Explore Netherlands

Netherlands Travel Guide

This country of tulips, windmills and bicycles stretches out over a predominantly flat landscape of land reclaimed from the sea. Sophisticated urban centres and sleepy rural towns are contained within the expansive vistas broken here and there by canals, castle walls and dikes. One of Europe's most densely populated regions is located within an area of the Netherlands called the Randstad. This urban hub radiates in a circle from Amsterdam and includes The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the smaller towns of Haarlem, Leiden and Delft. The metropolitan centres of the Netherlands buzz with the activity of seasonal festivals, cultural activities, vibrant art scenes and excellent pubs and restaurants.

The rich cultural heritage that flavours much of Dutch life can be traced back through the centuries. During the 1600s the Netherlands dominated the world both economically and culturally, with the Dutch East India Company establishing trading links with the East and West Indies and bringing back an abundance of merchandise and cultural influences. The Golden Age reached its zenith in the artworks of the Dutch Masters: Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan Vermeer. Today, their paintings hang from the walls of the country's numerous world-class museums and galleries.

Most people travelling to the Netherlands head for the unique experience of its capital city, Amsterdam. The other parts are largely unaffected by tourism, particularly the areas outside the Randstad. The southern parts of the country are transformed by undulating landscapes of shifting sands and heath moors, best experienced within the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Further south, tucked between the German and Belgian borders, lies the historical city of Maastricht.

Since the collapse of Napoleon's empire in 1814, the Netherlands has taken a neutral stance throughout most of the world's conflicts, including the First World War in which it took no part. In spite of this independent stance it still suffered severely in World War II during the Nazi invasion of 1940. Its neutral political position, combined with its tradition of liberalism and tolerance, has made the Netherlands the logical choice for the establishment of the International Court of Justice, which is situated in The Hague.

The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, non-EEA visitors to the Netherlands must hold confirmed return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Anne Frank House

Address: Prinsengracht 267 (Westerkerk) Amsterdam

Admission: €9 (adults), €4.50 (children aged 10 to 17) Open daily from 9am to 7pm, and Saturdays 9am to 9pm (November through March); from 9am to 9pm daily, and Saturdays 9am to 10pm (April through October). Note that the queues can be very long, but that tickets can be bought online in advance.

This museum is dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, whose famous diary, recorded over a two-year period, describes the experiences of a Jewish teenager during World War II. Part of the house that is now the museum was used as a hiding place by the Franks and others to escape Nazi persecution. The hidden attic area where eight people lived in hiding can be explored and brings home to tourists the cramped and fearful existence described by Anne in her diary. The families were later discovered and sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. Otto Frank was the only survivor.

The original diary is on display as part of the permanent exhibition and there is plenty of information on the lives of the people involved - it is not necessary to have read the diary to appreciate the museum. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits that focus on related issues. One of Amsterdam's most famous tourist attractions, Anne Frank House is a must for visitors of all ages. Due to its popularity, however, queues outside the museum can get excruciatingly long, especially in peak tourist season, so it is recommended that visitors book online enabling them to use a separate entrance, or arrive as early as possible.

Van Gogh Museum

Address: Paulus Potterstraat 7 Amsterdam

Admission: €15 (adults), children under 17 are free. Open daily from about 10am to 6pm (until 10pm on Fridays). There are slight variations in opening times according to season - check the website for details.

The Van Gogh Museum is a definitive tourist attraction in Amsterdam. Situated in a modern building, the simple architecture subtly underscores the artists' colourful and extraordinary work. The museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work in the world, comprised of more than 200 paintings, 437 drawings and 31 prints. Many of his most famous and recognisable paintings are on display in this remarkable museum. The collection is organised according to three criteria: the first of these is the work of the artist, which is divided into five notable periods; then there is the display of work of other artists, including those of his friends and contemporaries; and finally the third section is the showcase of the museum's history, recording its progress with a feature on the development of the new wing designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, built to house the temporary exhibitions. The written information provided is good and sufficient for many visitors, but the audio guide is definitely worth hiring for Van Gogh fanatics who want a more in-depth analysis. Photography of the art itself is not permitted, though visitors can take pictures in the main hall. Large bags will have to be left in the cloakroom facilities as they are not permitted in the museum.

The Rijksmuseum

Address: Jan Luijkenstraat 1 Amsterdam

Admission: €17.50 (adults). Under 18s are free and concessions are available. Open daily from 9am to 5pm.

