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Covering some 79 acres (32 hectares), the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens is the world’s largest flower garden. Come springtime, the meandering, wooded gardens are visited by some 800,000 flower-lovers, who come to soak up the blaze of color that envelops the park, its greenhouses, brooks and shady ponds and winding paths. It’s truly a memorable sight.
At Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, nature’s talents are combined with artificial precision to create a wonder of landscaping, where millions of tulips, along with narcissi and daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells, and many others blossom perfectly in place and exactly on time. And if the temperatures have been wilting, don’t worry: fresh blooms are planted by helping hands for the duration of the season. Special exhibits are held in the pavilions around the site, and there are cafes and refreshment stands throughout.
Ever wondered what life was like in 17th and 18th century Netherlands? The Zaanse Schans, 15km north of Amsterdam, is the kind of museum that shows rather than tells and it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in all things traditionally Dutch. The conserved area is still inhabited, but set up like an open-air museum where visitors can wander the village, explore the preserved buildings and watch local craftsmen at work.
Green wooden houses, a historic shipyard, traditional grocery store and a pewter factory are among the village’s visitor attractions but the Zaanse Schans is most famous for its windmills, once used for everything from paint-making to paper production. 250 years ago around 600 windmills stood in the area but today, 5, including a sawmill and an oil mill, are open to visitors, who can explore the working mills and marvel at the landscape of colorful wind sails.
Volendam is possibly the most famous fishing village in the Netherlands. The main attractions in Volendam - besides the beautiful traditional scenery - are the wooden houses and the traditional dress of the local woman (the tall, white pointed bonnet, recognizable from countless postcards and paintings).
Located in the center of the city, Amsterdam Central Station is the largest railway station in the Netherlands, as well as the most visited national heritage site in the country. Used by more than a quarter of a million passengers every day, it is a hub for both national and international train services. It has also been continuously under construction for more than a decade due to the development of the North-South Metro line, which should finally open fully in 2017.
Built upon three artificial islands, the station was designed by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the famous Rijksmuseum. The similarity is apparent in the Gothic/Renaissance Revival façade of the station, which features two turrets and a variety of ornamental details.
First opened in 1889, the station is within walking distance of many popular tourist sights, including the Royal Palace, the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District.
The Rijksmuseum, or National Museum, is the premier art museum of the Netherlands, and no self-respecting visitor to Amsterdam can afford to miss it. Though most of the building is closed for renovations until 2013, key paintings from the museum’s permanent collection can be viewed in the Philips Wing.
The collection includes some 5,000 paintings, most importantly those by Dutch and Flemish masters from the 15th to 19th centuries. The emphasis, naturally, is on the Golden Age. Pride of place is taken by Rembrandt's Nightwatch (1650), showing the militia led by Frans Banning Cocq. Other 17th century Dutch masters include Jan Vermeer (The Milkmaid, and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter), Frans Hals (The Merry Drinker) and Jan Steen (The Merry Family).
Other sections include Sculpture and Applied Art (delftware, dolls' houses, porcelain, furniture), Dutch History and Asiatic Art, including the famous 12th century Dancing Shiva.
Art lovers and van Gogh fans must reward themselves with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, one of Amsterdam's must-sees. The museum consists of about 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent and his friends and contemporaries (Gauguin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bernard), as well as many of the artist's personal effects.
Famous works on display include The Potato Eaters (1885), The Yellow House in Arles (1888) and The Bedroom (1888). One of his last paintings, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), is an ominous work finished shortly before his suicide. Of special note is the wall on the second floor, which displays 18 paintings produced during a two year period in the south of France, generally considered to be his artistic high point. A new wing,set partly underground, showcases temporary exhibits by van Gogh and other artists.
The first image one conjures up when thinking of Amsterdam is its tranquil canals. Three rings of canals, lined by elaborately decorated merchants' residences and warehouses built in the 17th century, the Dutch "Golden Age", give the city its iconic and easygoing image. In fact, 90 islands were created when the canals were built, and they’re all connected by hundreds of charming bridges. The best-known canals form the central Grachtengordel (Canal Belt). To the wandering visitor, they’re like lifelines because the subtle turns in the center can throw your inner compass out of whack. The semicircular canals form a huge ring, cut by canals radiating from the middle like spokes on a wheel. Starting from the core, the major semicircular canals are the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. From east to west, the major radial canals are Brouwersgracht, Leidsegracht, and Reguliersgracht.
It is one of the 20th century's most compelling stories: a young Jewish girl forced into hiding with her family and their friends to escape deportation by the Nazis. The house Otto Frank used as a hideaway for his family kept them safe until close to the end of World War II.
The focus of the Anne Frank House museum is the achterhuis, also known as the secret annex. It was in this dark, airless space that the Franks observed complete silence during the day, before being mysteriously betrayed and sent to their deaths.
The Anne Frank House is pretty much intact, so as you walk through the building, it's easy to imagine Anne’s experience growing up here as she wrote her famous diary describing how restrictions were gradually imposed on Dutch Jews.
Few places are as unashamedly picturesque as the village of Marken and its location - a peninsular stretching onto the IJsselmeer Lake – is often found plastered on souvenir postcards.
