Destination Guide: The Netherlands

If it’s not already on your travel itinerary to visit this small Northern European country, it should be. Yes, the country is home to the city known around the world as the epicenter for exploratory substances and scenes, but there is so much more to it than just Amsterdam. The Hague, Rotterdam, and Zaanse Schans are all just as enjoyable as the country’s capital city, and see far fewer crowds of tourists. So whether its coffee shops and red lights you’re looking for, or windmills and architecture, the Netherlands is one place you won’t want to miss.

Grab Your Coffee and walk the winding streets. Other than a bike, it’s the best way to get around.

Grab Your Coffee and walk the winding streets. Other than a bike, it’s the best way to get around.

The Big One: Amsterdam

Known to many as the heart of free spirited fun and debauchery in Europe, Amsterdam sees over 5 million tourists pack its streets every year. That number has been consistently climbing over the past decade, and may reach a staggering 23 million visitors by 2025 according to Amsterdam news outlets. As it stands, Amsterdam is the eighth most visited city in Europe, beating out other major metropolises like Copenhagen, Berlin, Budapest, and Athens. The cobblestone streets are packed with bikes, which outnumber cars almost four to one and are the preferred method of transportation for many Dutch residents. You’ll find countless museums, art galleries, restaurants, and bars scattered throughout the city. Visit the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum to find astounding paintings, drawings, and letter, or if you’d like to really experience some history visit the Anne Frank House, where the teenage Holocaust survivor and her family hid from Nazis.

If you aren’t carful, you may get run over by the constant stream of cyclists on the streets.

Coffee Shops and Magic Mushrooms

Let’s get this out of the way; yes, prostitution, marijuana, and magic mushrooms are legal in this city, and yes, you should experience them as much as you can/want to while you’re here. The coffee shops offer a nice atmosphere for you to enjoy a joint, spliff, or blunt. If you’re not interested in inhaling your weed, you can also grab a brownie, gummy, or piece of “space cake” to help you hit the high you’re looking for. If you want to up the ante a bit, magic mushrooms might be more your speed. These little hallucinogenic delights will have your mind spinning in a whir of colors, smells, and senses, and are the perfect amuse-bouche for any night of extravagant extracurricular in the city. Whether heading to a club, a rave, a bar, or a house party, any of these substances can be your perfect pregame treat.

So About Those Red Lights

The world-famous Red Light District attracts crowds of travelers to its dimly lit streets every year, and if you’re adventurous and willing, the girls here will happily take your Euros for a few minutes of pleasure. Some see this area as a disgrace, but there’s no arguing that it is definitely part of the Amsterdam culture. The streets get packed with a surprising variety of people once the sun sets, and on any given street you can find couples, families, and students wandering along with the tourists. Photos and videos in the Red Light District are strictly off limits, and bouncers, owners, or even girls themselves will not hesitate to grab a phone or camera and smash it on the street right in front of you. So whether you go to participate in the pleasantries, or just to walk around and take it all in, make sure you’re certain of the correct rules and etiquette to follow.

Outside the Capital

Once you’ve had your fair share of culture, coffee shops, and contraband, jump on the train to one of the Netherlands’ other cities to see how life differs. In Rotterdam you’ll find world-renowned architecture and the largest port in all of Europe. You’ll also find the Netherlands’ best cocktail bar (as voted by the 2016 Esquire Awards) here; Stirr boasts a unique atmosphere with mixologists ready to serve you some of the best cocktails you’ll ever taste. The Hague is another destination to add to your list, where you’ll find parks, museums, and the center of Dutch government. And if you’d rather get out of cityscapes, Zaanse Schans is a beautiful neighborhood full of historic windmills and quaint wooden homes perfect for anyone wanting some quiet time away from the hustle and bustle.

Windmills before a storm in Zaanse Schans.

The Cuisine

Throw out everything you thought about food in Northern Europe! The most-common misconception about food in the Dutch nation is that it’s unappetizing and lacks flavor, but that is completely false! Pannenkoeken is a perfect sweet pancake to have for lunch or dinner, and if you want to give the traditional “All-American Apple Pie” a run for its money you have to try the Dutch Appeltaart! Lastly, Bitterballen is a tasty meatball snack, often served with cheese, sausage, or egg rolls that everyone seems to love.

When to Go

The peak of tourist season will be July and August when the weather is nicest. If you’re willing to let some of the sunshine fade away, and let a few snowflakes or rain drops move in, head in the winter months for brisk mornings and nights, where you can easily warm up with a cup of (actual) coffee and a bowl of soup.

The Netherlands is clearly one of the most popular destinations in all of Europe, if not the world. With countless things to do (and most of them actually legal) you’ll be hard-pressed to find time to see it all. Go here, and go soon, because if you wait you may find yourself in a crowd of a thousand people trying to rent a bike to ride along the canals!