The Rijksmuseum was opened in 1885 and is best known for its collection of 17th-century Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The most notable of these paintings is Rembrandt's masterpiece The Night Watch which has pride of place. The museum contains thousands of other paintings spanning from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, in its Asiatic collection, Print Room, Dutch History, and Applied Arts sections, and although it is most coveted for its paintings, the collection also includes stunning furniture, jewellery, ceramics and other artefacts. Nestled within the garden is a collection depicting five centuries of Dutch architecture.

It is advisable to consult a map or purchase a CD audio tour to help navigate through the extensive collection of the Rijksmuseum and to allow plenty of time for your visit - at least a few hours are needed to explore thoroughly. Surprisingly, photographs are permitted inside, but flash photography is not. Overcrowding is a problem in the Rijksmuseum and it is best to avoid the busiest times: the museum is most crowded between 11am and 3pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Buy tickets in advance online to minimise queuing, but note that when the museum is full even those that arrive with tickets may have to wait. The Rijksmuseum is one of the Netherlands most famous and most popular attractions and a must-see in Amsterdam; it has recently reopened after an extensive renovation project and is more impressive than ever.

Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art

Address: Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam Amsterdam

Admission: €15 (adults), €7.50 (children 13 to 18), children under 12 free. Concessions available. Admission costs may be upped when special exhibitions are featured. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Thursdays 10am to 10pm.

The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art closely traces the developments in art of the second half of the 20th century, showcasing the most impressive collection of modern art in Amsterdam. The permanent exhibition focuses on De Stijl, Cobra, Nouveau Realisme, Pop Art, Colorfield Painting, Zero and Minimalist Art, while temporary exhibitions on design and applied art are housed in the new wing.

Many of the masters of modern art are represented here, including Cezanne, Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock and Lichtenstein, and there is a huge range of mediums, as one would expect from a modern art exhibition. The building is cool and artistic and seldom crowded which makes it a breath of fresh air after some of the packed tourist spaces in Amsterdam. Numerous events, like workshops and book launches, are hosted in the museum and there is a shop, restaurant and library.

There are audio guides available in at least six languages and guided tours by experienced professionals every Sunday. The guided tours are free and conducted in Dutch and English but cannot be booked in advance - those keen to join must sign up at the museum on the day of the tour.

Rembrandt House

Address: Jodenbreestraat 4 Amsterdam

Admission: €12.50 (adults), €4 (children 6-17). Concessions available. Open daily from 10am to 6pm.

This museum provides an insight into the life and times of the famous Dutch master. Rembrandt lived here between 1639 and 1658, the pinnacle of his career. The famous artist went bankrupt in 1656 and a list of his possessions was drawn up to pay his debts; this list has allowed the historic interior of the house to be restored faithfully with exactly the kinds of furnishings the artist owned. The museum presents a permanent collection of Rembrandt's work (including etchings and sketches as well as paintings) and a reconstructed 17th-century studio, together with regular temporary exhibitions and a collection of paintings done by his teacher, Pieter Latman, as well as some of the work of Rembrandt's pupils. In the painting studio there are daily demonstrations on how etchings and paintings were made in the 17th century, including an interesting demonstration on his use of colour and where he would have gotten the paint. Although the admission cost is quite steep for a small museum, the price does include a great free audio guide and Rembrandt House is a very popular attraction in Amsterdam. An hour is enough for a self-guided tour, unless you want to linger and bask in the 17th-century time bubble.

Amsterdam Museum

Address: Kalverstraat 92 Amsterdam

Admission: €12 (adults), €6 (children aged 5 to 18). Open every day from 10am to 5pm. Closed on some public holidays.

Housed in a lovely 17th-century building that was formerly an orphanage, the Historical Museum explores Amsterdam's development from a small medieval settlement along the river into a thriving modern city. The museum's galleries showcase the progress of each century, with particular emphasis given to Holland's Golden Age. The museum provides a showpiece of Dutch Master paintings, archaeological discoveries, gold, silver, glass, earthenware and other artefacts. It is an extremely popular and interesting museum which generally receives rave reviews from tourists. Visitors should allow at least two to three hours to explore as the exhibition is large - there are also frequent temporary exhibitions. There is a pleasant little museum cafe selling refreshments which is worth checking out, and an outdoor iamsterdam display which is popular for photographs. The museum fee also covers entry to the Civic Guards Gallery. This is a glass-roofed gallery stretching between Kalverstraat and the Begijnhof, lined with portraits of Amsterdam's Civic Guards dating back to the 17th century.

