- Quick Facts
Full country name: Kingdom of the Netherlands
Area: 41,526 sq km
Capital City: Amsterdam (population 735,500)
People: Over 95% of the population are Dutch (Germanic and Gallo-Celtic stock), most of the rest are Indonesian, Surinamese or Moroccan
Languages: Netherlandic (Dutch & Flemish), Friesian
Religion: 60% Christian (Roman Catholic and Protestant), 3% Muslim
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Head of State: Queen Beatrix van Oranje Nassau
Prime Minister: Sarah Wescot-Williams
GDP: US$350 billion
GDP per head: US$22,000
Annual Growth: 3.7%
Major Industries: service industries, banking, electronics, digital media, horticulture, agriculture, shipping
Major trading partners: EU (esp Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, UK), USA
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes
- Country Facts
April: Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), a huge party day in Amsterdam.
June: The Holland Festival, celebrated mostly in Amsterdam and The Hague.
July: The Hague’s North Sea Jazz Festival, the world’s biggest jazz junket.
Euro (EUR), formerly guilder (f or Dfl).
Changing money in the Netherlands is a breeze. Any post office will change cash or travellers’ cheques, and change bureaus are as common as chip-shops in large towns. Tipping is not compulsory in the Netherlands, but rounding up the bill is always appreciated in taxis, restaurants and pubs.
The country’s five northern isles in the shallow Waddenzee stretch in an arc from Texel to Schiermonnikoog. They are important bird-breeding grounds and provide an escape for stressed southerners who want to touch roots with nature. Texel is the largest and most populated island and hosts the world’s largest catamaran race in June. Texel is the only Dutch-speaking island; Friesian is the language of the other four. Terschelling is known as a good-time isle, while Vlieland has more of a family atmosphere. Ameland has quaint villages but explodes with tourists during summer.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were together known as the Low Countries’ until the 16th century. That is when the present-day Netherlands’ boundaries were roughly drawn. Originally the land was inhabited by tribal groups – the Germanic Batavi and the Frisii. In the late 16th century the region’s northern provinces, inhabited by recent converts to Protestantism, united to fight the Catholic Spanish rulers. Philip II of Spain sent the cruel Inquisition to enforce Catholicism, and war broke out in 1568.
The revolt of the Netherlands was led by Prince William of Orange, nicknamed William the Silent for his refusal to enter into religious arguments. After 80 years of conflict Holland and its allied provinces expelled the Spaniards in 1648, and Holland became synonymous with the independent country that emerged in this corner of Europe (a bit like saying England when you mean Britain).
Amsterdam pranced onto the European stage in what was the province of Holland’s most glorified period: the golden age from about 1580 to about 1740, after which the British began dominating the world’s seas. The era’s wealth was generated by the Dutch East India Company, which sent ships to the Far East in search of spices and other exotic goods, while colonizing the Cape of Good Hope, Indonesia, Surinam, the Antilles and New Amsterdam (today’s New York) and establishing trading posts throughout Asia.
In 1795 the French invaded and Napoleon appointed his younger brother Louis as king. When the largely unpopular French occupation came to an end, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands – incorporating Belgium and Luxembourg was born. The first king, King William I of Orange, was crowned in 1814, and the House of Orange rules to this day. In 1830 the Belgians rebelled and became independent; Luxembourg did the same soon after.
The Netherlands was able to stay neutral through WW I but couldn’t exercise the same privilege in WW II. The Germans invaded in May 1940, obliterating much of Rotterdam in a bombing blitz four days later. Although a sound Dutch resistance movement formed, only a small minority of the country’s substantial Jewish population survived the war. The Netherlands is a staunch supporter of the European Union, it has adopted the euro, and further integration is taken for granted by most Dutch people.
In 2001 same-sex marriage was approved and euthanasia was legalized, confirming the Netherlands’ liberal and progressive approach to social issues. The usually tolerant and peaceful country was shaken in 2002, when right-wing politician and anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn was assassinated. Not long after, the newly elected coalition government fell apart.
The Netherlands has spawned a realm of famous painters starting with Hieronymous Bosch in the 15th-century and followed by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Piet Mondriaan and Maurits Escher. Dutch (Netherlandic) is a West Germanic language spoken by about 25 million people worldwide. As well as being the first language in the Netherlands, it’s also spoken in the northern half of Belgium and a tiny northwestern corner of France. The Dutch do delightful dairy products and superb sweet snacks, but traditional main course Dutch gastronomy gets a bit heavy and meaty.
