The Netherlands is located in northwestern Europe, bordering Germany in the east, Belgium in the south, and the North Sea in the west and the north. It also has island territories in the Caribbean and the West Indies. Together with Aruba, Sint-Maarten, and Curaçao – which all have their own parliaments – it forms the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It’s a co-founder de European Union, the G-10, the NATO, the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In this Netherlands travel guide, you’ll get plenty of practical information to plan your trip to the land of cheese and water.
- Quick facts
- Holland or Netherlands?
- Provinces of the Netherlands
- How to travel to the Netherlands
- How to travel around the Netherlands
- What to pack for the Netherlands
- The best time to travel to the Netherlands
- What to eat in the Netherlands
- 15 of the biggest events in the Netherlands
- Bank holidays in the Netherlands
- Where to stay in the Netherlands
- Don’t forget travel insurance
- Safety in the Netherlands
- The use of cash and cards in the Netherlands
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in the Netherlands
- Tipping in the Netherlands
- Posts about the Netherlands
- Pin for later
Size: 41,543 km² or 16,039 sq mi.
People living there: more than 16,856,000.
Capital: Amsterdam but the government resides in Den Haag.
Governmental structure: parlimantary democracy within a constitutional monarchy.
National day: King’s Day on April 27.
Time zone: Central European Standard Time (CEST) / GMT+1.
Currency: euro (EUR).
Power voltage and socket type(s): 230V, plug types F and C.
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion. About half of Dutch citizens are not religious followed by Roman Catholic, Protestant, Islam, and other religions.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: Dutch is the official language. English is widely spoken as are German and French.
Drives on this side: right.
International driver’s licence accepted? Yes.
Phone code: 0031.
Want some more quick facts about the Netherlands? Check out these 70 interesting facts.
Holland or Netherlands?
In English, “Holland” is often used when the country the Netherlands is meant but the two aren’t the same. The region of Holland used to consist out of what we now know as the provinces of North and South Holland (see below for more info on the provinces).
However, the Dutch tourism board itself advertises the country as “Holland” abroad and so the term is widely accepted to talk about the country as a whole, although doing so might not be appreciated by the Dutch living outside of North and South Holland.
Provinces of the Netherlands
The Netherlands has 12 different provinces which each have their own governing bodies and provincial capitals.
The province of Zeeland lies in the northwest of the Netherlands and borders Belgium. It’s known for its wide and far-stretching beaches, making it a popular summer destination for Dutch people and foreigners alike. The capital Middelburg lies in the center of the province and is fun to stroll around because of the many small historical houses. You can easily combine it with the coast on a weekend getaway.
The province of Zuid-Holland (“South Holland”) lies in the west of the Netherlands. Its capital Den Haag or “The Hague” is is popular especially in summer because of its proximity to the coast and is often lapsed together with the coastal town of Scheveningen. I also combined the two when I went to The Hague.
The biggest city of Zuid-Holland is multicultural harbor city Rotterdam. Here you’ll find food from all over the world, more coffee bars than you’ll ever be able to try out, cool street art around every corner, parks that give you a break from the buzz and a summer festival that makes you feel like you’re in the Caribbean.
The province of Noord-Holland (“North Holland”) lies in the northwest of the Netherlands. It is home to the country’s capital and most visited city, Amsterdam, but the provincial capital is actually Haarlem. It’s a diverse province, showcasing many of the country’s icons, such as windmills, cheese markets, and fishing towns.
The northern tip of this province consists of the wad island of Texel, which you can only reach by ferry and is a popular destination for those who like to hike and bike.
The province of Utrecht is the smallest province of the Netherlands and lies in the center of the country. Its capital Utrecht is also its biggest city and makes for a great weekend getaway because of its large cultural, culinary and shopping offer.
Picturesque cities like Spakenburg and Woerden take you back a few centuries while the larger Amersfoort offers a good combination of historical architecture and modern city pleasures. Read about my trip to all three of them.
Contrary to what its name might make you think, the province of Noord-Brabant (“North Brabant”) lies in the south of the Netherlands, along the border with Belgium. Its capital is ‘s-Hertogenbosch but the cities of Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda, popular with shopaholics and weekend tourists, are bigger.
Aside from its cities, Noord-Brabant also counts five national parks and (at the time of writing) 10 Michelin star restaurants.
The province of Limburg lies in the southeast of the Netherlands, bordering both Belgium and Germany. The capital Maastricht makes for a great weekend getaway and is also popular as a university city. The town of Roermond is known for its luxury outlet shopping center.
Sometimes, people speak of “Dutch Limburg” to distinguish between this province and the Belgian province of Limburg, which borders it.
Gelderland is geographically speaking the biggest province in the Netherlands. It stretches from the middle of the country to the east where it touches Germany.
