Hotels in Amsterdam
  • The Netherlands is rightly known as ‘the land of bicycles’: around 15 million Dutch people regularly travel by bicycle and there are an estimated 12 million cycles in use. The popularity of cycling is perhaps mainly due to the country’s geography: distances between the cities are short and the countryside is almost totally flat, except for a few rolling hills in the east and south (the highest of which is a mere 321m/1053ft). Not surprisingly, cycling facilities are outstanding and there are approximately 17,000km (10,625 miles) of special cycling lanes and paths available. Detailed cycling maps (recommended) can be obtained for every province from local tourist information offices; as well as indicating cycling routes and tracks, the maps provide route descriptions and guides. Cycling lanes are recognisable by a round blue sign with a white bicycle in the middle. Most itineraries are circular routes, starting and ending at the same place. The province of Gelderland has the highest number of marked cycling routes. Landscapes vary from spectacular dunes (on the Duinroute in the north of the country) to wilderness and forests (on the route across the Hoge Veluwe nature reserve in the Gelderland Valley). Long-distance routes (such as the 270km/169-mile North Sea route LF1 between the Belgian border and the northern Dutch town of Den Helder) are also available. Bicycles can be hired virtually everywhere and a list of local hire companies is available from The Netherlands Board of Tourism (see Tourist Information). The Netherlands Railways also offer bike-rental vouchers, which can be bought at railway ticket offices. Vouchers can be used at bicycle depots at over 100 train stations throughout the country. Over 300 stations offer the facility to take bicycles onto the train. The classic Dutch upright single-speed hub-brake bicycle is the most frequent, but other types of bicycles (including mountain bikes, children’s bicycles and tandems) are also available.

  • In The Netherlands, walking holidays are also very popular; the 300km- (188 mile-) long coast has a number of scenic walks through sand dunes and nature reserves. Visitors can obtain maps with walking routes from the Foundation for Long Distance Walks (Stitching Lange-Afstand-Wandelpadsen), PO Box 846, 3800 AV Amersfoort (tel: (33) 465 3660). Visitors can also join the annual six-day walking event (beginning of August), where participants walk from Hook of Holland to Den Helder. At Wadden Sea National Park (Europe’s largest continuous national park), there is also the opportunity to take part in various types of mud walking trips on the bottom of the Wadden sea, whose shallows fall dry at low tide.

  • See the pretty canals of Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands (though not the seat of Government), and one of Europe’s great destinations, as popular with tourists as it is with businesspeople. Amsterdam’s lifeblood is water, which courses through the city in a concentric network of canals and waterways spanned by more than 1000 bridges. As Amsterdam is inextricably linked with water, one of the most attractive ways of viewing the city is on a canal tour. Many of the houses date back to The Netherlands’ golden age in the 17th century. These narrow-fronted merchants’ houses are characterised by the traditionally Dutch ornamented gables. The oldest part of the city is Nieuwmarkt, located near the first canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht – built to protect the city against invasion. In the 17th century, Amsterdam gained a reputation for religious tolerance, which attracted thousands of Flemish, Walloon and French Protestants, as well as Jewish merchants from Spain, Portugal and Central Europe. In towns such as Giethoorn in the province of Overijssel, small canals take the place of streets, and all transport is by boat.

  • The Netherlands provides a veritable feast for those artistically-inclined. In conjunction with The Netherlands having produced many great cultural figures, including artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Amsterdam alone boasts 53 museums, 61 art galleries, 12 concert halls and 20 theatres. A special canal boat (the ‘museum boat’) links 20 of the major museums. A special Museum Pass which entitles holders to free entry to over 400 museums is available from participating museums and local tourist offices. One of the city’s cultural Meccas is the Rijksmuseum, a voluminous art gallery that is home to the works of many of the country’s artistic luminaries, as well as numerous European masters. The highlight for many visitors is Dutch master Rembrandt’s epic Night Watch, though the list of the gallery’s treasures is almost endless. Van Gogh is also celebrated throughout the city, with the Rembrandt House Museum, housed in the historical building where the great artist used to live and work. The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, a collection of Dutch and international art from 1850 onwards, includes works by Cézanne, Chagall, Monet and Picasso, as well as photography, video, film and industrial design.

  • Party hard in Amsterdam, justifiably famous for its nightlife. Within a few blocks, well-heeled couples idle away an evening in a canal-side gourmet restaurant, and a group of backpackers stumble across the cobbles after a night in a cheery pub, as just around the corner the local trendies pose their way through an evening in a new-style bar. Then there is the Opera House, the string of concert venues, the football stadium, some of Europe’s best nightclubs and the jazz cafes, to name a few other nocturnal pastimes in Amsterdam. And, of course, there are the seedier ways to spend an evening, either exploring the infamous coffee shops of a city where soft drugs are not only allowed, but are sold over the counter, and the Red Light District, a nefarious playground where all sorts of characters mingle with the curious and the downright bizarre. Wherever tourists spend their evening, there is the same relaxed, live-and-let-live ambience of a city where almost anything goes.

  • Throughout The Netherlands are frequent markets, ranging from farmer's produce to knick-knacks. Amongst the best include a famous cheese market at Waagplein, open every Friday from mid-April to mid-September and another famous cheese market at Gouda, 20km (12 miles) southeast of Rotterdam.

