When thinking of traveling to the Netherlands, probably the first location to come to mind is Amsterdam. With its canals, museums, a myriad of cafes and bars and even the option of the red light district, for the inquisitive, it is a fantastic location for a weekend of fun.
Whilst Amsterdam is the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the seat of government is Den Haag. Den Haag (The Hague) is situated in the province of South-Holland. It’s an appealing place to visit, with broad avenues, castles, shopping centres, tiny boutiques and, of course, the Dutch Parliament.
Situated near the North Sea, it offers wide beaches perfect for sunbathing and events are held several times a year at the nearby sea-side resort of Scheveningen. From fireworks to the North Sea Jazz Festival, and from tourists’ fishing trips to the Sea Life Center, there is something for everyone.
Den Haag features some thirty museums. The Mauritshuis’ collection consists of masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age, including paintings by Vermeer, Potter and Rembrandt. The Gemeentemuseum exhibits an extensive collection of modern art. The Panorama Mesdag is a unique piece of art itself – a cylindrical painting more than 14 meters high and 120 meters in circumference.
Like Amsterdam, Den Haag offers visitors a good selection of bars and restaurants, with outside terraces when the weather allows. There’s a range of mainstream cinemas, as well as smaller picture houses, and Holland Casino Scheveningen for those who enjoy a bit of a gamble.
If you fancy a wander around Den Haag, you will find that there are hidden treasures. There are some large outdoor markets held during the week, selling everything from clothes, to plants, to paintings. The shopping centre in Rijswijk is worth a visit, offering a wonderful blend of high street shops and smaller boutiques.
When in Den Haag, I encourage you to try the fish. Being situated near a harbour, the fish is fresh from the catch. You will find restaurants offering flavours from around the world. There are excellent Italian ice-cream shops and pizzerias. You have the choice between Greek restaurants, Egyptian, Surinam, Mexican, Maroccan, Turkish, or, of course, you can try the Dutch pancake houses and snack bars. Whatever your taste, there will be something for you.
It is considered polite to leave a tip in the restaurants and hotels. However small, the gesture is appreciated and seen as common courtesy.
On the whole, the Dutch are a friendly people, willing to help a stranded tourist or point you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most Dutch people have at least some basic knowledge of English so if your Dutch isn’t as fluent as you would like, that is always an option for communication.
Next time you are planning a trip to Holland, try to pay a visit to Den Haag. You won’t be disappointed.
I encourage you on your next visit to Amsterdam to leave BoomChicago alone and instead, explore these marvelous ideas on what to do and see, and share in the take-home lessons they offer.
Here are 5 of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam
1. Visit Anne Franks’ home on the Prinsengracht.
Anne Frank lived with her family and four others in the concealed annex of the Anne Frank building. This is where she wrote her world-famous diary. Visiting this site in an incredible experience! It gives you insights into culture, the horror of wartimes, and just how tiny their living quarters were. Take-home thought for you: next time you’re about to complain that your apartment is too small, think back of this experience and be grateful.
2. Eat raw herring at the fish monger.
Next to Anne Frank’s house is the Westerkerk. This church dates back to 1631 and is the highest church in town. It’s also the place where Queen Beatrix was married and where Rembrandt was buried. Of course, the church itself is worth exploring. Go check out the pipe organs, and the giant bell in the clock tower. On Sunday morning’s you can even enjoy mass.
Before or after exploring the church, try something Dutch and order some raw herring at the fish monger right in front of the Westerkerk. If you love sushi, you’ll love this. Besides obtaining the wonderful taste, consuming the fish’s omega-6 fatty acids are what this feast is about. These wonderful fatty acids helps your body cope with the colder weather of winds and hail that prevail in Holland in winter. However, the herring tastes good year round. Take-home thought: In Rome, do as the Romans. In Holland, do as the Dutch and try the herring.
3. Go bicycling along the canals and bring a map.
You can rent a bike from Bike City in the ‘Jordaan’ neighborhood at the Bloemgracht for about Eur 10/day. Just bike away, wander and enjoy the scenery. It’s delight to pass by historic warehouses and grand mansions. You’ll see cosy corner cafes and espresso-sipping locals on outdoor terraces when the sun is out.
When you have enough of biking, just take your map out. As downtown Amsterdam is built in a semi-circle, chances are that you are not that far from where you begun. Take-home thoughts: it’s easy to have fun on a small budget and getting a nice workout can be fun.
4. Get off the bike on one of these corner cafes in the ‘Jordaan’ neighborhood.
The Jordaan is Amsterdam’s oldest corridor. It used to be a working-class neighborhood. Today, it’s a trendy hotspot. This is where you can best experience a uniquely Dutch concept of ‘Gezelligheid’ — loosely translated as ‘cosy’.
What’s special about the old cafes in the Jordaan is that they are like aunty Betsy’s living room. There may even be a central big table as well as individual tables. For sure, there are thick handmade carpets on the table and a barman with ‘attitude’. A nice attitude.
It seems at times that only snaps is served. For an adventurous selection: try out the schelvispekel – an old drink sourced from Rotterdam. It was typically drunk by the fishermen there. It’s sweet with a likable & unique flavor. For a less adventurous but still marvelous selection: try a local beer on tap. It’s easy to spend hours in these cafes. But be warned: don’t drink more than one schelvispekel as it’s real strong. Thought to take home: the good things in life are best enjoyed in moderation, and if you want one more: these cafes remind me of an old Dutch proverb: ‘Gezelligheid kent geen tijd’. It translates as ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.
5. Visit the Brewery….. or ..
Heard of the Heineken beer brewery? It’s right downtown Amsterdam on the Stadhouderskade. Yes, at the end of your brewery tour, you get to sample the beer. It’s particularly fun when you’re visiting Amsterdam with a group of friends.
However…. I’m not a beer drinker, so instead, where I go, is just a few blocks away from the brewery. Whenever I’m visiting Amsterdam, I try to see the Night Watch, Rembrandt’s most famous painting. The painting is hanging in the Stedelijk Museum, also located on the Stadhouderskade.
The Night Watch was painted when Rembrandt was at the peak of his fame and fortune. At that time, he painted the wealthy helped by his arsenal of students. Soon after completing the painting, Rembrandt’s wife passed away, and then his last son. This was a turning point for him. He became both sad and less interested in portraiture of the noblesse. He ended up poor in more than one way. Morale of the story: cherish all that gives meaning in our lives.
Oh, there are about a dozen more things to do in Amsterdam that are top tourist attractions and fun for locals alike.
These are 5 top things to enjoy when visiting Amsterdam when I have international friends with me. What are your favorites ? Drop us a line…
Amsterdam. It is a much talked about city. It is the topic of many famous lyrics. It is a place much dreamed about. All for good reason: Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in the world.
To get you in the right mood of what visiting the city will be like, I have a wonderful video here for you features Jacques Brel, singing one of his most famous songs: ‘Le Porte d’Amsterdam’. Brel is a Belgium chanson singer who must have spent a bit of time in Amsterdam: