Interesting Cities to Visit in Netherlands
The Netherlands is a relatively small country compared to the landmass of roughly 41,440 sq km (16,000 sq mi) and a population of about 17 million. But still, there are more cities to explore than just Amsterdam. Only 30 minutes by train and you’ll enter the city of Utrecht, which with its narrow alleys and the Oudegracht is considered to be the heart of the Netherlands. Some would even say it is the new Amsterdam, or, at least, the little sister of the Dutch capital. Since 2017, Utrecht organizes the second canal pride parade found in the Netherlands.
The second-largest city of the Netherlands, Rotterdam, is known for its extraordinary contemporary architecture, the traditionally close connection to the Maas River, and the forward-thinking and open-minded locals, the Rotterdammer. These are just some of the factors that create a special atmosphere of independence and modernism in this major port city of the Netherlands. LGBTQ+ visitors should put the annual Pride Rotterdam on their bucket list—a four day festival for diversity in September.
The Hague or Den Haag, the third-largest city of the Netherlands, is different in many regards. The most obvious is the skyline of the modern architectural city center. From the moment after arriving at the central train station, high buildings made of steel and glass characterize the cityscape. But visitors should take their time for a second view as they can discover a rich historical heritage in the old town, with typical Dutch architecture, museums and waterways. The Hague is also located close to the Dutch coast, making it very easy to extend a city trip with a visit to the seaside resort and beach at Scheveningen.
Haarlem is just a short train ride (or even bike tour) away from Amsterdam. This cultural hotspot of the Netherlands can be described as cute and cozy offering travelers everything they can expect from a traditional but modern Dutch town. Narrow alleys alternate to gorgeous grachten with plenty of options to sit in the sun and enjoy the flair of the more wealthy side of the Netherlands. Furthermore, Haarlem is located just a stone's throw away from some of the most beautiful parts of the Dutch beaches (including a gay nude beach).
Eindhoven is the Dutch beating heart of design and innovation located to the south, close to the Belgian border. The city is known for the Dutch brand of consumer electronics Philips. Travelers can still see the industrial influences and feel its creative electricity in numerous urban design and art galleries, shops, and museums. Fans of quality shopping will especially love the variety and should keep some extra space in their bags. Eindhoven is the place to find that special Dutch home design piece.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in the Netherlands
Zaanse Schans is a good place to experience the country’s cultural heritage, offering an accurate impression of Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries with windmills, tiny factories for clogs, cheese and pancake making, as well as traditional houses in the Zaanse Schans just north of Amsterdam. On the weekend it can become quite busy but during the week, early in the morning or at the end of the day are less crowded times with good opportunities for visiting the windmills.
TULIP AND FLOWER PARK KEUKENHOF
Springtime in the Netherlands is tulip time. All over the country, the colorful early-flowering plants banish the cold and grey winter days and bring color back into The Netherlands. The Keukenhof, or “Garden of Europe,” in the western part of South Holland is considered to be one of the best places to experience this transformation. According to the website of Keukenhof Gardens, more than 7 million tulip bulbs of roughly 800 different kinds of tulips are planted every year at the Keukenhof.
THEME PARK DE EFTELING
The Netherlands is home to one of the oldest theme parks in the world, even older than Disneyland in the USA. De Efteling, with its fantasy and fairytale landscape, is located just two hours south of Amsterdam and is considered to be a hidden gem for foreigners. This magical world combines some good roller coasters and highly esteemed dark rides with childhood fairytale heroes from the western part of Europe. De Efteling theme park is a special recommendation for Disney park fans.
Marken is an ambitious bike tour from Amsterdam and is very touristy, but still a gorgeous small town by the water. But for adventurous bikers, it is definitely worth every biking minute of the three hours along the dike around the IJsselmeer, the huge inland sea northeast of Amsterdam. Once adventure travelers arrive in Marken, there are plenty of things to do like going on a boat cruise, walking around the historical buildings and churches as well as taking a seat in one of the locally run restaurants and cafés to taste traditional Dutch food like poffertjes (little pancakes) or kroket op brood (croquettes) combined with a Dutch draft beer. There are also daily bus tours available in Marken.