Thanks to the sizeable Indonesian, Chinese, Surinamese, Turkish and Italian communities there are plenty of spicy alternatives. Vegetarians are not terribly well catered for, but most restaurants will have at least one meat-free dish. The national fast food is frites (chips). Beer is the staple drink, served cool and with a head of froth so big it would start a brawl in an Australian pub. Anyone who’s worth their weight in bongwater knows that you can buy wacky tabacky in shops in the Netherlands. Marijuana is not officially legal, but you are able to buy grass, hash, loose joints, smoking paraphernalia and seeds in registered coffee shops’. Magic mushrooms are also available.
The Netherlands is largely flat. More than half of the country lies below sea level. Only in the southeast Limburg province will you find hills. The Netherlands is bordered by the North Sea, Belgium and Germany. The Rhine is its major river. One of the country’s worst disasters hit in 1953, when a high spring tide coupled with a severe storm breached the dykes in Zeeland drowning 1835 people. To ensure the tragedy would never be repeated, the Delta Project blocked the southwest river deltas using a network of dams, dykes and a remarkable 3.2km storm surge barrier, which is only lowered in rough conditions. In 1995 the largest mandatory evacuation in the Netherlands since the Zeeland disaster was carried out after heavy rain in France and Belgium caused the Meuse and Waal rivers to flood. Some 240,000 people were relocated.
The western hoop of cities including Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam is one of the most densely populated conurbations on earth, and even out of this area it doesn’t get exactly isolated. You can see neat, flat, muddy fields and tame and pleasant woodlands. The Netherlands has a temperate maritime climate with cool winters and mild summers. It can get pretty drizzly here, especially in autumn and spring.
The Netherlands has just one main international airport, Schiphol, about 10 km southwest of Amsterdam. Although it’s one of Europe’s major international hubs, flights to London or Brussels are usually cheaper than flights to Amsterdam, and many do the last leg to Amsterdam by train or bus. Long-distance Euro lines buses connect Amsterdam to most European cities, as well as to North Africa. Traveling to the Netherlands by car or motorcycle on those lovely Western European highways is easy. If you’re driving from the UK it’s a fair bit cheaper to put your car on the ferry than hop on the shuttle through the Tunnel.
The best way to get around is by bicycle. Most places in the Netherlands are linked by dedicated cycle paths and the terrain is wonderfully flat. Bicycles are available for hire from train stations and from rental services in larger towns. The train and bus networks are reliable, comfortable and quite expensive. Buses are used for regional transport rather than for long distances, though, which are better traveled by train, and fill the rail gaps in the north and east. Driving within the Netherlands isn’t much fun once you’re off the highways: the roads are narrow and parking spaces are hard to come by and usually very expensive.
- When to Go
Summer is the best time of the year to sit by the canals for a sip and a toke. Spring is a good time to visit as the bulbs are in bloom – April for daffodils, tulips in May. Winter can get bitingly cold, and if everything freezes over, there’s great ice-skating on the canals and flood plains.
- Explore Attractions
Amsterdam is a canny blend of old and new. It combines a huge case of big-city exuberance with small-town manageability. It is a cosmopolitan cauldron which has been enticing migrants and nonconformists for decades. Amsterdam seems to thrive on its funky mix, and there’s very little of the tourist-fatigue, which can take the happy edge off other LOB (lots of backpacks) cities. Early Amsterdam Holland in the 12th century was barely habitable. The land was very humid and consisted mainly of peat. Various rivers intersected the landscape. One of those was the River Amstel, which flowed into the River Ij. By the end of the twelfth century a small settlement arose near a dam in this river. Thanks to this dam the city is called Amsterdam; this dam is still the most important place in the city, but is now used as a square. Amsterdam became a town at the beginning of the 13th century, after the then sovereign lord declared
it juridical as a town. Meanwhile the town extended slowly from the centre around the Dam. Various ramparts were thrown up and canals were dug.
Around 1420 the town was bursting at the seams once again. On the eastern part a new wall was built along the present Geldersekade and Kloveniersburgwal. On the west side a moat canal was dug. The economy at that time was not really developed, being based largely on beer and herrings. It was only after Amsterdam became a part of the Burgundian Empire during the 15th century that things began to go faster. Amsterdam’s harbour had a stable function: fish from the south and grain from the Baltic countries were traded in the city’s markets. Because of its economic prosperity, Amsterdam developed into Holland’s largest city, with a population of about 30,000.
