Netherlands things to see and do

Tourist offices

Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) in the UK

PO Box 30783, 15-19 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6DH, United Kingdom
Tel: (020) 7539 7950.
www.holland.com/uk

Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) in the USA

355 Lexington Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, NY, 10017, Netherlands
Tel: (212) 370 7360.
www.holland.com

Things to see and do

Afsluitdijk

Drive or cycle across the Afsluitdijk, a 30km (19 mile) barrier built in the 1930s to close off the Zuiderzee from the North Sea, creating the now freshwater IJsselmeer. Motorists can stop at a lookout point halfway across the road linking Friesland with Noord-Holland.

Amsterdam

Holland's emblematic capital (www.iamsterdam.com) brims with romance, culture and kicks. Take a candlelit cruise along the canals, lined with narrow-fronted buildings dating from the city's heyday as a trading centre, browse the paintings of the Dutch masters at the Rijksmuseum or join the punters prowling the alleyways of the Red Light District.

Amsterdam Arena

Enjoy a football match at one of the top Dutch stadia, Amsterdam Arena, home of the famous Ajax (www.ajax.nl), PSV's Philips Stadion in Eindhoven (www.psv.nl) or De Kuip, in Rotterdam, where Feyenoord play (website: www.feyenoord.com).

Anne Frank Huis (Anne Frank House)

The small, but highly, popular Anne Frank House annually attracts up to 1 million visitors per year; expect lengthy queues. It is the historic home where Anne Frank, her family and four other Jewish people hid from the occupying Germans during WWII, after fleeing their native Germany. Finally caught by the Nazis after two years in hiding, they were taken off to concentration camps, where Anne eventually died. However, her father survived and published her diary, which takes pride of place here.

Arnhem

Take a trip to Arnhem (www.vvvarnhem.nl), in southeastern Holland, scene of WWII's 'Operation Market Garden', in which the city's Rhine crossing proved a 'Bridge too Far' for the allied forces attempting to bring an early conclusion to hostilities.

Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer (the Aalsmeer Flower Auction)

Get up early to witness trading at Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer (the Aalsmeer Flower Auction) (www.floraholland.com). Close to Schipol airport, the auctions take place in five halls at what is the world's largest commercial building at 999,000 sq m (10.7million sq ft). It's best to arrive by 7 am; Thursdays are busiest.

Boat tour

Take a glass-topped boat tour round Amsterdam's many waterways and harbour. It is an excellent way to see the city's most interesting areas. Another option is to take the Museum Boat (www.water-taxi.nl), which links most of the major cultural attractions.

Cheese markets

Enjoy the spectacle of one of Holland's cheese markets. The best are Waagplein, in Alkmaar (www.alkmaar.nl), where every Friday from mid-April to mid-September, thousands of wheels of cheese are lined up in rows by the central weighing house, taste-tested and carted away by guildsmen in traditional costume. The town of Edam holds a similar market on Wednesdays in summer.

Corpus Experience, Leiden

Explore the interior workings and health of the human body at Corpus, a new visitor attraction near Leiden (www.corpusexperience.nl). The attraction also incorporates a medical information centre with changing exhibitions.

Delft

Watch the skills of the porcelain makers at the Royal Delft pottery (www.royaldelft.com), in the town of Delft. Also home town of Johannes Vermeer, it now features a centre (www.vermeerdelft.nl) dedicated to the painter of The Milkmaid and other masterworks of light.

Diamond trading

Visit one of Amsterdam's diamond traders, and watch craftsmen cutting and polishing the precious stones. Among the best known is Gassan, in Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat (www.gassandiamonds.com), where stones can be selected and mounted in jewellery on the spot.

Dutch National Railway Museum

Relive history at the expanded and renovated Het Spoorwegmuseum (Dutch National Railway Museum) (www.spoorwegmuseum.nl), at Maliebaanstation in Utrecht, with its extensive collection of historic rolling stock and memorabilia. A regular train link connects the museum with Utrecht Central.

Gouda

Stroll around the historic city of Gouda, following the Cheese Map (available from the local tourist office; www.vvvgouda.nl), which leads visitors around the various landmarks, including the Weighhouse Museum, associated with cheesemaking in the city.

Haarlem

A brief train ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem makes a serene alternative to the capital. Its beautifully preserved historic core centers on the Grote Kerk, a magnificent Gothic church. Admire the paintings of 17th-century master Frans Hals, then zip over to Zandvoort, a major beach resort.

Hermitage Amsterdam

Housed in the historic Amstelhof, this recently opened museum is a sibling of its namesake in St Petersburg. The main permanent collection focuses on artistic and cultural links between Russia and the Netherlands, with exhibits brought in from St Petersburg. There are also a wide range of temporary exhibitions, as well as a section on the heritage of the historic home of the museum itself.

