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The Netherlands (also popularly called Holland in English, in Dutch Nederland) is a Benelux country in Western Europe, facing onto the North Sea and the United Kingdom and bordered on land by Germany and Belgium. The people, language and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as "Dutch".
The Netherlands is administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). The western part (Holland) is the most industrialized and about half of the population lives in and around this are.
The western Netherlands
The southern Netherlands
The northern Netherlands
The eastern provinces
These are some major cities in the Netherlands.
These are some other famous Dutch tourist sites:
The country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the middle ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.
Following a revolt led by national hero William of Orange, the father of the currently ruling House of Orange, the Spanish were kicked out as part of the Thirty Year's War (known as the Eighty Year's War in the Netherlands: 1568-1648). The split with Belgium came when the northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579.
It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Gouden Eeuw, or Golden Century, in the Netherlands. During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including Indonesia and New York, which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1815 it became a kingdom (its status being somewhat ambiguous before that) together with Belgium. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848, The Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EC, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.
Quite a few travellers visit the Netherlands to enjoy its famously tolerant attitude: prostitution is legalized and licensed and the sale, possession and consumption of small quantities of cannabis or magic mushrooms, while technically still illegal, is officially tolerated by the authorities under a policy of gedogen (tolerance). Harder drugs (eg. ecstasy or cocaine) remain illegal both in theory and practice. In the same open minded atmosphere is the Dutch ease towards homosexuality, making the Netherlands one of the most gay-friendly countries on the planet. To experience these freedoms, you're best off in Amsterdam with coffeeshops and clubs. On a note unrelated to tourism--but still relating to its liberal culture--Euthanasia and abortion are also legal.
There are three ferries crossing between the Netherlands and the UK. Stena Line (http://www.stenaline.nl) is serving between Hoek van Holland and Harwich, DFDS Seaways (http://www.dfdsseaways.nl) is serving between IJmuiden and Newcastle, the last is P&O Ferries (http://www.poferries.com) serving between Rotterdam and Hull. Rotterdam is the second largest harbour in the world.
Eurolines (http://www.eurolines.com/) buses serve the Netherlands.
Schiphol Airport ( http://www.schiphol.nl ), near Amsterdam, tries to position itself as a European hub of air travel. It certainly is the biggest international airport of the country, and a point of interest in itself, being the lowest airport in the World. Schiphol is located 4 meters below sea level.
From Schiphol there are excellent railway connections to the Hague, Amsterdam, and Utrecht and from these places to the rest of the country.
Amsterdam is nearby enough that a traveller may take a cab, although most travellers take the train, as it is a lot cheaper. The train station at Schiphol is located in the basement of the airport. Also, some hotels have a shuttle bus service.
Other international airports are Rotterdam Airport and Eindhoven Airport.
Although many Dutch people complain about it, the Dutch train system is seen as one of the best of the world. The country has an extensive network and trains run at frequent intervals, from at least once up to ten times an hour. The Randstad even has trains every hour throughout the night.
The NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) is the main company concerning passenger traffic, with some local connections in the north and east being run by other companies (through tickets are available between all stations, NS and non-NS, and there is only one national tariff system).
Most smaller stations don't have ticket offices but always have ticket machines, so you have always buy a ticket before travelling - entering a train without a valid ticket is not allowed. As a foreigner you can probably explain to the conducteur (who generally all speak English) that you weren't able to get a ticket, but you'll still have to pay more than if you had bought your ticket before getting on. When you buy the ticket onboard, you will have to pay the normal price plus a ? 35 fine (this is new policy since October 1st 2005).
If you travel with Dutch trains, and you don't want to spent too much money, travel in the weekends or after 09:00 together with somebody with a Voordeel-urenkaart (The Off-peak Discount Pass) (http://www.ns.nl/servlet/Satellite?cid=1083234338220&pagename=www.ns.nl%2FPage%2FArtikelPage_www.ns.nl&lang=en&c=Page) or Studentcard. Then you will get a 40% discount. You need to find somebody with the discount card before the conductor finds you. If you stay a longer while it might pay off to get a kortingskaart yourself.
France and Belgium
The Thalys high-speed train ( http://www.thalys.nl ), which connects the Netherlands with France and Belgium, is a bit expensive, but if you book a return in advance or if you're under 26 or over 60 you can get good deals. It is also faster, normally cheaper and more convenient than flying.
For trips to Brussels or Antwerp it is usually cheaper - and almost as fast - to catch the Benelux train, which runs hourly from Amsterdam, via Schiphol, The Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Roosendaal. No seat reservations are required - just buy your ticket and get on board.
There are also a number of regional trains from and to Germany:
If you're coming from Belgium or Germany an easy way to reach the Netherlands is by car. The countries are well-connected by highways, and the trip should be comparatively fast and the route easy to find. The borders between the Netherlands and their neighbor-countries are open due to the Schengen-treaty. Of course, it is possible to bring your car on the ferry from the UK, but prices can be steep.