The 17th century was a period of glory for Amsterdam. Wealth,power, culture and forbearance flourished in the city. The population increased rapidly during this period and because of this, the city extended greatly. Amsterdam built its famous ring of canals, and tall houses were built on the canals, taller than in other old city centres
in Holland. The Government strongly encouraged this development,because it added to Amsterdam’s prestige. During the first half of this century two churches were built: Zuiderkerk and Westerkerk.
The old gothic town hall was burnt down in 1652 and a new town hall, the present-day Palace on Dam Square was built. The Plaetse or Dam Square was enlarged by a huge degree, just like the rest of the city. After the Jordaan was completed, around 1700, approximately 200,000 people were living in Amsterdam.
After 1850 Amsterdam moved on quietly until industrialisation also took its hold on the NetherlandsBut in 1939 one of the darkest pages in world history became a terrible reality: World War II. Amsterdam’s population was hit very hard. Amsterdam had always had a lot of Jewish inhabitants, and many of them were deported and did not survive. Places like Anne Frank’s House and the National Monument on Dam Square, are a reminder of this horrible period. After the war Amsterdam continued growing. In the sixties the Bijlmer was built,
with its high blocks of flats, and the latest project is a new island in the River Ij, called Ij-Burg and featuring 20,000 houses. To sum up, Amsterdam is and will remain the true capital of the Netherlands.
Dam square The real core of the city is Dam square with its beautiful
Royal Palace. Most visitors arrive by train and the route they follow
from Centraal Station takes them along the Damrak and Dam square.
This area is really focused on tourists. All kinds of souvenir shops,
street performers and restaurants can be found here. The square is
used for events and concerts and is famous because of the many
pigeons. The two main shopping streets in Amsterdam, Kalverstraat
and Nieuwendijk, come both out on Dam square.
In 1949 the then mayor of Lisse, Mr. W.J.H. Lambooy, together with ten leading bulb-growers conceived the idea of a permanent annual open-air flower exhibition. Their eyes quickly alighted on the Keukenhof Estate: the ideal site.
The kitchen herb-garden
Keukenhof has not always been the beautiful estate that we know today. In the 15th century, the 32 hectares of the present park were part of the enormous estate belonging to the castle of Slot Teylingen.This was ruled from 1401 to 1436 by the Countess of Holland, Jacoba van Beieren. She used part of her estate as a herb and vegetable garden. Here, every day, the countess personally gathered the fresh ingredients for her kitchen. It is to this that the present Keukenhof,which literally means Kitchen Garden, owes its name.
A design dating back to 1840 In 1840, the celebrated garden and landscape architects Zocher & Son’ were commissioned to develop the park. Both gentlemen had carried out a similar task earlier in Amsterdam: they designed the Vondelpark. If you visit the Keukenhof now, you can still see their handiwork in the area surrounding the Beukenlaan. The majestic trees and the pond date back to that time. In the years following, the Keukenhof Estate was further developed into the present 32-hectare park.
The number of bulb-growing companies taking part has now grown from 10 to more than 90, but the Keukenhof’s character remains unchanged: every year it exhibits the best and most beautiful flowers in the Netherlands. Keukenhof has become one of the best-known attractions in the country and one of the most photographed sights
in the world.
Keukenhof – Practical information
Every spring Keukenhof is a feast for the eye. Millions of tulips and other bulb flowers are then in bloom. A fantastic experience for people of all ages and a wonderful spectacle to photograph! An overwhelming display of colour in a beautiful setting covering an area of 32 hectares that incorporates elements of traditional and modern
landscape gardening. The flower shows in the pavilions are unique From Apeldoorn, take the A1 motorway to Amsterdam. Then follow the signs to Schiphol and take the A4 in the direction of The Hague (Den Haag).
Turn off the motorway at exit 4 and follow the signs N207-Lisse’. From Utrecht, take the A2 to Amsterdam and then the A4 to The Hague. Turn off the motorway at exit 4 and follow the signs N207-Lisse’. From Rotterdam, take the A4 to Den Haag-Amsterdam.