NATIONALE PARK DE HOGE VELUWE
Explorers who would like to add some additional days in nature to their travel agenda in the Netherlands should visit Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, a unique national park and forest in the central region of the Netherlands. De Hoge Veluwe National Park is known for its deer, sand dunes and peaceful environment and is located halfway between Amsterdam and the German border. By purchasing a park entrance ticket, guests can use the white park rental bikes for free to explore the wilderness and view wildlife. Several spa and wellness hotels and cultural events throughout the year make the Veluwe a non-traditional but interesting vacation hotspot for unwinding.
Experiencing Dutch Food
Compared to many places in the world, cheese coming from the Netherlands is considered to be one of the best in structure and taste. But the culinary heritage of the Netherlands and their former colonies in the Caribbean have much more to offer, beginning with their close relationship to fish, such as herring (with or without onions). Travelers visiting Holland should consider trying the tiny pancake balls called poffertjes, the syrup waffles called stroopwafels, and the variety of fried food like kroketten (croquettes), bitterballen (bite-sized meat & gravy croquettes) and patat (Dutch fries). The restaurant scene in the Netherlands is very diverse, incorporating multiple international trends There are more and more hip vegetarian or vegan options, especially in the bigger cities. Generally, it is recommended to make a reservation, particularly during the peak dinner times from Thursday to Sunday. After dinner it is custom to take your jacket, go to the bar and ask for the check. The preferred payment method is by card. It’s also worth noting that touristy “traditional” cheese shops tend to be overpriced when you can buy the same cheese at the grocery store or at markets at the Kaasboer. Grocery stores are open daily from around 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the cities, while in the countryside, they are closed on Sundays.
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ Visitors to the Netherlands
The reputation of being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world precedes Amsterdam, and deservedly so. But it’s also important to know that the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Together with countries like Germany, Canada, and Sweden, it is currently ranked among the gay-friendliest nations in the world, according to the annual Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2018. Besides some exceptions in the countryside, the Dutch people with their trade history and internationally open mindset are typically seen as LGBTQ+ friendly. That means it is generally okay for same-sex partners to ask for a double bed in a hotel as well as being straightfoward when asking for LGBTQ+-related information at check in, at information points and even from the drivers of public transportation. Of course, like in any destination, it is still always recommended to exercise caution with public displays of affection when outside of areas that are not specifically designed for the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for The Netherlands
The Dutch capital Amsterdam is considered to be the center of the country’s LGBTQ+ community. Numerous gay bars in various areas around the city make it easy to meet new friends, locals and other LGBTQ+ travelers from all over the world. Popular events are the annual Pride Amsterdam with its fabulous Canal Parade, the Milkshake Festival “For boys who love girls who love girls who love boys who love boys…” and the regularly organized circuit party Rapido. Another remarkable LGBTQ+ event established in 2017 is the Canal Pride Parade in Utrecht. The Netherlands, in general, hosts six Gay Pride events beginning with the Gay Pride in Alkmaar in May and ending with the popular Gay Pride in Rotterdam in September.
We are Karl and Daan, a German-Dutch gay couple happily based in Amsterdam. Daan grew up here and loved showing Karl all his favorite neighborhoods and secret spots. In our first year being together, we also did a small Dutch city weekends tour exploring the lesser-known Holland highlights. As you can imagine, we are eager to explore the world around us, from our favorite neighborhood restaurant that serves the perfect pasta, to exciting undiscovered hiking trails across the globe. Distant natural wonders, famous metropolises, theme parks, gay sports events and faraway friends are great reasons to travel. As openly gay travelers, we are proud of who we are. With our travel blog coupleofmen.com, we hope to inspire and invite everybody to travel the world like we do: open-minded, respectful and with a happy heart.
Featured image photo credit NBTC.