Cycling in the Netherlands is much less hazardous than in other countries, because of the infrastructure - cycle paths, cycle lanes, and signposted cycle routes. However, the proliferation of bicycles also means that you're seen as a serious part of traffic - motorists will hate you if you don't keep by the rules.
Some things to know:
There are four ways to use a bicycle:
The country is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent. In the western Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large urban network, with up to 10 trains per hour on main routes. Main lines to the rest of the country usually have 2 Intercity trains and 2 local trains per hour, until about midnight. Local lines in more rural areas sometimes have an hourly service. Because of the high train frequency, snakk delays are quite common. Trains can be quite crowded during the (mostly morning) rush hour
There is a highly convenient night train service meant for party-goers and airport traffic running between Rotterdam, Delft, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam and Utrecht, which runs all night long, once an hour in each direction.
Visitors looking to travel by train in the Netherlands should look into acquiring a Eurail pass with the Benelux package. This allows for unlimited train travel within Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg over multiple days. Europeans, not being eligible for Eurail passes, should look into Interrail Passes for their discount train travel.
There are several discount passes available, both for train transport and for all the public transport.
If you want to travel around the Netherlands for a few days during the summer, the Zomertoer may be used. This pass gives you three days of unlimited travel. An add-on also allows you to travel on all other public transportation in the country. In autumn weekends, the Hersttour also gives some discounts.
If you're thinking of staying a longer time in the Netherlands it can be a good deal to get the "Voordeel-urenkaart" (premium hours card), which gives you (and one fellow traveller) 40% off during one year, but only outside of rush hour. Price: 55 euro (as of June 2005).
If you're only for one day in the Netherlands and want to see much of the country by train, then perhaps you want to buy a "OV-Dagkaart". It's on all-inclusive ticket for all public transportation for 40 euro (as of July 2005).
Keep in mind however, that due to the baroqueness of the dutch transport system's discounts it might sometimes be cheaper to just buy a ticket. For example: to get your money's worth on the OV-dagkaart would require about 6 hours of being in a train in one day.
Another way to travel cheaper is to find a student with a OV-kaart, or someone who possesses a Voordeel-urenkaart who is going in the same direction as you. They are allowed to take up to three fellow travelers (this would be you) who can enjoy a 40% discount. You have to buy the discounted ticket in advance, but it won't be a problem to find someone accompanying you. This deal only works during weekends, or during weekdays after 9:00 am, on national holidays and in the summer months July and August.
You have to buy your ticket before you get on the train - officially even before you get on the platform. If a conductor finds you without a ticket, you will have to pay the route fee with an added 35 euro fine.
Everyone drives on the right side of the road. The speed limit in build up areas is 50 km/h, sometimes there are zones where there's a maximum of 30 km/h. Outside of towns speed is limited to 80 km/h (this includes most N-roads). On some local roads the speed limit is 60 km/h. On the motorways the limit is 120 km/h except on some roads where the limit is 100 km/h. On a few motorway tracks in the west of the country the speed limit has been downscaled to 80 km/h since November 2005. During rush hour signs above many roads indicate the current speedlimit. On highways and some of the N-roads the speedlimit is 100 km/h. Your speed will be checked nationwide by the police. Drinking & driving is not allowed and there are many breath controls nationwide. A unbroken yellow line next to the sidewalk means no stopping, a broken yellow next to the sidewalk means no parking. Some crossings have "shark teeth" painted on the road, this means you have to give way to the other traffic.
When your car is broken on the highway, go to the nearest yellow contact point. This is the direct connection to the emergency and assistance services.
Road signs with directions are plenty, but having a map is useful, especially in cities where there are many one way streets, and getting from one part of the city to another is not always so straightforward. Be careful not to drive on buslanes, often indicated with markings such as Lijnbus or Bus, nor on cycling paths, marked by the picture of a bicycle.
Fuel is easy to come by. Along motorways many fuelstations are open 24/7. More and more unmanned fuelstations can be found, even along highways, selling petrol for a lower rate.
Parking fees within cities can be pretty hefty. When considering to go to bigger cities, such as Utrecht, Amsterdam, or even Groningen, consider going there by public transport.
To travel in the Netherlands you can use public transport. In the cities you can use the tram, bus and metro. Outside the cities you can use the bus and train. Travel information can be found at 9292OV Reisinformatie (http://www.9292ov.nl). Information about the trains can be found at Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) (http://www.ns.nl). Though both 9292OV Reisinformatie as NS.nl can plan a trip for you using public transport, 9292OV includes almost all public transportation types. The NS website however is able to display up to date infomation about train delays and detours.
