After five years away from the Netherlands, the time had come for my fiance Joey the Dutchman to return to his home turf. This trip was a first in many aspects of our life as a couple; our first time traveling together, Joey’s first time bringing a girl home to his family and my first time visiting Europe. The trip would obviously be one for the memory books!
Being young and carefree Joey and I waited a little last minute booking our plane tickets – something I would not recommend to the average traveler. Lucky for us having a warm welcoming family waiting for us across the pond, allowed us to travel cheaper than expected and put our bank accounts at ease.
Getting from Halifax to Amsterdam took us on an overnight flight with a quick stopover in Frankfurt. We were lucky to be picked up at the airport by Joey’s uncle. Being my first red-eye flight, I didn’t sleep a wink and come our arrival at the Schiphol International airport my body was oozing exhaustion. Leaving the bustling capital, I got to appreciate the long winding narrow cobbled streets and some of Amsterdam’s 14th-century architecture. It was a picturesque sight every through tired eyes.
Even though Joey is from the Netherlands, he had a really hard time making a list of things to do while visiting his natal country. The last time he had been there, it was during the party animal stage of his life and every night was a night on the town. Though we did want to spend a few evenings out on the town, I also wanted to see some of the iconic landmarks that make the Netherlands so rich in history.
It took some asking around and a fair bit of research until we came up with a list of spots to visit while traveling. We luckily had access to a car while in Holland, enabling us to visit more remote locations and see more places in a week than the average tourist. Here are some of the highlights from our trip:
How about checking out the entire country of the Netherlands as if you were a giant?
Madurodam is a miniature park build on a scale of 1:25. This tiny town is a near-perfect depiction of all the historic landmarks throughout the country. What better way to start off your vacation than checking out this miniature interactive map of the Netherlands and choosing which sites you would actually like to see in real life.
Location: The Hague, South Holland
I would definitely consider myself an animal person. If you have kids, or like me, love cuddly furry creatures, make sure to visit the Apenheul.
Visit and interact with all different species of monkeys at this primate park as you get up close and personal with some of the most curious little creatures. In an attempt to make the environment as natural as possible the monkeys wander the park uncaged surrounded by forest.
Location: Apeldoorn, Gelderland
The Kinderdijk is a must-see for tourist looking to have an authentic Dutch experience.
Hike or bike through some of Holland’s most beautiful trails in the Alblasserwaard region as you enjoy the peace and quiet of this green oasis. Step back in time as you explore the Kinderdijk landscape, the only places in the world where you can still find authentic windmills in action so close together. This UNESCO world heritage site, where you can tour a 1950’s windmill, meet a real-life miller or cruise the canal, will not disappoint.
Location: Kinderdijk, South Holland
A Horizon of Windmills: Explore the windmills-filled horizon of the Netherlands at one of the best locations in the country – Kinderdijk. Read more about the Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage Site – an amazing place to sightsee and learn all about Dutch history.
Known for its fields of blossoming tulips, it only makes sense that the Netherlands has year-round flower markets. In Amsterdam, the most famous flower market in the country, the floating Bloemenmarkt, is located on the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein. Having been in existence since 1862, visit the only floating flower market in the world and bask in the colourful array of flowers any day of the week. Stop by and smell the roses, in one of the most fragrant spots in all of Holland.
Location: Amsterdam, North Holland
If handsome knights, secret passageways and eerie dungeons are for you, then you will feel right at home exploring the ancient castle in Muiden. Muiderslot is one of the best-known and most authentic-looking castles in the country, hosting many years of Dutch history within its walls. Having been around for over 700 years, the castle is great for adults and kids alike, to learn firsthand what life was like in the middle ages.
Location: Muiden, North Holland
One of the best-known regions of Amsterdam is its Red Light District. A top tourist attraction, the district has everything from sex museums to a Condomerie, selling condoms in all shapes and sizes. Visit the district at night and stroll by the brothels, sex theater and peep shows as you appreciate the naughty atmosphere of this taboo region.
Location: Amsterdam, North Holland
The Red Light District: You haven’t truly explored Amsterdam until you have been to the Red Light District – a place leaving nothing to the imagination. For more information on this taboo region check out my Fifty Shades of Red blog post.
Two big things that the Netherlands is known for are wooden clogs and cheese. All over the country, you will find vendors that offer tours of clog making and cheese making. The tour that we chose was at a 160-year-old farmhouse turned Cheese and Klomp Factory. With all the tools and machinery on display and a carefully crafted video, we learned about the clog and cheese-making process. Afterward, we even got to sample several different types of cheese made in-house.
Location: Amstelveen, North Holland
Amsterdam’s 17th-century canal ring has been deemed a UNESCO world heritage site since August 2010. Having some of the best vantage points in the city, relax as you tour some of the most important parts of the city by water. With audio guides available in many different languages as well as day and evening cruises you can’t go wrong seeing the city from a different perspective.
Location: Amsterdam, North Holland
It may have been a struggle at first, figuring out what to do and see in the Netherlands but after all our research and after having visited the country I realized the possibilities are literally endless. Our short visit had only grazed the surface of things I had wanted to see. Next time we travel, I am hoping it will be in April so that I can experience King’s Day, the blooming tulip fields and maybe even catch a voetbal match.
Have you ever been to the Netherlands? What kinds of activities and sights did you visit in the capital and around the country?
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Combine beer tasting with urban beauty on your Netherlands vacation. Stop for a drink or stay for a tour at Amsterdam's only windmill brewery.
From wooden stump to tourist shops window, learn all about the fabrication of dutch clogs.
Explore the windmill-filled horizon of the Kinderdijk while learning all about Dutch history in just one day.
You haven't truly explored Amsterdam until you have been to the Red Light District - a place leaving nothing to the imagination.
If you are a food lover take a pit stop at some of these tasteful restaurants around the Netherlands.
Guide your palette through this list of top Dutch treats, that will leave your taste buds wanting more.
Master the art of making oliebollen with our simple step-by-step homemade recipe.
What better way to indulge in a little dairy goodness than in the Netherlands historic city of Gouda!