Amsterdam, Netherlands: Facts of interest, sights and cuisine

The Netherlands

The Dutch anthem

The Netherlands, or officially the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a European state comprising the mainland, located in Western Europe, and three islands in the Caribbean Sea – Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. In addition, three self-governing state entities occupying the islands of Curação, Aruba, and St. Martin are part of the country as members of the kingdom.

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Video: Netherlands

Highlights

Thanks to its perfectionism in political correctness and its reverence for all things personal freedom, this tiny piece of land has long been listed as one of the most progressive countries in the world. It is in the Netherlands that the most high-profile court cases affecting the interests of entire states are heard, and that the most extraordinary varieties of tulips are grown. It was here that same-sex marriages were allowed for the first time and prostitution was legalized, providing “nocturnal butterflies” with the same pension as other citizens. Adding spice to the country’s image is the legalization of soft drugs, which are not only allowed to buy, but also to grow on their own windowsill.

Today’s tourists are flying to the Netherlands not only to visit the Van Gogh Museum, sail through the picturesque Amsterdam canals and take pictures with windmills. In recent times, this corner of Europe has been loved for its tolerant attitude toward human frailties and its alternative view of moral and ethical standards. What in other countries would attract the attention of law enforcement agencies, or at least – caused outright condemnation, in the Netherlands has long turned into civil rights and freedoms. However, despite the ultra-progressive views, among the Dutch can be observed a truly reverent attitude to the cultural past of their country. All monuments of architecture, and there are many of them in the kingdom, are in excellent condition, so travelers looking for antiques and medieval flavor, the Netherlands is certainly something to do.

Cities in the Netherlands

Geography and climate

Most of the Netherlands is below sea level, with only the southern part of the country experiencing a relative rise. Some of the useful land has been literally reclaimed by the Dutch, fortified by an intricate system of dikes. The locals like to joke about this, saying that God created the land and the Dutch created the Netherlands.

As for the climate, it is close to the soft maritime type, so the inhabitants of this region are not overpowered by either the exhausting heat or the severe frosts. But the Dutch sky is not stingy with precipitation, so rains, sleet and fogs are common in this part of Europe. Ideal weather conditions and lack of temperature jumps can be observed near the coastal areas, while in the provinces far from the North Sea the temperature curve is characterized by sharp fluctuations.

Clear weather in the Netherlands is in great short supply: for the entire Dutch year there are only 60 sunny days, so the best time to explore the “tulip kingdom” is the spring and summer season. In the fall, because of the constant rain and overcast skies, the local landscapes look very depressing and gloomy.

Winter in the Netherlands Beach in Holland

History of the Netherlands

Up to the 10th century, the Netherlands was a patchwork of rival provinces, which time and again fell prey to the more powerful neighbouring powers. In particular, for a long time the territories of the “Low Countries” (literal translation of the word “Netherlands”) were under the heel of Germany (the Holy Roman Empire at that time). The only exception to the general rule was Friesland – today just a Dutch province, but in the Middle Ages – an independent and autonomous state.

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In 1433 the Duke of Burgundy was able to unsuccessfully unite the Dutch lands into a single whole, adding to them for completeness the territory of modern Belgium. But the locals were in no hurry to show interest in their independence, pushing the question back for almost 100 years.

In 1568 the Dutch eventually decided that it was time to finally set sail on their own and declared war on Spain, which at that time had a claim to the territory. The conflict dragged on for 80 years, confirming the fact that blitzkrieg is clearly not the end of the descendants of the Franks and Saxons. Nevertheless, the war ended in favor of the Netherlands: the country regained its coveted freedom, albeit with limitations.

The heyday of the Dutch state is considered to be the XVII century. During this period, the country broke out the legendary “tulip fever,” began to actively develop science and art, and local merchants have mastered a new and extremely profitable type of business – trade in live goods, that is, slaves.

