When most people think of the Netherlands, they think of Amsterdam with its famous red lights and “coffee” shops. (And probably tulips, too.) But there is much more to the country than those three things. The Netherlands is a country filled with historic brick filled and cobblestone lane cities, an interconnected canals, beautiful and vast farmland, iconic windmills, and even some pleasant beaches. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world. Most travelers come to the Netherlands and only party in Amsterdam for a few days, but by doing so, they miss much of what the country has to offer. Spend time exploring get out of the cities and you’ll discover the country that keeps me coming back every year. I highly recommend heading north (especially in April or May when the tulips are in bloom) and also visiting Utrecht to see the country without the crowds!
Accommodation — Hostels typically cost between 15-30 EUR per night for a dorm room. The most popular hostels in Amsterdam can be close to 45 EUR (which, I think, is crazy expensive). Private rooms in hostels are around 60-80 EUR per night for a room that sleeps two (but expect to pay about 20 EUR more in Amsterdam). You can find a room at a budget hotel for around 50-60 EUR a night that offers a private bathroom and free WiFi (expect to pay more in Amsterdam during the busy season). Airbnb is also an option, with shared rooms averaging around 15 EUR per night and entire homes (including studio apartments) averaging around 50-60 EUR per night.
Food — The Netherlands isn’t famous for its food, but there’s still good stuff to be had. Make sure you try poffertjes (fluffy mini-pancakes served with powdered sugar), gouda and edam cheeses, patat (thick-cut fries with toppings) and stroopwafels (sweet Dutch waffles). Cheap meals at fast food joints or places like Maoz or Walk to Wok cost around 10 EUR. Restaurant meals average around 15-25 EUR for a main dish with a drink. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 40-50 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods. Fast food like Febo, cheap Dutch food, is around 5-10 EUR.
Transportation — Inter-city train tickets around Holland are cheap and cost between 12-30 EUR, though for super short distances they can be as little as 5 EUR. Amsterdam to Rotterdam is 26 EUR and takes 40 minutes and Amsterdam to The Hague is 7 EUR and takes 50 minutes. Since the country is so flat, biking is the main form of transportation around cities (and for some people between cities). You can rent bikes starting around 10 EUR per day (but most places require a deposit that is returned to you when you return the bike). Intra-city trains, trams, and buses are about 3 EUR for a one-way trip. Taxis are super expensive and should be avoided at all costs.
Activities — Entrance into museums cost about 20 EUR while churches are free to enter. Hiring your own boat for a canal tour is about 24 EUR. A harbor tour in Rotterdam costs 12 EUR.
Suggested daily budget – 45-60 EUR / $46-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Avoid spending on the green — Many people go to Amsterdam to visit the coffee shops. If you choose to do this, don’t think you have to buy “stuff” in each shop. Places will let you smoke as long as you buy a drink or food.
- Get the Museumkaart (Museum Card) — Good for one year, this card gets you into museums in Amsterdam and beyond for only 60 EUR. With the Museum Card, you get access to 32 museums in Amsterdam and more than 400 throughout the Netherlands. It’s also good for repeat visits as well! If you’re visiting multiple cities in the country, this is a must!
- Bike — Biking is the cheapest form of transportation. You can rent a bike for only a few dollars a day. However, Dutch cities are also very small and easily walkable.
- Attend a free festival — During the summer, everyone goes outside. Check local city boards for a list of free concerts, festivals, shows, and markets. Once the weather gets warm, the social calendar fills up.
- Use Couchsurfing — It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Cook – Dutch food isn’t going to win any awards. Try a few places and local dishes but cook often (or at least make lots of sandwiches) as your daily costs can shoot through the roof if you eat out a lot. Head to the supermarket, get some food, and save money! You’re not missing out on anything. (Sorry, my Dutch friends!)
Top Things to See and Do in the Netherlands
- Visit Amsterdam — The capital and center of tourism in the country, Amsterdam is as beautiful and serene as it is crazy. There’s the famous canals, beautiful and historic houses, tons of parks, museums, foodie scene, art, coffeeshops, and, of course, the infamous red light district. I lived here for a short time many years ago and have been coming ever since. (I even lead tours here now.) Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world.
- Take a canal tour — Whether in Amsterdam or in another city, make sure you take a canal tour and see the canals that made the area famous and inhabitable. The Dutch practically perfected canal-building and it’s such an integral part of life here, that you can’t really understand the country until you spend time boating on the canals.
