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The lowdown on all things Netherlands. This is your definitive guide to holidaying in the Netherlands.
The Dutch say that while God made the Earth, they made The Netherlands. Sure of themselves, yes. But to be fair, they have a point…
Nowhere has Netherland's breath-taking landscape been more elegantly tamed than in Amsterdam, the city of canals and bicycles. Streets are narrow and jostling with crooked 17th century architecture, and street music, especially in and around Rembrandt Square, adds to the city’s ambience. Cycle through the passageway under the Rijksmuseum and you’ll glide into Museumplein, where tourists flit amongst the locals and the call of Van Gogh resonates in the air (from the museum not because he ever lived here). Beyond the capital lie quintessential Dutch towns such as Delft and reminders of the Second World War at Arnhem (the Bridge Too Far) and, of course, tulips. The Keukenhof Gardens at Lisse explode into colour every spring with nearly eight million bulbs. You’ll also want to sample the famous Amstel beer and visit the cheese-makers who gave us Edam and Gouda. No need to worry about a spreading waistline as the Netherlands is perfect for biking and the Dutch are incredibly bike-friendly.
1. How long can I stay without a visa?
New Zealand citizen holders with a valid New Zealand passport are not required to obtain a visa to enter The Netherlands, as long as you stay no more than 90 days.
2. What’s the local currency?
3. Do I need to tip?
Similar to NZ, those who work in the hospitality industry can earn good wages. As a result, they don’t rely on tips to survive (this is often the case in many European countries, such as the UK). At most restaurants, simply round off the amount on the bill. However, if you’re eating at a fine dining restaurant, a 10% gratuity is customary. Hotel porters will appreciate one or two Euros, but you needn’t tip taxi drivers or bar staff.
4. Transport to and from the airport
Getting from Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport to the city.
A direct railway line connects Schiphol International Airport with Amsterdam Central Station. Running every 10 minutes, it is the fastest mode of transport into the city.
Amsterdam Airport Shuttles run by Connexxion depart every 10 minutes. Expect to pay approx. €17 for one-way or €27 for a return.
Say no to public transport. We guarantee after a 24+ hour flight from NZ, you won't want to deal with a transfer via trains and buses. Ask your HoT consultant about booking a transfer before you even leave NZ.
5. Getting around
If you plan on using public transport across The Netherlands (highly recommended as it’s efficient, easy and reliable) consider buying an OV-chipkaart. Used nationally, it’s a reusable contactless smart card system used for all public transport across the country, which includes trains, metro, buses, trams and light rail.
We recommend purchasing ‘The anonymous OV-chipkaart’
The Netherlands boasts approximately 22,000 km of bicycle paths, which criss-cross the country are mostly numbered for navigational ease. It's as simple as getting a map, picking a number, and getting on your bike.
6. Weather: What can you expect when you go?
Like much of Europe, the Netherlands can enjoy a temperate climate, especially in the summer. Spring is generally mild and cool, whereas like a lot of Europe, summers can be stifling. Compared to much of Europe (the UK, Scandinavia etc) the winters are quite mild – but still cold enough to warrant a coat and hat we may add. By no means a Kiwi winter - you're in the northern hemisphere now layer up appropriately.
Rainfall is common throughout the year, while The North Sea and Atlantic Ocean both play a part in sculpting the weather. Winters are chilly but summers average between 17-20°C. Typical summer highs sit around 23°C, but if you visit between the months of May and September you’ll probably fare well, with temperatures ranging between 18/19°C and up to 23°C (on average).
7. Top 10 phrases
8. Rules and customs
1. Did you know Holland is not the country? But only an area of the nation. So when talking about the country, refrain from calling it anything but the Netherlands.
2. The Dutch are famously tolerant towards prostitution and cannabis. But they do tend to get a little bit fed up that's all they're known for. So tread carefully.
3. Prostitution is legal: At a registered, permitted brothel, and red-light districts are popular, especially in Amsterdam. Head towards The Nieuwmarkt for the gateway to the city’s Red Light District. With unique boutiques and some of the city’s prettiest canals, Amsterdam’s most notorious neighbourhood isn’t solely about gawking at its legal taboos, nor is it about ignoring them altogether. Discover its every lure, which is as much about the sightseeing as it is about the all-embracing culture. Avoid at your own regret.