Amsterdam in 1656 The Christmas flood of 1717, in which some 14,000 people died

Modernity

Today the Netherlands is home to just over 17 million people. The country has a constitutional monarchy, that is, formally the King in Holland, but in fact the important issues of state are resolved by the Cabinet and Parliament. By the way, the Dutch hate it when their country is called Holland, because Holland is only one of the 12 provinces of the Kingdom, but not an independent state. Since 2013 the monarchial title in the Netherlands has been held by Willem-Alexander of Orange, who plays the role of a living national symbol. The King appears before his subjects at most a few times a year to deliver his Throne Speech or simply to take part in events of national importance.

Economically, the country is doing quite well. High taxes, developed industrial and agricultural sectors are actively supported by the banking system and low inflation, so the classic division on the rich and the poor is absent as a fact. But all is not so bright with human resources. The high standard of living, to which aspired so much in the Netherlands, revealed itself from the most unexpected side, because of which the state is slowly but surely transformed into a country of pensioners.

Tulip fields in the Netherlands

Peculiarities of the national mentality

The right Dutchman – is a sporty and fit owner of his own cottage, a desperate coffee drinker (how else to get your portion of endorphins in a country where the weather is overcast for 300 days a year), a meticulous and sometimes downright mean owner, but also very tolerant of everything that does not violate the laws of the country. By the way, despite the legalized “pot” the smell of which is forever absorbed in the streets of Amsterdam, really drug addicted people in the Netherlands no more than in other countries of the world. The only exceptions are the immigrant neighborhoods, which have been multiplying all over Europe in recent years. This is where drugs really are like daily bread.

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Saving money in a country where taxes can “eat up” almost half of one’s earnings, and utility bills become more and more exorbitant from year to year, is a dire necessity. The heating in the Netherlands is not “screwed” only by the King. The hospitality is little heard here too, so if you looked at the Dutchman’s house, you should not reckon on a treat. However, it has its pluses: the locals don’t linger as long as possible, and the proposals to sit down at the table are masterly evaded. As for the rest the people in the “tulip kingdom” are quite friendly and benevolent, though mostly isolated.

Floating house on solar panels in Rotterdam

Dutch and one of its dialects, called West Frisian, have been declared the official state languages in Van Gogh’s homeland. Both are an interesting mix of borrowings from German, French and Swedish. In addition, in some provinces remain faithful to tradition, preferring to speak in local dialects, formed in times immemorial.

Dutch people also speak excellent English, so before you travel you won’t need to get hold of a Russian-Dutch phrasebook. The popularity of Shakespeare’s language is caused by the state policy. Some subjects in Dutch universities are taught only in English, and British and American films are shown in their original language.

The main tourist destinations of the Netherlands

The main mass of tourists visiting the Netherlands is dispersed in three directions – Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. It is clear that to explore the cultural values and national colors of the country the capital with its authentic architecture, picturesque canals and a record concentration of museums and art galleries per square kilometer would be the best choice. However, people visit Amsterdam not only for spiritual food, but also with much more mundane goals. For example, to sit in numerous coffee shops, where the tourist is sure to offer to “score a joint”, or assess the level of skill of the inhabitants of the famous Red Light District.

Amsterdam in Winter Rotterdam

With its own airport Rotterdam does not lose its popularity. Some are lured here by the annual Alternative Film Festival, while others are attracted to the local art museum’s collection of infernal paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens, Van Gogh and Pieter Brueghel.

The Hague is essentially the second capital of the country. The city is the seat of the parliament, which decides the most important state issues, and it is also the seat of the International Court of Justice, known for its high-profile trials.

It so happens that the phrase “beach vacation” is almost never mentioned in reference to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, this kind of entertainment does take place. Dutch beaches are characterized by almost sterile cleanliness, good infrastructure and, importantly, free entry. Bask in the sea is better from August to September and without children, as the water temperature along the coast, even in high season does not rise above +17. +20 °С.

Of the most popular places for swimming is Zandvoort in North Holland: a little provincial place, therefore quiet and romantic. It makes sense to go to The Hague to sunbathe on the glamorous Scheveningen, which once promoted the main postmodernist paintings of the kingdom by Van Gogh and maestro Mesdah. The latter, incidentally, went so far as to sketch an entire 120-meter panorama glorifying the sand dunes of Scheveningen. Another swimming spot on the outskirts of The Hague is Käikdown Beach.

