Windmills at the Zaanse Schans, the Netherlands
Your visit to the Netherlands with Eurail will help you discover one of the most unique places in Europe. It’s likely you’ve already heard of Amsterdam, but what about The Hague, Rotterdam or Maastricht? More than just windmills, wooden shoes and tulips – the Netherlands offers real travel excitement.
Since the 17th century, Amsterdam has been renowned for liberal and creative thinking. Today, along with more ‘liberal’ pastimes (like cannabis coffeeshops and the Red Light District), you can also find some of Europe’s finest art and architecture, dating back to the 15th century. Amsterdam’s residents cruise the narrow streets on bicycles. But for sightseeing, a canal boat tour is your best option. View more things to do in Amsterdam.
From Amsterdam Centraal Station, the Dam Square is about a 10-minute walk. You’ll find the palace offices of the royal family, Madame Tussauds, and plenty of restaurants and shops there.
The Hague and the beaches of Scheveningen
The Hague (Den Haag) is the seat of government and the residence of the royal family. Filled with elaborate architecture and unmatched culinary masterpieces, The Hague is rich with personality. Don’t miss the Escher in Het Paleis museum with works of the famous Dutch artist M.C. Escher. A short tram ride from The Hague will bring you to the beaches at Scheveningen – a resort-like area filled with bars and the best seafood available.
From Den Haag Centraal, Escher in Het Paleis is about a 10-minute walk.
Tiny city in a small country
Between The Hague and the seaside resort of Scheveningen lies the Netherlands’ ‘smallest’ city. Madurodam is a miniature city depicting famous buildings and scenes from Dutch history, replicated on a 1:25 scale. From the canal houses of Amsterdam to the Alkmaar cheese market, Madurodam offers visitors a chance to walk through a miniaturized depiction of Holland through the ages.
Madurodam is easiest to reach by tram. Take tram 9 from Den Haag Centraal, and the Madurodam stop is 7 minutes away.
A new and modern port city
You’ll be hard-pressed to find any buildings built before 1945, since most of Rotterdam (Europe’s largest port) was bombed flat during WWII. This gives the city a modern feel, unlike any other Dutch city. Don’t miss the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, with one of Europe’s finest art collections. With bustling nightlife, a very modern skyline, and plenty of museums, Rotterdam is a completely different Holland altogether.
From train station Rotterdam Centraal, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a 15-minute walk or a short tram ride.
Your Eurail Benelux Pass is valid in the ‘Benelux’ (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), so be sure to visit the charming city of Maastricht when you travel between Belgium and the Netherlands. Maastricht is an enigmatic and international city that comes complete with Spanish and Roman ruins, international cuisine, and a real feeling of German, French and Belgian influences.
Maastricht city center is less than a 15-minute walk from Maastricht Centraal Station.
When to go
Amsterdam is a major tourist attraction, and stays quite busy year-round, with the major influx in spring and summer. But, just like their mastery of the waterways, the Dutch are experts at handling the load. Elsewhere in Holland, the beaches may get crowded when the weather’s nice, but spring and summer are your best bet for mild weather and plenty of activities.
Holland’s coastal location and flat landscape ensure quite mild weather all year round. Rarely do temperatures fall below freezing in winter, and summers are seldom extremely hot. A nearly constant, shifting wind does permeate, and rainfall is common, so locals will tell you that wind- and water-resistant outer gear is an important item in your suitcase.
Spring is an excellent time to visit, when Holland shows off its talent for growing some of the most beautiful and colorful flowers in the world. Everywhere from balcony flower pots to the seemingly endless rows of carefully cultivated tulips will convince you of the Dutch expertise with all things green.
Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag)
- April 30, 2013
Arguably the biggest national party of the year, Koninginnedag, is celebrated in every city in Holland and its colonies, but nowhere so boisterously as in Amsterdam. Hundreds of thousands of people descend upon the city dressed in orange (in honor of the royal family’s lineage from the House of Orange-Nassau). The beer flows, the orange glows, and the residents take advantage of the 1-day ‘free market’ – a sort of city-wide flea market. Festivities begin the night before, on ‘Queen’s Night’ (Koninginnenacht).
Festivities take place all over the city. The best way to experience Queen’s Day is by walking through the city.
North Sea Jazz Festival
- July 12-14, 2013
The world’s largest jazz festival also includes world music, blues, funk, rock, R&B and more. For 3 days, the very best local, national and international acts perform on 12 indoor and outdoor stages in an enormous concert venue in Rotterdam.
The North Sea Jazz Festival takes place at Ahoy which can be reached by tram and metro from Rotterdam central station.
- February 10-12, 2013
Although it’s celebrated in other parts of Holland, Maastricht is the place to be for Carnival. Some argue that the celebration in Maastricht rivals even the Carnival days in Venice. Festivities last 4 or 5 days, and include the customary costumes, music, and plenty of drinking.
Maastricht can be reached by train. Festivities take place all over the city and are in walking distance of the central station.
- March 21 - May 20, 2013
The world’s largest flower garden is open for 2 months every year, and has attracted more than 51 million visitors since it began. More than 80 acres (32 hectares) of carefully tended gardens, hundreds of thousands of colorful blooms, and ornate displays of horticulturalists’ best works. In all, more than 7 million flowers in 1800 varieties are on display, in attractive designs and beautiful themed arrangements.
The Keukenhof can be reached by bus from Leiden Central station, Schiphol, Hague Central station and Haarlem.
- August 1-4, 2013
The week-long celebration will culminate in the weekend of August 5-7, with the world’s only Gay Pride Canal Parade on Saturday, August 6, and plenty of music, events and themed parties all weekend long.
Festivities take place all over the city. The best way to experience the Gay Pride is by walking through the city.