord-Brabant, Utrecht, Flevoland, Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland and Limburg. In almost every town in the country, you'll find the charming canals that run through the urban centres, rushing through the locks. Boats, bridges and quays, Dutch cities are as much decorated by bicycles as by the barges on which tourists spend the night.

Holland is a country crossed by water. View of windmills near Amsterdam, Holland.

- © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

The Dutch: a welcoming and open-minded people

The unique character of these people is a gentle blend of Protestant rigour, tolerance and extravagance. A recipe that seems to be working, given the economy, which is in good shape, and the cultural life. The Dutch respect the law. There's no need for inspectors to check that people are paying for public transport, and no need for fines to keep the streets clean. Motorists respect cyclists, who in turn respect pedestrians, and so on. As a tourist, try to blend in. The Dutch are tolerant by nature and will appreciate you trying to tame their customs. On the other hand, stag parties and other overly decadent trips are increasingly frowned upon by the locals: in Amsterdam, the Dutch government has kindly asked "young English men" to stop partying in their homes...

The famous tulips and windmills of Holland.

- © Pajor Pawel / Shutterstock

Amsterdam, one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations

Of the main cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, the first attracts most tourists... Charming, cheeky and culturally rich, it is one of those cities where tourists, businessmen and punk can be found at the same terrace, in a relaxed, unprejudiced atmosphere. It has to be said that Amsterdam likes to make a name for itself, with its coffee shops, its prostitute windows and also some of the most beautiful museums in the world: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum are the most visited. But there are many others, and the extravagance is once again evident in the torture, sex and cannabis museums.

The beauty of Amsterdam at sunset

- © Yasonya / Shutterstock

The beauty of Amsterdam at sunset A city that also appeals to night owls, whether they're sitting in a bar sipping a beer brewed by monks or dancing to the electro beats of top DJs. It's a village-like capital that can be explored by bike or on foot!

The Red Light District and its windows full of prostitutes is not an attraction to be photographed. It is important to preserve their privacy.

On the outskirts of the big cities, the countryside opens its doors to fields of tulips and thousands of windmills, while the windy coasts have beaches where swimming is reserved for the bravest. Although the tulips only reveal their colours in spring, the windmill route and the seaside offer a magnificent spectacle in both summer and winter. In winter, the cold may put off some tourists, but in summer, the seaside resorts along the coast are overrun. In the water, however, only the bravest go swimming!

A journey for every traveller

For sports enthusiasts, the Netherlands is full of beautiful flower-filled meadows with gentle slopes, ideal for family or romantic bike rides. If you want to discover Dutch culture, the great names in art or the Renaissance architecture of Dutch buildings, the cities of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht and Delft are full of charm and unique identities. Rotterdam is a city that stands apart from the rest, and has done so for a long time. After the war, when everything had to be rebuilt, it opted for a resolutely offbeat style of architecture, and today continues to display its contemporary and very arty style. Maastricht, more student-oriented and less touristy, is the oldest city in the country. It blends different atmospheres and cultures in an exceptional setting.

The beaches of Holland are magnificent

- © dropStock / Shutterstock

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The must-sees

All the must-sees

How to get there?

To get to the Netherlands by plane, there are several international airports, including Schiphol in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. Schiphol airport is one of the busiest in Europe, with over 100 airlines operating flights to destinations all over the world. Shuttle buses, trains and taxis are available to take you from the airport to your final destination, and if you prefer to take the train, the Netherlands has an excellent rail network. As well as reducing your carbon footprint, you'll have connections to all the major tourist cities in the country and Europe.

Where to stay?

Welcome to the Netherlands, where you can relax in a luxury hotel, party in a youth hostel, eat gouda at a local's house or even camp in a field of tulips... or not. There's accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, so all you have to do is choose the one that suits you best. But be warned, if you opt for a youth hostel without joining in the euphoria, don't forget your earplugs...

Practical information

The best souvenirs to bring back from the Netherlands: Cheese, diamonds and earthenware

Earthenware (including the famous Delft blues), traditional costumes and clogs are among the truly typical souvenirs, sometimes a little kitsch. Gourmets can take home some old Gouda, which is rather rare in France, and Amsterdam has been one of the world's leading diamond centres since the 16th century. Prices are not necessarily cheaper than elsewhere, but the cutting technique is beyond reproach. Food, flower and flea markets are very common. Shops are open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., except in the big cities, where they are open 7 days a week, sometimes until 10 p.m.

The Dutch culinary tradition of fish and cabbage

In the north of the country and around Amsterdam, Alkmaar cabbage soup and cheese soup are traditionally served as starters. For the main course, try Dutch sauerkraut and smoked eel. Stamppot is mashed potatoes with cabbage or chicory, served with smoked sausages or strips of pork. Surrounded by the sea, the Northern Province serves a wide range of fish: raw herring, fried mackerel, turbot or sole are all common dishes. Mussels, a very popular dish, are cooked in white wine with onions and leeks and traditionally served with chips. The Dutch eat a hearty breakfast and a frugal lunch, nibbling on fresh herring or broodje, a small sandwich of fresh meat and vegetables.

The Netherlands at Christmas: a magical journey

Christmas in the Netherlands is a magical time of year, when the streets are decked out in twinkling lights and the Christmas markets offer a warm and festive atmosphere. The Amsterdam Christmas market, for example, is famous for its stalls selling Dutch culinary specialities, handcrafted Christmas decorations and unique gifts. Many countries celebrate St Nicholas Day on 6 December, but the Netherlands is the only nation to start the festivities as early as November with a re-enactment of the bishop's arrival by boat, all broadcast on TV. On the afternoon of 5 December, the country comes to a standstill as everyone goes home to celebrate the saint and give presents. In January, when the days are cold and dark, everyone starts skating on the frozen canals. The Elfstedentocht, a marathon, involves skating through eleven towns in Friesland. On New Year's Eve, the tradition is to burn firecrackers in the streets, and the Dutch have a field day. The next day, the streets are covered in red paper, proving that the party was in full swing.

Getting around the Netherlands

Visitors can take advantage of the Holland Travel Ticket, a single ticket that allows travellers to use all types of public transport in the Netherlands for just €48. These tickets can be purchased from vending machines at all stations in the country, as well as from 'Service counters'. This card allows foreign visitors to visit all the country's cities, making it easier to get to museums outside Amsterdam and thus make the most of the country's cultural and architectural diversity.Beware of trams in Amsterdam, they always arrive where you least expect them and, unlike in Paris, don't have their own track.Otherwise, a boat trip along the canals as a first approach to the city is a good way of understanding the layout of this city where you quickly get lost.

A country you can explore by bike

After China, the Netherlands is the second country with the most bicycles. There are around 14 million bicycles for almost 16 million inhabitants! It's second nature to the population and a very common means of getting around. Cycle paths have been laid out everywhere and there are plenty of cycle hire shops, but beware: the Dutch are merciless with pedestrians on cycle paths.

Amsterdam's coffeeshops

If you're coming to Amsterdam to smoke cannabis, it's forbidden to smoke in the street, let alone roll a joint. Travellers are reminded that tipping is de rigueur, even in coffeeshops. The tip is approximately 10% of the bill.

Tourist offices in the Netherlands

There are many tourist offices, designated by the letters VVV (initials of Société pour la circulation des étrangers, in Dutch), but they offer brochures (maps, good addresses) and services (reservations) for a fee.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

Museums are often crowded, so it's best to go at lunchtime or at the end of the day, as they sometimes close later.

Useful links
Netherlands Tourist Office

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