Red Light District (De Wallen)

Address: Amsterdam

A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a stroll around the notorious Red Light District. The atmosphere can be chaotic, with throngs of tourists jostling for space alongside city slickers, pimps and drug dealers. The prostitutes of De Wallen are part of a legal and regulated industry that includes compulsory health checks and taxable income. Prostitution is by no means the only attraction of the area. The district's architecture comprises a scenic mix that dates back to the Middle Ages. Areas to explore include Waterlooplein, Zeedijk and Nieuwmarkt Square. Waterlooplein is the location of the modern City Hall and Muziek Theatre. The square was created in 1880 from two canals that were filled and then allocated to Jewish traders who used to ply their wares on its pavements. Nieuwmarkt Square was also once home to a thriving Jewish community, mainly Portuguese Jews who had fled from persecution during the Spanish Inquisition. The cultural diversity of this area extends to Zeedijk Street, which is often referred to as Chinatown. The street runs from the Saint Olof Chapel to De Waag, and is lined with many excellent bars, restaurants and cafes.

Visitors should be respectful and note that photography in and around the actual brothels is frowned on, and could lead to confrontation.

The Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum)

Address: Plantage Kerklaan 61 Amsterdam

Admission: €10 (adults), €5 (children aged 7 to 15). Concessions available. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm; Open Saturday, Sunday, Monday and public holidays from 11am to 5pm.

Between May 1940 and May 1945, during World War II, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany, and this museum documents the everyday effects of this foreign invasion on the Dutch population as well as the resistance movement. A trip to the Dutch Resistance Museum, or Verzetsmuseum, is a fascinating step back in time, providing wonderful insight into ordinary life in the 1940s as well as the exciting and extraordinary espionage activities of the resistance fighters. Displays include authentic period artefacts, lots of everyday objects, photographs, weaponry, false documents used by the resistance, maps and footage to evoke the wartime period in the Netherlands. The resistance included the secret aiding and protection of Jews and this museum is well combined with a visit to Anne Frank House. The collection makes use of individual experiences and stories which is a good way of personalising history. The permanent exhibition is bilingual, catering to both Dutch and English visitors, and there are free audio guides available in English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch. Guided tours are available by appointment only and reservations must be made a few weeks in advance.

The Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)

Address: Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 147, Dam Square Amsterdam

Admission: €10 (adults), under 18s free. Concessions available. Open most days between 11am and 5pm, but closed for royal events.

Although the Royal Palace is the official royal residence, it is mainly used for functions and is one of three palaces that the royal family of the Netherlands reside in. Visitors should check the calendar on the official website listed below to ensure that the palace is not closed for an event during their stay, but it is open most days of the year. The building dates back to 1648 and was originally designed for use as Amsterdam's City Hall. A large collection of furniture from this period adorns its magnificent interiors and there is also some valuable art on display. The palace is comparatively small by European standards and only part of it is open to visitors, but exploring it is still a fantastic experience, helped along by an excellent free audio guide which gives a great history lesson. Guided tours are offered to visitors (although they must be booked two weeks in advance) and they are conducted by qualified art historians or art history students in Dutch, English, German, French and Spanish. Official tours take about an hour, but those who are exploring alone with the audio guide may take up to three hours if they linger and listen to all the information provided. Photography is permitted in the palace, but not flash photography.

Maastricht

Address: Maastricht is located 133 miles (215km) from Amsterdam Amsterdam

Maastricht is the oldest city in the Netherlands, peacefully perching on the banks of the Maas River. It is also one of the sunnier spots, located at Holland's southernmost point, squeezed in between the Belgian and German borders. Once a humble Roman settlement, Maastricht now boasts almost the highest number of national heritage sites in the Netherlands, second only to Amsterdam. The city is not just notable for its age and history though: Maastricht is the birthplace of the European Union and the single European currency, the Euro.

Ancient fortifications provide pleasant walking routes and some of these can be explored on the city's western outskirts. The Bonnefantenmuseum traces the city's historical roots, and makes for a good introduction to the city. Another must-see is the Basilica of Saint Servatius, a medieval cruciform basilica with a significant collection of religious artefacts, as well as being the burial place of Holland's first bishop. In the old centre of Maastricht there is a selection of shops and department stores and it is known as a good shopping destination. Here one can also savour the fine food and wine that Maastricht has developed a reputation for. Maastricht is a university town with a large and vibrant student community that adds energy to the ancient city.

