Things You Should Do and Tips For: The Netherlands and Amsterdam

Good morning! We recently spent a long weekend away in The Netherlands, which you can read all about HERE, and this morning I am going to talk about some of the tips/tricks that we learned and what I would recommend you do as well as maybe some things that are maybe a little over hyped.

As always, this will heavily depend on your own interest, how you are traveling, and the time of year that you are going. This is the first (and only) time that we have been to The Netherlands and we went to see two spots, Amsterdam and the Tulip Gardens. We were only there for 3 nights total, so we didn’t get to see everything that we had wanted to. We also traveled with our two young children, which as with Berlin, factored into what we did and didn’t do. I am going to do these as two separate sections, one for Amsterdam and one for everything else, that way if you are only interested in Amsterdam you can only read that part or if you are only interested in the Tulips you can only read that part. It is also too much and too different to try and consolidate into one long recommendations and tips section.

Recommendations for Amsterdam

It may seem overly touristy but take advantage of the boat rides along the canals. To be completely honest this is one of the best ways to get an overall look at the city, the canals, the different “high points”, but without all of the tourists. You aren’t fighting a crowd to look at a church or tower. It also gives you a unique point of view from what it would have been like in history.  If you take the train in, you can find plenty of options all along the exit of the station, as well as options all throughout the canals. Depending on what you are more interested in, you’ll find a boat tour that will meet those needs (we saw everything from a romantic cruise, to all about the alcohol, to a standard hear the history and nothing more). We didn’t originally plan on doing a boat ride, but our older son insisted, and it didn’t look too bad when we got out there.

I would also recommend heading over to Dam Square. This is the main town square and there is usually always something going on. From here you can get a good view of the exterior of The Royal Palace, see The National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk Church. There are also a couple other spots right off the square if you’re interested, Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We did not go in either of those, but we did go inside the Royal Palace. I’ll be honest, The Royal Palace tour is not a necessity to a trip to Amsterdam. If you are interested you can certainly do it, but it is not like a “must see”. I really enjoyed it, but I am a royal fan and think that seeing different palace’s and other type of government buildings is really interesting.

A couple of the spots that I wish we could have gone to, that were on our list but didn’t end up being an option, were: The Anne Frank House, Foodhallen, and The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. I’ll get into The Anne Frank House in my tips/tricks, the Foodhallen is a food court that came highly highly recommended to us, and the Rijksmuseum as a lot of Dutch history that we wanted to learn about.

I’ll touch on one more spot as I feel like I need to make a note on this because to be honest, not a lot of people talk about Amsterdam without talking about The Red Light District OR the booming cannabis market/options. We walked through the Red Light District and I found it to be just like a regular stroll (in a weird way). Here’s the thing, first off you cannot take video or pictures in the District. This is to protect the workers that are there, and I can completely understand. These are regular people who are doing what it is that they do. Just because it is not something that we see every day, or something that may not be as popular or destigmatized in our area of the world, does not mean that they need to put in a spotlight situation. If you choose to stroll along the District, do not leer, do not linger, just be respectful. These are people just as we are, and they are doing what they choose and want to do.

 Tips for Amsterdam:

Tip #1: Bikes have the right of way and they will exercise that right of way whether you are aware of that or not. Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) has a huge biking community, it’s how the majority of their population gets around. Most places will have designated bike lanes, so don’t hover in those lanes and make sure that you are aware of where they are when there are no designated lanes.

If you want the true experience, there are so many different bike rental spots!

Tip #2: Make it an Adult Only or Girls Trip. This one is going to be a little bit hard to explain, or maybe it won’t, but I think Amsterdam would be so much different if it was just adults. I don’t say this for any “content” warning for what is in Amsterdam or for any lack of enjoyment reason. We loved (and do still love) taking our kids out throughout the world, exposing them to new cultures, places, people that they would not otherwise get to experience. HOWEVER, Amsterdam is so packed with people that you are spending a good amount of your time just shuffling along with the crowds and worrying about being separate from those you are with, until you get out of the main area. I think I worried a little bit more than normal with having our kids there.

Tip #3: Look at staying outside of the City Limits and taking the train in. Amsterdam is quite expensive and staying in a hotel in the city is very expensive. It is also, once again, full of people and traffic. We stayed outside the city in a little town and took the train in to Central Amsterdam. We were able to book a little cottage on AirBnB for a very reasonable price and it gave us a little breathing room. We didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic in a car or finding parking for the day. I am already a really big believer in public transportation, and this weekend away really confirmed that for me.

Recommendations for Tulips/Flower Season

As for how I would recommend you approach the tulip season that is going to depend on what you actually want to see. If you want to see just the Tulip Fields, there are a couple of different farms that you can go to. Lisse is the most popular spot and has the largest amount of options to see Tulips. MAKE SURE that you check my Tips out though, because there are some rules you will want to be available of. You can also see the Tulips just driving along the road and throughout train rides. I believe you can also see them from the sky, but I couldn’t confirm that.

