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Explore The Netherlands Like A Local This Summer

Bison family bathing at sunset in the Netherlands

Roar goes international as Culture Editor Nia Simeonova gives a whistlestop tour of her trip through the Netherlands for our brand new ‘Travel’ section.

Peaceful day trips in nature might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Netherlands. But hear me out –  with its scenic canals and endless biking routes, it might as well be the perfect getaway from busy overheated London. So why not take a 40-minute flight to Amsterdam and do it the Dutch way? Here are some ways to explore the Netherlands like a local!

Day 1 – City Life

There is so much to see outside of Amsterdam and a relatively cheap train ride can take you anywhere in the Netherlands. Consider staying in the beautiful historic town nearby – Haarlem. I was staying with my friend Martin who lives there and got to see so much more that way.

The canal in Haarlem.

Haarlem has long been one of the flourishing cities of Holland, famous for its flower-bulb export. When you’re there, make sure you check out one of its many hofjes – secluded atmospheric courtyards overflowing with flowers and draped in all shades of green, resembling a sort of leafy peace treaty between local residents and nature.

The inside of a hofje – an inner courtyard surrounded by charming houses and full of plants.

After trying the warm, gooey, mouth-watering Stroopwafels at the Saturday market (I still dream about them…), head to the train station and catch a direct ride to Amsterdam. 

A traditional Dutch Stroopwafel.

Walking along the endless canals of Amsterdam, it feels as if each detail contains a full-flavour bite of Dutch spirit – from the square buzzing with excitement to the weeping willow branches quietly stirring the water.  

Amsterdam – The ‘Venice of the North’

Being the birthplace and inspiration to many timeless artists, most notably Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, the Netherlands cherishes their legacy. Amsterdam is home to world-famous museums. However, for most of them, you need to book in advance.  I didn’t get to visit any museums this time but it has given me an ideal reason to go back.

For the perfect ending to a first date with Amsterdam, I recommend taking a river boat at sunset. It’s really the best way to go sightseeing in the ‘Venice of the North’. 

The ‘Dancing Houses’ of Amsterdam

Sit back and observe as the bridges: the wacky townhouses, unbothered and charmingly crooked, and the wide airy waterfront all melt away in the mellow golden hour. 

A boat tour at sunset is the best way to experience Amsterdam.

After dark, a new face of Amsterdam wakes up at that moment. If you’re looking for some fun, the city will not disappoint. Whether you’re into atmospheric old-style bars or the busy Soho-style nightclubs, walking around Rembrandtplein Square is a guaranteed memorable night.

Rembrandtplein Square is full of atmospheric bars and hip nightclubs.
Day 2 – Cycle Off into the Sunset

Honestly, the Dutch experience is not complete without a good cycling trip, so I suggest renting a bike from as little as €10 per day. It’s really worth taking a look at cycling rules in Holland, it will save you a lot of confusion (especially if you haven’t cycled in years, like me!)

The beach in the town of Zandvoort.
Dutch kibbeling and a brief picnic on the beach.

So once you’re up and ready to explore, grab your bike and head on to the beach! Haarlem is just a 25-minute ride away from the small seaside town of Zandvoort. Grab a few things from the local supermarket and have a picnic on the beach. You can also try a portion of traditional Dutch kibbeling – pieces of battered fish served with various sauces. 

Warning: do not expect to spend a peaceful day sunbathing at the beach – this is not Greece! By the time we were finished with our picnic, the kibbeling was full of sand and the wind was delicately telling us it was time to go. Still, it was a joy to see the North Sea showing some feistiness and character.

A view of the North Sea.

Once you have said goodbye to the beach, it’s time for my favourite part of the trip – cycling in the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. The feeling of breezing through the lush green hills, occasionally crossing peaceful lakes – the mirrors of the scenery, can hardly be described. 

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park is perfect for a cycling trip.

We catch a glimpse of wild rabbits hurrying along the way and the graceful silhouette of a doe. The day is complete, as we watch a bison family take a bath at sunset. 

The Netherlands has a sort-of secret allure – hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered. I have a feeling I will be coming back here.

A bison family bathing at sunset.

Day 3 – A Trip to Rotterdam

For a final stop, head to a city with a completely different vibe. Rotterdam is only about an hour away from Haarlem. Its cosmopolitan atmosphere with high-rising corporate buildings and wide modern bridges reminds me of London a little bit. But the spacious water panorama makes it uniquely Dutch. By now, I am convinced that the harmony and peace of Holland is largely thanks to water peeking from each corner of the country.

Rotterdam – the most modern city in the Netherlands.

When in Rotterdam check out The Cube Houses (one of them is a museum) and head to the large indoor market for lunch. Be careful with the traditional Dutch chips though – either you finish them, or they’ll finish you. Then you can spend a lazy afternoon near the river or in one of Rotterdam’s parks. 

Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, the indoor market and traditional Dutch chips.
The peaceful Het Park located next to the Euromast.

Lastly, as it is already something of a theme, at sunset head to the Euromast – one of the tallest viewing towers in the Netherlands. Make sure you book a ticket in advance and enter the 360° spinning suite where you can absorb all the beauty of Rotterdam as it is slowly engulfed by the last rays of sunshine.

Sunset view from the Euromast in Rotterdam.

All in all…

From my brief stay in the Netherlands, I concluded that it is a mix between the Scandinavian Nordic aesthetic and the liveliness of Continental Europe. Everyone – from five-year-olds to elderly couples, uses a bike to get around. At this point, it is like an extension of their legs. Needless to say, that is beneficial for health, as well as an enormous benefit to the environment and the rest of Europe can look to the Netherlands for a greener future (provided that it doesn’t sink in the meantime…).

With the shortest average work week in the world (only 29 h), the thousands of kilometres of bike routes and its blooming flower industry, the Dutch are definitely onto something – they sure have a unique way of enjoying simple life alongside nature. 

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