Peace Palace

Address: Carnegieplein 2 Amsterdam

Admission: Tours: €9.50. The Peace Palace is only accessible on organised tours, which are run on certain weekends.

The Peace Palace was so named to emphasise its significance as a place for arbitration and for the maintenance and promotion of world peace. Situated in The Hague, the building houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and The Hague Academy of International Law. It was here (in 1946) that the first session of the International Court of Justice was held. The building itself is impressive, with beautiful interiors and wonderful gardens, and houses some magnificent art gifted to the palace by various countries. Guided tours of the palace are conducted regularly with the dates announced on the official website - these tours must be booked in advance online. Tours take about 45 minutes and are fascinating. No photographs are permitted inside the palace and no luggage (including handbags) is permitted either, but lockers are provided. Guided tours of the gardens are also available and dates are announced on the website. The Visitor's Centre, which is really a museum, provides a free audio guide and is a great option for those who can't make the tours. The Hague is located approximately 35 miles (57km) from Amsterdam.

Keukenhof

Address: Stationsweg 166A, 2161 Am Lisse, Netherlands Amsterdam

Admission: €16 (adults), €8 (children aged 4 to 11), free for children under 3. Open daily from about 20 March to mid-May annually, between 8am and 7:30pm (ticket office closes at 6pm).

One of the top attractions in the Netherlands, and the best reason to visit in the spring, Keukenhof is one of those magical places that frequently earns itself a spot on lists like 'Places You Have to Go in Your Lifetime'. A huge spring garden that is home to more than seven million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, Keukenhof is 32 hectares of colour and fragrance. The gardens have been expertly and creatively designed and landscaped, with works of art scattered among the blooms. There are many restaurants and cafes in the grounds for refreshments and shops and stalls selling souvenirs, gardening equipment and seeds and bulbs. There are also numerous pavilions doing demonstrations on things like flower arranging and the latest trends in gardening. The main joy of the place, however, is just getting lost in the wonderland of flowers and taking photographs. Many visitors to the Netherlands expect to see the famous vistas of tulip fields stretching as far as the eye can see; Keukenhof is surrounded by such bulb fields and it is possible to arrange cycling and boat tours from the park to explore these areas. It is best to allow at least a few hours to thoroughly enjoy the area.

National Maritime Museum

Address: Kattenburgerplein 1 Amsterdam

Admission: €15 (adults), €7.50 (ages 5 to 17 and students). Open every day from 9am to 5pm.

Covering four centuries of Dutch naval history, the National Maritime Museum, or Het Scheepvaartmuseum, allows visitors a glimpse into the adventurous seafaring past of Dutch explorers and merchants through exhibits of antiquarian maps, navigation instruments, paintings and ship models, creating one of the most extensive collections of maritime memorabilia in the entire world. A major attraction is the life-size reconstruction of a Dutch East India Company ship called the Amsterdam, which is docked behind the museum and can be explored, allowing an exciting experience of what living on one of these ships must have been like.

Learn about the maritime trade, naval combat, fishing and whaling and the intrepid journeys that took the Dutch fleet to remote destinations as far away as modern day Indonesia, India and South Africa. The exhibition on the slave trade is fascinating but disturbing and perhaps not suitable for young children. There are, however, several exhibitions dedicated exclusively to kids, with lots of fun interactive activities. The museum building is imposing, set on the water and with a main hall overarched by a beautiful glass ceiling. Widely considered one of the best museums in Amsterdam, the Maritime Museum is a must for anybody with an interest in ships or naval history.

Heineken Experience

Address: Stadhouderskade 78 Amsterdam

Admission: €18 (at the door), €16 (online booking), €12.50 (children aged 12 to 17). Monday to Thursday 10:30am to 7:30pm; Friday to Sunday 10:30am to 9pm. In July and August open 10:30am to 9pm daily.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, and indeed in the Netherlands, the Heineken Experience is not to be missed. After opening its doors in 2001, the Heineken Experience has been attracting international beer-lovers for almost a decade. Housed in the original brewery, visitors will learn about the history of the famous Heineken Company and its unique brewing process, visit cutting-edge interactive exhibits and enjoy free Heineken beer at the two pit stops along the way. And visitors won't go away empty handed either: a gift of Heineken memorabilia is given to each visitor to ensure they remember their Heineken Experience. The site underwent major renovations in 2007 and is now better than ever. The new and improved Heineken Experience features a mini brewery, a new tasting bar and an opportunity to view Heineken's iconic Shire horses. The layout is impressive and the whole tour very sophisticatedly done - so much so that even those who aren't beer lovers should enjoy it. To avoid queues and perhaps get a reduced price book tickets online. Check out the official website listed below for more details.