The quintessentially Dutch village has become a key tourist destination, with tour groups flocking to catch a glimpse of the unique island culture. Here, the vistas are undeniably quaint: painted wooden houses line the waterfront; colorful fishing boats jostle for space around the dock and the glistening lake waters reflect every detail. Even the village’s 2000 inhabitants seem caught in time, dressing themselves in traditional costumes and preserving their time-honored customs.
Marken’s wooden houses, many of them now listed as National Heritage Sites, remain the village’s key attraction, but there are enough sights to make a pleasant day trip from Amsterdam, just 45 minutes away by road or boat.
Built on the banks of Prinsengracht Canal in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Westerkerk is famous for three things: sky-high views of Amsterdam from the top of its spire, Rembrandt's grave, and Anne Frank's ties to the church.
Designed by star architect Hendrick de Keyser in the Dutch Renaissance style, the Protestant church's spire reaches 85 meters, making it the highest structure in Amsterdam's old city. From the viewing platform halfway up the tower, you'll get panoramic views right across town. And from outside the church, look up at the bell tower to see the blue imperial crown of Habsburg emperor Maximilian I at its top — it was bestowed on the city as a coat of arms in 1489.
Rembrandt’s paintings may fetch tens of millions today, but he died bankrupt in 1669 and was buried in an unmarked grave, typical for the very poor, at Westerkerk, so that no one quite knows this exact location of his final resting place where he lies buried along with his wife and son.
Magere Brug is a bridge in Amsterdam that crosses the Amstel River. Its name translates as “skinny bridge” and comes from the original bridge that was so skinny, it was difficult for two people to pass each other while walking across it at the same time. Legend also has it that the bridge was built by the Mager sisters to make it easier to visit each other since they lived on opposite sides of the river. Though it is still called the Skinny Bridge, today it is no longer so skinny. The bridge was replaced with a wider one in 1871, and now pedestrians and bicycles can cross with greater ease.
The bridge is a wooden drawbridge that is raised frequently throughout the day to allow boats to pass through. At night it is lit up by over 1,000 light bulbs. Day or night, the Skinny Bridge is a charming place to visit and enjoy views of the river and the city.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District (aka De Wallen) has been a familiar haunt for pleasure seekers since the 14th century. Though certainly not an area for everyone, the Red Light District has more to offer than just sex and liquor. For underneath its promiscuous façade, the area contains some of Amsterdam's prettiest canals, excellent bars and restaurants, and shops of all kinds. It also consists of windows with sexy girls, dressed in eye-popping underwear.
The best places for window-watching are along Oudezijds Achterburgwal and in the alleys around the Oude Kerk (Old Church), particularly to the south. The atmosphere throughout is much more laid-back than in other red-light districts. Families, lawyers, young couples, senior citizens - all types of locals live and socialize here, in stride with the surrounding commerce. You’ll probably find yourself on Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk at some point, both commercial thoroughfares chock-a-block with shops and restaurants.
Conveniently located right in central Amsterdam, Jordaan is one of the city's most important, and most interesting districts. Never short of things to do, it is the location of the famous Anne Frank house, where renowned holocaust victim Anne Frank hid from the Nazis during WWII.
Currently, the district is bustling with life, with tons of opportunities to visit one of its many specialty shops, soak in Dutch culture at an art gallery, or try some of the local delicacies at its street markets.
Prideful of its early 20th-century music culture, this central district also features wonderful music festivals and has scattered statues throughout, commemorating the likes of local hero and Dutch patriot Johnny Jordaan. Not dead, you can go check out Jordaan's lively modern music scene at many of its bars and club venues, these days mainly featuring alternative, punk and grunge music.
Dam Square is the main city square in Amsterdam and is one of the most well-known locations in all of the Netherlands. Located in the historical center of the city and just 750 meters south of Amsterdam Centraal Station, Dam Square is home to an array of notable buildings and frequently hosts events of national importance.
The square sits over the original location of the dam in the Amstel River and has been surrounded by land on all sides since the mouth of the river was filled in the 19th century. On the west end of the square you will see the Royal Palace, which was the city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808. Next to the palace are the Gothic Nieuwe Kirk (New Church) and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. On the east end of the square is the National Monument, a stone pillar erected in 1956 to memorialize the Dutch victims of World War II.
Amsterdam might be most famous for its winding canals and pretty locks, but it’s the Amstel River that the city was first built around, even deriving its name from its early settlement at the ‘Amstel Dam’.
Today the river runs through the center of the city, lined with landmark buildings, stately mansions and colorful houseboats. A walk along the riverside pathway takes in a number of key sights: the regal Carré theatre, still a popular performance house; the post-modernist Stopera city hall and opera house, with its contemporary glass facade; and the neo-baroque domes of the St Nicolas church, all face the river front. A number of landmark bridges also cross the river, the most famous of which is the Magere Brug, or the ‘Skinny Bridge’, a white painted bascule bridge, rebuilt in the early 1900s. Don’t miss out on renowned tourist attractions like the Hermitage Museum, the Amsterdam Museum and Waterlooplein, either – all lie along the shores of the Amstel.