We went to Keukenhof Tulip Garden, which is one of the more famous well-known spots for the Tulips. I knew that I wanted to see a bit of both the Tulip Fields AND the more manicured growing plots. Keukenhof has the best of both worlds for that. They boast about 7 Million Bulbs are planted and grown in their garden and I would believe it. Plus, believe me when I say there is something for everyone here. They have a kid’s area in the center where there is a playground, petting zoo, and park to eat at. There is also a maze for the kids to run through. There is a windmill that gives you a view over the fields, water, and gardens as well as two other overlook spots. Finally, you also have the indoor flower shows that follow along with themes for the year (one changes weekly). They have a unique planting and growing system that allows them to have blooms for eight weeks, so you have plenty of time to check them out.

My other recommendation would be to bike through the countryside. This is an excellent way to not only see the beautiful countryside of The Netherlands, but also see the Tulip Fields, the windmills, and be true to how the people get around. It is such a fun way to get around and see the country.

Tips for Tulips/Flower Season

Tip #1 (Possibly the Most Important One): DO NOT just go traipsing through the tulip fields all willy nilly to try and get the perfect picture or see them better. The Tulips are not only part of The Netherlands and the culture, but it is also a HUGE business for them. They work incredibly hard to grow and maintain the tulips and walking through the actual field itself ruins the flowers and the field. Only do this at the land owners permission (and if you’ve paid for it).

Tip #2:Go as early in the day as possible. No matter when you go or how you choose to see the Tulips it is going to be crowded. We went the peak weekend for the blooms, which also happened to be Easter Weekend and I didn’t feel like we were fighting the crowds until the very end of our time in the park. We went shortly after they opened and a few hours later everyone else seemed to start coming in. So, go early!

Tip #3:Just enjoy the beauty around you. I am a big one for documenting everything, taking all of the pictures, capturing every bloom and even I had to take a step back and just enjoy the sheer beauty around you. This is such a special place and time and honestly, not to get hokey, just take a step back from the camera/phone and enjoy the moment.

And on that note…

Those are all of my Things You Should Do and Tips for Amsterdam/The Netherlands! We do hope to go back and see some other area’s in the country one day, but this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. If you have any specific questions I will try to answer them in the comments below and if you have any of your own tips, please leave them below!

Amsterdam – A Long Weekend

Good morning! I’ve got another long weekend travel post for you today of one of my favorite vacation spots that we’ve been so far. We just recently spent a long weekend in The Netherlands and it was one of the most beautiful trips that we have taken. Fun fact: Holland is the informal name for The Netherlands and you hear the residents refer to it both ways. I am going to handle this trip the same way I did with our Berlin weekend, today’s post will breakdown everything that we did and I will do a separate post with all of my tips/recommendations! So, without further ado, let’s talk about our weekend!

I want to start by saying that we got incredibly lucky with the weather being as amazing as it was. The temperatures were in the 70’s and everyday was a clear sky. We couldn’t have asked for anything better!

Our trip started off a little rough with the drive over to our final location being a bit longer than anticipated. It was Easter weekend, and that meant cars on the road, but we also had a couple of situations come up for the kids as well. HOWEVER, even with the problems, the drive was absolutely beautiful and we got a chance to see the Tulip Fields on our drive in. It was nice to get a litte view of what we were in for. To say that we were happy/relieved/ready to be done when we arrived at our final location was putting it mildly. With the drive out of the way, we were free to explore the area.

We had decided that we did not want to stay in Amsterdam. Not only is the cost very expensive, but the traffic, population count, and 24 hr atmosphere is quite a lot to take in. We wanted something a little bit slower for our weekend. We picked out a little AirBnB in a little town called Noordwijkaan Zee. This is a beach town that is absolutely perfect in location being about 30-45 minutes by train from Amsterdam and about 15 minutes by car from the Tulip Gardens we planned to visit, AS WELL AS being about a 10 minute walk from the beach.

We spent our first late afternoon/evening walking through the town and the beachfront. I am not a big beach person, but I really enjoyed the time that we did spend on the beach. It was not very crowded and was very well…maintained (by this I mean there wasn’t any trash, the people were very nice, etc.). We had a dinner outdoors at ‘T Elfde Gebod and our food was delicious. For me, I chose a sandwich of Salmon, Avocado, Tomato, Pine Nuts, and Dressing on a Sesame Seed Bun. What a way to kick off our weekend!

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We had already decided to spend one day in Amsterdam and to try and do as much as we could within the city in that time frame. For me, I mostly just wanted to walk throughout the city and if something looked interesting, we would pop in. There were a couple of museums, and The Anne Frank House, that I wanted to visit, but we didn’t get to. There was also a food spot that I wanted to try, but had to pass as well. Those are things I will hold on to for another trip in the future.

Even though we didn’t get to cross everything off our list, we did end up doing quite a bit. We started out in a boat on the canal…

The boat tour was one thing that our oldest son requested (he’s 3…as soon as he saw the canal boats he asked right away) and we actually really enjoyed it. Not only is it a way to go along the actual canals, we received a fair amount of information about the history of Amsterdam and the current information as the city is now. It gave us a really good overview of Amsterdam, as well as let us see some sights without fighting the crowds (because Amsterdam is crowded). IMG_8536After the Boat tour we decided to grab a quick bite to eat (it was already lunchtime) and let the boys eat their snacks as well. We stopped at Bistro Berlage where we enjoyed sandwiches and coffee before heading out.