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The shores of Tessel Island, remarkable for its windy weather, are traditionally stormed by surfers and ecotourists. Almost all of the land is grassland, which is perfect for those who like relaxed, rustic vacations. Getting to Tessel is easy via the ferry between the island and Den Helder. Coincidentally, the final episode of the cult ’90s drama “Knocked Up To Heaven” was filmed on Tessel.

If you’re interested in nontrivial places, check out the local nudist beaches. Lovers of showing themselves in all their glory gather on the coast around Zandvoort and Rotterdam (the northern part of the Rokanj beach). As an alternative to the sea beaches you can consider vacationing on the rivers and lakes of the Netherlands. For example, in August it is recommended to splash in an artificial lake Zuiderzee or the river Essel.

Attractions

In terms of cultural and entertainment program the Netherlands is almost ahead of the rest of the world. Medieval castles, fortresses and sometimes entire villages, which have fully preserved their historical face, in this country have long become part of everyday life. At the same time in the kingdom try not to avoid the progressive creations of modern architects, assigning them the best places. To make sure of that, just have a look at Rotterdam, where the famous Cube House, Erasmus Bridge and Euromast are located.

Erasmus Bridge The Cube House in Rotterdam The Euromast

Of the truly ancient structures, the De Haar Castle, the royal palace in the capital, the Delft Town Hall, Meyderslot Castle, Slangenburg and the impregnable Luvestein Prison Castle stand out in particular. Each of these sites will be of interest not only to certified historians, but also to ordinary travelers, especially since the walls of the buildings have accumulated an incredible number of fascinating stories and legends over the hundreds of years of their existence.

De Haar Castle Royal Palace in Amsterdam Maiderslot Slangenburg Castle Prison Luwesijn

There is a lot to say about Dutch museums but words can’t do justice to their charm and uniqueness, so don’t waste your time trying to visit at least a dozen of the best. Don’t miss the Van Gogh Museum and don’t miss the halls of the Rijksmuseum, where you can admire the wonderful canvases of Rembrandt and Vermeer and take a closer look at the miniature masterpieces of the “Little Dutch”. Speaking of Vermeer: he lived and worked in Delft, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities of the country, but his works are scattered all over Holland. For example, the much-circulated “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is in the gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Delft

To see the world-famous mills that have become one of the crown jewels of Amsterdam’s canals, head to the open-air museum of Saanse Schans on the outskirts of the city of Saandam. Or take a trip to Kinderdijk, a village with a number of mills that date back to the 19th century. In the same Zaandam you can stop by the cabin of Peter I in which the Russian monarch lived in 1697, combining work in a shipyard and watching the life of the Dutch. Another iconic place in the country, which owes its popularity to the diary of an ordinary Jewish girl – Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. By the way, it also keeps the original of the very improvised chronicle, which the schoolgirl kept during the German occupation.

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Saanse-Schans Park of flowers Köckenhof

An incredible riot of colors, “flavored” with delightful aromas, awaits all guests of the Netherlands in Keukenhof Park, where there are planted about 100 varieties of tulips alone, not to mention other blooming plants. Well, for a nice bouquet that will cost not in a modest amount, go to a flower market Bloemenmarkt.

Desperate drunks and seekers of “adult” entertainment usually stay in De Wallen (Amsterdam), better known as the Red Light Street. The legendary place, where you can buy love and “weed” non-stop all 365 days of the year, makes good money from its scandalous reputation. This is certainly not the only neighborhood of its kind in the whole of Holland, but Amsterdam brothels are unquestionably considered to be the most attractive among the tourist fraternity.

30 interesting facts about Amsterdam

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? If you have, it’s a city that never leaves your heart… If not, read these facts that will make you put Amsterdam on your list of cities to visit!

1. On Dam Square, the main square of Amsterdam, the traffic of tourists does not stop on any day of the year at any time of the day. Some tourists look a bit… strange.

2. the people of Amsterdam always carry a raincoat, because the weather in Amsterdam is unpredictable because of its proximity to the sea and it can start raining at any moment. With an umbrella on a bike (and that is the main transport in the city) is not particularly rideable, but the raincoat is just right.