Being so big, Gelderland has quite a lot to offer. Its capital Arnhem and the city of Nijmegen are popular day trip destinations and the national parks Hoge Veluwe and Veluwezoom draw in nature lovers all-year-round. On top of that, Gelderland is home to quite a few castles and counts (at the time of writing) nine Michelin star restaurants.
The province of Overijssel lies in the east of the Netherlands and borders Germany. It’s home to some beautiful historic and Hanseatic cities, such as the capital Zwolle, the small Kampen and Deventer, which makes for a great day trip destination.
Another place worth visiting in Overijssel, is Giethoorn. This town is also known as the “Venice of the Netherlands” because all of the houses here are located by the water.
The province of Flevoland lies in the center of the Netherlands and showcases the battle of the Dutch with the sea. The entire province is lies about five meters below sea level and was created as the youngest province in the country by reclaiming land on water. One of its two parts, the Flevopolder, is the biggest artificial island in the world that was reclaimed on water.
Flevoland is worth a visit because of its beaches, its nature areas, the capital Lelystad and – wait for it – the biggest flower bulb area in the world.
The province of Drenthe lies in the northeast of the Netherlands and borders Germany. The capital is Assen but the province is mostly known for its walking and cycling routes.
The province of Friesland lies in the north of the Netherlands and is known for how flat and open it is. Its capital Leeuwarden was European Capital of Culture in 2018.
Special about Friesland is that Frys is a governing language there, next to Dutch. Friesland is the only Dutch province that has its own official language. Aside from this, Friesland is also known because of the Elfstedentocht or “Eleven Cities Tour”, the biggest ice skating tour in the world of which the 200 km track connects eleven cities in Friesland. Because the track needs to be all natural ice, the competition only takes place during severe winters.
The province of Groningen lies in the complete north of the Netherlands and borders Germany. Its capital, also named Groningen, is the only bigger city. The rest of the province consists of small historical towns, nature reserves, and coastline. Part of that coastline belongs to the protected Wad Sea World Heritage.
How to travel to the Netherlands
If you’re coming from neighboring countries, it’s quite easy to travel to the Netherlands by bus. This often won’t be the fastest option but it might be the cheapest when you travel with a budget long distance bus company such as Flixbus.
The bigger Dutch cities can easily be reached by train either from other Dutch cities or from neighboring countries. click here for train timetables and prices within Europe.
If you’re coming from the UK, it’s even possible to travel to the Netherlands by ferry.
DFDS Seaways has a route between Amsterdam and Newcastle.
P&O Ferries goes back and forth between Rotterdam and Hull.
StenaLine takes you from Harwich to Hook of Holland and back.
If you’re coming from a bit further, flying into the Netherlands will be the easiest option. Amsterdam Schiphol is the country’s biggest and best-known airport but you could also fly to Rotterdam The Hague Airport or Eindhoven Airport.
For a good overview of flight options and prices, check here.
How to travel around the Netherlands
Independent travel around the Netherlands
Depending on whether you plan to visit mostly cities or the countryside, traveling around the Netherlands independently is easiest by train or car. Trains run between most cities and if not, the bus is always an alternative.
If you opt to travel around by car, do take into account that you’ll have to pay for parking in most of the touristy places but you might find some free spots in the smaller towns.
RentalCars.com compares thousands of rental car providers to make sure you always get the best deal.
Organized and group travel around the Netherlands
If you prefer to travel around the Netherlands in group and with a guide, check out GetYourGuide. They offer a wide range of day tours.
What to pack for the Netherlands
The Netherlands has a fairly moderate climate with temperatures in winter averaging 3°C and in summer 19°C. Those are just averages, though, as it can certainly get hotter in summer and especially the last few years, temperatures nearing 30°C haven’t been uncommon. There are no different climate zones in the Netherlands but it’s usually a bit cooler and windier by the coast.
There are no rain or dry seasons, with rainfall being spread rather evenly throughout the year. The months from April until August included are the driest.
The weather in the Netherlands can be quite moody. It can be hot one day and cold the next, sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. This means that even though you don’t need to pack extreme gear, you do need to be prepared for most weather circumstances. No matter what season you go, layers are the key and a rain jacket or umbrella is always a good idea.
What to pack for the Netherlands in summer
Some items you’ll specifically want to pack when visiting the Netherlands in summer:
- flip flops
- a refillable water bottle
What to pack for the Netherlands in winter
- a warm waterproof coat
- comfortable waterproof shoes
- a hat
- a scarf
What to pack for the Netherlands in spring and fall
Spring and fall in the Netherlands are a bit comparable, except that the temperatures move in the opposite direction and it tends to rain a bit more in fall. These are the seasons that are moodiest and you’ll find yourself walking around in a t-shirt one day while needing a jacket the next.
