The ultimate Netherlands travel guide


With a sixth of the Netherlands reclaimed from water, a pretty tree-lined canal, peaceful lake or scenic harbour is never far away. Endless stretches of sandy beach trace the contours of the coast, from the peninsulas of Zeeland with their whitewashed beach houses to the untamed Wadden Islands in the north.

As for culture, this small country birthed some of the biggest names in art – Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Mondrian for starters. In Amsterdam, you’ll get your fill of all three, and then immerse yourself in its Unesco-listed canal district − a living museum of stunning 17th century architecture just four hours by train from London.

Current travel restrictions and entry requirements

You no longer have to show proof of vaccination or a test at the Netherlands border. Masks are no longer obligatory on public transport, in taxis or in health centres. According to the Foreign Office, Britons can use the “All passports” queue at passport control.

Best time to go

Visit between early April and mid-May to see the spectacular flower fields in bloom with row upon row of tulips, narcissi and hyacinths. Travel to the area between Haarlem and Leiden, where you’ll also find the splendid Keukenhof gardens; or take a trip to Flevoland’s North-East polder for the highest concentration of fields.

To see the country really let its hair down, time your trip for King’s Day (April 27), where an all-day orange-themed street party takes place in celebration of the monarch’s birthday.

But if you’re in the Netherlands for the boating, come in summer. Few things are nicer than cruising down a canal with the sun on your skin.

Top regions and cities


Once best known for its red light district, coffee shops and all-night boozing (it’s all still there if you want it), gorgeous Amsterdam now attracts a more eclectic crowd. The art museums are a big draw, with the gigantic Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh topping the bill. Visitors should also book well ahead for the world-famous Anne Frank House in the city’s historic canal district. Here splendid gabled houses tell a story of Golden Age decadence, while across the IJ harbour, beach cafés, street art and trendy new dining spots beckon visitors to the regenerated North. But the biggest showstopper is surely the canals themselves. Rent an electric boat and explore them yourself or soak up the atmosphere from a waterside terrace.

The Hague

The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and its vibe is suitably stately. Setting the tone is the elegant Hofvijver lake, bordered by the parliament buildings of the Binnenhof and encircled with museums, from the medieval Prison Gate telling grizzly stories of crime and justice, to the sumptuous Mauritshuis where Vermeer’s celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring hangs. The northwest of the city offers more treasures, including the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, home to the world’s largest collection of Mondrians. The city’s borders dissolve into beautiful sandy dunes to the north and the west. Sprawled between them is Scheveningen. With its ferris wheel and pier, it offers a classic seaside experience; while its miniature park, Madurodam, lets you take in Holland’s highlights – in model form – in one fell swoop.


Turning devastating bomb damage during the second world war into its pièce de résistance, Rotterdam has rebranded with a wealth of cutting-edge architecture, from the quirky cube houses in the Old Harbour to the Museumpark’s dazzling Depot Boijmans van Beuningen, a giant silvery sphere containing works by all the big names in Dutch art. Grab lunch under the mirrored dome of the Market Hall, harbour-hop by water taxi from one waterside bar to the next, or – for something different – walk through the Brutus Garden, once the stomping ground of sex workers, now a rough-and-ready open-air gallery for Van Lieshout’s controversially kinky sculptures. And if you need a windmill fix to feel you’ve visited the Netherlands, take a day trip to nearby Kinderdijk – there are nineteen.

West Frisian islands

This string of unspoilt islands – of which just five are inhabited and several are car-free – is paradise for cyclists in search of a few days of island-hopping. Even Texel, the largest and most accessible of the islands, has a far-flung feel, with rugged heathlands dotted with wild flowers and miles of uncrowded golden beaches. Visit the eccentric Beachcombers Museum Flora to see all the crazy things the North Sea has tossed onto its shores, take a boat tour to spot seals and porpoises, or climb the lighthouse’s six storeys of steps for an unrivalled view of the island.

Best under-the-radar destinations

Marker Wadden

The Marker Wadden in Flevoland is the Netherlands’ newest land and perhaps most unlikely nature reserve. It comprises five man-made islands, all experimental off-grid eco-systems brought to life in 2018 with materials dredged from the depths of the Markermeer lake. Today, the once bald piles of silt are carpeted in flowers. One, the Haveneiland, is open to daytrippers arriving by ferry from Lelystad, visiting yachts, and holidaymakers renting one of the four eco cabins. Meander through the undulating dunes, cross boardwalks over the thriving wetlands, birdwatch from an observatory or take a dip on the island’s powdery beach. Few other places have such a strong sense of the regenerative power of nature or are as quiet at night.

