Alright so most people go on exchange in Europe to see as much as they possibly can within the small (relative) continent but the Netherlands is a beautiful country with many unique places besides Amsterdam and the Keukenhof. So while you should definitely take advantage of being so close to Italy, Greece and all the other European locations on your Bucket List, do not forget to explore the country you are studying in!
I am very lucky to have family living in the Netherlands and so I do a lot of my touring with them but since not everyone has that opportunity, below are a few of my favourite places and things to do while visiting!
Alright, let’s start off with the Amsterdam itself since no visit to the Netherlands is complete without it. A beautiful old city but definitely at its best in the spring time. My favourite neighbourhood to wander around is the Jordaan and the 9 Streets. Take time to peek in through the windows of the old yet still grand canal houses, stop at a typical Dutch bruin cafe (not coffee shop, very different obviously) and enjoy the sunshine with a beer and some bitterballen. My favourite museum in Amsterdam is the Stedelijk, the modern art musuem, for two reasons – short lines and cool expositions. Amsterdam is filled with lots of museums, beyond the Rijksmuseum and Ann Frank House, and as something for everyone so I definitely recommend at least checking out one or two that interest you. If you are feeling up to it after a few months of living in Maastricht and think you have figured out the Dutch biking system then I suggest giving it a go in Amsterdam for a good laugh and you will really see if you have what it takes to be a true Amsterdammer. Be aware that in Amsterdam, they have a unique sense of humour and if you come across a true Amsterdammer, then you will definitely be made fun and do not be offended; it is their version of a warm welcome.
Since you are already all the way in the North Holland province when visiting Amsterdam, you may as well go a bit farther north and check out the beaches and tulip fields found pretty much all throughout the province. The major city in the area is Alkmaar but if you head farther north you reach Schagen and then Den Helder. Because my grandparents live in the area, I know that it is definitely worth the visit. Try renting a bike (or use an OV fiets if you have a card) and heading west towards the beaches and around the end of April, beginning of May (depending on the season) you can bike past fields of tulips on your way to the beach. PS this is a way cheaper option than the entrance fee into the Keukenhof if you have a cheap train ticket anyways. A couple of the small beach towns are Callantsoog, Bergen aan Zee and then if you want to see some of the dunes then check out the Schoorl Dunes as well. If you head more east, you can check out Edam and Volendam, which are beautiful old Dutch harbour towns.
If you want to head to cover the entire country in one train ride, then I would recommend you head to Groningen, the northern most city in the county. If you want to see what a true Dutch student city is like, I would recommend going there during the week and then heading to one of the many bars and cafes in the area. Maastricht is also a student city but the atmosphere in Groningen is completely different, let’s say North vs South is different. Since you are already so close, maybe check out Leeuwarden too as it is the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and they have a lot going on in the city. I have not yet been, but it is on my list to see before I head home to Canada.
So what is next? Rotterdam, Den Haag and Scheveningen. I think people either love or hate Rotterdam, but since I study in Vancouver, which is the farthest thing from an old city as possible, I love it. Feels a lot like home with more modern architecture (check out the Cube homes and the Erasmus bridge) and hip places to eat and drink. My all time favourite building is the Markt Hall for both the architecture and mural covering the inside as well as all the different food tents inside. If you head there on a Saturday, you can also check out the regular market, which is bigger than the one in Maastricht, and the contrast between the old and the new versions of a market is fun to see. Rotterdam is also home to the largest harbour in Europe so if you like giant cargo ships or just want to feel small, then definitely check it out. I participated in the Rotterdam Marathon (okay, not that fit, I did the 10.5 km option) and it was the one of the coolest experiences of my life. If you enjoy running and want to check out Rotterdam, this is a super fun way to do it! Last, but not least, since you are so close anyways, you should check out the Kinderdijk, which you can reach via the WaterBus from the center of Rotterdam.
Den Haag and Scheveningen are not far from Rotterdam and 100% worth a visit. Den Haag is the political capital of the Netherlands and also where the Peace Palace is. If International Law interests you, then you know that this is where the International Court of Justice is located and is kind of a big deal. The parliament buildings are also in Den Haag, known as the Binnenhof, and is the oldest parliament building in the world still in use. If you are there in the late afternoon during the week on a sunny day, you can see all the office people gathering on the terraces through the pleins in Den Haag and this makes for a great people watching spot. From Den Haag, you can hop on a tram to Scheveningen, which is the local beach hot spot with a pier. Again, ideal people watching but also a great place to enjoy the sun and the sand for the day if you want.
There are way too many places in the Netherlands that are worth checking out but a few others of note are Utrecht, Amersfoort, Nijmegen, Breda and S’ hertogenbosch. All are again beautiful cities with old centres and enough gezelligheid to last a life time.
Last, but not least, I recommend checking out the areas surrounding Maastricht. Limburg is a province with a lot to offer from lots of old Catholic churches to rolling hills of farmland and forest. You can even take the bus to Aachen in Germany or pop into Leige in Belgium if you would like.
My final pieces of advice for traveling in the Netherlands are:
- Ride a bike as much as you can – you cover some distance but you go slow enough to see what you want and can stop along the way
- Look for train deals on sites like VakantieVeilingen and ActieVanDeDag or at the AH/Hema for day trips
- also use group deals – 4 people or more
- Hope that the sun shines as much as possible but bring your umbrella