With clogs on their feet and a bicycle saddle under their bottoms, they eat Gouda in the morning and drink Heineken in the evening. Goedendag and Hello!
My name is Elisabeth Michlmayr and I work in purchase at SR Travel in Gießen. Holland as a tourist destination is even more exciting for me, as I’m originally from Austria. I honestly had no Idea how diverse and beautiful this flat country could be. And flat is an understatement: 26 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level and the Vaalserberg (with all of 323 meters altitude) in the province of Limburg is the highest point of the country. But the Dutch people make up for it with their own height. With an average of 1.83 metres for men and 1.69 metres for women, they are the largest nation in the world.
But what exactly makes Holland such a wonderful destination? And when do you call it Holland? Colloquially, the Netherlands is often referred to as Holland. But that would be just like calling all of Germany Hessen. In fact, Holland is one of twelve provinces in the Netherlands, which in itself is subdivided into Zuid-Holland, i.e. South Holland and Noord-Holland (North Holland).
But enough with all the facts! You’re here to read something about Holland as a holiday destination. At the end of November my colleague Miriam Pieck and I went to Holland on a business trip. We were lucky enough to get experience a lot and visited many fascinating sights.
For all those of you, who have never driven in one of Holland’s cities before: beware! Bicycles are everywhere and I really mean everywhere. To make matters worse, mopeds are allowed to use the bicycle lanes and, like the cyclists, they do not pay much attention to the road. They text theirs friends and you hear them laughing, crying and shouting. But one thing is certain: paying attention to traffic is a minor matter. They also constantly cycle over red lights. But there is no doubt about it: the cyclist always has right of way, no matter when, how, where, what or why. But once you’ve got used to being cut across from all sides by bicycles and mopeds, the traffic in Holland is quite easy to handle and not too different from Germany.
From an old steam train over a porcelain manufactory, to a farm: we experienced bags of tradition on our first day. Here are some highlights I can especially recommend:
In the „De Delftse Pauw“ a porcelain manufactory, the genuine blue Delft porcelain is still handmade. During a professional tour you can see how the precious porcelain is made and painted.
We then went on to the Clara Maria farm, where you can experience the entire cheese and clogs manufacturing process up close; including the cows in the stable. We were overwhelmed by the truly warm welcome. Our hosts Kees and Katrina met us with big smiles on their faces and let us immerse ourselves into the world of traditional clog making (the well-known Dutch wooden shoes) and cheese making.
My Tip: You can get your wooden clogs personalised with engravings. Traditionally, these are given away at birth with the name and date of birth of the new-born. It certainly makes a very special and unique souvenir from Holland.
Our journey continued at the Museumstoomtram, an old steam train, which runs from Hoorn to Medemblik and gives you a feeling of diving into the past. At Hoorn Station you can even see how the steam locks are maintained and repaired. A museum located directly by the train station also gives an insight into the history of steam trains in the Netherlands.
After a sweet breakfast with Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles on a roll) and honey cake, we used the day to familiarize ourselves with Holland itself. We first visited a place that is known for its numerous windmills: Kinderdijk.We were very impressed! You can stroll through the extensive water management system and get a glimpse of how our neighbours manage to deal with the tremendous amounts of water and the dangers they entail. The mills that were built in the 18th century were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
The journey continued on this sunny Sunday by travelling from South Holland to North Holland to the beautiful fishing village of Volendam, which immediately drew us into its spell. Even a well-known singer once sang about this village “If you want to see Holland where it is most beautiful, go to Volendam”. For six centuries this place has retained its original character, due to its remote location and the toughness and optimism of its fishermen. A walk at De Dijk is a must. Stroll along the harbour past gorgeous cottages full of character and an array of small shops and restaurants. Only a few streets further you will find many canals and drawbridges that radiate a familiar atmosphere of romance and comfort.
In the afternoon we treated ourselves to a delicious Dutch speciality: warm poffertjes, which can best be described as mini pancakes. But to be honest, they taste better and fluffier than their German counterpart. They are traditionally served with a little butter and a lot of icing sugar.
Thereafter, Holland had fully captivated us with its beautiful, idyllic landscapes and delicious food. But that’s not all. We wanted to see even more of this stunning country. So…
Just a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam is Noord-Holland’s capital. The charming town of Haarlem offers the perfect balance of a village like atmosphere and being able to shop till you drop. Whether you walk along cobblestone streets and soak up the impressive, ornate 17th century architecture, or sit on the “Grote Markt” in one of the many small cafes: you can vividly imagine what it would have looked like during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. It was an impressive place and an inspiration for artists even then, and it has not changed to this day.
In Rotterdam we saw yet another highlight of our trip and at the same time the most important landmark of the city: the market hall or in Dutch “de markthal”. It marks the location where Rotterdam was once founded in 1270 and therefore where the foundation for this impressive port city was laid. But not only the impressive size (120 meters long, 70 meters wide and 40 meters high, twelve floors above and four floors below ground level) and futuristic shape is an eye-catcher. The walls and ceiling of the hall are also decorated with more than 4,500 art panels and form a cornucopia as a whole. This symbol, with origin in Greek mythology, stands for luck, fertility and wealth.
My tip: Come here on an empty stomach, because a large number of food stalls invite you to linger. Over 80 fixed market stalls, 20 shops and eight restaurants offer you plenty of choice for a delicious snack.
Another highlight of our trip was definitely The Hague, considered the most elegant city in the Netherlands and the only major city in the country that has direct access to the sea. The most famous seaside resort of Holland, Scheveningen, is directly adjacent to the city and is only a 15 minute walk from the city centre. This very clean and modern town offers the best combination of city and beach. The Hague is also interesting because, while it is not the capital of the Netherlands, it is still the seat of the royal family and so many embassies and government buildings have settled there. Among them you will also find the Binnenhof which is the oldest parliament building in the world that is still in use. The royal family is close enough to touch here, so it may happen that Princess Beatrix crosses your path during a stroll through a museum.
My Tip: If you don’t want to spend a beach holiday in the Netherlands, but are interested in the cities and especially in the countryside and smaller towns, then it’s best to go in low season. If you want to save a few euros on your accommodation, I would avoid the metropolitan area of Amsterdam and rather go to The Hague and Rotterdam, or choose the places in between, such as Leiden. Even right on the beach you can grab great bargains during low season.
Due to its beautiful beaches and the mild climate, Holland is especially popular among Germans during the summer months and of course in spring, when colourful tulip fields decorate the countryside. But every season has its own atmosphere and charm in Holland. Especially in winter it gets very cosy in the Netherlands.
And a relaxing holiday in Holland is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. Relaxation is the keyword here: In the mild Dutch winter you can escape the tourist crowds and go for a refreshing walk by the beach. Then afterwards make yourself comfortable in front of a warm fireplace.
But it’s not just those seeking relaxation that get their money’s worth: from adrenaline junkies to art and culture-oriented people – in the cities and surrounding villages, there’s something for everyone. The cities in Holland are world famous with art and culture lovers. The many museums and exhibitions are guaranteed to have something for every taste. But not only the well-known cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague have lots to offer. You can find the largest museum density of the Netherlands in the southern town of Leiden: with an impressive 13 museums within walking distance.
I have to admit that so far, like many of my friends, I’ve only made it to Amsterdam or the beach. However, the more I get to know the region of Holland, through my work in the office and now also through this trip, the more I begin to understand what beautiful gems are hidden between big cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. In addition, I was surprised by the charm that this region offers especially in winter months, when you can blissfully escape the tourist crowds.
Have you ever been to Holland? Which small towns or countryside can you recommend?