Turn off the A4 at exit 4 and follow the signs N207-Lisse’. From The Hague, take the A44 and turn off at exit 3 Noordwijkerhout/Lisse’.Then take the N208 to Lisse.
Madurodam was opened officially on 2 July 1952. This amusement park has a very interesting history. It was established for two reasons:
as a war monument and as a charity foundation. The joint initiators were Mrs B. Boon-van der Starp and Mr. and Mrs. J.M.L. Maduro.Mrs. Boon-van der Starp was a member of the Society of Support of the Dutch Student Sanatorium in Laren. The sanatorium was founded in 1947 and offered students suffering from tuberculosis the opportunity to recover, while at the same time continuing with their studies. The costs of construction and patient care were high.Therefore the initiators were looking for a way of acquiring financial support. Mrs. Boon-van der Starp took the English miniature city in Beaconsfield as an example. Its revenues were so high that the owner was able to make large annual donations to hospitals in London.
Mr. and Mrs. Maduro from Willemstad, Curaa
The capital of the Netherlands is one of the world’s best hangouts, a place where you can immerse yourself in history, in art, in the head of a beer or a self-rolled smokestack. Amsterdam combines a huge case of big city exuberance with small-town manageability.
It is a cosmopolitan cauldron that has been enticing migrants and non-conformists for decades. Amsterdam seems to thrive on its funky mix, and there’s very little of the tourist-fatigue, which can take the happy edge off other LOB (lots of backpacks) cities. Perhaps this is because Amsterdam’s quintessential Dutchness shines through.
Country: The Netherlands
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1
Telephone area code: 020
March: Catholics walk along the Holy Way in the Silent Procession, which commemorates the Miracle of Amsterdam.
April: Queen’s Day, on 30 April, is the day to be in Amsterdam – there’s a free market, street parties, live music and lots of beer.
May: National Windmill Day and open garden days are held the same month.
June: The Holland Festival, the country’s biggest arts festival, runs throughout the month.
August: Local theatre groups and orchestras perform free throughout the city.
Amsterdam’s center is enjoyably small-scale, though finding your way around the canal belt can be confusing. The old city is contained within the ring of concentric canals dating from the 17th century that form the crescent-shaped canal belt bordered by the Singelgracht. Dam Square, five minutes’ walk south of the station, is the center of town, but there are several other happening ‘centers’, all within walking distance. Centraal Station, the central train and bus station, lies on the south bank of the IJ. The airport at Schiphol is 18 km southwest of the city center.
When to go:
Any time can be the best time to visit Amsterdam. The summer months are wonderful as the whole city seems to live outdoors, but it’s also the peak tourist season, when things are full and expensive. From mid-October to mid-March the climate is miserable, but there are fewer tourists, things are cheaper and cultural life is at its most authentic.
This is an old working-class neighborhood, now partly colonized by students, artists and trendies. This is a great place to wander around, get lost and soak up the atmosphere of people going about their daily business. Houses here are tiny but tidy, with lace curtains and window boxes. The Jordaan is full of inviting pubs and restaurants, offbeat shops, weird little art galleries and lively markets.
Amsterdam’s red-light district is actually a very pretty part of town: you can pretend you’re there for the architecture if you need an excuse. The area’s houses of ill repute and countless distilleries have been in business since the 14th century. The distilleries are gone but now prostitutes display themselves in windows under red neon lights. Crowds of sightseers both foreign and local mingle with would-be pimps, drunks, weirdoes, drug dealers and Salvation Army soldiers.
The locals are big on ice-skating, especially on frozen canals and the Museumplein pond in winter. Cycling is one of the main ways to get around. Amsterdam is wonderfully flat. Jogging is popular, particularly in the Vondelpark. The Dutch are into sailing in a big way and windsurfing is almost a national sport. There are indoor pools and summer outdoor pools for swimming, and saunas for relaxing in afterward.
Amsterdam’s history stretches back to Roman times. Coins and a few artifacts have been found from that time. Amsterdam’s earliest settlers were dam building 12th-century farming and fisher folk who tamed the marshlands around the Amstel with ditches and dikes.
