While most visitors to the Netherlands focus on Amsterdam, the country's vibrant capital with its great museums and art galleries, there are many charming towns and villages in this small yet fascinating country to explore. And because the country is so flat, it is extremely easy to do at least a little sightseeing the Dutch way: by bicycle. Many communities actively encourage the use of pedal-power and provide bikes to explore the sights at no cost. However you choose to see the Netherlands, you are guaranteed a great time in one of the friendliest and most liberal cultures in Europe.
This capital city has three world-famous sights, the Anne Frank Huis, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, with its wonderful collection of Rembrandt paintings. In addition, there is a slew of lesser known places to visit, from the Resistance Museum through to the Royal Palace on the Dam, though for many tourists the city’s canals are its main draw – take a cruise or a stroll around the Grachtengordel and you will see why. Beyond the sights, the city’s nightlife and cultural events have a similarly innovative edge, with offerings that are at the forefront of contemporary European film, dance, drama and music. In addition, Amsterdam boasts one of the world’s leading classical orchestras and a platoon of great clubs.
For those looking for a little ancient history, the Netherlands is not without its own medieval attractions. Romantic little Valkenburg, in the picturesque Geul Valley, boasts the country's only hilltop castle. In addition to the ruins of the 12th-century castle on Dwingelrots (Castle Rock), there is also the interesting 14th-century St. Nicolaaskerk Basilica. Another highlight is the town's famous Christmas Market (mid-November to 23 December) held in the Velvet Caves, the maze of old passageways leading to and from the castle.
Any visitor visiting Amsterdam will definitely enjoy spending time exploring the city’s wonderful canals. While many of Amsterdam's best tourist attractions can be easily accessed by boat tour or water taxi - including most of the major museums and art galleries – there is much to be gained by simply strolling along the smaller, quieter streets that line the waterways.
Think of the Netherlands, and you will inevitably think of tulips, the country's most popular flower. And there is nowhere better to enjoy its rich floral bounty than at the Keukenhof, otherwise known as the Garden of Europe. It is the largest public garden in the world encompassing more than 70 acres of what was once the former kitchen garden of a large country estate. Along with its excellent restaurants, sunny patios, and exhibitions - not to mention its more than 700 varieties of tulips - the site is home to the world's largest open-air flower show.
Hoge Veluwe National Park:
Covering nearly 13,800 acres, this national park is the largest continuous nature reserve in the country. Featuring dense woodlands in the north, as well as a fascinating sculpture park, the area was once a country estate and hunting reserve, and to this day is home to many red and roe deers. It is also a popular area for birdwatching, as well as hiking and biking.
The Windmills of Kinderdijk:
On the River Noord between Rotterdam and Dordrecht is the famous village of Kinderdijk, where one can find fantastically preserved 18th-century windmills. Now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the 19 Kinderdijk windmills, built between 1722 and 1761, are the largest surviving concentration of windmills in the Netherlands. Originally used to drain the fenlands, these majestic buildings with their impressive 92-foot sails are open to the public from April to October, including special Mill Days when the sails are set in motion.
The spectacular Rijksmuseum (aka the Dutch National Museum) in Amsterdam has been collecting rare art and antiquities since 1809. Its extensive collection today amounts to nearly seven million works of art, including 5,000 paintings in more than 250 rooms, as well as a vast library with some 35,000 books. Apart from its unique collection of old masters, it offers an exhaustive account of the development of art and culture in the Netherlands and is especially rich in traditional Dutch handicrafts, medieval sculpture, and modern art.
Van Gogh Museum:
As befits one of the world's greatest artists, the spectacular Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is ranked an impressive 35th in the top art museums globally. Home to the world's largest collection of Van Gogh paintings -many donated by the artist's family - this impressive gallery and museum was specially built to showcase more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters in its vast collection.
Kasteel De Haar:
The largest fortification in the country, this spectacular castle - built by the famous Dutch architect, PJH Cuypers - required so much land that the entire village of Haarzuilens had to be relocated to accommodate it. While the original castle site was established in the 14th century, this newer structure dates from 1892 and is well worth taking the time to explore. Inside, you will find collections of antiques, furniture, paintings, and tapestries, but it is the gardens that really draw the crowds.
Grachtenfestival, one of the most famous festivals in Amsterdam is a 10-day classical music festival on Amsterdam's canals. It includes musical performances from barges, architectural tours, and performances from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.