Tradition and innovation intertwine here: artistic masterpieces, centuries-old windmills, tulip fields and romantic candlelit cafés coexist with visionary architecture and cutting-edge design.
Getting into the Netherlands
UK citizens need a passport valid for six months beyond the planned date of departure from the Netherlands. No visa is required for tourist visits of up to three months.
If you do not have a passport or need to renew yours, applications are available at larger branches of the UK Post Office or from passport agencies located in major cities. If you have any questions about obtaining a passport, call your local Post Office.
If you’re an EU citizen, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), usually available from health centres, covers you for most medical care. It will not cover you for non-emergencies or emergency repatriation. Citizens from other countries should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and the Netherlands. If you do need health insurance, make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
Good health care is readily available. For minor self-limiting illnesses an apotheek (pharmacy) can give valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication. It can also advise when more specialised help is required and point you in the right direction. The standard of dental care is usually good; however, it is sensible to have a dental check-up before a long trip.
For general emergencies and ambulance service, call 112.
It is no longer necessary to provide proof of COVID vaccination, recovery or a negative test or complete an entry form to enter the Netherlands.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travelers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines do not produce immunity until at least two weeks after they are given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.
The currency in the Netherlands is the euro, which is divided into 100 cents. There are coins for one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and €1 and €2. Notes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500.
Automated teller machines can be found outside most banks and at Amsterdam Schiphol and most train stations. Credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard/Eurocard are widely accepted, as well as cash cards that access the Cirrus network. Be aware that, if you’re limited to a maximum withdrawal per day, the ‘day’ will coincide with that in your home country. Also note that using an ATM can be the cheapest way to exchange your money from home –but check with your home bank for service charges before you leave.
Most major international cards are recognized, and you will find that most hotels, restaurants and major stores accept them. But always check first to avoid disappointment.
Nothing beats cash for convenience. Plan to pay cash for most daily expenses.
Tipping will be taken care of for you throughout the trip where we are together. So, the only time you will need to think about tipping is when having a drink or meal on your own.
Tipping is not essential as restaurants, hotels, bars etc. include a service charge on their bills. A little extra is always welcomed though, and it’s an excellent way to compliment the service (if you feel it needs complimenting). The tip can be anything from rounding up to the nearest euro, to 10% of the bill.
The country code for The Netherlands is 31. To call The Netherlands from the US you will need to dial +31 and then the local number itself. To call a Dutch number from within The Netherlands simply dial the local number as you have it.
Downtown areas in towns and cities are packed with department stores (ranging from top-end De Bijenkorf to the cheap-and-cheerful Hema chain, much-loved by every bargain-loving local) and mainstream international chains. But it’s the designer concept stores and tiny boutiques, specialising in the wildest and most unexpected of items, that are the real delight. Tulip bulbs, cheese and delicate blue-and-white porcelain are top Dutch goods to take home.
Department stores and large shops tend to open from 9am or 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 6pm Sunday.
Thursday ushers in late-night shopping in many towns and cities, with shops staying open until around 9pm
Holland v Netherlands: Do not call the Netherlands ‘Holland’; Holland is two provinces (Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland) within the country.
Going Dutch: When dining out, expect to pay your own way. Splitting the bill is common and no reason for embarrassment.
Straight talking: Don’t be offended if locals give you a frank, unvarnished opinion. It’s not considered impolite, rather it comes from the desire to be direct and honest.
Local Food & Drink
Though it isn’t ordinarily included among the world’s culinary leaders, the Netherlands is nevertheless increasingly a force to be reckoned with. Hearty, hefty, filling – this is how Dutch cooking is usually described. Traditionally, food was given scant attention as there was work to be done. But if the Dutch are anything it’s innovative, and that spirit carries over to the kitchen. The new wave of Dutch chefs are busy refining their humble culinary antecedents and giving them a contemporary twist.
Van Gogh perfectly captured the main ingredient of traditional Dutch cooking in his Potato Eaters. Typically boiled to death, these ‘earth apples’ are accompanied by meat – and more boiled vegetables. Gravy is then added for flavour. It’s certainly not fancy, but it is filling. Few restaurants serve exclusively Dutch cuisine, but many places have several homeland items on the menu, especially in winter. Some time-honoured favourites:
stamppot (mashed pot) – A simple dish of potatoes mashed with kale, endive or pickled cabbage and served with smoked sausage or strips of pork. Perfect in winter.
hutspot (hotchpotch; stew) – Similar to stamppot, but with potatoes, carrots, onions, braised meat and more spices. Originated in Leiden, which reputedly inherited (and modified) the recipe from the occupying Spaniards.
erwtensoep (pea soup) – Plenty of peas with onions, carrots, smoked sausage and bacon. And the perfect pea soup? A spoon stuck upright in the pot should remain standing. (Sadly not served in summer.)
asperges (asparagus) – The white version, stout and fleshy, most famously cultivated in Limburg and Noord-Brabant; popular when it’s in season (spring); served with ham and butter.
kroketten (croquettes) – Crumb-coated dough sticks with various fillings that are deep-fried; bitterballen, the ball-shaped version, are a popular pub snack served with mustard.
mosselen (mussels) – Cooked with white wine, chopped leeks and onions, and served in a bowl or cooking pot with a side dish of frites or patat (chips); they’re best eaten from September to April.
Lamb is prominently featured on menus, the most prized variety raised on the isle of Texel. When you’re near the coast seafood is on every menu. It is also eaten as a snack. Haring (herring) is a national institution, eaten lightly salted or occasionally pickled; paling (eel), usually smoked, is another popular delicacy. Kibbeling, battered and deep fried codfish, is a tasty snack commonly sold in street market fish stalls.
For dessert, cafes often serve appeltaart (apple pie) with slagroom (whipped cream). Vlaai is the signature pie of Limburg, filled with fruit or a smooth, subtly sweet cinnamony pudding filling a crumbly crust. Ambrosial.
Most towns have at least one place serving pannenkoeken (pancakes), like crêpes and often served with fruit and cinnamon, among many other sweet and savoury toppings. Poffertjes are the coin-sized version, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and laced with butter. You can often find these fresh at markets.
Indonesian cooking, a piquant legacy of the colonial era, is a rich and complex blend of many cultures: chilli peppers, peanut sauce and curries from Thailand, lemon grass and fish sauce from Vietnam, intricate Indian spice mixes and Asian cooking methods.
In the Netherlands, Indonesian food is often toned down for sensitive Western palates. If you want it hot (pedis, pronounced ‘p-dis’), say so, but be prepared for watering eyes and burnt taste buds. You might play it safe by asking for sambal (chilli paste) and helping yourself. Sambal oelek is red and hot; the dark-brown sambal badjak is onion-based, mild and sweet.
The best-known dish is rijsttafel (rice table), an array of spicy savoury dishes such as braised beef, pork satay and ribs served with white rice. Nasi rames is a steaming plate of boiled rice covered in several rich condiments, while the same dish with thick noodles is called bami rames.
Dishes from this former colony have Caribbean roots, blending African and Indian flavours with Indonesian influences introduced by Javanese labourers. Chicken, lamb and beef curries are common menu items, served either with rice or as sandwich fillings – the ever-popular Surinaamse broodjes. Roti, a chickpea-flour pancake filled with curried potatoes, long beans and meat (vegetarian versions are available), makes a cheap and filling meal.
This particularly Dutch quality, which is most widely found in old brown cafes, is one of the best reasons to visit Amsterdam. It’s variously translated as snug, friendly, cosy, informal, companionable and convivial, but gezelligheid – the state of being gezellig – is something more easily experienced than defined. There’s a sense of time stopping, an intimacy of the here and now that leaves all your troubles behind, at least until tomorrow. You can get that warm and fuzzy feeling in many places and situations, often while nursing a brew with friends. Nearly any cosy establishment lit by candles probably qualifies.
What to Pack
As we will be doing a lot of walking during the day, your daily dress should have comfort in mind and be in keeping with variable temperatures. Footwear is of the utmost importance and good rubber-soled flat shoes for the daytime are highly recommended.
Just before the trip, you will receive a list of suggested dress codes for each evening by email.