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

There are 54km² of woodland, heathland and drift sands waiting to be explored in this immense nature reserve in Gelderland province which bursts into colour in late August when the purple heather blooms. In the heart of the park is De Pollen, a vast desert where you’ll feel like you’ve crossed into another continent. Book a guide and go on safari in search of the park’s ‘big four’: roe deer, red deer, mouflon and wild boar. You might even spot one of the Veluwe’s newest and most controversial residents: wolves. Also lurking within all this nature is the impressive Kröller-Müller Museum, home to one of Europe’s largest sculpture parks and a collection of Van Goghs second only to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but blissfully free of its crowds.

South Limburg

Hard-fought battles for land have left Limburg, the Netherlands’ most southernly province, hanging pendulously from the bottom of the country between Belgium and Germany, creating a unique cultural mix. To see all three countries at once, make a beeline for the south and do the scary Skywalk in Vaals, a glass-bottomed lookout tower at the highest point in the Netherlands. Spend a weekend in Maastricht soaking up the continental atmosphere and taking in its basilicas, gourmet food and handsome architecture, and then explore the surprisingly rolling landscape beyond for vineyards, caves, and generous portions of vlaai – the region’s sticky fruit tart.

Best things to do

Bike beyond Amsterdam

Some of the Netherlands’ prettiest little villages lie just outside Amsterdam – all you need is a bike. From Amsterdam Noord, cycle east past the tiny clock-gabled houses of Nieuwendam and onto Durgerdam, a former fishing village. If you’ve energy, follow the shore another hour or so to Marken, once an island and now attached to the mainland by a long thread of road slicing through the lake. The green timber-clad houses with their gardens criss-crossed with canals make this traditional Dutch village picture perfect.

Cruise the Frisian lakes

If a winter freeze sets in hard enough, the network of lakes and waterways connecting eleven of Friesland’s cities become the race tracks for the legendary Elfstedentocht ice skating marathon. For the rest of the year, the huge watery landscape is a picturesque playground for boaters. Check into a houseboat or rent a small motor sloop and explore the quiet lakes bordered by meadows and reeds. Frisian specialities such as pea soup and smoked sausage will help keep out the cold.

Walk on mud flats

‘Wadlopen’ (mud flat walking) on the sticky ground that the tide has left behind is just about the messiest thing you can do in the Netherlands – and dangerous too without a guide. Typically undertaken on the north coast, where the Wadden Sea washes between the mainland and the Frisian Islands, it’s a fun way to explore the fauna and flora revealed at low tide. Pick a culinary tour and you can even harvest your own shellfish for supper.

Getting around

The Netherlands has an extensive and reliable rail service and many towns also have trams and metro. If you are making a lot of journeys on public transport, consider investing in an OV-chipcard. Loading money onto the card cuts journey costs and time spent at the turnstiles.

The cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is fantastic, but biking in the capital can be nail-biting for novices. The city’s small scale means most of the main attractions are within walking distance of the centre anyway.

If you don’t mind driving on the right, the Netherlands’ well-maintained roads are easy to navigate by car − just watch out for all those cyclists.

How to get there

Travelling by bus tends to be the cheapest way to get there from the UK. FlixBus and Eurolines serve several Dutch cities, with London to Amsterdam taking from 10 hours. Ferries can also be good value and operate between Harwich and the Hook of Holland, Hull and Rotterdam, and Newcastle and IJmuiden. The Eurostar rail service connects London with Rotterdam and Amsterdam in around four hours. Meanwhile Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has the most frequent flights to the UK, but Rotterdam and Eindhoven airports also have services.

Money-saving tip

In Amsterdam, buy a digital City Card and you’ll get free entry to most of the big name attractions in the wider area. Also included is one free canal cruise, free bike rental and public transport, as well as discounts on various tickets and meals.


What’s the weather like?

The Netherlands’ climate broadly resembles the south of England and tends to be fairly mild, although its flat landscape and long coastline do make it prone to wind. Extreme temperatures are unusual, but summer can exceed 30 degrees and winter can dip below zero. It is not unusual to see a difference of three or four degrees between Maastricht at the country’s southern tip and the cooler, windswept Frisian islands in the north.

What time zone is it in?

CET (one hour ahead of the UK).

What currency do I need?


What language is spoken?

You might hear regional variations such as Frisian and Limburgish, but Dutch is spoken throughout the country. English is pretty much a second language in the Netherlands, particularly among the younger generation, so make yourself at home.


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