The Netherlands is a small parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy in the west of Europe, between the North Sea, Belgium and Germany, and is known for much more than cheese, windmills, wooden shoes and tulips.
Its recorded history starts with the Roman invasion halfway through the first century A.D., but it had its heyday in the 17th century when it disputed hegemony of the Seven Seas with the English and the Spanish empires. In that period New York, parts of India, a series of forts along the African Coast and the Colonies in Indonesia formed part of the vast Dutch Empire.
Though most historic town centers in the Netherlands date back to the Dark Ages, most building was done in the era of oversea expansion and in the nineteenth century when the industrial revolution started. In Amsterdam, Leiden or Utrecht you can see the big 17th century mansions once owned by the commanders of the Dutch fleet and those of the rich merchants who financed the wars with their overseas gains.
They were the Dutch elite. They preferred small items of great value stashed away in their mansions over baroque palaces. Though the Dutch never were really extravagant and did not have a real court like there was in Germany, France and Spain, they were very proud of themselves. This can still be seen in the countless portrait paintings they commissioned. Many of the world's famous painters are Dutch, such as Rembrandt, van Gogh, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer.
Apart from the glory days of the 17th century there is much in the Netherlands to attract the present-day visitor. Visitors will find a very open, relaxed and international atmosphere, and some great museums with both modern art and historical chef d'oeuvres. Due to the bombardment that levelled the city and the renovations that followed, Rotterdam is the only real modern town of the Netherlands (not to mention, the largest seaport in the world), not counting boring suburbs like Lelystad or Almere (unless you like birdsanctuary and polders). Especially compared to megacities like New York, London, Paris or even Cologne, the Dutch cities are very hip and relaxed. Places like Den Bosch ('s Hertogenbosch) and Arnhem are also certainly worth a visit, with the latter being close to the national park Hoge Veluwe.
Maastricht is the most important city of the South. The atmosphere is quite different from the North. The town is pretty and is a good base for exploring the countryside as well as making daytrips to Aachen and Liege.
Because of its size and flatness the Netherlands is a great country to explore by bicycle. Public transport is another good option because parking is problematic in most town centers. Trains and buses provide excellent transport in the entire country.
Finally, the young mainly visit the Netherlands for two characteristics: the permissive attitude towards erotic activity (prostitution is legal) and drugs (possession of small quantities of soft drugs for personal use is legal, and marijuana - in small quantities for personal use - is for sale legally in 'coffee shops' throughout the country). This, however, does not mean hard drugs are tolerated - nor is illegal prostitution. Both examples of leniency were instituted to better control these problems. The result is less crime and better working conditions for legal prositutes - a recipe slowly being picked up by the rest of the world. The Dutch seem always one step ahead, and for several years now gay couples have been allowed to marry legally and properly, like any couple.
The Netherlands is the 'big' small country you have to visit at least once in your life to ride a bike, see all the fantastic paintings by the Dutch painters such as van Gogh and Rembrandt and see how liberal law works in daily life.
Opportunities for budget travel in the Netherlands may seem few and far between. It is hardly a backpacker's paradise, but then again it's hardly the most expensive place in western Europe to travel, either. With some research and perseverance, there are opportunities to save money in the Netherlands.
Budget Travel Ideas in Netherlands
Student Discount Cards
For youths aged 12 through 25, the ISE international student discount card is worth purchasing. They are valid all over the world and can amount to huge savings when it comes to entertainment, accommodation, food and travel. Most museums, hostels and some restaurants honor these cards, offering free admission and discounts on items. The ISE international student discount card can be purchased online via their website.
YHA Youth Hostels
Although they are known as youth hostels, people of all ages are allowed to stay. The YHA youth hostel association operates more than 30 hostels in the Netherlands, all offering comfortable and clean rooms at a very reasonable price. To stay, you need to be a member, but anyone can pay the membership fee when they arrive at the YHA hostel of their choice. Room prices will vary according to size, location and season, but many are still available for less than 20 euros per night.
Off-Peak Discount Rail Card
In the Netherlands, anyone can purchase an off-peak discount rail card. The cost is currently 55 euros, and the card offers half price off the standard off peak rail fair. Another advantage is that up to 3 friends can join in on the same pass, so the more the merrier and the cheaper. To purchase is simple. All you need to do is fill out a form at the rail station and provide a photo.
For travel within cities, the cheapest and most popular form of transport is the bicycle. Cycles can be rented cheaply or if you plan on staying a while, purchasing a quality used bike can save quite a bit of money. The Dutch are cycle-mad, and hopping on a bike will help you blend in with the locals.
For those that stay in youth hotels and hostels, one of the cheapest methods of eating is simply purchasing food and preparing it yourself. When this isn't practical, there are several cheap places to grab a quick bit for a few euros. Amsterdam is known for its hole in the wall pizza places and small, simple but tasty Chinese restaurants. They only serve 4 to 6 dishes, but it's all you can eat and less than 10 euros. For something quick, get the famous chips or french fries Dutch style. This means they are literally covered in mayonnaise. Not something you'd want to live off of, but for a quick meal that costs less than a euro it can't be beat.
Family Travel Ideas in Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very family friendly place in which to travel. With discounts for children and the many activities that exist throughout the country, Netherlands Family Travel ranks among some of the best in the world.
The Netherlands offers several good options for family travel discounts. Parents traveling with small children should know that in The Netherlands children under 4 can travel for free on the the railways. There is also a special rail runner fare in place for children aged 4-11. Simply inquire at the ticket office for the information. Most cities in The Netherlands will allow for an accompanying ticket to be purchased on public transport with an adult ticket. The prices will vary from city to city but in general it will amount to children being able to travel round trip, all day for as little as 1 euro.
VW in the Netherlands does not mean a brand of car. It is actually the initials for the Dutch tourist information center. All major cities and a towns will likely have an office. They are excellent sources for information especially for those traveling in the area with their families. Dutch tourist offices don't always hand out information for free like their many counterparts in North America. However, the cost is nominal and the information well worth the price.
The Netherlands are full of family activities that all ages can enjoy. If you really wish to beat the cost of transport why not rents bikes for a day. The Netherlands are full of bike paths that are well designated and separate from traffic. Bike rentals are available nearly everywhere being that it is the number one form of transport in the country. Those that visit in the summer time might wish to take advantage of some of The Netherlands many wonderful beaches. There are beaches to suit almost every type of traveler some specifically tailored to the family. Taking a trip to the town of Zans Schans will surly peak the interests of the children. Wooden shoes and boats are still handcrafted here. The town is also full of the old style Dutch windmills and homes.
It might be best to prepare your children for Dutch food. It is far from bad but does tend to be a bit on the plain side. Meat, fish and vegetables seem to make up most menus in traditional Dutch restaurants. There is however some good news that will likely appeal to any young person. Dutch hot chocolate can rival anywhere in the world. Those that enjoy Asian dishes will also be pleased as the Netherlands have a long history of offering the best dishes from Asia and Indochina in the world.
April 20, 2009 change by ibbytravel
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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