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30 things I wish I knew before visiting the Netherlands

A visit to the Netherlands is always a terrific experience. I have just returned from this Western country and am thrilled to share with you some of my sincere thoughts on the Netherlands! Some things I wish I knew before going to the Netherlands!

Hope you find them useful.

Sunset over one canal in Amsterdam
Sunset over one canal in Amsterdam

Travel to the Netherlands, a small, but prosperous Western European country. Rich in waters and canals, tulips and windmills, Delft porcelain and history, or avantgarde cities in look or thinking, the Netherlands has many facets the curious traveller can explore.

Taste Dutch food! Just as food from all over in the Netherlands! Anyway, don’t miss on the delicious stroopwafel filled with caramel or the Dutch meatballs called bitterballen!  Get a taste of international cuisine and of the preoccupation to cook clean and organic! Quite pricey, by the way!

Feel the wind in your hair when riding a bike! Feel the liberal thinking and Dutch tolerance, feel the gravity of the Protestant church and the joy to celebrate! Apparently, the inhabitants of the Netherlands always knew how to roll the dice in their favour!

Show contents

Interesting facts about the Netherlands
Transportation tips in the Netherlands
Restaurants and eating tips
Random facts about the Netherlands

Interesting facts about the Netherlands

  • The names the Netherlands and Holland cannot be used interchangeably. The Netherlands is made up of 12 provinces, while Holland is only a region in the Netherlands that includes the biggest cities in the country.

  • The Netherlands is a low-lying European country with more than a quarter of its land about 2 meters below sea level.

  • The Netherlands is known to be a progressive and liberal country (and it is!), but it all comes with a price (and name): Dutch tolerance. To put it straight, this concept means: I do my thing, you do yours, I won’t say anything as long as you pay the taxes. The municipality knows what is going on, but they turn a blind eye as long as they get the money. This is the main principle that made the Dutch flourish and be the richest power in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (roughly the 17th century). And the principle is still alive.

  • One thing I had no idea about, is that smoking cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands. It is all about Dutch tolerance, that in respect to this issue appeared in the 1960es, the hippies and extensive use of heroin. Back then, the government decided to do something about it and tolerate cannabis. Today, you can smoke weed in a coffee shop, but the tax such shops have to pay is a staggeringly high 58%. This is how the government manages to make around half a billion euros annually from the coffee shops.

  • If you take a look at the canal houses in Amsterdam (UNESCO heritage), you’ll see that lots of them are tilted, as if resting on their brother for support. This is because the city was built on a swamp and under the ground, the houses rely on wooden poles. Every house in Amsterdam was built on 40-50 poles as their foundation. With time, the wood softened, the ground shifted and the buildings started tilting in suspicious directions.

  • Dutch houses are so narrow because Dutch people hate paying taxes. They designed all of Amsterdam as such because during the Golden Age they taxed you on how wide the street front of the house was. So, the Dutch built narrow, but deep houses, sometimes even 30 meters in depth. The best example is the Anne Frank house.

  • The very narrow houses go along with a slim staircase. So, even nowadays when you move, you take out the window and use a rope for the goods. This explains why Dutch houses have no balconies. However, houses tilting to the right or left have a foundation issue, but the leaning forward is intentional for such purposes: to load easier the goods.
Canals, traditional houses and bikes - the typical Dutch image
Canals, traditional houses and bikes – the typical Dutch image

Transportation tips in the Netherlands

  • Of course, you should purchase (here, with no additional fee) travel tickets for unlimited public use for cities, such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam to ease your moving along throughout the cities.

  • For Amsterdam (operated by GVB company), you have the daily ticket  (9 euros) valid for 24 hours from first check-in, or the multi-day ticket 2-4 days in Amsterdam (15, 21 or 26.50 euro for 2, 3 or 4 days) valid for 48, 72 or 96 hours from first check-in. It also comes in 5-7 day tickets. The ticket includes unlimited transport on trams, day and night buses, as well as metros.

  • Also, for Amsterdam, you have the Amsterdam Travel Ticket which includes unlimited transport for trams, day and night buses. as well as metros. But the difference is that it also includes a bus (bus no 397 for the day and N97 the night airport bus) and a train (NS railway) to/from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

  • A day in this context (Amsterdam Travel Ticket) begins at 0:00 a.m. and ends the next day at 4:00 a.m. So, if you purchase a one-day Amsterdam travel ticket and you start using it, let’s say, on Monday at 2 p.m. (14:00), you won’t be able to use until Tuesday 2 p.m. Remember, it is valid from Monday 0:00 a.m. until Tuesday 04:00 in the morning. The price is 18 euros for 1 day, 24 for 2 days and 30 for 3 days. You can buy the ticket online and exchange it for printed card in several places in the city, such as Amsterdam Centraal (Central Station).

