Quick Guide Netherlands: Going Dutch for your next Euro trip

2018-07-30 11:20 - Gabi Zietsman
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Field of pink tulips with a wind mill in the dista

Known as one of the most liberal countries in the world, the Netherlands is not only a party haven but a mecca for art history.

From Rembrandt to Vermeer to the world-renowned Van Gogh, its museums house some of the finest art collections you'll ever see, comparable only the Louvre in Paris. Beyond art, it also protects the memories of its past, like the legacy of Anne Frank in the house where she and her family hid away from the Nazis for two years.

If you're looking for something a bit more modern, Amsterdam is one of the top destinations for any traveller looking to unwind, but the tourism board is always trying to entice visitors to always step off the beaten track in an effort to curb overtourism. 

You can also escape reality with a trip to Efteling - one of the oldest amusement parks in the world - or hop on a bike and ride through the countryside looking for the best cheese for your home-made sandwich.

Whatever your taste, the Netherlands is sure to fill your appetite. 

SEE: As 'overtourism' swamps Amsterdam, Dutch capital pushes back

Here we take a look at one of the top European destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:

Visa Requirements: You can apply for a short-stay Schengen visa which will cost R950, see more details here. Passport must be valid for up to six months after date of departure and have at least two black pages  

TRAVEL PLANNING: UK, Schengen, US and Australia visa costs: What South Africans can expect to pay in 2018

Continent: North-western Europe

CapitalAmsterdam

Medical requirement: If you're travelling or interacting at all with bats in the Netherlands, it's advised to get a rabies shot.

Currency / Exchange Rate: Euro

National Carriers: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Main airports: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport (Beek), Groningen Airport Eelde. 

Time Zone: Same time as SA

Plugs: European round-pin plug - Type C and Type F.

Public transport: The backbone of the Netherlands' well-oiled public transport system is their train network, which is extended by bus networks, and the big cities like Rotterdam and Amsterdam have metros and trams. It is advised to get a OV-Chipkaart which can be loaded with cash and used on most of the systems.

Best time to visit: May to September, when temperatures are between 18°C and 25°C.

Climate: It rains year round, so there are no dry seasons, it rarely gets very hot and in winter temperatures can drop to below freezing.

Food specialities: If you're a cheese lover, Netherlands is the land of Gouda and Edam - much tastier than your average South African supermarket Gouda. This is the best place to try out a classic cheese sandwich, perhaps accompanied by the dried or smoked sausages - metworst and Gelderse rookworst. The country is however more famous for their sweet snacks, liek their Dutch pancakes similar to bazaar pancakes here, or their mini-pancakes call poffertjies. The ultimate classic though is stroopwafels - a syrupy decadence designed make everything around you sticky.

Language: Dutch (Official), Frisian (Official but only spoken in Friesland), English

SEE: Fishing for plastic: Would you do this along the canals of Amsterdam?

Useful phrases:

  • Hello - Hallo
  • Goodbye - Vaarwel
  • My name is …. Mijn naam is...
  • Thank you - Dank u wel.
  • Yes - Ja
  • No - Nee
  • Do you speak English? - Spreekt u Engels?
  • Water - Water
  • Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]? - Waar is...?

Useful app to download: Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

Travel tips

  • If you can speak Afrikaans, it's relatively easily to orientate yourself with the Dutch language in terms of signage and if local people speak slowly, but English is a compulsory language in schools so you'll get along speaking only that easily enough.
  • While many people refer to The Netherlands as Holland, that only refers to two provinces in the country, and can lead to awkwardness when referring to all Dutch people as Hollanders - some may even be irritated.
  • The Netherlands is an extremely liberal country, where weed is legal. If it is your first time partaking in the drug, be sure to try it rather at a licensed coffee shop rather than in your hotel room. Although it's legal to consume, it's not legal to buy it from a dealer off the streets, and other drugs are still outlawed even if prosecution can be lax. Similar to alcohol, being stoned means no driving, so always make sure you can get home safely before taking anything.
  • While the country is generally safe, pick pocketing is very common in big cities like Amsterdam, as well as opportunists on bikes that will grab your bag as they cycle past.
  • The best way to see this flat country is by bike. This is one of the most popular forms of transport and you can easily rent one for the day or week - and there's very few uphills! 

SEE: Amsterdam bars in pictures

Top attractions in the Netherlands

  • Rijksmuseum

This is THE spot to dive into the Renaissance art and history of the Netherlands, with works from masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer and historical artefacts from the country. The museum is open all days of the year, and the best times to skip the crowds are before 10:00 in the morning and after 15:00.

All around the Rijksmuseum is a plethora of other museum to check out, including Van Gogh Museum, hosting the largest collection of the post-Impressionist painter's work.

  • Anne Frank House

Famous in history for her diary chronicling her Jewish family's attempt at hiding from the Nazi occupation during WWII, Anne Frank's story can be explored at this museum dedicated to her legacy. This is also the same house where Anne and her family were in hiding for two years, and the museum aims to raise awareness around antisemitism, racism and discrimination.

Anne's father Otto Frank helped publish her diary and was very involved with the museum until his death. You can get a free audio tour when you visit which will tell you more about Anne and her family's stories, bringing her book to life.

SEE: Two newly confirmed van Gogh drawings on show in Netherlands

  • Efteling

You can escape reality into a European fantasy world at Efteling - an amusement park focused on the mythology, folk tales and fairy tales of old. One of the oldest theme parks in the world, you can walk through Fairy Tale forest, dotted with all kinds of critters or get the adrenaline pumping on one of its many rides. It even has its own version of Disney's famous castle - the Symbolica Palace of Fantasy.

It's open year round, with the most popular season being summer, and you can also extend your visit with an overnight stay in their fairy tale hotel where you'll feel like royalty.

  • Keukenhof

Most associate Holland with its iconic flower - the tulip (even though it originates from Turkey!) - and the best place to see them in full colour is at Keukenhof, one of the world's largest gardens. The best time is spring, when over 7 million bulbs bloom all the colours of the rainbow, with 800 varieties of tulips.

This is the perfect place to take your family and be sure to check their website for when they host extravagant flower shows.

PICS: Nature's pageantry on display during Dutch tulip season

  • Kinderdijk 

Besides tulips, another key identifying feature of Dutch culture is its classic windmills, also known as 'molens', and the village of Kinderdijk is where all those postcards come from. It has 19 mills built in the 18th century, alongside a typical Dutch water system that's been around for over 700 years.

The line of windmills forms the perfect backdrop for sunset photos and a leisurely ride on a bike, there's a museum that explains the reason why this machinery is still in working order and you'll even get a chance to set a windmill in motion yourself!