Wordtravels

Wordtravels

Tips on travelling to Netherlands from Kaleigh Bellio


Kaleigh is from Denver, Colorado and has a degree in Art History. She is currently working as an au pair in the Netherlands and uses all her free time to explore, immersing herself as much as possible in Dutch culture. She is learning the language and enjoys writing about her experiences sampling local food and admiring Dutch art and architecture.


To read more about Kaleigh's adventures in the Netherlands check out her travel blog: www.yayforkay.com

What is your favourite thing about the Netherlands?

It's hard to pin down my favourite thing about this country because I just 'click' here. The charm is never lost on me. The architecture, beautiful people, rich history and culture, and lifestyle all massively appeal to me. It is also easy to travel around, whether by train, bike, or on foot. The infrastructure favours cyclists and bicycles are my favourite mode of transport.

How well do you know the country?

I consider myself quite familiar with the country and many of my Dutch friends tell me I have seen more of it than they have. I have travelled to most of the large cities and seen a good portion of the sites tourists would find interesting. Currently I am learning Dutch as well as always learning more about the culture from my friends and host family. Though the country itself is small, there are so many things to explore!

Where would you send a first-time visitor in the Netherlands?

Most visitors focus on Amsterdam, which is an amazing city, but it is not the only city in the Netherlands.  It is absolutely worth exploring outward beyond the capital, and easy to do. In Amsterdam the Rijksmuseum, van Gogh Museum and Red Light District are all large attractions and worth seeing.

I would also recommend seeing the city of Utrecht as the historic centre is beautiful and interesting.  Utrecht is in the heart of the country but less filled with tourists. Staying in Utrecht is more affordable and it is easy to commute to other cities. The Dom Tower of Utrecht is a stunning example of Gothic architecture and the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

Rotterdam doesn't have the same feel as the other cities since it was mostly rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII. Rotterdam is a bit funkier and more unusual. I enjoy the bars and restaurants on the Witte de Withstraat and the gorgeous view of the skyline from Kralingse Plas and Bos, a lake and forest only about a mile and a half (3km) from the city centre. Another fun activity in Rotterdam is taking a water taxi.

If you are up for a longer journey, Maastricht is a beautiful city located on the Maas River in the province of Limburg. This region speaks a different dialect of Dutch, is known for its signature fruit pies called vlaai, and is home to the Boekhandel Dominicanen, recognized as one of the most beautiful book stores in the world.

What is your favourite city or region of the Netherlands? Why?

Typically, I stay in the Randstand, the 'megalopolis' formed by Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. These cities are all quite close together and easy to commute between. There is always a lot going on, constant festivals, markets, concerts, art events, and so much more. One of my favourite spots is Scheveningen, a popular beach in The Hague. The locals go to the beach in all weather and typically enjoy some herring or kibbeling (fried fish); even on a stormy day you can go to watch the surfers. I love this region because it is impossible to be bored and the countryside is beautiful; during the spring you can take the train through the flower fields to witness the stripes of vibrant colour created by the tulips.

When is the best time to visit the Netherlands?

Because there is always so much happening, it is always a good time to visit, but in the spring starting around April the restaurants on the beaches are set up and the flowers start to bloom. April 27 is Koningsdag (Kings Day), when everyone has the day off and many cities, especially Amsterdam, host large street parties showcasing their national pride. The weather can be unpredictable in any season and people here just adapt and continue on without letting it affect their plans. The summer hosts a surprising amount of festivals throughout almost every city but is also the most popular time for tourism so can be a bit crowded.

Is the Netherlands tourist-friendly?

Absolutely! Nearly everyone speaks English and the people are particularly welcoming to those who come to truly experience the culture. It is a mistake to get caught up in the coffee shops and red light district only to party as you miss out on the things that make Holland unique. Travel within the country is very simple.

I would say the largest frustration for locals is when tourists don't respect or understand the bike lanes, which can prove very dangerous, particularly in Amsterdam.

What is the best means of transport when exploring the Netherlands?

Trains and bikes are the easiest way to get around. Buses and trams are also easy. Bikes can be rented at a number of places, and personally I think that renting a bike that is obviously for tourists can be beneficial. It lets others know that you aren't as familiar with the system as locals and makes it easy for people to make allowances for you.

How safe is the country for tourists?

Very safe, in my experience. There are incidents of crime in all countries, but I have never felt unsafe or at risk in the Netherlands. Most places are well lit, clean and populated. As with anywhere, you should always be aware of yourself. One of the most common crimes is bike theft so always tie your bike up securely.

Are there any areas people should avoid?

None that come to mind.

Would you consider the Netherlands an expensive travel destination?

No, I would say it is mid-range. You can certainly get by on a shoe-string budget in hostels and eating at affordable places like snack bars. Amsterdam is the most expensive city to stay in, so if you stay elsewhere like Utrecht, The Hague or Rotterdam you will pay less. Train travel within the country is quite reasonable and clubs usually charge low entrance fees by European standards.

Are there any special souvenirs travellers should look out for in the Netherlands?

The typical souvenirs are the wooden clogs, tulip bulbs and other silly paraphernalia from the Red Light District, but I think the treats like stroopwafels, speculoos (essentially a cookie butter), and dropjes (liquorice) candies are great souvenirs.

And what are your favourite local meals?

Dutch food is something that I really enjoy. They are proud of their cheeses like Gouda and Edam, and Alkmaar is known for its traditional cheese market on Fridays between April and October. If the weather is cold, I love Stamppot, a Dutch staple made of mashed potatoes and cabbage served with rookwurst (smoked sausage). Panenkoeken are delicious traditional Dutch pancakes that can be made savoury or sweet - I usually go for bacon and cheese with mine. Fish is a staple of the Dutch diet, with herring, lekkerbek and kibbeling favourite fish. Bitterballen are fried ragout balls, similar to a fried gravy, and they are delicious served with mustard. Stroopwafels, thin waffles with syrup in the centre, are also lovely treats. You should also try some Belgian Fries, usually served with mayonnaise.

Is there anything else you feel people should know before visiting the Netherlands?

A bit of Dutch goes a long way here but I will be the first to tell you it is not an easy language. Never be afraid to ask people for help as the Dutch may be known for their directness but they are also warm and friendly. Many people visit Amsterdam only for the party scene, which is one of the best in the world, but doing nothing but wandering stoned from bar to bar would be a waste in this amazing place so be sure to take in some culture with your hedonism. Bring an umbrella as there is always a strong chance of rain.

To read more about Kaleigh's adventures in the Netherlands check out her travel blog: www.yayforkay.com