The city grew rapidly after 1300 as a key player in trade between the North and Baltic seas and southern Europe. But as the money flowed in, class struggle intensified. The Reformation grew out of a struggle for power between the emerging merchants and the Catholic-sanctioned aristocrats. Calvinism, a form of Protestantism, gripped the hearts and minds of Amsterdam’s nouveax riches, with its emphasis on sobriety, hard work and community-based worship. The Calvinists took on the imperial power of Spain’s Catholic Philip II, and in 1578 they captured Amsterdam from him. The following year Amsterdam and seven northern provinces declared themselves an independent republic – Holland – led by William of Orange, the forefather of today’s royal family.
Amsterdam’s golden age (1580-1740) kicked off when trading rival Antwerp was taken by the Spanish and its access to the sea restricted. By 1600, Amsterdam’s ships dominated sea borne trade and fishing in Europe, extending their horizons through the 17th century as Dutch overseas interests were established. During the 18th century, money gradually overtook trade as the city’s biggest industry. Amsterdam’s trade and fishing came to a complete halt in the early 19th century when the city was occupied by the French and then blockaded by the British. By the time the French trooped out in 1814, Amsterdam had become a local market town and Britain ruled the seas.
Amsterdam turned its back on the sea and restyled itself as an industrial center. It managed relatively well in WW I, and the 1920s were boom years, crowned by the Olympic Games hosted in 1928. Unfortunately, the depression of the 1930s hit the city hard, with unemployment peaking at 25%, and tensions rose between socialists, communists and fascists.
The Netherlands tried to stay neutral in WW II, but Germany invaded in May 1940, and for the first time in 400 years the city’s population experienced the grim realities of war first-hand. The occupying forces slowly introduced measures against Amsterdam’s large Jewish population, often with the complicity of local authorities, and although workers went out on strike in support of their Jewish compatriots in 1941, things had gone too far. Only one in 16 of Amsterdam’s Jews survived the war, the highest proportion of Jews murdered anywhere in Western Europe.
Throughout the occupation the city’s populace had largely knuckled under and tried to make do as best they could, but when the invaders began rounding up Dutch men to work in Germany, a resistance movement, founded by an alliance of Calvinists and communists, began operating. The Allies liberated the country’s south in 1944, but isolated Amsterdam suffered horribly in the severe winter of 1944-45, and thousands of residents died. The city was finally liberated in May 1945.
During the ’90s family businesses and small industries were replaced by professionals and the service industry that sprang up resulted in the inner city becoming a very pleasant one of pubs, coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. The ethnic makeup of the city changed too, with Surinamese, Moroccans, Turks and Antillians making up 25% of the population, and an influx of higher-income expats thanks to the city’s success in attracting foreign business.
Partly as a result of these economic, social and cultural shifts, it seems that money is back in favour in 21st-century Amsterdam and anything is possible – so long as it’s ‘sensibly’ planned and all stakeholders are consulted.
Many of the world’s airlines fly directly to Amsterdam, but it might be cheaper for you to fly to a nearby city such as London and get to Amsterdam by bus or train. Amsterdam is well connected to the rest of Europe, including Britain, by long-distance bus. Buses are consistently cheaper than trains. Amsterdam’s main train station is Centraal, which has regular and efficient connections throughout the country and to all neighboring countries. Freeways link Amsterdam to The Hague, Rotterdam and Amersfort – it’s about a six-hour drive from Paris to Amsterdam. The Netherlands is very amenable to cycling.
You can reach most places in Amsterdam on foot, but there’s also an efficient public transport system. It covers almost the whole city (though the canal belt can be tricky as trams and buses stick to ‘spoke’ roads). Centraal Station is the hub of it all, where tram, bus, train and metro lines converge.
A free ferry crosses to Amsterdam North from near Centraal Station, and a variety of canal boats run organized tours. Parking problems, Byzantine one-way systems, narrow canalside streets and thieves mean you’re better off parking your car outside the city and riding in on public transport. Amsterdam taxis are among the most expensive in Europe and drivers are rude.
If it involves water, you’ll find scores of enthusiasts doing it in the Netherlands. Other activities aided by flat land – biking and walking – are naturals and part of the national image. Cycling is, in fact, the most popular activity in the country, helped along by dedicated bike lanes and paths, guarded parking areas and road rules that increasingly favour cyclists over cars. The smooth cycle paths are also used a lot by in-line skaters. Windsurfing and sailing have a lot of fans in the waterlogged provinces of Friesland and Zeeland.
Time: Summer is 3 1/2 hours behind India and Winter is 4 1/2 hours behind India
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Tourism: 6.5 million visitors per year