For information about the strippenkaart, the ticket used in bus, tram and metro, go to OV-Info (http://www.ov-info.nl). Note that, although many travellers tend to buy them in buses when boarding, it is much cheaper to buy them elsewhere. You can get these tickets in many places, including bus stations, post offices, and some supermarkets. If you are elligible for discount (due to the fact that you bought one of the discount passes, under 18 or over 65) you can buy special - cheaper - pink ones, which will get you the same mileage for a better price. Also, inform about the availability of special non-rush hour tickets in busses.
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal g's and sch's (also found, for example, in Arabic). Written Dutch might be semi-intelligble to someone who knows other germanic languages (English, German, Scandinavian languages), but the spoken language sounds rather different from English. Near the southern border, and in Belgium, the dialect is markedly different, having had more contact with French.
Officially the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. When travelling through Fryslan you will come across many roadsigns in two languages. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free.
The hackneyed phrase "They all speak English there" is in fact pretty accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent. Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their insensitive way without learning a word of Dutch -- if that's the kind of travel that you want. Dealing with seniors however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue, although a bit of German could help you as well. Keep in mind, however, that elderly people might still be resentful over the war, so in this situation if you can let slip the fact that you're not German despite the fact that you speak it, that might be a good thing.
Dutch traditional cuisine is basic. However, due to inffluences from Indonesian, Chinese and Northern-African immigrants there is an abundancy of foodcultures to choose from.
In the big cities you can eat good thai food (on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam for instance) for a bargain price, and in the Chinese quarters you can get authentic Chinese food. You will also be able to find a restaurant from every corner of the world (especially in Amsterdam).
Every village has it's own Chinese restaurant where you can eat a lot for a little money, but the taste is aimed at the Dutch citizen with little 'taste' for adventure (no herbs, a lot of sugar). Also around every corner is a 'frietboer', which sells fried potatoes, drowned in mayonaise (see Pulp Fiction). And yes, the Dutch love it!
Modern Dutch restaurants and café's serve better food lately, mostly meat, vegetables, served with fries and salad. If you eat in a café then food is affordable, you can also go to upscale restaurants where prices go up equally. Most of the time profit is made from the drinks, so be careful there if you're on a budget.
Traditional highlights are pancakes (available in 'pannekoekenhuizen'), mashed potatoes with carrots and bacon (hotch-potch 'hutspot') and pea soup. You'll have to go to a traditional restaurant to find this however.
Drop (liquorice) is something you love or hate, you can buy all kinds of varieties. You can get it sweet or extremely salty.
Although the Dutch brand "Heineken" is one of the most prestigious beers in the world, it is just one of the many beer brands in Holland. You can get all kind of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Dutch, the traditional beers come from monasteries in Holland or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance 'Moergestel' at the 'Trappistenklooster'. It needs to be said that the brewery is owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it's not so traditional anymore.
Hot Chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in Holand. It really fills you after a cold walk. In summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it's made from powder and doesn't taste that good.
Also popular in winter are alcoholic bitters. Every city has it's own version. Amsterdam has 'Beerenburg', Tilburg has 'schrobbelear' a.s.o.
Dutch drink black tea, and they keep it as watery as possible. Luckily, if you're English, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot water, so you can make you're own version. Milk in your tea is almost unheard of.
If you're from the States or Canada, you can drink one cup of Dutch coffee in the morning and add water the rest of the day! If you order 'koffie verkeerd' you get the French 'café au lait' which is less strong with fresh milk.
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, soft drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen (tolerance), and you are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (under 5 grams) of cannabis or hash, as well as fresh hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop for weed or a smartshop for the natural highs. These are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, and minors are not allowed inside. They are also prohibited from advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is generally much stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff, and be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cake") as it's easy to eat too much by accident. Magic mushrooms have even greater potential to trip up the unaccustomed, so be sure to consult the staff concerning proper dosage and other precautions. It is forbidden to drive while intoxicated, although legally it is unclear if the smoking of weed intoxicates you.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal. The purchase and consumption of other (hard) drugs, eg. ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms, is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not being prosecuted.
The international calling code for the Netherlands is 31. The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The phone companies are KPN, Telfort, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile. The network is of a good quality and covers every corner of the Netherlands. Most mobile operators support GPRS now, and KPN and Vodafone offer UMTS services in some parts of Holland. There are not many public phone booths left in the Netherlands. They are most likely to be found at train stations. Telfort booths accept coins, whereas KPN booths only accept prepaidcards or crcard. In cities they are painted bright green (KPN). Telfort booths can be mostly found near railwaystations. 0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers will charge you by the minute.
To request a phone number call 0900-8008 (1,15 euro per call) or 0900-1313 (1,30 euro per call). Phone numbers can also be found on the internet on De Telefoongids.nl (http://www.detelefoongids.nl/) or Nationale Telefoongids.nl (http://www.nationaletelefoongids.nl/).
In many cities internetcafés are now operating. Also, many public libraries provide internetaccess. Internet through WiFi-hotspots is becoming increasingly popular and is available in many hotels, pubs, stations and on Schiphol.