4. Coffee shops: The sale, possession, and consumption of cannabis (while technically still illegal) is officially tolerated. If you are 18 or older, you are allowed to buy and smoke a maximum of 5g or less of cannabis or hash. Permitted only in a coffeeshop, which are abundant in most large towns. Coffeeshops are banned from overt advertising, so many use the Rastafarian red-yellow-green colours to indicate what they sell inside. This rule also helps if you really do just want a flat white.
5. Smoking is banned: In all (regular) cafes, bars and restaurants.
6. Bicycles are everywhere. Especially in Amsterdam. Approximately 12,000 - 15,000 bicycles are pulled out of Amsterdam canals every year.
9. Where to have fun
One of Amsterdam’s favourite watering holes is Brouwerij't IJ, also known as the ‘windmill brewery’. It’s the only windmill in downtown Amsterdam and makes its own beer (and at a decent price). Food-wise, you’ll definitely want to try stroopwafel (waffles). The worst kept secret in Amsterdam is that the best stroopwafel comes from a certain vendor set up in the Albert Cuypmarkt. He’s down by the Bazar Restaurant, just look for the big red and white ‘Stroopwafel’ sign. Outside of the capital, make a bee-line for Keukenhof Gardens. Often referred to as the ‘most beautiful spring garden in the world’, it’s the second largest flower garden in the world. But don’t let the silver medal status put you off, there are seven themed gardens spread across a colossal 79-acres. And this is the Netherlands; what they don’t know about a beautiful tulip, nobody does.
If Hobbits had built Venice, it would look like Giethoorn. With no roads, homes in Giethoorn sit on small private islands and can only be accessed by quaint canals and bridges. Unfathomably pretty, the Kodak moments are non-stop in these parts. Don’t miss the Van Gogh Bicycle Path in Eindhoven. An ode to Gogh’s The Starry Night, the walkway features a pathway of pebbles, with stones that have all been coated in a special smart coating and soak up solar rays during the day. As night descends, the entire route is bathed in a dreamy blue-green glow. Walkable as well as bike-riding worthy, it’s a deliciously romantic option for a both a pre or post-dinner rendez-vous.
10. What to do in an emergency
The Netherlands is considered one of the safest countries in Europe, but crime is higher in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. As with all large European cities, pickpockets can be rife. Stay on your guard. Call 112 for the emergency services: police, ambulance and fire brigade.
House of Travel recommends anyone travelling to the UK and Europe registers with Safe Travel. As well as offering invaluable travel advice, should an emergency arise, they can find you, check your well-being and send important travel information.
We recommend safely and securely storing three important travel documents (your passport, credit card and driver's license) on your phone. Use an app such as Traveler ID which will store a series of documents in one place. Of course, you might lose your phone, so also store them in the Cloud, or your saved emails.
11. Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
If your phone is unlocked you’ll be able to purchase a Dutch sim card. It’s possible to buy one from the main entrance of Schiphol International Airport but there are only two brands: Lebara and Vodafone. If you have time to shop around, downtown Amsterdam will provide more choice such as Lycamobile and Telfort. It’s not unusual to find supermarkets selling their own SIMs in Europe. One of the biggest discounted supermarket chains in the Netherlands, Aldi, sell SIM starter packs. They’re exclusively sold in-store, but they’re usually very competitively priced.
12. HOT’s top 5 Dutch eats
1. Stroopwafel: We have pavlova, and the Netherlands has stroopwafel. It’s a simple dish, just two very thin waffles glued together with a gooey caramel filling, but it’s devilishly good.
Try it: The Stroopwafel stand at the Albert Cuypmarkt (market). Using the traditional secret recipe from the city of Gouda, you won't find better.
Address: Albert Cuyp markt, Kraam 134, Amsterdam.
2. Bitterballen: Dutch bar snacks found on every menu across every pub, café and bistro, bitterballens are deep fried crispy meatballs, usually served with dipping mustard.
Try it: Jump on the ferry to NDSM-wharf. An industrial spot constructed from disused shipping containers, NDSM-wharf is a little Amsterdam secret. Sit outside ''Pllek' bar and look over across the small slither of beach while eating the best bitterballens in the city. The ferry departs from behind the Centraal Station.
Address: Tt. Neveritaweg 59, 1033 WB Amsterdam.
3. Stamppot: The ultimate Dutch comfort food, like many traditional European dishes, this one comes from leftovers - and ‘making a lot from very little’. Comprising mashed potato with sauerkraut, carrot, onion or kale, as well as a big juicy sausage, it might not be flash, but poverty wasn’t in the 17th century.
Try it: For a quick and easy on-the-go stamppot, duck into Hema, a no frills restaurant on the top floor of a store in Rotterdam - slap bang in the city centre.
