For one reason or another, while managing to visit all the countries that surround the Netherlands, I never have crossed into Holland itself. As I was planning a trip around Europe, I found a way to start it off in Amsterdam. And what better time to visit than Spring.
Arriving on a non-stop flight from Salt Lake (home) was a big convenience. And while the jet-lag was certainly present, I still felt somewhat rested. With only 2 days in Holland, it was decided spending that time in and around Amsterdam would be best. Seeing the rest of the country would have to wait until a future visit. Not wasting any time, after storing the bags at the Schipol Airport baggage-storage facility, we jumped on a bus that departs regularly from the terminal and headed to Keukenhof Gardens, roughly 30 minutes away.
Among many other things, The Netherlands is well known for their tulips. Since being introduced to the area in the 16th century, an emerging industry was also cultivated by exporting tulip bulbs and soon they became a commodity. Eventually, the “tulip mania” bubble burst in the mid 17th as the flowers became grossly overvalued and people lost their fortunes. Nevertheless, the Dutch tulip industry has remained popular and no country grows more or exports more. In spring, the fields that scatter the country pop with vibrant colors before the tulips are harvested.
In the town of Lisse is Keukenhof Garden, one of the largest flower gardens in the world with over seven million bulbs planted. It has become a top attraction of The Netherlands with over 1 million visitors each season (they generally open from mid March to mid May).
Colorful Keukenhof Garden
We visited with only 2 days left before the gardens closed for the year, the crowds were pretty heavy as was expected. The grounds are beautiful though. You can see the highlights in a few hours but could easily spend more than a half day here if you want.
It is well known that windmills have served an important role in Dutch history. In part they have become a key force in the industrial growth the country has been known for in Europe and even helped in strengthening the Dutch Empire’s reach overseas by powering wood mills to create planks for ship building. Besides that they have also helped the country drain and reclaim land from the sea and delta’s in the country’s northwest.
While you can see these beautiful structures spread around the country, you can find several working windmills from the 16th and 17th century at Zaanse Schans, just outside Amsterdam. And while most of these windmills were transplanted from other locations in Holland, this outdoor museum offers a glimpse into the Dutch Golden Age. The cost is free to visit the grounds however there are fees to see the inside of the windmills.
Sunset on the Amstel River in Amsterdam.
When I examine cities I visit I like to find what makes them unique. And while there’s always something, Amsterdam goes the extra mile in being unique. Of course the city is well known for things like stepped gable roofs adorning the brick buildings. Not to mention the network of canals which envelop the inner city. And it almost seems bicycles outnumber people to ride them.
You can certainly sense that while it is large, it feels much different than that of other major cities. In fact, I would characterize the city as crowded yet quaint. People here carry on much differently. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere and doesn’t have the same hustle and bustle like you’d find in New York City, Tokyo, or London. It represents all walks of life and draws people with a vast array of interests. There’s pretty much something for everyone in Amsterdam. The locals are very warm and friendly.
Getting to the central part of Amsterdam is fairly simple. You can take the train from the airport terminal to Centraal Station which takes only twenty minutes.
While initially I intended to use public transit to get around the city, I found myself preferring to walk as I often do. When one attractive tree-lined canal or street draws you in there’s another ready to do it again right around the corner or just over that other neat looking bridge. The city is very walkable and with a good map you will be able to find your way around easily.
Besides on foot, taking a canal cruise is another great way to see the city. The canals situated in the center of the city divide it up into 90 islands surrounded by canals and 1,200 bridges to connect them. The public transit trams, metro, busses, and ferries are easy enough to use and are far less expensive than the taxis. And if you’re looking to join the crowd of bikes that zip up and down the designated bike lanes, you won’t have trouble finding a vendor to rent you one.
The city is full of food, entertainment, and shopping. Take a stroll through the Bloemenmarkt, an outdoor market along the Singel canal and home to several florists.
The art lovers will enjoy the offerings of the Van Gogh Museum featuring the works of the famous 19th century Dutch painter. Nearby is the Rijksmuseum which reopened in 2013 after a 10 year renovation. It is the country’s most visited museum and features works of Rembrandt and many other famous artists as well as historical artifacts.
The Anne Frank House is located in the Jordaan neighborhood near the center of the city. The home (now museum) allows visitors to see where the Frank family hid from Nazi occupiers during the Jewish Holocaust.
You can enjoy Amsterdam any time of year. But to see the beautiful tulips in all their glory, you’ll have to visit in spring. As mentioned previously, the Keukenhof sets dates each year for opening but generally runs from mid-March to mid-May. While the gardens were still beautiful when I visited towards the end of the tulip season, it was clearly past its prime. Most of the farms growing tulips will be harvested the later into spring you wait.
All things considered, I enjoyed visiting Amsterdam and the Netherlands very much and I am eager to return and spend more time here.
With this being the beginning of a trip through Europe, there is more to come. Stay tuned!