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Characteristics

The Netherlands (often called Holland by mistake) is a relatively small but densely populated country that borders to Belgium and Germany, and overseas to the United Kingdom. Please note that the popular name 'Holland' actually only covers a part of the country (see 'regions'). Inhabitants of other provinces (like Frysl�n/Friesland or Limburg) can feel insulted if you call the country Holland, so please use the official name 'Nederland'. Just wait for the national football (soccer, for Americans) team to play a championship again (not in 2016; we lost it), then everybody will go crazy, wear orange clothing, hats or body paint and yell 'Hup, Holland, Hup!!', even if they do not identify themselves as 'Hollanders'. ;-)

Regions

Provincie Noord-Holland - Provincie Zuid-Holland - Provincie Noord-Brabant - Provincie Limburg - ProvincieZeeland - ProvincieFlevoland - ProvincieDrenthe - ProvincieGelderland - ProvincieUtrecht - ProvincieFriesland - ProvincieOverijssel -ProvincieGroningen Wadden islands are all exept Texel part of Friesland The official name of Friesland was changed to Frysl^an, with the '^' on top of the 'a', like in Frisian language.

Cities

Amsterdam: The capital, largest city and favorite touristic destination. Has lots off the beaten track options, the coffeeshops are famous, there are many places to go out, and great to cycle around.

Over the last years, more and more people are complaining that too many tourists visit Amsterdam: unknowing Chinese tourists are blocking our cycling lanes, walking around like a herd of sheep, drunken people from Britain keep yelling to abused prostitutes in their windows, property prices are going up so fast that young people cannot buy houses anymore and people who were born and raised in Amsterdam are starting to buy houses elsewhere, even in Rotterdam, a city seen as Amsterdam's worst enemy, mostly by football hooligans. If you want to see a city that has remained true to it's original atmosphere, also with canals, you should consider visiting Utrecht. If you want to see a modern city, that had to rebuild it's centre after being bombed flat in World War 2, come to Rotterdam.

Rotterdam: Holland's Second biggest city, famous as one of the biggest ports in the world and a city characterized by modern architecture.

Utrecht: a city with a well preserved historical centre, full or cultural activity, but somehow unknown to the big tourist crowds.

Leiden

Groningen: Very old city almost 1000 years old, University town, 58.000 students by 200.000 inhabitants. Youngest city in Netherlands by averidge age(35), beautiful old city buildings and 2 old rivers and some canals.Strong cultural life, often called small Amsterdam.Capital of Northern Netherlands.

Delft: is a cute little historical city, known for it's pottery and painters(Vermeer). The canals make it look a little like Amsterdam, but for some Delft is nicer. It's a city that hosts a university, so lots of students are walking around and the parties make it a great city to live in or to visit.

Texel is one of the seven islands in the Wadden. You can get there by boat from Den Helder.

Other Destinations

Getting around

Public transport

Public transport is well organised, you can span the country within 3-4 hours by train and around the big cities (Amsterdam/Rotterdam) trains run all through the night. A chip-card can be bought which is valid for train, metro, tram and bus. For trains, tram and bus you can still buy a single ride but plans are to abolish that, the Chipcard is still quite new. Beware to check out hen you leave the public transport.

Any trip can be planned through 9292

Biking

Traveling by bicycle is easy and very common within cities and across the Netherlands. There are separate bike-lanes that link cities and towns, with special routes and routes. If you are cycling at night, you must have a light on the front of your bike (or yourself) and one on the back.

  1. More info on biking in the Netherlands (also routes)
  2. Renting bikes is possible at most big train-stations

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking in the Netherlands has grown out of fashion during the 1990's, when students got a students card for free public transport by train and bus. It can take many hours to get a ride if you have bad luck. In most large cities you can still find so-called 'Liftplaatsen', official hitchhikers-spots, if the signs are still there. Very few people dare to stop there, afraid of car theft or robbery. If you insist on hitchhiking, try gas stations that are close to motorways. Here you can talk to people before you go. If they smell like alcohol, you still have the option not to go. Be nice and you will convince drivers to help you out. After all, hitchhiking is a good and very social alternative for the rather expensive train tickets, and also very do-able for short-distance hitching.

  1. See also the http://hitchwiki.org entry on The Netherlands

Interesting places to visit

Traditional windmills - there are about 750 traditional wooden windmills throughout the country. In Kinderdijk, between Dordrecht and Rotterdam, you will find a complex of windmills that is on the Unesco World Heritage list. Parking costs �5, walking around and taking pictures is for free and the entrance to the museum windmill is �3,50. You can get to Kinderdijk by river boat ('waterbus') from Rotterdam of Dordrecht. If you have a bicycle, do take it along on the boat, so you can get to the last windmill, which is too far to walk to. Another windmill can be found at the 'Noordendijk', in Dordrecht, a historic city, where the Netherlands were born, before the government moved to Den Haag.

The flower fields - In april the flower fields are in bloom, a must-see. Located between Leiden and Amsterdam, visit the Keukenhof (paid) or just the fields (free) around Hillegom Other fields with tulips can be found in the Wieringermeer-Polder, in Noord Holland and in the Noord-Oost-Polder, in Flevoland.

Things to do

Marijuana

You can buy Marijuana and Hashish semi-legally in so-called Coffee-shops. Semi-legally means: using marijuana is forbidden by law, but the Dutch minister of Justice has created an official agreement that police will never prosecute marijuana users that follow the basic rules: do not disturb people around you. Dutch police will tolerate you to carry maximum five grams of marijuana.