Hoge Veluwe National Park

Take a trip to the Hoge Veluwe National Park (www.hogeveluwe.nl) near Arnhem, among whose attractions is an underground museum dedicated to subterranean life, and the Kröller-Müller Museum (www.kmm.nl) which contains 280 Van Gogh paintings as well as numerous other works. Bicycles are available free of charge to visitors.

Leiden

A longtime intellectual center, Leiden (portal.leiden.nl) is the site of the country's first university, dating from 1575. Among the dozen museums dispersed along its canalways is De Lakenhal, with masterworks by native son Rembrandt van Rijn, and the Boerhaave natural sciences museum, which holds the microscopes used by van Leeuwenhoek.

Maastricht

Head to the far southeast of The Netherlands to see the medieval architecture of Maastricht (www.vvv-maastricht.eu), Holland's oldest fortified city. Highlights include the basilica churches of Our Lady and St Servatius, and spectacular caves in the surrounding hills.

Madurodam

Enjoy a miniaturised flavour of the whole of The Netherlands at Madurodam (www.madurodam.nl), which replicates many aspects of the country in 1:25 scale, incorporating windmills, a cheese market and what is claimed as the world's most extensive miniature railway.

Museums and galleries

See some of the many great works of art, including those of Dutch painters such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer displayed in Amsterdam's many museums and galleries, including the Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl).

Nationaal Park Zuid Kennemerland

Cycle or hike through the Kennemerland national park, a unique ecosystem skirting the coast west of Haarlem. Paths weave through woods, by lagoons, and up along massive dunes, which stretch 20km up the coast. Bright blooms enhance the golden sands in spring.

NEMO Museum

Bringing to mind a massive seagoing vessel, the cutting-edge NEMO Museum is an unmistakable sight on the banks of the IJ, a short stroll from Centraal Station. It offers plenty of hands-on exhibits to stimulate young minds and keep them occupied, blowing giant bubbles, looking at cosmic rays and maybe even creating life. Older visitors, too, may be intrigued by the exhibits on science and technology. The rooftop has a beach area, a surreal place to take in the rays on a sunny day.

Website: www.e-nemo.nl
Rent a bicycle

Rent a bicycle and join the Dutch on the country's most popular form of transport. There are around 17,000km (10,600 miles) of designated cycle tracks around The Netherlands, which due to its generally flat landscape, is ideal.

Rotterdam

Standing at the mouth of the Rhine river, the port of Rotterdam (www.rotterdam.nl) is a showcase for innovative architecture. Ride the high-speed lift up Euromast in Rotterdam (www.euromast.nl), and dine at a height of 100m (328ft) overlooking the world's biggest harbour. Then, if you're brave, ascend even higher to 185m (605ft) with the Euroscoop experience. Step back into history at Zaanse Schans village (www.zaanseschans.nl), a short distance from Amsterdam, with its traditional houses, working windmills, clog factory, cheese farm, boat builder's and several museums.

Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)

The Royal Palace, which dates from 1648, was originally Amsterdam's town hall; it is regarded as the most important cultural and historical building from 17th-century Amsterdam. The building's exterior was originally made of white stone, although none of the white is actually visible today, whilst famous painters including Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol were brought in to contribute to the interior. Today, the palace, which has been state property since 1936, houses an impressive collection of furniture left behind by Napoleon who made it his home in 1808, as well as chandeliers and clocks from this period. The palace is the official residence of the Dutch Royal Family.

The Hague

Seat of Dutch government and royalty, as well as of the International Court of Justice, Den Haag (www.the-hague.info) thrills architecture fans with its rich catalogue of palaces and government buildings. As an added attraction, the adjacent seaside resort of Scheveningen features a vast sandy beach.

Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens

With some 4.5 million tulips and 15 kilometers of footpaths, Keukenhof gardens (www.keukenhof.nl), south of Haarlem, makes the ultimate outing for ogling Holland's famed flower. The bulb fields in and around Keukenhof burst into colour from the end of March to mid May.

Utrecht

Home to Holland's biggest university, Utrecht (www.utrechtyourway.nl) boasts a youthful, active vibe. The old centre, laced by canals, is a pleasure to stroll. Climb the elegant tower of the 14th-century Dom (cathedral) tower or visit the town's many museums, including one dedicated to the work of Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy (www.dickbrunahuis.com).

Vondelpark

Just a short walk from the Leidseplein, the Vondelpark is an ideal place for visitors to get away from it all. Named after a famous Dutch poet, the 49-hectare (120 acre) park is the ‘green lung' of Amsterdam. With upwards of 10 million visitors annually, it contains ponds, gardens, lakes, playgrounds, a skating rink, cafés and a bandstand. During summer, there are regular free concerts, and at times, palm readers and buskers (African drummers, classical quartets and jazz singers) provide entertainment.

Wadden Islands

Explore the Waddeneilanden, an island chain off the coast of Friesland. Served by regular ferry services in summer, the five isles are fringed on their North Sea side by fine sand beaches. Cycling is the accepted way to get around and wadlopen (hiking the mud flats at low tide) is a popular activity.

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