Address: Beursplein 2, 3011 AA Rotterdam.
4. Snert: We know what it sounds like, and to be quite frank, it looks like it too. But don’t let the thick, globby texture of Snert put you off, because this Dutch fave is actually delicious. A hearty winter broth, you get a big bowl of thick green stew, jam-packed with split peas, pork, celery, onions and leeks.
Try it: Restaurant Grand Cafe De Kroonprins, which sits on the fringe of the Old Quarter serves some of the best pea soup in the country. Boasting fresh, locally produced dishes and daily specials - at very affordable prices - you can guarantee your snert is both thrifty and fortifying.
Address: Prins Hendrikkade 56, 1012 AC Amsterdam.
5. Cheese: Where to even begin? Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer, Leyden, Maaslander, Maasdam and Old Amsterdam, if you’re a cheese lover, the Netherlands is where your food fantasies come true. In Amsterdam, there’s even an entire cheese museum dedicated to the delicacy. It’s called Cheese Museum. Funny that.
Try it: Amsterdam Cheese Museum. Cheese history. Cheese making and cheese tasting. Yes cheese!
Address: Prinsengracht 112, 1015 EA Amsterdam.
13. Is the water safe to drink?
Drink up! The Netherlands has some of the tastiest tap water on the planet. It’s heavily regulated by the ‘Water Authorities’ and as a result, tap water is widely considered better than bottled.
14. HOT’s top insider tips
1. King's Day: Do you want to attend the biggest party on the Dutch calendar? Of course you do. Every 27th April, the entire country celebrates King Willem Alexander’s birthday with funfairs, street parties and festivities. The night before, King’s Night is celebrated with music shows in The Hague and the following day everyone wears the national colour, orange, and take to the streets. If you're in Amsterdam, many people arrive here on mass - all in orange! Quite the sight.
2. Sinterklaas: As far as Christmas traditions go, this one is quite intriguing. Every December 5th, Sinterklass (Santa Claus) travels with his helpers called 'Zwarte Pieten' ('Black Peters') to towns across the country - to deliver presents to the 'good' children. Watch the procession in almost all villages and towns in the Netherlands, with Sinterklass dressed in his red robes and riding a white horse, while his helpers distribute the gifts. Helpers, who somewhat interestingly (if not controversially) all don blackened faces.
3. Anne Frank's House: In the height of summer tickets sell out months in advance, so have your House of Travel agent organise them in advance.
4. Lock lips with authentic Dutch beer: One of Amsterdam’s favourite watering holes is Brouwerij't IJ, also known as the ‘windmill brewery’. It’s the only windmill in downtown Amsterdam and makes its own beer (and at a decent price).
5. Ice-skating on Amsterdam's frozen canals: There's no guarantee, but come winter, if the temperature stays at a steady sub zero temperature and the canals are most definitely frozen (and safe) you're allowed to go ice-skating on them! Canal boats are barred from passing through selected canals, such as the Keizersgracht, ice skates are available to hire and there are usually a few pop-up bars fronting the canal banks. All serving hot toddies, mulled wine and warm cocoa.
15. Netherlands for kids
Children are well looked after in the Netherlands, and aside from coffee shops and red light districts, the country is very family friendly. Numerous museums offer half-price entry for children and many major museums offer free admission to kids. Highlights include Madurodam, the smallest city in the Netherlands. A typical Dutch towns presented on a 1:25 scale, children and adults alike are always fascinated by the detail in the intricate miniature infrastructure. Scheveningen, is a pretty seaside resort just outside of The Hague and is where you can discover both the SEA LIFE museum and the outdoor sculpture garden, Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea. An art project that delights little eyes as much as the mature ones, the characters are delightfully cute; steel by design, it’s their cartoon-like qualities which will appeal to your soft side. If you and your family intend to cycle parts of the Netherlands, bear in mind that although bike rental is easy and common, bike helmets are very limited. The Dutch hardly ever wear them, so consider bringing your own (or buying there) if you’re keen to do some bike riding.
European Heritage Days
These are annual national events, currently set up by more than fifty countries whereby the public are permitted to visit buildings and other historical places of interest which are not usually open to the public, or museums whose access then becomes free, or reduced in price.
These heritage days are launched every year on the third weekend of September. Also known as Doors Open Days and Open Doors Days. For more information click here.
16. What adapter do I need?
The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Sockets take small round two-pin plugs: type C and F sockets.
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