Must See

The Afsluitdijk

The Afsluitdijk (Closure-dike) is a major dike running from Den Oever on Wieringen in North Holland province, to the village of Zurich in Friesland province, over a length of 32 km (20 miles). The dike was built in the 1930s to close off the Zuiderzee from the North Sea to create the now freshwater IJsselmeer. Motorists can stop and admire the view at a lookout point halfway across.

Amsterdam

Take a canal tour through the capital, home to narrow, gabled houses, diamonds, art museums, concert halls and theatres, and a very tolerant people. Of particular note is the Riijksmuseum, which houses a large national art collection, including Rembrandt's Night Watch. Van Gogh, Vermeer, Cezanne, Monet and Picasso also have work dotted about the city. The city is also home to Anne Frank's House in Prinsengracht, where the young Jewish girl penned her diary while attempting to evade capture by the Nazis. There's also the chance to visit one of Amsterdam's diamond traders to watch craftsmen cutting and polishing the precious stones. In some cases, stones can be selected and mounted in jewellery on the spot.

One of the best ways to see Amsterdam is to take a glass-topped boat tour around the city's harbour and waterways. Alternatively, take the Museum Boat, which links most of the major cultural attractions.

The nightlife has equal doses of upmarket and down-market activities. You can spend an evening at the opera, in a bar, in a redlight theatre or in a coffee shop, where soft drugs are sold over the counter.

Just 20 km (12 miles) west of Amsterdam is Haarlem, where some of the country's many tulips are grown. Some spectacular views of these bulb fields may be seen from the end of March to mid May.

Also close by to the city is the Zaanse Schans village, home to traditional houses, a cheese farm, working windmills, a boat builder's, a clog factory and several museums.

Arnhem

Arnhem, situated in the southeast of the country on the river Lower Rhine, was the scene of World War II's 'Operation Market Garden' in 1944, in which allied forces were parachuted into the area to secure the city's bridge. The bridge was held by British paratroops for four days against overwhelming odds (the events of which were dramatized in the 1977 film 'A Bridge Too Far'); it is now called the John Frost Bridge in honour of the commander of the paratroops, who are also commemorated by a monument at the north end of the bridge. There is also a museum housed in the former Hartenstein Hotel, which was the British commander's headquarters during the Arnhem operation.

Near Arnhem is the Hoge Veluwe National Park; the largest continuous nature reserve in the Netherlands. Its attractions include an underground museum dedicated to subterranean life (the Het Museonder), and the magnificent art collection housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum, with 280 Van Gogh paintings and numerous other works.

Delft

Delft lies on the river Schie between Rotterdam and The Hague. The picturesque old part of the town is ringed by canals. Visitors can watch the skills of the porcelain makers at the Royal Delft pottery or visit the Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), built between 1396 and 1496. There are some fine views to be had from the top of its 108 m (354 ft) high tower. The church also contains the Dutch royal family's burial vault, which between funerals is sealed with a 5000 kg cover stone.

Delft was also home town of Johannes Vermeer, and a new centre dedicated to the artist opened in 2007.

Gouda

The old market town of Gouda lies between Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague, at the point where the Gouwe flows into the Hollandse IJssel. It is a typical Dutch town with picturesque canals and historic buildings in the old part of the town.

Visitors may discover the town by following the Cheese Map (available from the local tourist office) which takes in the various landmarks associated with cheesemaking in the city, including the Weigh House (Waag), where an interesting stone relief depicting the weighing of cheeses can be seen over the entrance.

The cheese market takes place every Thursday morning.

The Hague

The Hague, officially called 's- Gravenhage (The Count's Hedge), is the third largest city in the Netherlands, the seat of the Dutch government and the residence of the royal family. It lies on the west coast of the country, and includes the seaside resort of Scheveningen - the most popular beach town in the Benelux.

Some of the tourist attractions and landmarks in The Hague include the historic Binnenhof (Inner Court) and Medieval Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall), which now contains the Houses of Parliament and government offices; Madurodam, a miniature city that contains hundreds of scale-models (1:25) of Dutch landmarks incorporating a cheese market, windmills, and the world's most extensive miniature railway; and the Lange Voorhout - a wide avenue with many splendid houses (now home to several embassies), the famous Hotel des Indes (the city’s most luxurious hotel) and The Hague's oldest and narrowest house.

Another of the city's highlights is the Mauritshuis, a handsome mansion standing to the east of the Binnenhof, which is home to a collection of paintings by Dutch masters, such as Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn and Paulus Potter. There are many other museums in the city, such as:

  • Escher Museum, located in the former Royal Palace on the Lange Voorhout
  • Museum de Gevangenpoort (lit. the Prison Gate), a former prison housed in a 15th century gatehouse, with mediaeval dungeons and torture chambers
  • Haags Historisch museum, which showcases the history of the city from the Middle Ages to the present day
  • Museon - an interactive and historical science museum
  • Museum Bredius, which houses part of the collection of 19th century art historian Abraham Bredius, containing antique silverware, furniture and porcelain
  • Panorama Mesdag, where visitors can see a cylindrical 360° panoramic painting, 14 metres high by 120 metres long, depicting the sea-front at Scheveningen
  • Gemeentemuseum (Municipal museum), which is home to the world’s largest collection of works by the Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan as well as other modern art
  • Beelden aan Zee (Scheveningen), which has a large collection of sculptures, mainly from 20th century artists
  • Museum voor Communicatie (formerly the PTT Museum) - the national postal museum, which houses one of the country's best collections of stamps as well as interactive exhibits

Leiden

The university town of Leiden (sometimes known as Leyden) is one of the oldest and most picturesque towns in the Netherlands. It lies in Zuid-Holland on the Old Rhine, which flows quietly through the town like a canal. Much of the 16th and 17th century town centre is still intact.

