When most people think of the Netherlands they think of Amsterdam, the capital city, but there is so much more to explore and many places I myself didn’t have the opportunity to check out. Amsterdam is known for the coffee shops and wild, unexpected nights, but there is so much else to see in this gorgeous city. If the weather is decent, take a stroll through the large gardens of Vondelpark by the ‘IAMSTERDAM’ sign and check out the Van Gogh Museum – it’s up to you if you feel like taking some ‘supplements’ before entering. Spend hours strolling through the city along the beautiful canals taking a look at the houses on the river and the interesting shops along the way. Be careful of all the speeding cyclists passing you by! Bikes are more common in Amsterdam than cars and they’re definitely not a fan of tourists slowly stopping to take photos, so keep alert to their chiming bells and step out of the way.
Definitely stay at the Flying Pig Downtown Hostel during your stay in Amsterdam, the location is central – only a ten minute walk from the main train station – and this hostel is known for gathering all guests together each day and night in their large common room for drinking games, chilling on the lounge pillows in the smoking area and playing pool in the bar. A free buffet breakfast, well equipped kitchen, free WiFi and cheap drinks, it really is a fantastic hostel. A night at the Flying Pig Downtown Hostel will cost you around $AUD46-$49 (€32-€34) during the very busy summer season.
Join the free walking tour to find out some fascinating history about the city and what it has to offer. The free walking tours will take you to the Old Church, a quick look at the Red Light District, the Jewish Quarter, Royal Palace, Jordaan Distrcit, the Begijnhof Convent, some Masterpieces of Dutch Art, the Wildest Bridge, the Narrowest house and lastly the Anne Frank House. I really hope you decide to visit Anne Frank House after the tour and have a proper look inside. A hot tip to avoid the ridiculous line – go after 6:00 p.m. because the line dies down completely and I only waited ten minutes heading in just before 7:00 p.m.
Also Check out the Rijkuseum and the Rembrandt Museum if you like your Dutch painters, or if you’re feeling up for an adventure pay the ridiculous price for the Heineken Experience and a cheap trip to the Sex Museum. Amsterdam also has plenty of markets on offer such as the Waterlooplein Flea Market, the Boerenmarkt; Farmers Market and of course the famous Flower Market or known as the Bloemenmarkt.
Before arriving to Amsterdam I’m sure you will hear a lot about The Red Light District also known as the Rosse Burrt to locals, it’s definitely worth having a walk through at night for a bit of fun, but I highly suggest you don’t do it alone. The area is filled with groups of tourists and many visitors but it can also attract some seedy characters. Though prostitution is now legal in Amsterdam there are very strict guidelines when entering the district such as absolutely no photographs of the women and because it is still a neighbourhood there is 24-hour surveillance videos so it’s advised not to cause any trouble. Just have fun as you take a stroll through the area as besides the prostitution it is filled with interesting shops, pubs and restaurants.
I wanted to see a little more of the Netherlands and even though I didn’t venture far north, I still had the chance to see a few little towns that most tourists never see. Leiden was at the top of my list because a friend from back home was studying at Leiden University. It’s an extremely small yet gorgeous student city and I adored being there in the autumn. It was cold but the canals were surrounded by red and yellow trees, which really made it magical.
Extremely cute cafés and quirky stores selling interesting knick knacks line the streets. For good food that makes you think of home (Australia), head to Anne & Max café for extremely delicious food. If you visit Leiden, go on the weekend because the whole city comes to life on Saturdays with the huge farmers market selling fresh produce and live music in the main square. If you haven’t got anyone to visit, accommodation is hard to find and there isn’t a lot to do, but for those lucky enough to have a couch to sleep on, it is the perfect base for day trips.
Taking the train around the Netherlands is highly recommended as their transport system is very affordable and efficient. I went on a day trip to Haarlem, which was only a twenty minute journey and €11.30 return from Leiden. I met the wonderful locals at the markets in the main square. You will hear mixed opinion about the Dutch because everyone seems to have different experiences with them, but I was lucky enough to find some absolutely lovely people who ran the market stalls. They told me about things to see and what I could do in town. I checked out the churches and went for a long walk by the river and to the windmill. I wandered in and out of a few vintage shops and for a short stroll around the town before finding an adorable tea shop called Bij Babette owned by a delightful woman.
