Imagine every stereotype about The Netherlands that comes into your head when the country is mentioned. Cheese, canals, irresistibly friendly locals, windmills. Then, double it, for Holland is all of its stereotypes and more… and by no means is this a detriment to the inviting nation.
Amsterdam, the city not quite as busy as London yet not as quiet as Liege, sprawls over canal crevices filling the city with boats and a uniquely European sense of pseudo-laziness. Cars, while still in use, are the little sister of bicycles that dominate as the preferred mode of transportation. And it’s completely understandable as to why, with narrow streets promising inviting local shops and artwork much better viewed by foot. Flowers crawl up railings along canals and welcoming locals offer advice on how to really experience Holland. Start in Amsterdam, but by no means make this where you stop. There’s a whole country calling for you.
The Netherlands, as a whole, is incredibly accessible from city to city. Amsterdam is a short train ride from Leiden, Leiden only 40 minutes from The Hague and The Hague only an hour from the charming-yet-small university city of Utrecht. In Leiden, one of the first sights you see is a windmill-turned-museum that oozes Dutch charm and delicately greets the canal below every morning with the first turn of the mill blade for the day. Contemporary museums and darling cafes line the streets, and triple checking before crossing to the other side of the road is a habitual occurrence – you never know when a commuter on bike will come out of nowhere!
When a break from busyness is calling with a roar, Utrecht is the saviour that will regenerate the soul. Trees line the streets forming canopies of greenery and autumnal opulence with the sun having to fight each leaf for the spotlight. Eateries and laneways rule the city and the bell tower at the historic church in the city centre provides the soundtrack for the afternoon. It is an almost hidden gem in the crown of Holland, but one that definitely should not be missed.
De Catwalk Café, Steenstraat 30, Leiden
Affordable, scrumptious and English-speaking: what’s not to love? De Catwalk is there to service breakfast and lunch with tasty options ranging from mozzarella sandwiches to traditional Dutch delicacies.
Utrecht City, Utrecht
Utrecht is calling to be walked as soon as one has arrived in the city. It is easy to become lost in the creeping streets curling around houses and town squares, adding to the experience of being completely immersed in a forging city. Peaceful church bells tolling in the background of each step further heightens the nothing-like-home experience of Holland.
Any canal bridge, Amsterdam
Every canal bridge in Amsterdam provides a unique perspective of the city yet are all equally as stunning and captivating as one may imagine. Bikes resting on the bannisters, flower boxes filling the view with colours and apartments filling the periphery streets like shoeboxes stacked in a wardrobe.
Museum Volkenkunde, Steenstraat 1, Leiden
A contemporary museum located a short walk from Leiden Centraal Station, the Museum Volkenkunde features displays from Holland, Asia, the Middle East and even Australian art. It is a multicultural hub of artistic wonderment all in the one location.
TICKETS: $25AUD for adults and $11AUD for children aged 4-18.
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Western side of Dam Square, Amsterdam
Located in the central spot of Dam Square (where everyone ends up every day, whether this is planned or not), The Royal Palace is one of three palaces in Holland at the disposal of the monarchy of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima. Chandeliers dominate the ceilings of the interior and red velvet décor aids in the regal charm of the over 300-year-old palace.
TICKETS: $17AUD for adults and free for children under 18 years of age, and can be purchased upon arrival.
Photography by Sonia Blair.