- Explore Rotterdam — Rotterdam is one of the busiest shipping ports in all of the world. As Amsterdam’s industrious rival, Rotterdam may not get all the attention Amsterdam does but this city is a great place to go if you want good shops, great architecture (though most of the old building were bombed in WW2), and a chance to learn about the famous harbor locks. I don’t love it as much as I love Amsterdam but it’s a very overlooked city.
- Wander historic Haarlem — Take a stroll through the old, upper-class homes of the rich and famous and visit the old homes of the merchant class that helped build the city. This city is a short bike or train ride from Amsterdam. There’s not much to do here but the town center has a good market, the central church is phenomenal and awe-inspiring, and it’s a low-key alternative to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.
- Explore in The Hague — Filled with a lot of worldwide court bodies such as the International Criminal Court, this city is a hub of international life as it’s a center of European justice. You can see the Queen’s office here and visit the old castle and palace. Moreover, The Hague is located right on the beach, so lounging on the sand and strolling the boardwalk are popular summer activities.
- Celebrate King’s Day — Every year on April 27th (April 26th if the 27th is a Sunday), the Dutch used to celebrate the birthday of their queen Juliana. However, in 2013, Queen Beatrix passed the throne to her son, Willem Alexander and Queen’s Day became King’s Day. It’s a national holiday filled with outdoor concerts, lots of orange (the national color), lots of drinking, and insane celebrations on the canals. It is one of the wildest national holidays I’ve ever celebrated.
- Stroll through beautiful Leiden — Head to this small town near Amsterdam, and see where the Pilgrims lived before they left for America. It’s a very historic city and filled with beautiful 17th-century buildings and parks. There’s a small museum in the city that has sporadic opening hours but if you’re nice, usually the owners let you roam through even if it’s closed.
- Visit Edam — A picture-perfect town with windmills, farmland, and quaint houses where the famous Dutch cheese gets its name from. It’s one of the more quintessential Dutch towns. Basically, come here to eat and be as Dutch as possible!
- Head to the Keukenhof — The Keukenhof is the largest flower garden in the world, with 32 hectares’ worth of spectacular floral displays. The garden is open between March and May of each year when the tulips are in season. When you picture Holland, you picture flowers and there is no better place to see them than here.
- Bike through Hoge Veluwe National Park — Hoge Veluwe National Park is the largest national reserve in the Netherlands. It is home not only for drift-sands, wild deer, and other animals but also to the Kröller-Müller Museum, the repository of Helene Kröller-Müller’s art collection. You can rent white bicycles in three designated regions and hope you will never get lost in the sea of green.
- Kick back in Maastricht — One of the southernmost towns in the Netherlands, this city is famous for having the country’s only “mountain.” It’s really more of a hill though and doesn’t take long to climb. But this hardly visited city is a great place to see Dutch life away from hoards of tourists who frequent the rest of the country.
- Go cycling — As one of the most popular activities throughout the country, you would almost feel out of place not on a bike. The country is covered in over 20,000km of paths, dedicated to the two-wheeled transportation. Hoge Veluwe National Park is a particularly beautiful place to ride, but the entire landscape of the country is quite scenic as well.
- Visit Delft — This is a fascinating little town, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. There are a few interesting sights here, including the Municipal Museum het Prinsenhof, Nieuwe Kerk, De Zeven Zonden, and of course, the trademark blue and white pottery. The town lies between The Hague and Rotterdam.
- Admire the art at the Van Gogh Museum — Open since 1973, this museum is host to over 500 original works by Vincent Van Gogh, in addition to several works by some of his contemporaries and beloved friends. The exhibits chronicle his life span, showing the progress and development of his work, alongside Gaugain, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec. The museum is open daily from 9am-5pm with extended hours on Fridays (until 10pm). Admission is 17 EUR. Note: Pre-book tickets online to avoid massive queues when you arrive.
- Visit “Venice of the North” — Slow-paced Giethoorn is a charming place with lots of picturesque canals. With no cars allowed in the city center, this peaceful town is a good change of pace from the busyness of the Netherlands’ bigger cities. Rent a small boat and spend the day floating by charming cottages.
- See life in historic Netherland — At The Netherlands Open Air Museum, Themapark Archeon, and Zaanse Schans, you can see what life like in the low countries a few hundred years ago. With antique windmills, houses, farms, and shops, you can feel a part of Holland of old.
- Try a multi-day bike tour — If you’re going to bike somewhere, the Netherlands is it! But maybe a few hours or a day on your own isn’t enough. With tons of bike companies, you have your pick of planned itineraries that’ll take you to any region of the country. Whether it’s self-guided or with a host, you can find an amazing bike tour in the Netherlands.