Amsterdam Coffeeshops

Address: Amsterdam

Amsterdam's coffeeshops are an iconic part of the city, and for many tourists they constitute a unique and essential element to any visit to the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, 'coffeeshop' means a place where cannabis is openly sold and smoked, while 'café' refers to somewhere that sells coffee, tea and cakes. The coffeeshops sell controlled amounts of marijuana to adults over 18 years of age. Travellers are warned, however, that the personal possession of drugs is illegal, if frequently overlooked; cannabis is not legal in the Netherlands, recreational use is simply tolerated if it is not socially disruptive. There are a variety of coffeeshops in the city, from laid-back and mellow to psychedelic and loud. It is expected of customers to consume not only the cannabis but also a beverage or snack while at the venue. Most coffee shops offer several kinds of weed or hash listed on a 'menu', and the staff can give advice on the different strains and strengths before you place your order. The prices vary according to the quality and be warned: the local skunk is very strong!

For most of the country a law has now come into effect that makes it illegal for tourists to be admitted to coffeeshops. Most cities in the Netherlands enforce this prohibition, but Amsterdam is fighting the law and has so far managed to continue selling to foreigners; however, as the laws and social norms are currently in flux travellers are advised to check up on the situation prior to travel.

Artis Zoo

Address: Plantage Kerklaan 38-40 Amsterdam

Admission: €19.95 (adults); €16.50 (children aged 3 to 9). Concessions are available. Ticket also provides admission to Planetarium, Geological Museum, Aquarium and Zoological Museum. March through October: Open daily from 9am to 6pm; November through February: Open daily from 9am to 5pm.

Locally known as the Plantage, the Artis Zoo is something of an oasis in the centre of Amsterdam and a must for children and other animal lovers. Boasting more than 700 species of animals and 200 species of local and exotic trees, many of which are on the verge of extinction, the Artis Zoo will captivate and amaze visitors of all ages. The grounds are huge and can easily keep visitors busy for hours; it is advisable to get a map to avoid getting lost or missing something you want to see. Although the zoo is best on a sunny day, there are plenty of indoor attractions and undercover areas for when the weather isn't ideal. The animals appear to be healthy and well cared for and even those who tend to get upset by seeing large animals in captivity will find plenty of attractions to entertain them, like the aquarium, butterfly house, planetarium and a handful of museums. There are several restaurants in the grounds and a shop selling souvenirs like postcards, books and toys. Tickets can be bought in advance online to avoid queues at the entrance - check out the official website below for details.

Efteling

Address: Amsterdam

Admission: Tickets range from about €35 to €65, with concessions and plenty of specials available. Open daily from at least 11am to 6pm, with extended hours in summer (July through August).

Built in the 1950s, and still one of the leading theme parks in Europe, the popular theme park of Efteling is a must for children of all ages. Its fairytale theme captivates children and transports them into their favourite imaginary world. Complete with a fairytale forest, lakes and trails, kids will delight in special attractions like the water show, the maze, the bobsleigh course, miniature three-dimensional worlds to explore, beautiful gardens, a swinging ship ride said to be the largest of its kind in the world, a creepy ghost castle for scares and a whitewater rafting ride. They will also find all the theme park classics including several roller coasters, carousels and playgrounds and the chance to go on boat trips and train rides. There are also plenty of games and activities to enjoy and theatrical performances for entertainment. There are also plenty of restaurants and refreshment stands. Although some of the story-telling attractions are less impressive if you don't understand Dutch, the majority of the park can be enjoyed no matter what language you speak. Queues get very long at Efteling, particularly in peak tourist season (summer) so it is best to arrive early.

Madurodam

Address: George Maduroplein 1, The Hague Amsterdam

Admission: €15.50 (Adults). Concessions are available and bookings can be made online. Open daily from about 9am to 8pm; there are seasonal fluctuations to opening times.

