Visit Holland on a short break and experience the true essence of Dutch culture for yourself; admire the stunning tulip fields bursting with vibrant colour, taste award-winning cheese churned from the milk of the famous black-and-white cows, take a relaxing canal cruise around the city or explore the pretty, flat landscape by bike. But, before you book your trip, discover more about these fascinating Dutch icons...
The Dutch Masters and their works are appreciated all over the world and many of their paintings can be viewed in Holland. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam proudly showcases Rembrandt’s ‘The Nightwatch’ as well as a selection of paintings by Vermeer.
The Mauritshuis in The Hague is home to ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, and the Johannes Vermeer Centre in Delft also give a fascinating insight into the Dutch Masters. In the east of Holland, the Kroller Muller museum in Otterlo (near to Arnhem), has the second-largest collection of works by van Gogh in the world. The largest collection can be found at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
It is claimed that the first ‘Dutch’ tulips flowered in Leiden in 1594. Holland is still renowned for its tulips, often being affectionately called the "flower shop of the world."
The tulip season runs from mid-March to the end of May. In the Kop van Noord-Holland (North Holland), you will find millions of tulips, hyacinths and other flowers, which transform the landscape into a vivid sea of colour. Also, each year, from late April to early May, the Tulip Festival is organized amongst the tulip fields in the Noordoostpolder (Flevoland region). And in Lisse, not far from Amsterdam, lies the Keukenhof; the largest flower garden in the world.
Over 1000 vertical windmills can still be found in Holland today. Some windmills continue to be used for drainage, such as one or two of the windmills at Kinderdijk, near to Rotterdam and the Molen de Otter in Amsterdam. The 19 windmills, at Kinderdijk (built around 1740) have also been recognised as a UNESCO site.
Zaanse Schans, a 250-year-old windmill park, lies just north of Amsterdam and was once the world’s first industrial area. The park is now an authentic open-air museum, giving an insight into Dutch life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The five biggest windmills in the world are over 130 feet (40 m) tall and located in the centre of Schiedam, near to Rotterdam.
Most people have heard of Gouda and Edam cheese, but there are so many other Dutch cheeses with different flavours and textures. Maasdammer has a nutty taste and is dome shaped with large holes. Goat's cheese in Holland comes in two types: the soft, fresh cheese and a semi-hard, cured version. Other varieties include Boerenkaas (made of raw milk), Smoked Cheese and Frisian Clove Cheese.
The cheese markets in Alkmaar, Hoorn, and Edam have a medieval appearance and are used as an outlet by local farmers. More modern cheese markets are located in Woerden and Gouda. There are three cheese farms close to Amsterdam: Alida Hoeve, Catharina Hoeve and Jacobs Hoeve and in most major cities you can find cheese shops.
Holland is one of the most cycling-friendly countries to visit in the world. There are over 18 million bikes in Holland - more than the 16 million people living there. It is not uncommon in Holland for locals to ride a bike to work (even in high heels) or to do the grocery shopping.
You can rent a bicycle in most major cities, but should you not wish to venture out alone, there are many bicycle tours you can take part in which encompass the best of Holland’s landscapes. Cycle through historic towns and cities, along the coast with its sandy beaches, past the famous Dutch windmills and alongside the colourful bulb fields.
Many Dutch cities are graced with historic canals: Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Utrecht, Dordrecht, Leiden, Groningen, Delft, Leeuwarden and Amersfoort can all be explored by boat. The city of Amsterdam is often referred to as “Venice of the North” and its canal district has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Discover Holland’s cities on canal day tours or sumptuous dinner cruises. It is also possible to hire a boat in many cities and tour the canals for yourself. In Utrecht, visitors can actually dine at water-level along the canal wharfs in a range of charming restaurants.
Traditional Dutch clogs are an intrinsic part of Dutch culture and historically, the wooden shoe became so popular that each region in Holland developed its own distinctive model. It is estimated that the first clogs were created at least 850 years ago.
Currently, there are 25 traditional clog makers in Holland and at Zaanse Schans or De Simonehoeve (both just outside Amsterdam), visitors can still see wooden shoes being hand-crafted.