Last week, I found myself in The Netherlands for a whirlwind 26 hour trip. Although I was in The Hague for a TED event for work, I managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing around the talks, and booked myself on the last flight back on Friday night so that I could spend the whole afternoon exploring Amsterdam. I hadn’t been to Holland since I was small and travelled around the country with my family, so I was so happy to be back in this beautiful country.
Honestly, I couldn’t have loved it more. I had forgotten just how gorgeous this city was, and each street and canal I happened upon seemed even prettier than the last. I was blessed with the most glorious sunshine on what felt like the first spring day of the year, and had the most perfect two days in Amsterdam and The Hague. I’m already planning my next trip back!
I’m not sure I can really call this a city guide (as I was only there two full days, and much of that was taken up with work commitments), but here’s what I got up to and enjoyed the most in my (far too brief) time there:
Do // Amsterdam:
Culture: It would be rude to arrive in Amsterdam without making a pilgrimage to one of the exceptional galleries which pay homage to the great Dutch artists. Don’t go past the grand Rijksmuseum or the equally spectacular Van Gough Museum nearby (smaller and thus more realistic if on a tight schedule, as I was this time).
Soak up the city: The best way to see the city is just to meander around those beautiful streets or 17th century canals at the most leisurely pace you can manage. Rent a bicycle or just wander along the streets of the negen straatjes (nine streets) – my favourite part of the city – have a picnic on the banks of a canal, or sit outside a little neighbourhood cafe at sunset. My favourite way to do it is to just head to the area and then wander with no particular destination; there is no such thing as a wrong turn here, as each street in the area is prettier than the last.
Day trip: The Netherlands is relatively compact, and there are so many beautiful trips you can take out of town (even if you only have an afternoon to spare). On this trip I spent most of my time in The Hague, but I also remember loving Gouda (famed for its dairies and cheese market) and Delft (my mother went a bit crazy for the blue and white porcelain back in the day) and will make a trip there next time.
The Hague // My first day in the Netherlands was spent in Den Haag; most famous for being the seat of the International Criminal Court, the UN, and more government bodies. They are worthy sites to visit in their own right, but the most spectacular is the Binnenhof – the cluster of buildings that house the Dutch government and wouldn’t look out of place in Hogwarts (I was lucky enough to be inside the old Hall of Knights for one of my events).
Just beside the Binnenhof, overlooking the Hofvijer (a picturesque stretch of water), sits the magnificent Mauritshuis museum (below), which houses all the Dutch Masters – Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, et. al. I snuck away during the lunch break to spend an hour exploring the rooms in here, and can honestly say it is now one of my favourite galleries in the world. As an art lover, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of all those works I had grown up appreciating (not to mention the gorgeous gallery itself), that I was physically moved to tears several times when I would walk into a new room; and that was even before I spotted Vermeer’s The Girl With A Pearl Earring. A must-do for any history buff or art-lover.
If you’re visiting The Hague on a Thursday or Sunday, there is an antique and book market beneath the canopy of trees on the beautiful stretch along Lange Voorhout (during the winter months, it is held on Thursdays on Plein Square beside the Binnenhof). I am powerless against the lure of an antique market, and managed to squeeze in a happy half an hour – though I could have spent triple that – browsing the stalls before a talk, and came away with a couple of antique maps from 1900 for just €10 each.
If you’re making the trip to Amsterdam, then I absolutely recommend a day trip to The Hague. Although most of my time there was taken up with work, I had such a lovely time strolling the streets lined with blooming spring tulips and handsome architecture.
Shop // I didn’t have much time to hunt down the best shops before everything closed at 5:30pm (as it was such a flying visit, seeing as much of the city as I could trumped shopping), but these were the gems I spotted along the way:
Frozen Fountain: a design store filled with the coolest decor, art, gifts and things for the home you didn’t know you needed until now.
De Weldaad (below): A veritable cabinet of curosities; brimming with a curated collection of vintage furniture and homewares (I imagine it’s where the Anthropologie homewares buyers come for inspiration).
Flea Markets: The city is brimming with markets of every variety, so I will be working through this list of the city’s vintage markets on my next visit.
De Bijenkorf: I could have spent an hour on the homewares floor of department store (but as it happened, only had 15 minutes for a speed-lap of the store on the way back to Centraal Station to make my flight).
Souvenir // A tin of stroopwafels (delicious little caramel waffles that are traditionally served with coffee) from the airport, some Dutch tulip bulbs from the bloemenmarkt (flower market) for your windowsill garden back home, a block of Edam or Gouda cheese, or a set of golden tealights shaped like little Amsterdam canal houses by Pols Potten (a dutch interior design label) from De Bijenkorf.
Stay // Because I was there for work, I stayed in a standard-issue Mercure in The Hague, but when travelling for pleasure I always book into a small boutique hotel with character and a pretty location. I’m already planning my next trip back (hopefully this autumn), and plan to stay at either The Canal House, The Andaz, or The Dylan (below; I passed this whilst walking around the nine streets area and it looked so charming; right on a canal with bikes out the front for guests to borrow).
Good to Know // It is a short train ride (20 minutes / €5) from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal station (flights from London take around an hour). Once there, the city is entirely walkable; I walked all over the city without needing to take transport once. The Hague, Delft and Gouda are each less than an hour away by train (trains go every 20 minutes or so and cost less than €10), and are both easy day trips. Everyone can speak English perfectly (it is the second official language), and I found everyone I met along the way to be exceedingly friendly and helpful.
Have you been to The Netherlands? Please do share your suggestions + favourite things to do in the comments below; I’m already planning my next trip back!
Love, Miss B xx