Located around 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, in The Hague, and first opened in 1952, Madurodam is quite literally the smallest city in the Netherlands, featuring hundreds of miniature Dutch structures. The park features houses and factories that reflect real Amsterdam architecture, exact replicas of famous Dutch landmarks, and incredible little transport systems like railways, ships and airports. Children will be captivated by the sheer genius of this little city and adults should enjoy it just as much. Like a giant toy railway with a model city, this attraction is old-fashioned, quaint and delightful, but it has recently been renovated extensively and feels brand new and impressively well-constructed and designed as well. For a small cost, usually just a few cents, parts of the miniature models will actually start working, such as trucks moving down the little highway and planes landing and rolling down the little runway at Schiphol Airport. The detail is incredible and families will have fun taking photographs and playing with scale. There is a shop and restaurants at Madurodam, but visitors should note that the restaurants have different opening times to the park itself.

Amsterdam Canal Tour

Address: Amsterdam

Amsterdam's famous canal tours are an essential experience for visitors to the city, and continue to delight and amaze tourists from all over the world. Amsterdam's UNESCO-listed canals were essential to the city's transport and defensive strategies in the 17th century, but these days their function is largely aesthetic, providing a picturesque method of seeing the historic city centre from its characteristic waterways. Tourists looking to take a canal tour of Amsterdam have two main options: the large glass-topped canal boats, which can accommodate hundreds of tourists and travel along predetermined routes; or a more personal tour, like those run by the St. Nicolaas Boat Club, a non-profit organisation. The St. Nicolaas Boat Club makes use of the traditional tuindersvletten boats (once used to transport vegetables and animals around Amsterdam), which can only accommodate 10 people per tour and which can navigate the tiniest canals and fit under the lowest bridges in the city. Tour guides in these smaller craft commonly ask visitors to nominate 10 Amsterdam sights they want to see and will construct tours around these highlights.

Hoge Veluwe National Park

Address: Amsterdam

Admission: €8.80 (adults), €4.40 (children). Opening hours vary from month to month, but are generally from at least 9am to 8pm

For exercise fiends unsatisfied with simply walking around Amsterdam's historic city centre, a trip out to the Hoge Veluwe National Park is a fantastic way to enjoy the Netherlands' (somewhat limited) great outdoors. The Hoge Veluwe National Park covers an area of 55 square kilometres (5,400 hectares) and has an interesting topography, featuring woodland, heathland, peat bogs and even sand dunes. The park is home to a high concentration of fauna, including red deer, roe deer, wild boar, foxes, badgers and mouflon (a kind of wild sheep), and provides ample walking and cycling opportunities out in nature for visitors. There is even a fleet of 1,700 white bicycles which are free to rent. Also housed within the park is the St. Hubertus Hunting Lodge, a beautiful building designed by Hendrik Petrus Berlage; the Kroller-Muller Museum, which contains artwork by such luminaries as Van Gogh, Picasso and Mondrian; and a Scupture Garden. An ideal way to get some exercise and take in a bit of culture in one fun excursion, a trip to the Hoge Veluwe National Park is highly recommended for visitors to Amsterdam wanting to get out of the city.

Concertgebouw

Address: Amsterdam

The Concertgebouw (literally, 'concert building') is one of Amsterdam's top-rated tourist attractions, and is widely regarded as one of the finest concert halls in the world, easily comparable to the Vienna Musikverein or the Moscow Conservatory. Not only is the Concertgebouw a building of rare elegance and beauty, but it features a fantastic resident orchestra and peerless acoustics, making it an unmissable experience for classical music lovers on holiday in Amsterdam. For those who aren't into classical music the venue also hosts some jazz and pop concerts. The Concertgebouw puts on about 900 concerts a year to an audience of over 800,000 people so tourists looking to take in some high culture will be spoilt for choice in terms of what to see. For those on tight budgets, bear in mind that being in possession of an I Amsterdam card can get you up to a 25 percent discount on ticket prices, and that free concerts are often given on Fridays. There are also highly recommended 'behind the scenes' tours of the graceful 19th-century building, operating on Saturdays and Mondays. For details on the concert schedule and ticket prices check out the official website listed below.

Vondelpark

Address: Koninginneweg 34-36 Amsterdam

Sometimes when you're on holiday in a foreign city, it's nice to take a break from sightseeing and experience the city as the locals do. Amsterdam's Vondelpark, dating back to 1850, offers visitors the chance to do just this, in a relaxed and beautiful public space that sees about 10 million visitors each year. Although the park features several notable attractions - including an impressive statue of Joost van den Vondel (the author for whom the park is named), a film museum, an open-air theatre, a playground, and numerous snack bars and cafes - its great charm is in providing a tranquil space in which to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but watching native Amsterdammers going about their daily business. Vondelpark is the perfect place to get some exercise on holiday, with well-kept and extensive pathways for cycling, walking and jogging - those who are just wandering at their leisure should watch out for all the bicycles zooming around. Although Vondelpark is a great place to take the kids on a picnic, and a peaceful respite from urban sightseeing, sensitive parents are warned that the smell of marijuana smoke will probably taint the air. There are sometimes free performances and concerts in the park as well.

