10 of Our Favourite Netherlands Destinations
When it’s time for a break from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, why not take in the scenic views of some breath-taking Netherlands destinations, enjoy Holland’s beautiful countryside, explore a miniature village, or pick out your very own tulip varietal?
There’s plenty to do outside the big city, and we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite must-sees.
A Few Other Must-See Netherlands Destinations
Leiden’s most appealing quarter is Rapenburg, between Witte Singel and Breestraat. This peaceful area of narrow pedestrian streets and canals is home to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Holland’s principal archaeological museum.
One of its major exhibits, the Temple of Taffeh, is set in the courtyard in front of the entrance. A gift from the Egyptian government, the temple dates back to the first century AD and was originally devoted to the goddess Isis (and later adapted as a Christian church).
Egyptian artifacts fill the interior—wall reliefs, statues, sarcophagi and mummies—along with classical Greek and Roman sculpture. The temple also houses exhibits chronicling the archaeological history of Holland through prehistoric, Roman and medieval times.
Farther along Rapenburg, past the original university building, are the Hortus Botanicus; first planted in 1587, they are among the oldest botanical gardens in Europe.
Across Rapenburg, a network of narrow streets converges on the Pieterskerk. While now deconsecrated, it still bears the tomb of John Robinson, a pilgrim who lived on the site of what is now the Jan Pesijn Hofje, at Kloksteeg 21.
East of here, Breestraat marks the edge of Leiden’s commercial centre. Beyond Breestraat, the two rivers converge at the busiest point in town, the site of a vigorous Wednesday and Saturday market that sprawls over a sequence of bridges into the pedestrian Haarlemmerstraat, the town’s major shopping street.
Close by, de Burcht is the shell of a fortress perched on a mound. While rather ordinary, it does offer a great view over Leiden’s roofs and towers.
The nearby Hooglandsekerk is a light, lofty church with a central pillar that features an epitaph to Pieter van der Werff, the burgomaster during the 1574 siege by the Spanish.
Leiden’s municipal museum is a short walk away in the old Lakenhal. Exhibits include furniture, tiles, glass and ceramics along with a collection of paintings centred on Lucas van Leyden’s “Last Judgement” triptych.
You find canvases by Jacob van Swanenburgh (the young Rembrandt’s first teacher), and a few by Rembrandt himself. Work by Leiden-area painters is also on display, among them Jan Lievens, with whom Rembrandt shared a studio.
You’ll also find the work of Gerard Dou, the artist who initiated the Leiden tradition of small, minutely finished pictures.
Around the corner on Molenwerf, you’ll find the Molenmuseum de Valk. Located in a restored grain mill (20 of them used to surround Leiden), it depicts living quarters furnished in simple period style, and offers a slide show recounting the history of Holland’s windmills.
Last but not least, the Rijksmuseum Voor Volkenkunde national museum of ethnology includes complete sections on Indonesia and the Dutch colonies.
This miniature village boasts more than 700 models of famous castles, buildings and large industrial projects, offering a spectacular overview of Holland’s famous landmarks.
Naturally, it’s among the Netherlands destinations most frequented by Dutch children and often hosts school outings. It’s also the only place where you’ll encounter a reference to the story of the heroic boy who stuck his finger in a leaky dike, saving the town of Haarlem.
This story originates from an American novel, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and is practically unknown in Holland.
Madurodam officially opened on July 2, 1952. The joint founders were Mrs. B. Boon-van der Starp and Mr. and Mrs. J. M. L. Maduro.
The goal of the village was to generate funding for a sanatorium—founded in 1947—for students suffering from tuberculosis, enabling them to continue with their studies. Most of the funds for Madurodam’s construction came from Mr. and Mrs. Maduro.
Originally from Willemstad, Curaçao, they donated the money in the name of their only son, George, who had died as a prisoner of war in the Dachau concentration camp in February 1945.
Bekonscot, the miniature city in Beaconsfield, England, served as an example for Madurodam. (Bekonscot’s revenues were so high that the owner was able to make large annual donations to hospitals in London.)
The site’s architect, S.J. Bouma, designed a Dutch town as it would have developed over the course of centuries, on a 1:25 scale. For additional financial support, Bouma approached a number of major companies, hence the inclusion of a gas station, an oil derrick, a nodding donkey pump and a motorway.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines immediately consented to the construction of a scale model of Schiphol (Amsterdam’s airport), and Dutch Railways promised that Madurodam would have the best railway system in the country.
The may of the Hague was also willing to contribute, arranging for a piece of land in the Scheveningse Bosjes to be handed over on a long lease.
Madurodam has always had a special relationship with the Dutch royal family. Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands during the project’s construction, consented that her daughter, Beatrix, should become mayor of the miniature city, a title she continued to hold until her accession to the throne in 1980. In the video below, Beatrix officially opens the city and is named mayor in 1952.