As long as you pack clothes that are easily combinable so you can layer up, you’ll be good to go.
The best time to travel to the Netherlands
Late Spring and summer are definitely the best time to travel to the Netherlands in terms of the weather but you do need to take into account that most of Europe has school holidays in July and August and so that’s also high season. For lower prices and still nice weather, you’ll want to go in May, June, or September.
What to eat in the Netherlands
We Belgians have joked about Dutch cuisine for years as it used to consist mostly of snacks and fried bites. Fair is fair, though, and it needs to be said the culinary offer in the Netherlands has evolved tremendously. Not just for what concerns fine dining, but, more importantly, also when it comes to lunch places, casual bistros and hip coffee bars.
If you do want to eat some typical Dutch things, look out for the following.
- broodje kroket or a “sandwich croquet” is just that: a bread roll with a croquet inside
- poffertjes, like mini fluffy pancakes
- apple turnovers, or even more popular, apple pie
- stroopwafels, two very thin waffles glued together by a layer of caramel
- bitterballen, fried balls of stewy meat
- oliebollen or fried dough balls in powdery sugar
- stamppot, a combination of mashed potatoes mix with one or two vegetables, usually served with smoked sausage
- raw herring
- all of the cheese you can find
- kibbeling, like fish and chips without the chips
- drop, a black, more salty kind of liquorice
- snert, a thick pea soup often made with pork, celery, onions and leek
- tompoes, a rectangular cream-filled pastry with icing on top
15 of the biggest events in the Netherlands
- King’s Day (April 27) – street and other parties take place to celebrate the King’s Birthday and the whole country turns orange
- Amsterdam Light Festival, light installations all over the city center (end of November – end of January). For a less crowded event like this, go to Glow Eindhoven, also in November
- Scheveningen New Year’s Dive (January 1)
- Dutch Design Week (October)
- Pinkpop, the biggest open-air festival in the Netherlands (first half of June)
- Crossing Border, one of Europe’s main literature and music festivals (end of October)
- Amsterdam Dance Event, the biggest club festival in the world (October)
- Heritage Days, a weekend in September on which hundreds of historical sites open their doors to the public
- Scheveningen International Fireworks Festival, over a week of spectacle (August)
- Rotterdam Unlimited, an exotic festival with music battles, a parade, dance, concerts, and more (August)
Bank holidays in the Netherlands
On the following days, government offices and most businesses will be closed.
- New Year’s Day
- Easter Sunday
- Easter Monday
- Good Friday
- King’s Day (April 27)
- Liberation Day (May 5)
- Ascension Day
- Pentecost Monday
- Christmas Day
- Second Christmas Day
Where to stay in the Netherlands
You find a range of accommodation options all over the Netherlands, from hostels to boutique hotels and cozy rental apartments.
Check Booking.com for a wide selection of hotels at the best prices.
If you rather stay at an airbnb and don’t have an account yet, you can get a discount off your first booking when you sign up through my link.
Don’t forget travel insurance
The Netherlands is generally a safe country to travel to but there’s always the risk of cancellations, getting ill or breaking your electronic gear while you’re traveling there. When those things happen, travel insurance has got you covered. I’ve had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I’m covered for every trip I go on. You can get a free quote here:
Safety in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world thanks to its low crime rate. It’s ranked number 23 on the Global Peace Index. As in all places, the one thing to look out for as a tourist are pickpockets, but I have to say that I’ve traveled to the Netherlands dozens of times and never had anything happen to me.
Use common sense and you’ll be perfectly fine there.
The use of cash and cards in the Netherlands
Debit and credit cards are widely used in the Netherlands. In some cafes and restaurants, they won’t even accept cash anymore. Especially the debit card is popular and the Dutch even have a word for “paying with a debit card”: pinnen or “to pin”. It’s called that way because you’re always required to enter your pin code when paying with a debit card.
You won’t have trouble finding an ATM around most towns and cities but I do always recommend carrying a little cash just in case.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in the Netherlands
Those with a SIM card from an EU country don’t have to pay roaming charges when calling, texting, or using data in the Netherlands. The same goes for some global phone plans.
If you want to know what you’re paying at all times and be sure of a connection, check out Skyroam.
Skyroam offers both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G on your trips. I’ve been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I’ll go over my phone’s data plan.
Tipping in the Netherlands
Tipping is by no means obligatory in the Netherlands but it is appreciated, especially in the restaurant industry. For a more detailed breakdown of who to tip what, read this post.
Posts about the Netherlands
Want more inspiration for your trip to the Netherlands? Read my posts about my own experiences traveling there.
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