Going Beyond Amsterdam – An Insider’s Guide to Holland
Whenever people say how much they like Holland, but then admit they’ve only been to Amsterdam, I cringe a little inside. Amsterdam is only one city in the whole country and, though it definitely boasts a few nice areas, it hardly represents what the Netherlands is all about. Having lived in the country for four years and having been married to a Dutch native for over 15 years, I have strong opinions on what constitutes some of the country’s highlights.
Must visit areas near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Very close to the airport you’ll find one of my favorite places to visit. Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist destination, but the area is so large that it won’t feel overly crowded. The Zaanse Schans offers guests a peek into cheese-making, clog-making, and the inner workings of some still-functioning windmills. The mustard produced on site is amazing and often found its way into my luggage to take back to my family whenever I went home for a visit. There are quaint shops gifts, silver pieces, grocery items, souvenirs, and more. Oh, and you can of course also pick up some clogs of various sizes and styles to bring home.
If you’re visiting between early- to mid-spring, you must take some time to visit Keukenhof. The annual flower park is amazing and has tulips the size of your head (well, almost)! There’s nothing else quite like it anywhere in the world and I guarantee you can easily spend a full day enjoying all of the displays.
Must-Visit Areas 1 Hour Away or Less
If you only have a few days to tour the area, then you’ll probably want to stick close to the airport. Don’t worry, you still have several options.
North of the Airport
If you head north, you’ll find culture steeped in the past with costume-clad docents in Volendam, traditional cheese displays in Alkmaar, houses built on stilts in Marken, and history that reaches way back in Hoorn, to a time when the Dutch were a major global trading power.
Going south will bring you to my husband’s childhood home of The Hague (Den Haag). The king’s palace is here as is the seat of the Dutch government and the United Nations’ International Court of Justice. However, I’m fond of The Hague because of the lovely canals that run through the city and the various types of shopping and dining the city offers. The Noten Koning has the plumpest and most tasty chocolate raisins ever while Dungelmann has amazing “kroketten” (deep-fried ragou) that’s even served to royalty. Plus, it’s where my in-laws still live, so clearly I’m a bit biased. Any children traveling with you might get a kick out of the miniature version of the Netherlands that can be found at Madurodam.
If you want to visit the beach, head over to Scheviningen. There you can enjoy a leisurely walk along the spacious path that lines the beach, do some shopping, or grab some kibbeling (deep-fried pieces of fish) to dip in a creamy garlic sauce.
I also highly recommend treating yourself to a half-day trip to Delft via the city tram. You’ll find more canals there, but they’re special as they’re lined with flowers and bicycles. The city center has an old weight center turned restaurant called De Waag where you absolutely must order hot chocolate and a slice of apple pie (appelgebak). There are also a few places near the city hall where you can enjoy some poffertjes (small pancakes) with bananas, rum, whipped cream, etc.
Just a bit further south and little more than an hour from the airport, get some postcard-perfect photos during a stroll or boat ride at Kinderdijk, a UNESCO world heritage site. That’s where you’ll finally see the famous view of windmills in a row.
Also nearby is Rotterdam. This port city has great dining and shopping, including the indoor shopping area known as Markthal. You can enjoy a gooey, freshly-made stroopwafel (flat waffle with syrup), or delicious fries with sweet mayonnaise or peanut sauce, as well as other fried goodness (common Dutch fast food). If you’re a gluten free traveler, I’ve got you covered. Check out my Findery notemap for a few treats you can enjoy.
And Beyond, where there’s even more to explore
About two hours from the airport, you’ll find even more places to explore. To the north is Emmen, with its amazing zoo, laid out in a way that allows you to truly enjoy all the animals. Your view is never obstructed by chain-link fences, but clever design still keeps you and the wild animals at a safe distance from each other. To the south is Maastricht, which dates back to the time of the Romans and is full of cobblestone-lined streets and castle-like structures.
As you can see, there’s much more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. I only touched on a few places to give you a sense of why visitors could never tire of exploring the other parts of the country. From Groningen in the far north with their different dialect, to the geographically confused Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau, and again to just over the border into Belgium or Germany, there’s a ton to see and even more to do. So next time you visit the Netherlands, stay a few days and find out what’s really like to “go Dutch.”