Although Madurodam’s general layout has not changed since 1952, new models are added each year; it soon became clear that such additions would inevitably lead to a lack of space.
After nearly two-and-a-half years of construction, the official reopening of an enlarged village—presided over by Princess Beatrix—took place on May 15, 1996.
With its scenic country views, Kinderdijk is probably one of the most picturesque areas in all of Holland.
In 1740, 19 windmills were built in Kinderdijk, one beside the other. Their function was to drain the excess water into the river Lek.
The mills are put into operation on Saturday afternoons in July and August. Local legend has it that the name Kinderdijk (child’s dike) originated from the story of a baby who was stranded in its cradle during the St. Elizabeth Flood of 1421.
As the story goes, the child was kept afloat by a cat that prevented the cradle from tipping into the floodwater. Smart kitty.
Wim van Saase & Sons, Bulb Growers
Every year, between mid-December and early May, the Wim van Saase & Sons nursery grows about two million tulips.
The flowers are sold at the Royal FloraHolland flower auction in Rijnsburg. As for the bulbs themselves, half are grown in-house, while the other half is purchased from other producers.
Tulip cultivation begins with a so-called “dry treatment,” and then the bulbs are planted in boxes. Approximately 100 bulbs are planted per box. The boxes are then filled with compost and covered with a layer of sand.
After planting, the boxes are cooled at different temperatures for a period of about 15 weeks. Finally, the bulbs are transferred to greenhouses, where they spend three to five weeks growing in a controlled environment.
The bulbs and flowers that you see out in the fields are actually grown to produce bulbs for future harvests. The greenhouses are divided into four sections, where separate conditions are maintained for each stage of growth.
The tulips are harvested once their colour is visible, but before they blossom. After they are cut and bunched, then the tulips are sent to auction, usually no later than one day after picking.
Within 24 to 36 hours, a freshly-cut tulip can travel halfway across the world to your local florist.
De Bollenstreek means “bulb region,” and is the popular name for a stretch of land in northwestern Zuid-Holland, just inland from the sea.
The area extends from Bennebroek in the north to Wassenaar in the south, and from the dunes in the west to Lisse in the east. The town of Lisse is considered to be the Bollenstreek’s centre, primarily because of its soil, which is a mix of geestgrond (“ghost soil”) and peat that is ideal for growing bulbs.
The abundance of tulip growers here dates back to the Tulipomania of the 17th century. During that time, some of the dunes were levelled in order to procure more of the precious geestgrond (you can still see the rectangular fields established during this period).
Despite the prosperity of the tulip trade, this was not necessarily a rich area during the centuries that followed. The traders, not the farmers, made most of the money.
During the 20th century, however, tulips became big business again and were widely exported. As a result, every available patch of land in the area was transformed into bulb fields.
Most of the farms and bulb warehouses of de Bollenstreek date from this period, although some older buildings do exist.
The settlement of Lisse developed into a village during the Middle Ages, near a small castle called Huis Dever.
In the 17th century, wealthy traders from Amsterdam fell in love with the village’s bucolic surroundings, and country estates began to pop up like tulips all over town.
As the Haarlemmermeer to the north was still a lake at that time, the area was easily accessible by boat from Amsterdam.
If you decide to further explore Lisse, take a quick detour into the Museum De Zwarte Tulp (“The Black Tulip”). It is located in a restored bulb warehouse in the heart of town and details the history of de Bollenstreek and the evolution of bulb farming. The regular exhibition includes explanations in English.
Perhaps saving the best for last, Keukenhof is one of the most quintessential (to say nothing of beautiful) Netherlands destinations.
One of the many country estates that sprang up in Lisse during the 17th century, Keukenhof stands one of the few survivors of the era.
Its name translates to “kitchen garden” (keuken = kitchen; hof = garden), in reference to the spot where the resident countess grew herbs and vegetables for her table.
Keukenduin was a stretch of dunes that was once the property of the nearby Kasteel Teylingen, and served as a rich source of game for the castle’s kitchen. In 1863, the classical estate house was transformed into a fashionable, medieval-looking building designed by architect E. Saraber from The Hague.
Around the same time, the park was redesigned as a landscape garden by the Zochers, a famous father-and-son team of garden architects.
By the 20th century, there was such a desperate need for bulb-growing grounds that farmers began buying up old estates. Most of the houses were torn down and their gardens converted to farmland.
The owner of the Keukenhof, however, refused to sell. As a compromise, he agreed to offer part of the park as a display garden for local bulb farmers.
In the spring of 1949, the first Keukenhof bulb show was held. The garden has since gained an international reputation and further publicized the bulb trade.
Today, seven million flowers are on display in this 70-acre park, earning it the nickname, “The Greatest Flower Show on Earth.”