The Netherlands... beyond Amsterdam

| December 2, 2014

Are you planning to visit the Netherlands? Here, you can get a little inspiration for exploring beyond the galleries and museums of Amsterdam.

The Hague. Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock

The Netherlands is an excellent short break destination, offering ease of travel paired with a wealth of cultural and historical attractions. The call of Amsterdam, with its world-class galleries and museums, celebrated canals and great shops is strong, but it is well worth venturing beyond the capital to discover what the wider country has to offer.

Indeed, look beyond Amsterdam and you will find an array of destinations that offer an altogether different picture of the Netherlands – from its traditional windmill-strewn landscapes to less familiar sights, such as long stretches of sandy beach. We spoke to Cox & Kings' Europe product manager Michael Fleetwood, who offered a wealth of advice on what the Netherlands has to offer outside of Amsterdam.

Why explore beyond Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is such an exciting city that it is often hard to see beyond it to the rest of the country. However, there are many reasons for taking the time to discover what the rest of Netherlands has to offer.

Michael particularly highlighted that while Amsterdam is incredible, in many ways it is "just like any other major metropolitan town in the world – it's not really Holland". He suggested that to really experience traditional Dutch hospitality and culture, a visit to its regional towns is a must.

Of course, exploring outside of Amsterdam also creates opportunities for different kinds of holidays. For example, as opposed to a city break, you could enjoy a soft adventure holiday spent indulging in gentle bike rides and leisurely walks across the country's flat landscapes.

Where to go

Michael particularly recommended visiting the picturesque little cities of Leiden and Delft, commenting that they are ideal candidates for two to three-night stays. Better known destinations such as the Hague were also praised by him, and he explained that this one in particular has more to offer than travellers might expect.

Looking first at Leiden and Delft, these are places that provide a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. Each is small and picturesque, and has a smattering of Dutch history that helps make for visits as interesting as they are relaxing. Additionally, both provide ready access to the nation's characteristically flat landscapes, which makes them ideal bases if you are interested in indulging in a spot of walking or cycling.

Tucked away in the Netherlands' tulip-growing district, scenic Leiden has a charming array of attractions, including museums, galleries, and the oldest university in the country. Particularly worth a visit is the Leiden citadel, which is believed to date back to the 9th century. In days gone by, its high ramparts were used to discern approaching threats; today, they instead provide a place for locals and tourists alike to enjoy stunning views.

The similarly picturesque and compact city of Delft is likely to strike a particular chord with art enthusiasts, as this was where Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer was born, lived and worked. As such, a visit to Vermeer Centrum Delft is something of a must. Here, you can explore a replica of this master's studio, as well as browse exhibits on his personal life.

Another compelling destination is the Hague, which is the seat of the Netherlands' government. It is renowned for its monuments, museums and historic districts – but Michael highlighted that it actually has something quite different to offer too. Indeed, he described its miles of sandy beaches lined with hotels as "a complete contrast to what you think Holland is".

Another appealing aspect of visiting the Hague is that is home to both a historic city centre and an intensely modern skyline – yet another contrast waiting to be explored.

What to see in the Netherlands

The Mill Network

Windmills are the real icon of the Netherlands' landscape; any exploration of traditional or historic Holland music include them. The Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout is a Unesco World World Heritage Site, preserving approximately 19 of the nation's windmills – some of which are still operational.

As well as being of huge cultural significance to Holland, the mills represent a crucial contribution to the development of handling water, including hydraulic works for the drainage of the land, dykes, reservoirs and, of course, the windmills themselves.

Laced with canals, this area is also wonderfully scenic and is absolutely perfect for getting shots of classic Holland. What's more, it is ideal for walking and cycling, so it provides the perfect opportunity for blending sightseeing with more active pursuits.

The Liberation Route

For history enthusiasts, the Liberation Route will be of particular interest. It follows the route of Operation Market Garden, which was a failed operation that was led by the Allies in 1944 and designed to partly liberate Holland from German occupation, and end the war early. Winding its way through small, provincial towns, it places the World War II in a historical and cultural context.

Indeed, by following the Liberation Route, you can explore what happened in places such as Arnhem, Nijmegen and the Eindhoven in 1944.

The Netherlands' annual festivals

Alongside windmills and canals, flowers are an image that immediately springs to mind when thinking of the Netherlands. Each year, the country hosts a number of festivals that celebrate its fine horticultural heritage, with two being particular highlights for tourists and locals alike.

The first is the annual Keukenhof festival, which takes place in stunning gardens to the south of Amsterdam. In 2015, it will run from March 20th to May 17th. As well as simply displaying fabulous flowers, this vibrant and colourful festival includes marching bands, flower parades and much more.

The annual Tulip Festival, which is usually held at the end of April or beginning of May, is another calendar highlight. The best place to go to experience it is Noordoostpolder, where you can admire row upon row of tulip fields, just as they are bursting into bloom - a picture-perfect slice of authentic Holland.

Cox & Kings offers holidays and short breaks to the Netherlands. Explore the website, or call a Europe expert on 020 7873 5000.

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