3. On April 30, Queen’s Day, the entire city is dressed in royal orange.

Amsterdam is a city of canals with more than 600 bridges. The most beautiful are the Blauburg and the Mahere brug (“Skinny Bridge”).

5. The most pleasant way to get around Amsterdam is by bicycle. More than half a million “iron horses” are registered to locals! Tourists can rent bikes right in the city center.

6. As you know, Amsterdam is located below sea level and is protected from it by a dam. According to legend, one day the sea found a small hole in the rock, which under the pressure of the water mass could grow, and then goodbye to the dam and the beautiful city. But a passing boy noticed the threat and did not get confused – plugging the hole with his finger, he began to call for help. The city was saved!

7. Amsterdam is home to several world-famous beers such as Grolsch. This beer has been brewed in the country since 1615 using an exclusive Dutch recipe. It is served in 250-gram glasses with a foam cap of an inch and a half.

8. 55% of Amsterdamers speak three or more languages.

9. The mainstay of the city’s prosperity is beer. In 1323 the ruler of Holland improved this port city for easy importation of beer.

10. In the 18th century, the city council, in order to reduce noise levels, banned the movement of carriages through the paved streets. Therefore, they had to travel in the summer in sledges.

11. The city almost gave its name to New York. The Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was renamed New York in 1664.

12. The Dutch sex industry is valued at more than $2,000,000. This amount is divided roughly in half between pornography and prostitution.

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13. Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in Europe, but you have to watch out for the usual petty cheating and pickpockets. The police here are also very quiet, but it is always better to carry your passport (it is required by law and tourists are sometimes asked to show an identity document).

14. Among the 2,400 floating houses on the city’s canals is the “cat ship”, where homeless animals live.

15. In the Maritime Museum of the Netherlands you can see a unique exhibit – a gray piece of leather with a white patina that once belonged to Lieutenant Jan van Speijk. In 1831, when the Belgians defeated the Dutch fleet, the lieutenant refused to lower the flag. Instead, he threw a cigar into the powder magazine, blowing up both himself, the ship, and the crew.

16. Amsterdam is home to the most incredible museums, including those devoted to the history of sex, drugs, tattoo art, etc.

17. Amsterdam is often compared to Venice, but there are considerably more canals and bridges. There are about 1,200 bridges, more than 150 canals, and about 90 islands in the city. Amsterdam is built entirely on huge piles driven into the ground beneath the water column.

18. Despite the legalization of light drugs, Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in Europe.

19. It is said that when an ‘iron horse’ falls into disrepair, real Amsterdamers throw it into the canal, so the bottoms of the most popular canals are literally dotted with bicycles.

20. The red light district in Amsterdam is officially called “De Wallen”.

21. Amsterdam was the first city in the world where same-sex marriage was officially legalized – it happened in 2001.

22. Amsterdam’s parks and nature reserves account for more than 12% of the city’s total area, but heavy urbanization has completely destroyed the natural landscape and landforms.

23. More than 170 nationalities live in the Dutch capital!

24. The police department in charge of parking is the only one with armored windshields because there were cases when angry motorists were very “unhappy” with the wheel blockers.

25. You won’t be able to buy an apartment in the city center. You will have to buy a whole house or several houses at once.

26. There is not a single free parking lot in all of Amsterdam.

27. Prostitutes in Amsterdam pay taxes, have a social package and their own union.

28. In Amsterdam there is an entire area of 18,000 floating houses for 45,000 people. Some of them are placed on special piles.

29. The Dutch love to make mashed potatoes (eten prakken). Not only from potatoes. They mash any kind of food. The best example, demonstrating the love of the Dutch for mashed potatoes, is the traditional dish “stamppot”. It is made of herbs and various vegetables. Everything is boiled, then mashed and topped with sausage. Some Dutch even make pasta and French fries into a kind of mixture.

30. In the Netherlands the curtains are either wide open all day or not at all. The Dutch always want to see what’s outside? Trying to let more light into the living room? Or just don’t want to buy curtains? Whatever the reason, it’s obvious that the Dutch are open-minded. But don’t dare look through the windows to see what they’re doing. It is considered very indecent.

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