  • See The Netherlands' many tulips; most spectacular glimpses of these flowers can be seen in Haarlem, 20km (12 miles) west of Amsterdam. Haarlem's surrounding countryside affords a fine view of the bulb fields from the end of March to mid-May. The town itself has a beautiful 16th- and 17th-century town centre and two fine museums. There is also a famous Flower Auction in Aalsmeer, open weekday mornings, the Keukenhof Gardens, which have a lily show in late May, and the renowned fruit trees of Boskoop, which is especially delightful during the blossom season.
    There are also some spectacular flower markets in Amsterdam, such as the famous Bloemenmarkt along the Singel canal, which is a major tourist attraction. Delft and Utrecht also have lovely flower markets. Dutch flower bulbs are available for sale but it is essential to make sure the vendor sells them with an official export certificate. There are also various colourful flower parades (corso), notably the Bollenstreek flower parade (the country’s biggest). Many parades display spectacular flower ‘floats’ made of hyacinths, daffodils and daliahs. The Floriade, held every 10 years in The Netherlands, is one of the world’s most famous flower exhibitions. Last held in 2002 (from mid-April to mid-October), the city of Haarlemmermeer hosted this prestigious horticultural event. Visitors may also visit one of the country’s unique flower auctions, such as the Flower Auction Holland near The Hague and Rotterdam in the Westland.

  • Explore the many churches of Utrecht, a city that is a favourite destination with the Dutch, offering Amsterdam’s charms on a smaller scale without the tourist hordes that fill the capital for much of the year. During the Middle Ages, Utrecht was often an imperial residence, and the city’s bishops regularly played an important role in the secular affairs of Europe. The city’s prosperity allowed the construction of its beautiful churches, which include, in particular, the Cathedral of St Michael (13th century), St Pieterskerk and St Janskerk (both 11th century) and St Jacobkerk (12th century). The best way to explore Utrecht is by canal boat, which takes visitors on a loop of the city that opens up its different districts.

  • See the seat of the Dutch government, home to over 60 foreign embassies, the International Court of Justice and the capital of the province of Zuid-Holland: The Hague. The central part of the Old Town is the Binnenhof, an irregular group of buildings surrounding an open space. Walking around the old parts of town is a joy in itself – the local tourist office publishes a map that opens up the city and also includes most of the many antique shops in The Hague. The Parliament Buildings and Knight’s Hall are 13th-century buildings where there are regular tours and slide shows that illuminate their history, while the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, housed in the Mauritshuis, is a collection that includes the Anatomical Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt, and other 17th-century Dutch works.

  • Watch the windmills of Kinderdijk, which can be visited during the week. Leiden, 20km (12 miles) northeast of The Hague, 40km (25 miles) north of Rotterdam), was not only the birthplace of Rembrandt, a famous weaving town during the Middle Ages, and a large-part player in the wars of independence against Spain in the 16th century, but also boasts one of the most charming windmills in the country, set in a park overlooking water.

  • If you decide to explore The Netherlands' maritime history, your first stop should be Rotterdam. Rotterdam is Europe’s largest and, indeed, the world’s second-largest, port and is the hub of the Dutch economy, but it is now also emerging as a tourist destination in its own right. Much of the city was obliterated during World War II, and only small parts of the old city remain. The best place to get an idea of the city layout is from the viewing level of the Euromast & Space Tower, which at 185m (605ft) is the highest point in The Netherlands. Rotterdam’s pride in its maritime heritage is on show at the Maritiem Museum Prins Hendrik, where outdoor and indoor exhibits include ships, barges, harbour cranes and marine archaeological artefacts. Regular boat tours also now take tourists around the city’s abundance of channels and waterways. Boat tours (Spido) through the harbour of Rotterdam are available throughout the year. In the summer, there are excursions to Europoort, the Delta Project, as well as evening tours, and there are also luxury motor cruisers for hire. A drive through the harbour of Rotterdam is also possible; the 100 to 150km (60- to 90-mile) journey takes in almost every aspect of this massive harbour. The route passes wharves and warehouses, futuristic grain silos and loading equipment, cranes and bridges, oil refineries, powerstations and lighthouses, all of which create a skyline of awesome beauty, particularly at sunset. The docks, waterways, canals and ports-within-ports are interspersed with some surprising and apparently incongruous features; at one point the route passes a garden city built for shipyard workers, while further on there is a village and, at the harbour’s westernmost point, a beach. A visit to Rotterdam harbour is recommended. Other interesting places to visit include the 17th-century houses in the Delfshaven quarter of the city; the Pilgrimskerk; collections of maps and seacharts at the Delfshaven Old Town Hall; many traditional workshops for pottery, watchmaking and woodturning. Rotterdam has also become something of a Mecca for designers and architects, who have flocked to the city to take part in its massive rebuilding programme, and their work is often showcased both in the buildings they create and also in temporary exhibits. Today, the waterfront is increasingly being transformed into a leisure oasis.

  • See the largest Cathedral in the country, St Jan’s Cathedral in ’s-Hertogenbosch (non-Dutch speaking visitors will welcome the use of ‘Den Bosch’ as a widely accepted abbreviation).

  • Visit the province of Zeeland's several medieval harbour towns, where some of the best seafood in Europe can be found. Most of the province lies below sea level and has been reclaimed from the sea. The region also includes several islands and peninsulas in the southwest Netherlands (Walcheren, Goeree-Overflakkee, Schouwen-Duiveland, Tholen, St Filipsland and North and South Beveland). The small town of Veere, 8km (5 miles) to the north, retains many buildings from its golden age in the early 16th century. The North Sea port of Flushing (Vlissingen) is, for many British travellers arriving by boat, their first sight of The Netherlands. It is also the country’s first town in another sense; in 1572 it became the first place to fly the free Dutch flag during the War of Independence.

Tourist Information
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) in the UK
PO Box 30783, London WC2B 6DH, UK
Tel: (020) 7539 7950 or (09068) 717 777 (brochure line; calls cost 60p per minute).

Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) in the USA
355 Lexington Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel: (212) 370 7360.

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