Utrecht is easily my favourite city in the Netherlands. I couch surfed with a couple of gorgeous girls, one Dutch and one Finnish, and I think they definitely contributed to my great stay in Utrecht. They took me out to the movies and showed me some local bars, recommended their favourite places to go during the day, as well as inviting me along to their local pub for a trivia night.
I spent my days strolling up and down the streets to the Dom Tower and by the main canal. If you visit during the summer, you will see the bars and restaurants opened directly onto the canal. Though they were closed in autumn while I was there, the leaf-covered banks were a sight to see. There are so many quirky stores along the canal selling interior decor, beads, second hand books, camping gear and much more.
Gouda, pronounced ‘houw-da’, is a twenty minute train ride from Utrecht and ideal for a half-day trip. As you may have guessed, Gouda is just like the cheese and there are many cheese shops offering free samples for those excited cheese lovers out there like me! Gouda is a tiny town and can be explored in a couple of hours, so it’s worth going for a short trip from Utrecht if you’re looking for something extra to do. You can stroll around the beautiful city munching on cheese and sipping on coffee, or you can check out some of the museums and find the windmill hidden among the quaint houses.
If you’re looking for a big night out, a stopover on a road trip or another base for day trips, Rotterdam is the place to be. It’s a large busy city with plenty of shops and bars, but it is far from aesthetically pleasing. Spending five days was long enough and this included reorganising myself and doing some day trips to nearby towns.
The Saturday Blaak markets were a highlight; It was the biggest produce market I’ve ever seen! There was so much to buy and plenty of snacks to munch on while walking up and down the many aisles full of interesting goods. A permanent undercover market is being built to open it regularly rather than just on Saturdays. The best thing to do in Rotterdam is to just stroll down by the harbour and through the smaller side streets because that’s where you will find the most interesting sites.
Den Haag, also known as The Hague, was a well-spent day trip. The Dutch will tell you there really isn’t much to do there except shop in the boutiques and excessive amount of shops. But, once again, I disagree with general opinion because I was there for the Den Haag market, which was thoroughly enjoyable. You can check out the government buildings and the university but if you have limited time for day trips, Den Haag probably isn’t in your best interests. Even though I had a lovely afternoon it isn’t a must see.
My last venture in the Netherlands was to Delft, the town of blue and white pottery. Delft is an extremely small but beautiful town with large churches, stunning canals and the blue and white detailed pottery that is famous in the Netherlands. It was really lovely to stroll around for a few hours and to finish the afternoon with a scrumptious bagel and smoothie at Bagel & Beans in the main square.
I couch surfed throughout my entire stay in the Netherlands so unfortunately I can’t recommend any hostels. Sometimes it can be difficult to find accommodation in some of the smaller cities so I do suggest making an account on www.couchsurfing.org and giving it a try!
The metro system through the Netherlands is absolutely fantastic and I was surprised how inexpensive it was for me to travel from city to city. The best advice is to show up on the day you’re wanting to leave from the train station and buy your ticket from the information desk, the Dutch speak perfect English and they’re very helpful with your transport. Getting to and from the Netherlands is easily done via their bus services as majority of the bus stations are located close to the main train stations. London, England to Amsterdam: €19-€32 depending if you take the day trip or overnight trip with Megabus. London, England to Rotterdam: €19-€32 depending if you take the day trip or overnight trip with Megabus. Cologne, Germany to Amsterdam: €15 with Student Agency. Cologne, Germany to Rotterdam: €15 with Student Agency. Berlin, Germany to Amsterdam: €53 with Eurolines, there is also a direct train bus unless you have a Eurorail pass it’s well into the hundreds for dollars. Brussels, Belgium to Amsterdam: €15 with Megabus.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the Netherlands and I’m glad I decided to explore more of the surrounding cities of Amsterdam and not just the capital. I’ve heard amazing things about the north of Holland too so if you have the time it would be great to explore a little more. I highly recommend you try couchsurfing as like I mentioned earlier the smaller cities don’t offer backpacker accommodation as they’re not used to having many tourists. It was a fantastic way for me to meet the locals and show me their favourite parts of their towns I visited that you normally wouldn’t see on your own. The canals are beautiful amongst the cobble stone streets along with windmills in the distance and new friends made at every corner.