Last Updated: 20th Jan 2014
Capital: Amsterdam and The Hague (Administrative capital)
Language: Dutch, German and English widely understood
Visas: Travel Visa Information
Famous for it’s windmills, bikes, dykes, cheese, clogs, canals, bridges, tulips and fries with mayonnaise, The Netherlands is also often referred to as Holland (even by the Dutch) however Holland should not to be confused with country as a whole. The Netherlands is the official name of the whole country whereas Holland is a region within the Netherlands. No matter what you call it though, Holland, or the Netherlands – it’s still a very cool, laid back and facinating part of the world.
The capital and largest of Dutch cities is Amsterdam, although the Royal Family and the Government administer the country from The Hauge. Most of what people associate with the Netherlands can be found in and around Amsterdam.
The Netherlands borders with the North Sea and during the the 17th century ‘Golden Age’ the Dutch used the their ships and the sea to dominate the world. New York was formerly known as New Amsterdam for example, this was also the time of the Dutch East India Company and explorers like Dirk Hartog and Abel Tasman.
Nowadays the Dutch still have a very close association with the sea but are better known for their free and liberal attitudes and culture. Vibrant, free and welcoming the Netherlands is an almost unmissable part of Europe.
Manners and Customs
- Although Dutch is the official language, it is not rude to begin a conversation by speaking in English
- Manners and politeness are important, particularly when first meeting people. Generally though, the Dutch have very few social ’don’ts’ – as a general rule you can do and say whatever you want, as long as you don’t physically harm anyone
- Amsterdam in particular is an extremely multicultural city with food, languages and people to match.
- The sale use of marijuana and ‘magic’ mushrooms is tolerated only in small amounts and only in designated places
Bike and Windmills
The Dutch ride push bikes everywhere. Owning, driving and even parking a car is expensive but riding a bike also suits the flat Dutch landscape while also is an expression of the free, liberal attitude the people live by. Summer tours spending two or more nights in Amsterdam have the chance to take a bike ride though the Dutch countryside.
Even thought the sea was the source of Dutch power in the 1600’s, it was also one of their greatest threats, constantly flooding the low-lying land. Windmills were originally built to pump water away form the land. Today there are more dykes than ever but more reliable electric pumps are used to keep the water at bay, you can however still see the occasional windmill along the motorways in the Dutch countryside.
Tulips and Flowers
Tulips are the national flower of the country and the Dutch are the biggest flower producers in the world. Prime time for tulip spotting is in the spring, particularly around Easter.
Art & Culture
The Netherlands was the home of Rembrandt and birthplace of Van Gough and was also home to M.C. Escher. Again, as with much of the Netherlands, much of the best art and museums containing works by these people be found in Amsterdam, the home of the Rijks Museum, The Van Gogh Museum and also the most visited site in the city: The Anne Frank House.
Sex and Drugs
Contrary to popular belief, the Netherlands is not populated with a bunch of drug smoking prostitutes. There are most certainly parts of the cities you can visit if you want to get involved in this side of Dutch ‘culture’ but by far and away the practices are tolerated by the liberal Dutch and as long as you only partake in them in their designated areas, you won’t encounter them at all. Amsterdam’s red light district is a hot spot for this seedier side of the Dutch experience.
Food and Drink
Thanks to the cult movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ chips (or fries) and mayonnaise are perhaps the most well known Dutch culinary curiosity however the Netherlands also lays claim to the pancake and donut.
Less known but equally traditional foods include pofferjies (mini-pancake-ish Dutch specialties), croquets, stroopwaffels, and, for the truly adventurous – raw herring (Harring). Cheese is also a favorite among many Dutch as are steaks and burgers.
As far as beverages go you must try Heineken in its home town of Amsterdam along with an Amstel and maybe a pop-top Grolsh for beer lovers. Jenever, a Dutch gin is often consumed as an aperitif at traditional meals.
By far the most popular sport (as is the case in most European countries) is football (soccer). Field hockey and swimming are two sports the Netherlands dominates on the world stage however the Dutch will get involved in almost any sport with The Netherlands national team competing in the English County Cricket competition and the capital is also home to the gridiron-playing Amsterdam Admirals.