Why go: To see charming historical cities, busy canals and waterways, beautiful gardens and tulip fields, picturesque windmills, old-world Dutch masterpieces, and new-world design.
Logistics: Several airlines offer nonstop flights between major U.S. cities and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Schiphol has plentiful train and bus connections, including frequent trains to Amsterdam Central Station. The country, about the size of Maryland, can also easily be explored by automobile. Roadways are well maintained, though traffic is congested in urban areas. If you’re driving or walking, watch out for bicyclists — they’re everywhere and often have their own lanes and road priority.
Money: The currency is the euro. Credit cards are usually accepted in large cities and tourist areas, but not always in smaller cities. ATMs are widely available. Most Dutch pay with a chip-and-PIN debit card, and U.S. credit and debits cards don’t always work.
Paperwork: No tourist visa is required for stays of 90 days or less.
Language: If you want to try a little Dutch, thank you — “dank je wel” — is easy, but forget the guttural “graag gedaan” (you’re welcome). The Dutch last year were ranked as the top nonnative English-proficient country in the world in the EF English Proficiency Index, meaning most of the locals you’ll encounter will speak basic to amazing English.
Health: No special precautions, but bring a scarf and rain gear if windy, wet days affect your well-being.
Prevailing myth: Prostitution and pot smoking are rampant. Not true, and becoming even less so as the government works to separate those legal rights from tourism.
Itinerary for first-timers: Despite being overrun with tourists, world-class Amsterdam remains a quintessentially Dutch city. Take in a canal tour, marvel at canal houses, and pose for photos on bridges with bicycles. Get tickets in advance for the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. See cutting-edge contemporary art at the Stedelijk Museum and admire Dutch design at the Frozen Fountain shop.
Itinerary for repeat visitors: Get out of Amsterdam! For innovation and architecture, head to Rotterdam. For small to medium picturesque cities, take the train to Haarlem, Delft, Utrecht or Amersfoort. Leiden, another charming destination, has a special draw this year, which marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. Some of the Pilgrims spent a dozen years in Leiden before setting sail, and the city has special exhibits and a Pilgrim walking tour.
Eat this: While the Dutch, who live in large part below or near sea level, are clever enough to keep the sea at bay, their ingenuity doesn’t carry over into the kitchen. Traditional Dutch meals are mashed, unseasoned and unsalted, though fresh and flavorful cooking is becoming more commonplace. As a visitor, it’s fun to try some of the typical snacks and sweets, including crispy “frietjes” (fries) with mayo, “bitterballen” (deep-fried meat-mix snacks), “stroopwafels” (syrup between two waffle wafers) and “drop,” varying types of licorice. Tourists often gravitate, rightfully so, to Indonesian restaurants that serve “rijsttafel,” or rice table, basically a tasting menu of various dishes and sauces with rice, which dates back to Dutch colonial times. Whatever you find delicious, proclaim it “lekker.”
Special events: Tulip season is roughly late March to early May. The biggest attraction is Keukenhof Gardens, this year open March 21 to May 10, and sporting some 7 million flowering bulbs. King’s Day, April 27, is celebrated throughout the country, with Amsterdam being party central. Highlights: a sea of orange clothing, street markets, canal parades, children’s games, music and more. Swap out orange for rainbow flags and subtract some items of clothing and you have the very popular Gay Pride Amsterdam, the first Saturday in August.
Reading list: “Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City,” by Russell Shorto; “Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality,” by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett; “The UnDutchables,” by Colin White and Laurie Boucke; “Stuff Dutch People Like,” by Colleen Geske.
Playlist: “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, a ’70s export; anything with Eddie Van Halen, who moved with his family from Amsterdam to California when he was a young boy; “Animals,” by EDM wunderkind Martin Garrix; “A State of Trance” radio show, hosted by Armin van Buuren; and “Arcade” by singer Duncan Laurence, which won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Some Dutchies will argue to include the long-running group the Toppers.
Cultural sensitivities: The Netherlands is the country and Holland encompasses two provinces. Until recently, the country admittedly marketed itself as Holland, but no more. And, no, it’s not in Scandinavia. Also, can we not discuss Zwarte Piet, Saint Nick’s black companion?
Souvenirs: Traditional wooden clogs, tulip bulbs (check customs rules), anything with a windmill, Gouda cheese and stroopwafels (Stuff Dutch People Like sells an adorable stroopwafel teething toy). For fashionable friends, Dutch design items (see Frozen Fountain, above).
Quote: The Dutch character can be summed up in the oft-quoted “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg,” which roughly translates to, “Just be normal and that’s crazy enough.” Despite being the world’s tallest people, the Dutch don’t like to stand out.
Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands. Her website is bydianedaniel.com.