Date Posted: 10/08/2011
Windmills, tulips, canals and bicycles - around 600,000 in Amsterdam alone - are just some of Holland’s many colourful sights, says Jeannine Williamson.
Little more than half the size of Scotland, Holland may be small but groups will never run short of things to see and do. The dazzling springtime bulb fields are an ever-popular draw, and at other times of the year cultural cities, a countryside scattered with windmills and a dramatic coastline are waiting to be explored.
Another big plus for group organisers is that Holland is a very accessible country. There are numerous flights from London and regional airports, daily ferry crossings from Harwich, Hull and Newcastle to the Hook of Holland, Rotterdam and Ijmuiden, or alternatively you can take a ferry via France or Belgium. A third option is to catch the Eurostar to Brussels with onward rail connections to Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
Often described as the Venice of the north, the capital and largest city in Holland actually has more canals and three times as many bridges as the Italian city. The Canal Bus is an ideal way for groups to get around Amsterdam and sightsee at the same time. The hop-on hop-off waterbuses, with an informative onboard commentary, run along three routes with 14 stops at museums and other places of interest.
Top sights include Rijksmuseum, the largest museum in Holland and a showcase of masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age. It is currently undergoing the biggest restoration in its history, due to be completed in 2013, but a selection of its finest works remain on show in the Philips Wing. Another cultural highlight is the Van Gogh Museum, displaying the world’s largest collection by the Dutch post-Impressionist painter. For a colourful spectacle visit the daily Singel flower market where the stalls are on barges, a tradition dating back to the time when flowers were shipped in from horticultural areas around the city. For something different, that will particularly appeal to the female element, the Museum of Bags and Purses houses more than 4,000 handbags, including glamorous handbags from the art deco period and bags shaped like a steamship, train, telephone, cuckoo clock and cupcake, to name a few. It might be one of Amsterdam’s lesser-known attractions but it is reportedly the world’s largest museum of its kind.
Holland’s second city, home to the largest port in the world, is a cosmopolitan melting pot of more than 150 different cultures. Groups can discover the scale of the seagoing industry with a 75-minute cruise around the harbour, sailing past vast cargo vessels and docks piled with containers. At the opposite end of the scale is Delfshaven, where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America in 1620. It’s one of the oldest places in Rotterdam, and here your group can stroll along quaint quaysides, browse the shops and enjoy a drink in one of the many cafes and bars.
Groups with a head for heights should take high speed lifts to the top of the 185-metre (607-foot) Euromast for the best views in town. Back down to earth take in some of Rotterdam’s extraordinary architecture, from the block of flats known as the pencil building to the world famous cube houses. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, the houses don’t have any straight walls, and visitors can take a look inside the show cube to find out what it’s like to live in one of these unusual homes that must be extraordinarily difficult to decorate!
Home to the Dutch royal family and seat of the country’s parliament, this elegant city by the sea has avenues lined with grand 18th century mansions. A striking contemporary building is the Municipal Museum, housing collections of art, fashion and music under one roof. A favourite with international visitors is Madurodam where all of Holland’s top attractions, including canals, windmills and the port of Rotterdam are brought together in a miniature city.
A stone’s throw from The Hague are the beautiful seaside resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin. At Scheveningen groups can walk through the underwater tunnel and meet the residents of the north sea face-to-face at the fascinating Sealife Centre. Quieter Kijkduin, with its dune lined beaches, is the place for a tranquil stroll. For an extraordinary experience take a look at Panorama Mesdag, Holland’s biggest painting. Visitors step inside the cylindrical work of art to see Scheveningen as it was in 1881, a peaceful fishing village.
Many people only think of Maastricht as the city where the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992, leading to the birth of the euro. In fact it is one of Holland’s oldest cities and a rich outdoor museum set in the rolling hill country of south Limburg. Strolling around the streets groups will find reminders of the Maastricht that once served as a Roman border checkpoint, a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages, a garrison city, and as the place where the Dutch industrial revolution began. Visit historic basilicas that have shaped the skyline and then take a look at the Wyck district, a colourful neighbourhood that has become known for its restaurants and antique shops. A striking modern building is the Bonnefanten Museum, with its fine collections of old masters and modern art.
Whilst Holland’s cities are well-known, its coastline remains relatively undiscovered. Bordering the north sea and Wadden sea, when it’s time to take a break from city life the spectacular coast offers plenty of contrasting sights for visiting groups. The charming villages of Bergen and Bergen aan Zee, separated by wide sand dunes, have inspired generations of Dutch writers and painters, whilst the highest and widest dunes can be found, and climbed, in the forestry area of Schoorl. Another high spot is the distinctive red cast iron structure of Tall Jaap, or Tall John, the tallest lighthouse in Europe. Located in Huisduinen it stands at 68-metres (226-feet) tall.
Top three sights
1. Tulip fields: The best-known bulb fields are located behind the north sea dunes, between the cities of Leiden and Den Helder. Equally beautiful fields can be found near Enkhuizen and in the province of Flevoland. Tulips bloom from the end of March until the second week of May.
2. Anne Frank House: Amsterdam’s most popular attraction, the house is where the teenage diarist hid with her family from the occupying Nazis during World War Two and Anne’s poignant original diary is on display. Pre-booked groups benefit from timed admission to avoid queuing.
3. Kinderdijk: Holland is famous for its windmills and Kinderdijk, nine miles east of Rotterdam, is home to the largest concentration of old mills. Built in 1740, the 19 UNESCO-listed windmills are remarkably well preserved.
Eat: Dutch favourites include thick pea soup with smoked sausage, deep-fried meatballs, pancakes and apple cake. At tea and coffee breaks try poffertjes, delicious mini pancakes served with lashings of butter and sugar. Colonial rule in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, left a spicy culinary legacy and there are Indonesian restaurants throughout Holland.
Drink: At 5pm it’s time for borrel, as the Dutch call it. A glass of beer, a nip of jenever - Dutch gin - or maybe a glass of wine or sherry accompanied by a snack. At mealtimes beer is more popular than wine and familiar name Dutch beers include Heineken and Grolsch.
Try: Eating raw herring, a favourite Dutch delicacy. The best time is between May and July when the new catch hits the herring stalls that can be found everywhere. The traditional way is to pick up the fish by the tail, tilt your head back and eat it. If that’s too much then try slices of pickled herring served with onions.
Buy: Wooden clogs - often scaled down as ornaments, key rings and chinaware - pretty blue Delftware and Dutch cheese.
Go: Holland is a year-round destination and UK visitors feel at home in the mild but changeable climate. Spring and autumn can be glorious and much less crowded than summer.
Travel time: 1hr 10mins flight time and 6hrs 15mins to 14hrs (overnight) by ferry.
Time difference: GMT +1hr.
Language: Dutch, with English widely spoken.
Red tape: None.
Did you know?
- Dutch people are the tallest in Europe.
- Planes arriving at Schiphol airport land 4.5-metres (15-feet) below sea level.
- When Dutch schoolchildren pass their exams they hang a national flag and a school bag outside their homes.
Netherlands Board of Tourism: