Hidden Holland: 5 spots you should explore in the Netherlands

There’s more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. The Dutch capital is, without doubt, a fantastic place for a weekend away but there’s much more to the country.

We’ve enlisted the help of travel writer Stuart Forster and come up with five suggestions for places you should visit to get a fuller feel. Stuart knows his onions—or should we say cheeses in the case of the Netherlands? He was named Journalist of the Year at the Holland Press Awards in both 2015 and 2016.

Here are the places he recommends you see:

Stroll in Nuenen, the ‘Van Gogh Village’

The artist Vincent van Gogh lived and worked in Nuenen from 1883 until 1885, painting his first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, during that time.

At the Vincentre museum you can find out about his life as the son of the Protestant pastor in a predominantly Catholic village. You’ll also see how the village and its surroundings looked, and have an opportunity to learn about the locations where Van Gogh sketched and painted.

Reprints of Vincent van Gogh's artworks at the Vincentre.

Reprints of Vincent van Gogh’s artworks at the Vincentre.

During his time in Nuenen Van Gogh fell in love with Margot Begemann, his neighbour. Her suicide attempt, which prompted the artist to save her life, brought their relationship to an abrupt end.

All told, his life and work experiences while in the village had a fundamental influence on Van Gogh’s career.

Vincent was here. The house where Vincent van Gogh's family lived in Nuenen.

Vincent was here. The house where Vincent van Gogh’s family lived in Nuenen.

Volunteers offer guided tours of Nuenen and its environs, showing prints of Van Gogh’s work at the locations they were created. It’s an intimate and informative experience.

Additionally, if you enjoy cycling you can explore the area on a cycle path. Its highlight, particularly after sundown, is the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path, between the watermills at Collse and Opwetten. Inspired by the painting The Starry Night, the pathway in studded with luminescent material.

Illuminating. The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path.

Illuminating. The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path.

Nuenen (www.vangoghvillagenuenen.nl) is just eight kilometres north-east of central Eindhoven.

Rove around Rotterdam

Rotterdam has a big city feel and is the home to some remarkable architecture. The riverside De Rotterdam building, designed by Rem Koolhaas, and the Sonneveld House, a Dutch Functionalist style ‘ideal home’ from the 1930s, provide two contrasting examples.

A water bus sails under the Erasmus Bridge, in front of the De Rotterdam building.

A water bus sails under the Erasmus Bridge, in front of the De Rotterdam building.

If you enjoy architecture I think it’s worth taking a trip to the Van Nelle Factory, which was built to process tea, coffee and tobacco. It’s another example of Dutch Functionalist architecture. If you can, join tour led by UrbanGuides (www.urbanguides.nl). You’ll hear the story of the thought that went into each and every aspect of this ingenious building’s design. It was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2014.

The Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam.

The Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam is innovative too. The Bobbing Forest, at the Rijnhaven harbour, is a great example of that spirit. The project, by artist Jorge Bakker, features trees set within sea buoys.

The Bobbing Forest in Rotterdam's Rijnhaven.

The Bobbing Forest in Rotterdam’s Rijnhaven.

I love spending time in the Markthal—a combination of indoor market and residential building—due to its lively atmosphere and fact it’s possible to taste food and drink from around the world. There are a couple of bottle shops on site and I tend to buy a selection of Dutch craft beers every time I visit. The arched ceiling of the Markthal is, incidentally, the largest artwork in the country.

Facade of the Markthal Rotterdam.

Facade of the Markthal Rotterdam.

Rotterdam’s Museumpark is worth visiting to take a look at the artworks at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. From there it’s a short stroll to Witte de Withstraat, where you can grab a drink in one of the many bars and restaurants.

It might sound a bit boyish, but I love taking the water taxi in Rotterdam. It’s worth booking as it zooms along at an impressive pace. I reckon it’s how James Bond would get around if he was ever to visit Rotterdam.

Boat and skyscrapers at the Wijnhaven in Rotterdam.

Boat and skyscrapers at the Wijnhaven in Rotterdam.

A weekend in Breda

Breda is a relatively small city but it has a special place in Dutch history. The Prinsenkapel inside the Grote Kerk, the Gothic style church that stands at its heart, holds the mausoleum of the House of Orange-Nassau, ancestors of today’s Dutch royal family. Breda was also the site of a couple of key events during the Eighty Years War, when the Dutch fought for independence from Spanish rule.

The tower of the Grote Kerk peeks above buildings on the Kasteelplein in Breda.

The tower of the Grote Kerk peeks above buildings on the Kasteelplein in Breda.

I enjoy sitting and people watching. The cafes with tables on the cobbled Grote Markt, Breda’s main square, provide a good opportunity to do that.

The Gothic style facade of Breda Museum.

The Gothic style facade of Breda Museum.

On weekend evenings the city’s bars and cafes become lively. If you’re in town on a Sunday evening it’s worth taking a walk to the quirky Bierreclame Museum (www.bierreclamemuseum.nl), which has an impressive collection of beer-related advertising artefacts. As well as taking a look at beer mats and signs, it serves dozens of different brews.

Breda Castle, the Dutch Royal Military Academy.

Breda Castle, the Dutch Royal Military Academy.

Go to Gouda

The city of Gouda is the home of two very Dutch products; the world-renowned cheese and stroopwafels (syrup waffles).

A picture is worth a thousand words. A stroopwafel (syrup waffle) from Gouda.

Taking the biscuit? A picture is worth a thousand words. A stroopwafel (syrup waffle) from Gouda.

You’ll have no problems picking up either. One of the best places to try the stroopwafels is the Van Den Berg café (Lange Groenendaal 32), which is the home to the original Van Vliet waffles, which have been made since 1864. You can even try your hand at making them there.

Cheese for sale at Gouda Cheese Market, held on summer Thursdays.

Too cheesy? Cheese for sale at Gouda Cheese Market, held on summer Thursdays.

Try to visit Gouda on Thursdays. Throughout the summer, subject to the weather being fine, locals don historic costumes to provide an impression of how dairy farmers sold their cheeses to store owners at the Gouda Cheese Market. It’s colourful and fun to see.

If you enjoy heritage, don’t miss the opportunity to take a look at the Gothic façade of the town hall and the stained glass windows of Gouda’s cathedral.

Flag day. Flags fly from the town hall of Gouda.

Flag day? Flags fly from the town hall of Gouda.

How about The Hague?

If you’re not sure what the weather is going to be like then The Hague is a good place to visit.

When it’s sunny you can spend time on the beach at nearby Scheveningen. It’s a good destination if you enjoy seafood. My favourite restaurant is the modern Catch by Simonis restaurant (Doctor Leylkade 43; tel. +41 70 3387609).

The Hague itself is a great place to mooch about, particularly if you enjoy shopping in boutiques.

Art from the Dutch Golden Age, the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Art from the Dutch Golden Age, the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Many people visit the Mauritshaus just to see Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl with a Pearl Earring but that’s by no means the only work worth viewing. Even if you aren’t a massive fan of art, I think the mind-bending work of M.C. Escher, on display at Escher in Het Palais, is well worth seeing.

Just like the Med? Cafes on the Plein public square in The Hague.

Just like the Med? Cafes on the Plein public square in The Hague.

If you’re looking to take home a gift then it might be worthwhile pausing at the Van Kleef distillery and picking up a bottle of jenever, the Dutch national spirit.

Bitterballen, a popular Dutch snack.

Bitterballen, a popular Dutch snack.

To find out more about the Netherlands and its attractions, take a look at the Dutch Tourist Board’s website, www.holland.com.

Rotterdam Centraal railway station in Rotterdam - 27 minutes by train from Schiphol Airport.

Rotterdam Centraal railway station in Rotterdam – 27 minutes by train from Schiphol Airport.

3 Comments

  1. Yes, apart from Amsterdam you should visit Rotterdam and The Hague for sure. And don’t forget the beach! Last week I made so many beautiful pictures during sunset. It was amazing!

  2. This post has given me some great ideas for my vacation in Europe next summer. Thank you.

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