Haarlem

Address: Amsterdam

Just a short, 15-minute train trip from Amsterdam lies Haarlem, a quaint city that has the distinction of boasting more museums per capita than any other city in the Netherlands. With its cosy, small-town feel and cheaper accommodation rates, many tourists are choosing to make Haarlem their base during their Netherlands vacation. It's not hard to understand why Haarlem is such an attractive choice: with its great mix of youthful energy and historic sights, its wide array of cafes, restaurants and bars, several fantastic live music venues and a bustling market, Haarlem truly caters for travellers from all walks of life. Must-see sights in Haarlem include the Grote Markt (Market Square), where 10 streets converge around the town's 700-year-old centre and - on Mondays and Saturdays - fantastic shopping opportunities abound; and the Saint Bavo Church, which contains an organ dating back to 1738 that was once played by GF Handel, composer of The Messiah. Haarlem is said to boast one of the highest qualities of life of any city in Europe, and more and more international visitors to the Netherlands are descending on the genteel city to discover exactly why.

Sex Museum Amsterdam

Address: Damrak 18 Amsterdam

Admission: €4 Daily 9:30am to 11:30pm.

Amsterdam's fame as the home of legalised prostitution is well-known to visitors, so it is only fitting that the world's oldest sex museum be situated here. The museum opened in 1985 with just a few displays of 19th-century erotic objects and there was some doubt originally about how the idea would be received - it has been increasing in size ever since and is now one of the most popular museums in the city, with about 500,000 visitors a year. The Sex Museum Amsterdam is in the centre of the city (near the central train depot). Exhibits range from bawdy to downright graphic, with examples of ancient and modern art, historic sex symbols, photographs going back 150 years, and a walk-through model of the famous Red Light District. Exhibits are a mixture of art and porn and different aspects will appeal to different people. The visual representation of the evolution of cultural approaches to sex through the ages is fascinating, and there is an extensive collection of modern sex paraphernalia too. Definitely not suited for the squeamish or easily offended, the museum winds its way through several levels and photography is permitted. Visitors must be at least 16 years old to enter.

Blauw aan de Wal

Address: Oude Zijds, Achterburgwal 99 Amsterdam

Food Type: French

One of Amsterdam's delightful secrets, this charming restaurant is peaceful and tranquil in the midst of the bustling Red Light District. An alley leads patrons to the tiny square where Blauw aan de Wal (Blue on the Quay) is hidden, a modern minimalist restaurant with a courtyard that was once part of a monastery. The fare is Mediterranean inspired and the service renowned for its excellence. Reservations necessary. Closed Sunday. Dinner only.

D Vijff Vlieghen

Address: Spuistraat 294-302 (opposite the Amsterdam Historical Museum) Amsterdam

Food Type: Local

The 'Five Flies' is one of the world's famous restaurants, oozing old-world charm with antiques and Rembrandt etchings on the Spui, and offering New Dutch Cuisine, created using only fresh Dutch products. Brass plaques on the chairs remind diners of the famous names like Orson Welles and Walt Disney who have patronised the rambling establishment that occupies five adjoining historic houses. D'Vijff Vlieghen also offers an organic five-course vegetarian meal. Open daily for dinner. Reservations advised.

Cafe de Jaren

Address: Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22 Amsterdam

Food Type: Gastropubs

Contemporary and stylish, the chief attraction of the Café de Jaren is its waterfront terrace overlooking the Amstel River, in the heart of the city. It makes for a great place for a pre dinner drink, the sampling of a superb bottle of wine or enjoying a strong coffee. The menu is varied and attractive, with fare ranging from soups and sandwiches to steaks and pastas. With a classic French feel to it, the high ceilings and tiled floors of the Café de Jaren exude a refined elegance. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Dynasty

Address: Reguliersdwarsstraat 30 Amsterdam

Food Type: Oriental

Amsterdam is well supplied with oriental restaurants particularly in its rejuvenated Chinatown district. One of the most popular institutions, serving a mix of Asian cuisine from Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, to Malay and Filipino, is Dynasty. The themed interior is exceedingly colourful, the ceiling adorned with upturned paper umbrellas. A big attraction is the beautiful Canalhouse Garden, usually packed out for summer dining. Reservations essential. Closed Tuesdays.

