The charm of the Netherlands

The charm of the Netherlands

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

It’s easy to try to wrap the Netherlands into a neat and tidy package. The glitzy chaos of Amsterdam’s bicycle-filled streets and boat-lined canals often encompass the image of the country. If you venture out of the capital, you’ll discover grassy marshlands filled with cycling trails and swaths of brilliant tulip fields extending as far as the eye can see. Bustling metropolises dating back to the Stone Age with urban centers rebuilt with modern edginess dot the landscape. While the country may be small, it’s brimming with charisma and just waiting for you to discover.

Amsterdam

The capital city is an eclectic hodgepodge of history, art and culture. Colorful gabled houses lean precariously into each other along the tree-lined waterways. The clanging bells of bicycles whizzing past create a melody you won’t soon forget. The complex narrative of the city can be told through historical institutions such as the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. There are plenty of cafes to sample Dutch delicacies such as “bitterballen,” a deep-fried meatball and “poffertjes,” which are mini pancakes.

Outside the city limits, you’ll find a vivid kaleidoscope of tulips and flowers. Accounting for more than two-thirds of the global floral trade, the blooms are best seen from March through May. Gardens such as Keukenhof offer walking trails through more than 7 million blooming flowers. For a different vantage point, hop on a bike and head to the fields in Flevoland or Kop van Noord-Holland. Just be sure to ask before you walk through the working farms.

The Hague

Situated along the southern North Sea coastline is a powerful political stronghold. Den Haag— The Hague—is the beating heart of the Dutch government as well as the international arm of justice for the United Nations. The Hague is also home to the Dutch royal family, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima. With so much global influence, the city offers an impressive array of museums, architecture and nightlife.

Rotterdam

Just south of The Hague is the second-most-populous city in The Netherlands. Rather than return to the past, Rotterdam chose to rebuild from the devastation of World War II using modern and nouveau designs. The result is a spectacular skyline of towers and bridges, including the horseshoe-shaped Markthall, the Erasmusbrug connecting the city to the north and south and the Cube Houses in the city center which are actual livable spaces.

Eindhoven

Bursting with innovation, Eindhoven is full of surprises. Nestled in the southeast corner of the Netherlands, this city has a long, industrious history. Electronics giant Philips was founded in 1891 and left an indelible mark which can be seen at the fascinating Philips Museum. Innovation can be felt throughout the city, including through the favored pastime of cycling. The Hovenring is the world’s first suspended circular cycling roundabout connecting the different districts. Aspiring designers compete at the annual Dutch Design Week and the city celebrates its self-designated moniker, “City of Light,” during the weeklong Glow Eindhoven festival.

Maastricht

Straddling the Maas (Meuse) River along the Belgian border in the southernmost region, Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. Traversing through the cobblestoned streets, you’ll find Roman ruins within the Hotel Derlon and remnants of towers and a bridge from the Middle Ages. Go beneath the surface and check out the maze of underground caves which were used as forts and shelter during wartime.

Nijmegen

Near the central German border, Nijmegen bore witness to the onslaught of fighting during WWII. In 1944, the city fell victim to an accidental U.S. bombing raid. Later that same year, the Allies were tasked to capture strongholds along the Rhine River in the doomed Operation Market Garden. After the war, the town rebuilt and embraced its history. Visitors to Nijmegen can visit the Freedom Museum which provides a unique perspective of the war from both sides. During the summer, endurance athletes test their limits during the Viersdaagse. This four-day march covers distances between 30 and 50 kilometers through beautiful Dutch landscape.

Groningen

Filled with old-world charm, including the towering spire of the Martinitoren (which houses the oldest clock in the city), Groningen is home to the youngest demographic in the Netherlands. This northern metropolis is arguably the epicenter of Dutch cycling. With flat terrain and a vast network of cycle paths, it’s a great way to see the surrounding countryside. Closed off to vehicle traffic, the city center offers plenty of independent coffee brewers. Rest your legs and enjoy a sugary “stroopwafel’ filled with caramel or syrupy goodness and a steaming mug of coffee.

With warm smiles and welcoming culture, the Netherlands has embraced the notion of combining its tumultuous history with a modern flair to create a fascinating and charming place to visit.

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