Some interesting buildings include the 16th century town hall (Stadhuis); the weigh house (Waag); the former court-house (Gerecht); the old gymnasium (Latijnse School) (1599); a corn-grinding windmill, now home to a museum (Molen de Valk); and the city carpenter's yard and wharf (Stadstimmerwerf) (1612), both built by Lieven de Key (c. 1560-1627). Another building of interest is the "pesthuis", which was built just outside the city for curing patients suffering the bubonic plague. However, it was never used for its original purpose, and it now serves as the entrance of Naturalis, one of the largest natural history museums in the world. One of the city's newest visitor attractions is Corpus, where the interior workings and health of the human body can be explored. Open in November 2007, the attraction also incorporates a medical information centre with changing exhibitions.

Maastricht

Maastricht, lying on both banks of the Meuse River (Maas in Dutch) in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands between Belgium and Germany, has many attractions to offer visitors, especially historic buildings and art treasures. It is the country's oldest fortified city, and as such, visitors can see some wonderful medieval architecture.

Don't miss the basilica church of St Servaaskerk, the oldest church in the Netherlands, which was originally built in the 6th century over the grave of St Servatius (d. 384), first bishop of Maastricht. The church has a rich treasury containing a variety of sacred objects, pictures and statues; its crowing piece is the Late Romanesque chest reliquary that houses the remains of St Servatius. This 12th century chest is also known as the Noodkist (Distress Chest) as it was carried in procession round the town in times of danger or difficulty in order to avert the calamity.

Rotterdam

Europe's largest port, which lies on both banks of the Nieuwe Maas, the southern arm of the Rhine, is beginning to compete with Amsterdam as a tourist destination. Largely rebuilt since World War II, very few old buildings remain. Designers and architects have come to the city in their droves. A number of new bars and restaurants have opened recently.

The world- famed Boymans-van Beuningen Museum is located 1 km south of the Central Station, and houses a magnificent collection of pictures, sculpture, applied and decorative art, prints and drawings. It is one of the great museums of the Netherlands; the painters of the 14th to 16th centuries are particularly well represented, with works by Hieronymus Bosch, Hubert and Jan van Eyck, the Master of Aix and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The 17th century is represented by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens and Jan Steen.

At the north entrance to the Maas Tunnel (a tunnel under the river that links the city centre with the southern suburbs) rises the Euromast, erected in 1960 and standing 185 m (607 ft) high. Visitors can dine at one of the restaurants set at 100 metres up, then ascend to the top of the tower with the Space Adventure rocket launch experience.

Also worth a visit is the Maritime museum, which has a large collection of material on the history of shipping and seafaring since the 17th century, along with an open-air section that contains over 20 ships dating from between 1850 and 1950.

There's also a chance to visit the cubic houses designed by Piet Blom in the 1980s, which are located next to the Blaak Metro station. A Show-Cube (Kijk-Kubus) is open to the public, where visitors can find out what it would be like to live in a tilted cube on a pole.

Utrecht

Utrecht is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands; with a number of museums and several beautiful churches spanning the Golden Age when the city played an important role in Europe, it boasts Amsterdam's attractions, but without the crowds.

One of its major sights is the 13th century Cathedral of St Martin, one of the most magnificent churches in the Netherlands. Since the destruction of the church's nave in 1674, the tower (Domtoren, or simply Dom) has been completely detached from the Cathedral itself. A magnificent view of the city can be had after a strenuous climb of 465 steps to the viewing platform at its top (100 m/330 ft above ground level).

In the old Maliebaan Station you'll find the Netherlands Railroad Museum (Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum), which offers an excellent survey of public transport, particularly railroads and tram systems, with an extensive collection of historic rolling stock and memorabilia.

The Municipal Museum (Centraal Museum) houses the provincial archaeological collections, along with pre-1850 art, modern art, applied art, fashion and the city history of Utrecht. Utrecht painters from the 15th century onwards are particularly well represented such as Jan van Scorel, and the Mannerist painter Abraham Bloemaert. Notable among the archaeological exhibits is an old ship of around 1200.

Just opposite the museum is a new museum dedicated to the work of Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy the rabbit.

Zeeland

The province is home to a number of harbour towns offering excellent seafood. It is here that flood barriers have allowed for the reclamation of land from the sea, and as such most of the province lies below sea level. The province, located in the south-west of the country, consists of a number of islands and its sunny beaches make it a popular holiday destination in the summer. The town of Flushing was the first place to fly the free Dutch flag in 1572.