  • The public transport system is amazing in Amsterdam. I’d rather say Amsterdam, because in Rotterdam, waiting times for trams were slightly longer, but in Amsterdam we used all means of transportation and we never had to wait longer than 2 minutes, which is stunning, really. Means of transportation are always on time, clean and not crowded. It’s a big plus for the Netherlands.

  • This is a major recommendation for trams and buses. (The metro works the same as in all major cities). Whether you have or not a prepaid travel card for unlimited transportation, the general rule is to check-in and check-out every time you travel. Why is that? Because, if you forget to check-out, your card may not work properly anymore even if it should still be valid (There are lots of signs to remind you of the check-out.)

  • Despite our travel cards in Amsterdam, we still had to buy some bus tickets as we were accommodated outside of the city bus transportation system. Then we understood how the check-in and -out really works. If you have a contactless bankcard, you check-in at the entrance on the bus/tram and the machine remembers the departure point of your trip (it says IN). When you leave the bus/tram, you use your card again (just as before – this time it says OUT) and, according to the distance, it knows the amount of money to charge from your card.
Amsterdam Centraal is an architectural masterpiece in the Netherlands
Amsterdam Centraal is an architectural masterpiece

Restaurants and eating tips

  • The Dutch cuisine specializes mainly in fast food ranging from savory to sweet: bitterballen (meatballs), herring, stamppot (winter dish made of vegetables and sausage), krokets (Dutch croquettes), poffertjes (small Dutch pancakes), stroopwafels (wafels filled with caramel).

  • The Netherlands is an expensive country. So are the restaurants. In fact, if you want to eat cheap, you need to rather address a fast food or an Asian eatery. In the downtown, you’ll be surprised how many Asian or Argentinian restaurants can be found.

  • Before heading towards a place, make sure you check its timetable. We saw on Maps a nice place, but discovered it only opened for dinner.

  • Except for the fast-food places, it is recommended to book ahead.

  • A good fact about eateries is that they offer free tap water. Sometimes, you need to ask, but they are always kind.

  • In most places, payment is only available by card.

For more info on where to eat well for a reasonable price, check The ultimate guide to cheap eats Amsterdam.

Veggie sandwich
Veggie sandwich
Poffertjes are delicious
Poffertjes are delicious

Random facts about the Netherlands

  • It isn’t a surprise to anyone that bikes are one of the mainstream things about the Dutch. In the Netherlands there are twice as many bikes as cars, while in Amsterdam there are more bikes than people. So, look twice before you cross, and stay on the sidewalks! By the way, sometimes, cycle tracks are much wider than the pedestrian sidewalks!

  • Everybody speaks good English in the Netherlands. Indeed!

  • Amsterdam’s downtown is dirty. Jordaan neighborhood (the most touristy area) is crammed with coffee shops, therefore expect to find cigarettes, litter, or glass shards.

  • There are no beggars or homeless people on the streets in the Netherlands.

  • I discovered that the Netherlands is a silent country. During a train ride, I found out that Dutchies do not want to be bothered by others. Also, at Schiphol airport I saw a notice stating that the place is a silent airport, meaning that no loud announcements are being made on the premises.

  • The Dutch expect eye contact and criticism when chatting. They are not usually the people to initiate a conversation.

  • In most places you can pay by card only. Be prepared for this even in places where no such sign is displayed.

  • I rarely noticed curtains or fences (at the outskirts or remote house areas) in the Netherlands. Dutch people seem to have nothing to hide.

  • The Netherlands is a monarchy. Their king is Willem-Alexander (born on April 27 when King’s Day is celebrated), married to Queen Máxima, of Argentinian origin.

  • Although the flag is blue, white and red, Dutch people really love orange. This comes from a connection to the Royal Family and William of Orange, the first Prince of Orange and leader of the Dutch Revolt in the 16th century.
Cube Houses in Rotterdam
Cube Houses in Rotterdam
Windmills in the Netherlands
Windmills in the Netherlands

Have you been to the Netherlands before? Did you like it? What other interesting facts did you discover about the Dutch? I am looking forward to reading your impressions!

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