The Netherlands became part of my life when I fell in love with a Dutchman. One of the loveliest perks of having a European boyfriend is that you gain a second home and family on the other side of the world. In my case, a little Dutch village called Nieuwkoop, 40km outside of Amsterdam.
On our first trip there together, we settled into a lovely room in his mother’s house looking out to a canal, fresh tulips on the nightstand and a gentle spring morning breeze filtering through the open window. The kitchen table was lovingly set with tea and toast, eggs, cheese, ham and pastries.
The Netherlands is lovely in Spring. Villages bordered with canals dwelled by wild swans, cherry blossoms in full bloom, spring flowers popping up in gardens all over the place. We climbed a steep vertical staircase to the top of a working windmill in nearby Aarlanderveen, drove around the tulip fields in Lisse, ate fish by the North Sea at Noordwijk, drank copious amounts of tea in the garden, and went on long village walks.
After a couple of days in the village, we drove past flat green paddocks filled with cows and lambs towards Amsterdam. They say good things come in small packages. Amsterdam is compact, but an absolutely stunning city with a relaxed ambience. Endless canals, romantic bridges, flower markets, bicycles weaving through the city, green parks brimming with tulips and daffodils, narrow townhouses, and the sweet smell of stroopwafels floats through the streets.
Amsterdam is like an open-air museum showcasing the Dutch Golden Age. The historical buildings are so well maintained, that if you took away all of the modern cars and bikes, it would look like you had travelled back in time. Set upon the Amstel River, Amsterdam is home to more than 100km of canals and a million bikes. The city is best experienced on the water by boat, or bicycle, for those brave enough to go up against the locals.
I came to Amsterdam for a weekend when I was living in London in my early twenties. I was travelling with a tour group and only saw one side of the city – the red light district with ladies in windows, cakes laced with drugs, coffee shops filled with marijuana smoke, and flashing neons signs advertising live sex shows. Needless to say, this wasn’t really my cup of tea and it left me with a pretty horrible first impression of Amsterdam.
Thankfully, my second trip proved that the red light district is not the true Amsterdam.
The beautiful architecture, gardens and parks, lovely squares and museums are more my scene, so our first stop was the inspiring Rijksmuseum, home of the Dutch masters. I could have easily stayed for a week at the Rijksmuseum, but we only had a few hours to see the highlights. As one of Amsterdam’s top attractions, pre-booking your tickets online to avoid the long queues is essential. The museum is open daily from 9am – 5pm, entry is around 17 euros.
We then joined a canal cruise for a different perspective of the city. We used the Blue Boat Company as they have history and art-focused commentary that brings the city to life, outlining the highlights and interesting facts along the way. Blue Boat offer a range of different tours and themes. A 75-minute cruise costs around 15 euros. After our cruise, we walked around the pretty neighbourhood of Jordaan, one of the oldest parts of the city.
One very important thing to remember – beware of cyclists!
The locals are VERY fast and it’s imperative that you look both ways before you step onto a pathway or try to cross the road, they are called Flying Dutchman for a good reason! Cyclists (and tourists alike) suffer terrible injuries when people accidentally wander on the bike paths, so be wise and check for bikes always.
We stopped for lunch at the Leidseplein at Café Americain, a stylish Art Deco restaurant serving local oysters and croquettes. The setting was reminiscent of the film Casablanca, with colonial fans on the roof and a piano player in the corner. It was a lovely place to rest our legs and have a break.
The next day we drove to The Hague to see Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, in the gallery where she had lived since 1902, the Mauritshuis, a boutique gallery housing a limited number of carefully sourced pieces of priceless art. The whole collection is delightful. As we were leaving, my lovely mother in law surprised me with the most beautiful pair of pearl drop earrings to commemorate our visit, the perfect keepsake to remember our special trip.
Feeling Dutch? I have also written a dedicated post on Keukenhof if you love tulips?