The afternoon we decided to just walk through the city, hitting up the spots that we wanted to at least see and then experience everything thing else. Once you get out of the “immediate” area of Amsterdam, aka the train station hub, the crowds start to thin out ever so slightly and while you are still fighting a sea of people and bikes, it isn’t as bad. We started out at The Red Light District and worked our way away from there. I will say, The Red Light District isn’t as…mind blowing as many people make it out to be. Yes, it is the brothel area. Yes, there are women in windows attracting passerby’s and selling themselves. BUT, it is not as seedy or as wild as it is put out to be. These are just people going about their business, doing what they do. Once we walked through there, we headed back in the direction of Dam Square and the Royal Palace. 5205528369492211466_IMG_1875Dam Square is their central town square and it was packed full of people. There was some sort of a party/music/event going on and we only got to slightly see the full square before having to hurry along.

Right off of the square is the Royal Palace. The Netherlands does have a monarchy and the monarch is part of the government. The Royal Palace has rooms that are open to the public as long as there is not an event coinciding with your visit. It is one of three palace’s in The Netherlands, and while it isn’t used as a residence, it still has a very prominent role in both history and present day. It started as a Town Hall and was later turned in to a Royal Palace. It was very interesting to see the inside of the palace itself and we were able to see several different rooms, bedrooms, and the balcony. The audio tour not only gives the current relevance of the room, but also gives a historical perspective. Most of the palace had close ties in design to Bonaparte, which was interesting. It was a really beautiful interior, with the  Central Hall taking the cake of beautiful interior.

We finished our day by walking over to the exterior of the Anne Frank House (we couldn’t get tickets to the tour, which I will touch on in my Tips/Tricks/Recommendations post) and then walking along the various canal streets as we headed back to the train station. Even though we couldn’t go inside the Anne Frank House, it was still impactful to see the exterior and put a place to something that we have all heard about. Our day ended with a train ride home and dinner in a town called Leiden at Oudt Leyden. It was a truly wonderful day.

Easter Sunday dawned the prettiest of the four days of our weekend. Lucky for us as Easter Sunday was our day to spend with the flowers. One of the things The Netherlands is known for is their Tulips. If you do a google search you will see aerial and ground shots of just fields and fields of tulips. It is a sight to see just in that search, let alone in person. One of the biggest reasons (in fact the main reason) we decided to The Netherlands at this time was because it was supposed to be the peak weekend for the blooms. There are several different ways to see the Tulips, a flower garden, biking through the fields, or driving along the road. -5581938934245434523_IMG_2009We decided to go to the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse. This is one of the more popular and well known spots (aside from Amsterdam) in The Netherlands. Let me tell you, if you can make it here, do it. It will not be a disappointment and is well worth the time and price. This year was it’s 70thyear of exhibitions and this year boasted 7 million flower bulbs. There is something to be said for the sheer beauty of the garden as you walk through not only a variety of colors, but a variety of tulips. There were tulips I didn’t even know existed on display! Have no fear, it is not only Tulips (although that is the main flower), they also have hyacinth and other flowers on display. We spent a few hours just walking through the center stopping to see different flowers and to walk across the water as well.

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Every year they have a theme to the main exhibit and this year’s was a really fun one, Flower Power. The main floral part of that exhibition had a women in flowers with the headband, peace sign, flower, and a butterfly.  The main exhibition pavilion and outdoor display touched on that 60/70’s hippie free love feeling.

The best part about Keukenhof is that not only do you get the best of the growers fields, but you can also see just plain tulip fields, a full windmill, a petting zoo and playground for kids, and 3 pavillions of floral exhibitions. There is something for everyone involved! Which means that even my husband enjoyed walking through the different plots and gardens within the center. It was a wonderful few hours spent soaking up sun, flowers, and the sheer beauty that is The Netherlands.

We ended our day (and our weekend), back on the beach. This time we decided to do a long walk with both boys and dip our toys in the water and sand.

The boys struggled with the sand at the beginning, but quickly started to enjoy running along the beach. Andrew was especially captivated by the waves from the water, while Colton wanted nothing to do with the water. Either way, they both really enjoyed soaking up the sun in the afternoon after short little naps and we enjoyed walking along the water (and soaking up the sun). We had one last delicious dinner at Malegij’s, which was delicious (as was all the rest of the food that we ate this weekend) and headed back to the cottage to pack and sleep.

And with that, our time in The Netherlands had come to an end! While we didn’t do AS MUCH as we wanted, we still managed to hit every spot that we really wanted to and had the best time exploring a new area. The weather was incredible and everywhere we looked was just so incredibly beautiful. The people were so welcoming and we enjoyed every minute we had there.

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I hope that you enjoyed seeing just a small glimpse into The Netherlands through our eyes.  My tips/tricks/recommendations will be up in about a week or so.