With its distinctive wheel-like shape and fire-engine red rind, Edam is one of Amsterdam’s most famous exports, although the cheese looks a little different in its home town - here, the cheese has an uncharacteristic yellow rind. Edam isn’t just a cheese, though; it’s also the name of the town where it’s made, a waterside residence settled back in the 12th century. 18km north of Amsterdam, the town lies on the banks of the IJsselmeer (IJssel lake) and is reachable by boat, as well as being a popular destination for cheese-loving tour groups.
In the heart of town is the famous cheese market and cheese-weighing hall, an ancient tradition that was reopened in 1989 thanks to tourist demand. The market runs weekly through the summer months, with locals getting into the spirit with traditional costumes, live folk music and, of course, stalls stacked high with cheese. For the full experience, pay a visit to the region’s cheese and dairy farms.
A visit to the old Heineken brewery is paramount to brew-worshipers and beer lovers. You will learn the history of the Heineken family, find out how the logo has evolved, and follow the brewing process from water all the way through to bottling. Along the way you can watch Heineken commercials from around the world, join a Heineken bottle on its life's journey and drive a virtual dray horse.
Inside the brewery are fermentation tanks, each capable of holding a million glassfuls of Heineken, as well as vintage brewing equipment and tall malt silos. Unique attractions make the Heineken Experience a fun trip. You can see and feel what it’s like to be Heineken beer bottle, or take a (simulated) ride on an old brewery dray-wagon, pulled by Shire horses on a video screen in front of you. The ride rattles and rolls you through a short tour of Amsterdam.
If all this gets to be too much fun, you can wind down at the free “tasting” sessions at the end of your visit.
Housed in a humungous former arsenal built in 1656, the National Maritime Museum reopened in 2011 after extensive reworking and is dedicated to showcasing the importance of Amsterdam’s maritime history. During the 17th-century Golden Age, The Netherlands was one of the richest powers in the world, thanks to its trading wealth and an empire that stretched across the globe. It was a time of great progress in Amsterdam, when the Canal Ring was built and the middle classes grew rich. All this is reflected in interactive and audio-visual displays of model ships, maritime oil paintings, charts, silverware and weaponry; the growth of the fabulously successful Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) is charted and visitors are whisked on a simulated journey through Amsterdam as a piece of cargo. Two now controversial issues that are dealt with sensitively through thoughtful exhibits are the European slave trade and the whaling industry.
Amsterdam’s museum quarter – or Museumplein – is home to the three most important and revered museums in Amsterdam – the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and the Van Gogh Museum. The surrounding area also features some exclusive shopping, the largest city park in Amsterdam (the Vondelpark), along with a whole host of other attractions.
The Museumplein is a place that attracts Amsterdam’s visitors and locals in equal measure – where international art-lovers mingle with local children playing football on the grass. In 1999 the main square was transformed from a simple 19th-century paved square into a large field with a pond at its centerpiece.
Located to the south of the Museumplein, Amsterdam’s world-famous Concert Hall can accommodate up to 2000 people and is international recognized for its outstanding acoustics. Between the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum sits Coster Diamonds.
This slow, winding canal served as a moat around Amsterdam before the capital city expanded in 1585. Today, Singel has become a top attraction thanks to scenic passes and easy access to a number of Amsterdam’s most popular neighborhoods, including the infamous Red Light District.
Travelers looking to explore the Singel can peruse Bloemenmarkt—a well-known flower market that’s comprised of floral-filled boats floating between Koninsplein and Muntplein squares. And a trip along the canal will take travelers past architectural masterpieces from the Dutch Golden era, including iconic houses, the Munttoren tower and the library of the University of Amsterdam. A stroll along the Singel is the perfect way to enjoy an early spring day while taking in the sites, culture and history of one of the Netherlands most favorite cities.
Situated between Rotterdam and The Hague, Delft is a traditional small town with wonderful landmarks, such as the 19th century renovated Stadhuis (Town Hall) or the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), where Prince William of Orange resides.
Best known for its traditional ceramics, Delft also has a de Markt every Thursday where you can buy delicious produce. There is also plenty to do for the kids, including a waterpark, petting zoo, Technology Museum and the Armamentarium (Army Museum).
Madurodam, since it was developed about 60 years, ago is one of Holland’s most popular travel destinations. Famously a mini-city on a 1:25 scale, this thoughtful and amusing destination highlights all the qualities of the Dutch culture, including the perfectly ornamented bridges, canals, windmills, and major landmarks from all around Holland.
If you were ever thinking how one might be able to see an entire country in one day, this is it. The kids will have just as much fun as you are, as you discover the Madurodamers watching a football match in the stands, relaxing, working and just going about their lives, as you discover Madurodam’s fully functionally harbor, trains and airport. The model city even has carefully manicured gardens made with real flowers and plants, imagine, fig trees with real fig, 1/25 of the size!
On a visit to the Begijnhof, an enclosed former 14th-century convent, you’ll discover a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard.
Contained within the hof is the charming Begijnhofkapel, a "clandestine" chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dog-leg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and stained-glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.
The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees, and still serves as the city's Presbyterian church. Also note the house at No. 34; it dates from around 1425, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.