The Dutch system with coffee-shops was created in the 1980's to separate marijuana (called soft drugs, because they are supposed to be less addictive) users from users of cocaine and heroin (hard drugs that have a high risk of turning you addicted, bankrupt and criminal). These coffee-shops selling marijuana have proven to be successful in breaking the stepping-stone mechanism: ask your street dealer for marijuana (soft drugs) and he will try to sell you hard drugs, to get you addicted. Dutch authorities were limiting the damage of drugs use by looking at marijuana use as a health problem, rather than a case for the police, hence they tolerated marijuana consumption in officially recognised coffee shops.

Yet it has always remained illegal to grow or sell marijuana, so what happens at the back door of a coffee shop, when the new stocks of marijuana are delivered, is still subject to police prosecution. Hobby growers of marijuana have professionalised and the Mafia has taken over control. Since marijuana growers were stealing electricity and some houses have burnt down due to marijuana growing, with overheated electric wires (to feed the lamps), tolerance for marijuana users is on it's way back down in the Netherlands. Drugs tourism from neighbouring countries has caused such big problems that many cities now require marijuana users to prove their Dutch citizenship to be able to buy marijuana in a coffee shop. Many coffee shops lost their customers and have closed over the last 5 years and others lost their license. Street dealers have come back to service the tourists, but some are selling trash, not real marijuana, to unsuspecting tourists. They also sell cocaine on the street, but in some cases this was white heroin and tourists who thought that they had bought cocaine have already died from a heroin overdose.

If you're planning on smoking, be aware that the quality of grass in Holland is a lot better than where you come from (often). If you're not an experienced smoker, be conservative with the quantities. You would probably be better off if your Dutch host would help you to find good quality marijuana. Also, if you buy a pre-rolled joint, these tend to be very strong so don't smoke them by yourself in one go - or please go ahead if you want to feel very lame. Also be careful not to get a whitey. If you do get one, stay calm, and ask for a sugar-water. If you don't like smoking but do want to get high, you can also eat hash-cakes or cookies.

Mushrooms

In the so-called Smartshops you can buy so-called magic mushrooms. These drugs are natural. It is advisable not consume these in crowded environment. Best is to find a nice and peaceful spot in a park or outside the city, for example at the beach or in a forest. Always ask the person behind the counter for advice and tips. Smoking marijuana in combination with mushroom is not advisable, nor drinking alcohol.

  1. More info found on http://amsterdam.info

People

Dutch people tend to be slightly less boring than the average European, although they do have an indoor culture. Activity on the street or in public places is not that much as in Spain or Italy.

Eat and Drink

If you're looking for a typical Dutch dish, tough luck! Typical Dutch food is Gouda Cheese, pancakes and poffertjes. Famous Dutch cookies are the caramel waffles (Stroopwafels), but be careful, you __will__ get addicted!

If you like meat (go vegan!), you can eat also food 'out of the wall'. The kroket and the frikandel are famous, though especially the latter is mostly made out of animal-waste. You can also get the kaassoufle (fried cheese) from the wall, or eat them on some bread with satesaus.

Dutch cuisine

Typically people in Holland eat very much the same thing everywhere. An ordinary meal consists of potatoes, a piece of meat and boiled vegetables. On Saturdays the typical family eats bread and on Sunday something more exotic such as Chinese food. Note that this is changing a lot as families are increasingly eating more varied and tend to eat more exotically.

Restaurants

In almost all places you can find a lot of restaurants, typically Italian, Indonesian or Chinese type of cuisine. Restaurants tend to open at 5 and the kitchen closes around 10-1030.

Accommodation

Safety tips

In Holland, the national phone number for the emergency services is 112.

About the police

You can call he national police at 0900-8844 (local calling rate) if there is no emergency. When calling from a mobile number most of the times an automated voice will ask you the city (stad) you are located in before you get redirected to the police. Police offices are open 24/7. Every police officer in Holland speaks fluently English, sometimes also French and/or German. Dispatch speaks fluently English.

  • Police usually walks around in dark navy suits with red/blue stripes on the back of their clothing. If asked, they can show a badge looking like an identity card with "POLITIE" written on it.
  • Next to the police there is also the BOA (buitengewoon opsporingsambtenaar). They are not police officers and are not allowed to carry a weapon, but they are allowed to write tickets and can detain people. They are mostly visible with a badge on their clothes (resembles a vist with thumb sticking up).
  • Safety personnel always carry a badge that looks like a V (veiligheid, safety).

In the transports

Public transport in Holland can be considered pretty safe.

Most busses have CCTV on board, train stations also have CCTV on their platforms. There is a "first" and "second" class, however they differ only in passenger comfort. Note that most public transport is unavailable between 11pm and 5am.

In every train station there is an information/emergency pole where you can press a blue button for information or request an "treintaxi", and a red button in case of emergency.

A taxi is supposed to have a blue number plate and their company name (and rates) posted on the side, so a car without these signs can be a fake taxi. Taxis rarely stop when waving your hand, unless you specifically called for them. Google search for "taxicentrale" will always return you a phone number you can call.

Most people there are really willing to help you. However, it still can be dangerous to go alone outside between 21:00 and 05:00, to go into a taxi that doesnt have a blue licence plate, or to take drinks from anyone else than a barkeeper.

Learn more

  1. Wikitravel has additional information
  2. tips on how to survive the Netherlands