Pasta E Basta

Address: Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 8 Amsterdam

Food Type: Italian

The lively Pasta E Basta restaurant has hit on a gimmick that draws customers as much as the delicious plates of pasta it serves: the waiters and bartenders sing opera arias while they tend the tables. This makes for a jovial atmosphere, where guests enjoy the excellent wine list and superb Italian fare in an intriguing environment. Bookings should be made well in advance. Open daily from 6pm for dinner.

Roses Cantina

Address: Reguliersdwarsstraat 38-40 Amsterdam

Food Type: Spanish

Amsterdam's most popular Mexican-style bar buzzes with warm Latin-American ambience and serves up notoriously potent margaritas along with a number of food specialities. The menu includes regular Mexican favourites like burritos, nachos and enchiladas. Fillet steak and burgers are also available and are well complimented with Mexican beer. Open daily from 5pm.

De Silveren Spiegel

Address: Kattengat 4-6 Amsterdam

Food Type: Local

The elegant Silveren Spiegel (Silver Mirror) is one of Amsterdam's best known traditional restaurants, featuring a romantic atmosphere enhanced by beautifully decorated candlelit rooms in two historic houses. Highlights on the menu include seafood and meat dishes both of which are cooked in traditional Dutch manner.

Cafe Luxembourg

Address: Spuistraat 24 Amsterdam

Food Type: Gastropubs

A large established eatery, Café Luxembourg's affordable prices, traditional atmosphere and superb food continue to draw crowds throughout the year. With heavily wooded tables, a long, well stocked bar, soft lighting and a pleasant atmosphere, Café Luxembourg is the ideal place for a lunchtime salad or sandwich, evening drink accompanied by a mouth-watering array of snacks or a laid back wholesome evening meal. In summer patrons can people-watch from the bustling sidewalks and in winter friends and couples can cosy up with a nice bottle of red or a crisp pint. If you're looking for a great meal at an affordable price, Café Luxembourg is the ticket. Open daily from 9am for lunch and dinner.

Greetje

Address: Peperstraat 23-25 Amsterdam

Food Type: Local

The place to go for authentic Dutch food. Greetje is located in a district that includes many beautiful old buildings, and has a great view of Montelbaanse Tower. It's known for having some of the best service in Amsterdam, and offers up traditional Dutch recipes with a modern flair. Try the taster platters for a sampling of many different dishes. Greetje is open for dinner only, from 6pm, seven days a week.

Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs

Address: Grimburgwal 2, Medieval Centre Amsterdam

Food Type: Local

At the top of a precipitous staircase, hungry visitors can pack into this tiny pancake house for tea and sustenance. This two-man operation serves up savoury and sweet pancakes at reasonable prices. There are only four tables in this charming eatery, and hundreds of teapots hanging from the ceiling. The service can be slow, but locals swear it's worth the wait.

There are no health risks associated with travel to the Netherlands and no vaccinations are required for entry into the country. The water is safe to drink. The standard of health care in the Netherlands is very high, but the necessary health insurance provisions must be made before travelling. A reciprocal agreement exists with other EU countries, which entitles nationals to low-cost emergency medical treatment. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is necessary for this purpose. Although medication is widely available in the Netherlands it is always best to take along any prescribed medication, in its original packaging, and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.

In the Netherlands the use of cannabis is tolerated in designated 'coffeeshops' in major cities. This policy exists to prevent the marginalisation of soft drug users thereby exposing them to more harmful drugs. However, the trafficking in hard or soft drugs outside licensed premises is illegal and the possession of soft drugs in public places will incur a prison sentence. Travellers should note that the rules are somewhat different for foreigners, with the Netherlands tightening up drug laws in recent years: Amsterdam is the only city still fighting for the right of tourists to smoke cannabis in 'coffeeshops' and this has become a bit of a grey area with laws not always enforced on the ground. Everybody from the age of 14 is required to show a valid identity document to law enforcement officers on request. Tobacco smoking in cafés, bars and restaurants is prohibited.

Service charges are included in hotel rates, restaurant bills and taxi fares, usually at about 15 percent. Tipping for good service is always appreciated but not necessary. It is customary to tip taxi drivers and waiters about 10 percent.

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