It's funny to think that this small, low-lying and almost completely flat country in northern Europe has had such an enormous impact on world culture. But then, this is the land that gave the world masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and gave the names to places like New York, Brooklyn and Harlem.
Today’s Netherlands is a land of friendly and laidback locals, charming cities and beautiful waterways. It could just become your new favourite travel destination.
“Booked this trip last minute with my best friend and I'm so glad we did! We had a great time and met some really awesome people, it's a shame it was only a 4 day trip! Would have loved to continue travelling afterwards.”
“This tour was incredible! It was a great way to see so much in so little time! I met some great people and experienced some amazing cultures. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who wants a little taste of Europe.”
“This trip was amazing I definitely recommend it, and I suggest you do the extra activities that are not included like the Stonehenge and Roman baths. You get plenty of free time in Paris to go explore the museums and the great Parisian food. Amsterdam was unescorted but you make friends throughout the first two destinations. We went to the Anne Frank house, the Heineken factory, red light district. Definitely a great adventure, I will travel Contiki again specially since I went as a solo traveller never felt like I was alone.”
Whether you've come for the culture, the legendary Amsterdam clubs or just to see the pretty canals of Utrecht, there's plenty to keep you occupied in the Netherlands. Here are our top tips for Netherlands travel 2016.
Marvel at the iconic Sagrada Familla in Barcelona.
Gaudi’s majestic creation has been wowing crowds since it first began construction in 1882. Since then, multiple architects have taken up the reins on the project, some honouring Gaudi’s original designs, other’s redefining the creation completely. The multiple and varied facades of the building, plus its sheer size and majesty, make it a must do for any traveller visiting Barcelona.See all trips that visit Barcelona
Indulge in traditional Andalusian delicacies in Seville.
Seville is renowned for its gastronomic offerings, and whilst the traditional dishes may be simple to prepare, they’re bursting with fresh regional flavours. Gazpacho, Pescaito frito and Huevos a la Flamenca are all famed Andalusian specialities, or for those preferring traditional tapas, Seville has around 4,000 tapas bars to choose from – take your pick!See all trips that visit Seville
Live like a King in the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Get a glimpse of life as the other half live with a guided tour of the Royal Palace in Madrid. The largest palace in Europe, the Palacio Real de Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, though is only used formally for state ceremonies. Gorge your eyes on the many works of art by famed Spanish painters as you delve a little deeper into Spain’s rich history.See all trips that visit Madrid
Party till dawn in the clubbing mecca of Ibiza.
Nowhere on Earth will you experience clubbing quite like Ibiza. Home to some of the world’s most infamous clubs, come and join the party as night after night revered world class DJ’s play their hearts out to adoring crowds. Get into the mood with sunset cocktails at Café Del Mar then party till sunrise at Space, DC-10 or Ibiza Rocks.See all trips that visit Ibiza
Bask in sunlight on Barceloneta Beach.
Some cities are fortunate enough to have the perfect city/beach balance, and Barcelona is one of them. Whilst Barceloneta Beach may be man-made, the water is clear and refreshing and the beach is alive with travellers and locals alike chatting, swimming and generally loving life. Spend long leisurely lunches in the surrounding cafes and restaurants, hire bikes or rollerblades or just relax in the sunshine.See all trips that visit Barcelona
Explore the Islamic inspired fortress of Alhambra.
Rising from woods of cypress and elm, the Alhambra reigns supreme on the hillside of Gibraltar. Born in the 11th Century and then further developed over the 14th and 15th century’s, the fortress holds an extensive network of lavishly decorated palaces and irrigated gardens and gives those who visit it a glimpse into the rich history of the Spanish empire and the influence both Islam and Catholicism had on the Alhambra’s design.See all trips that visit Gibraltar
1. North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam – North Sea Jazz Festival was never what you might call a slow-burner. In 1976, its very first year, it featured the likes of Miles Davis, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, and has been packing them in ever since. Held over a weekend in Rotterdam, it's one of the most prestigious festivals in Holland.
For more information on the North Sea Jazz Festival, click here.
2. Koningsdag, Amsterdam – This Dutch national holiday is celebrated throughout the Netherlands, but it's in Amsterdam where things really kick off. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets and turn the place into a giant carnival, where music, dancing and revelry continuing well into the wee hours. King's Day is also notable for its nationwide flea market, making it a great time to pick up a bargain.
For more information on Koningsdag, click here.
3. Lowlands, Biddinghuizen – LowLands is a three-day festival of music and performing arts, and it's one of the most popular in the country. Held a short hop from Amsterdam in a series of outsized tents (the main one is the size of a football field!), it offers an international line-up of rock, pop and dance music as well as street theatre, cabaret performances and more.
For more information on Lowlands, click here.
4. Best Kept Secret Festival, Hilvarenbeek – While Best Kept Secret's lakeside setting in Beekse Bergen safari park is wonderfully scenic, it's the lineup that really draws the crowds. Here you'll find top name acts alongside next-big-things from the worlds of indie, folk, hip-hop, rock, electronica and dance music, making it one of the best Dutch music events.
For more information on Best Kept Secret Festival, click here.
5. Pitch Festival, Amsterdam – One of the most popular music events in Amsterdam, Pitch Festival is held in a redeveloped factory site within easy walking distance of the city centre. The industrial buildings are an atmospheric setting for the more intimate shows, and there's a large outdoor stage for the heavy hitters. The vibe is contemporary with a lineup that blends live bands with DJs.
For more information on Pitch Festival, click here.
6. Amsterdam Open Air – Amsterdam Open Air was designed to take the famed Amsterdam nightlife to the festival stages, so expect things to get loud, late and banging. A predominantly Dutch roster of electronic artists and DJs take care of the beats, while a range of artisan caterers ensure you won't go hungry. Pitch your tent and get ready to party!
For more information on Amsterdam Open Air festival, click here.
1. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam – This national museum of arts and history is the most visited in the country. Here you'll find your Rembrandts and Vermeers and a host of other works from the Dutch Golden Age, as well as a large and varied collection of exhibits from the 13th to 21st centuries including costumes, furniture and even dolls' houses.
For more information on the Rijksmuseum, click here.
2. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – This museum is home to the largest collection of Van Gogh's works in the world, so as you'd expect it's one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam - book early to avoid a lengthy queue. As well as prized masterpieces by the tortured genius, there's a roving exhibition of famous works from around the world.
For more information on the Van Gogh Museum, click here.
3. Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam – Anne Frank's story has captivated the imagination of millions, and a visit to the place where she went into hiding and penned her famous diary is an essential Netherlands travel experience. Though one of the world's most famous museums it's also one of its smallest, so pre-booking is essential.
For more information on the Anne Frank House, click here.
4. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam – Amsterdam's premier museum of contemporary and modern art houses many important works by the likes of Mondrian, Kandinsky and Matisse. Located in Amsterdam's Museum Quarter, it's an easy stroll from other Holland travel essentials like the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum, so you can tick them all off in one go.
For more information on the Stedelijk Museum, click here.
5. Museum Willet-Holthuysen, Amsterdam – This fully furnished canal-house museum is perhaps the grandest in the city. Originally built for the Mayor of Amsterdam in the late 17th century, it was bequeathed to the city by its last owner in 1895 on the condition that it became a museum, and has been offering visitors a unique viewpoint on Amsterdam canal life ever since.
For more information on the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, click here.
The Hague Weather
Traditional Dutch cuisine is rustic and simple, with hearty stews, meats, vegetables, cheeses and bread making up the bulk of the typical meal. As you'd expect from a country with such a seafaring heritage, fish is also a key player in the Dutch diet, so keep an eye out for delicacies such as smoked eels and brined herring.
The country's former colonies have brought in many different culinary influences from around the world (there are a huge number Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam, for example), so the Netherlands is now a very different place and dining options are much more cosmopolitan, particularly in the major cities.
Check out our list of five must-try Dutch dishes.
Bitterballen – These meaty deep-fried balls have a crunchy outer with a deliciously gooey filling, making them one of the most popular beer snacks in the country. Eat them dipped in mustard, just like the locals.
Best eaten at –Café Luxembourg, Spui 24, 1012 XA Amsterdam
Patat met – In terms of street food, the French fry is king in the Netherlands, and there is perhaps nothing more quintessentially Dutch than a paper cone of piping hot crispy fries slathered heavily with mayonnaise. Other popular toppings - curry sauce with chopped raw onions - are also worth a try.
Best eaten at –Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, Voetboogstraat 31, 1012 Amsterdam
Haring – Holland's answer to sushi, raw herring is sold at fish stands throughout the country. Eat it served on a plate cut into chunks with raw onions and pickles on the side, or tackle it the traditional way - grab it by the tail, dip it in onions then pop it in your mouth whole. It's said to be a great hangover recipe, but we'll let you judge that one for yourselves.
Best eaten at –Schmidt Zeevis, Vasteland 60, 3011 BM Rotterdam
Stamppot – This hearty dish is Dutch comfort food at its best. It's a mash of potatoes with a combination of other vegetables (take your pick from the likes of carrot, onion, kale, sauerkraut, spinach and endive) and is usually served with rookworst, a smoked Dutch sausage, and plenty of gravy.
Best eaten at –Stamppotje, Haarlemmerstraat 14, Amsterdam
Stroopwafel – Stroopwafels are made from two thin layers of baked dough, with a syrupy caramel filling in between. Balanced over the top of a cup of tea or coffee until the biscuit softens and the filling melts, they make a delicious teatime snack.
Best eaten at –Albert Cuyp Market, Albert Cuypstraat, Amsterdam (or Lanskroon, Singel 385, 1012 WL Amsterdam)
A GPS enabled phone - Amsterdam is a warren of confusing streets and it's incredibly easy to get lost here. Load up your map of the city on the hotel wifi to avoid those roaming charges.
Bicycle clips - This is a country to explore on foot, or - like the locals - on two wheels. Don't let your trousers get tangled up in the cranks.
An umbrella - Summer weather in Holland is typically warm and sunny, but you never really know here. It pays to be prepared for showers!
A backpack - Where else are you going to store your umbrella? Throw in a waterproof jacket for good measure.
Sensible walking shoes - Barcelona and Seville in particular have a number of cobbled streets. Ladies don’t be caught out struggling in high heels!
An adapter plug - The Netherlands uses the European standard 2-pin plug.