Postcards from the Netherlands

Over February break, Emily and I traveled to the Netherlands with my grandma, my great aunt, and my cousin to visit our family who lives over there. This trip was long overdue and well worth the extended plane ride and jet lag (which was way worse on the way back, might I add). We had made it a goal for the trip to balance family time with the chance to explore locally and I found that our itinerary did just that. While it may not have been the “typical” trip people take when visiting the Netherlands, I did pick up some tips, tricks, and notes on must-see attractions that I wanted to share.


Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a very cool city. It’s walkable (if you’re able) or you can hop on and off the tram with ease (and a tap to pay credit card). There’s plenty of great shopping and lots of neat restaurants. One of our days in the city, we visited the Van Gogh Museum and had a fabulous lunch at Cafe Americain. The other was spent shopping at de Bijenkorf and visiting the Royal Palace. While our itinerary didn’t include time for the Rijksmuseum or the Anne Frank House, we heard both are fabulous.

Haarlem

Haarlem is where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live and it was my favorite city of our trip. It’s such a beautiful area with cute neighbors and a great central area with shopping, busy side streets, and fabulous food. We visited the Saturday market in Centraal, toured the Corrie ten Boom House, had tea at the Queen’s Tearoom, and had an awesome dinner at De Lachende Javaan. One important note: most of Haarlem uses pin for payment, which can get a little tricky if you’re visiting from the states.

The Hague

I wish we had had more time in The Hague. I wasn’t as familiar with the city and our purpose for visiting was to see the Gold Finch and the Girl with the Pearl Earrings at the Mauritshaus. However, the area has some really neat, older architecture and beautiful sites along the canals. There’s plenty of little cafes to stop in and almost everywhere serves apple pie which was a favorite of ours throughout the trip.

Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the most modern city in the Netherlands for the fact that it was the only one bombed and rebuilt after WWII. (The Netherlands had actually surrendered to Germany to avoid the bombing but the telegraph couldn’t get through the rainy weather of the evening- how wild!)

We checked out the Cube Houses and the Tuesday market outside the Markthal (the biggest in the Netherlands) before perusing the different shops and choosing a spot for a delicious meal.

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists from the Netherlands and the museum dedicated to his work is quite astounding. It was neat to have his artwork paired with the story of his life, including artifacts, letters, and quotes. I appreciated that by the end of touring the museum, you felt like you really had a sense of Van Gogh as an artist and a person. The exhibits were busy but easy to walk through and it was nice to take our time meandering through. In total we were there about two and a half hours (including a stop at the cafe and gift shop on the ground level).

Mauritshaus

Similar to the Van Gogh museum, the Mauritshaus has a smaller, very focussed collection with gems like The Girl in the Pearl Earrings, the Goldfinch, and Rembrant’s Anatomy Lesson. The building itself is beautiful and very enjoyable to walk around in. They also have a temporary exhibition, which allowed us to view Roelant Savery’s still lifes and landscapes. The Dodo was a particular favorite of mine.

The Royal Palace

Fans of architecture and greek mythology will really enjoy walking through the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. Not only is the interior of the building stunning, but it boasts a truly unique history where it was first used as a public building, then a residence for a French king, then returned to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since then it has been used by the monarch for state visits, functions, and receptions. The royal family and foreign dignitaries occasionally stay at the Palace but is, for the most part, open and welcoming to visitors.

The Queen’s Tearoom

We had a wonderful afternoon tea at the Queen’s Tearoom in Haarlem. The owner Sarah stopped to chat with us for a bit and shared her traditional British roots which prompted her to craft a truly authentic tea. The three courses (sandwiches, scones, and pastries) were each accompanied by a pot of tea and the atmosphere was ideal for a leisurely meal, enjoyed slowly. The staff was unbelievably friendly and the food was delicious. We left with full bellies and a slight caffeine buzz.

Outdoor Markets

There are outdoor markets throughout the Netherlands, which seem to be the best place to purchase fresh breads, cheeses, meats, and more local delicacies. Whenever you’re visiting, it’s worth scanning online to see what is local to you and when stands are open. The Saturday market in Haarlem was a joy to walk through. The Tuesday and Saturday market in Rotterdam was a little overwhelming but had a huge selection of fish, fruit, and flee market finds. Don’t forget to pick-up a Stroopwafle and while you’re at it, a Waffle on a Stick!

Dutch Apple Pie

We joked that as a family, we ate our way through Italy trying every type of gelato we could find. In Scotland and Ireland, we indulged in Sticky Toffee Pudding. Well, in the Netherlands, Dutch Apple Pie is the way to go. Almost all cafes and restaurants serve it and believe me when I say, it’s all fabulous. The crust is the biggest difference from an American apple pie but the flavor is spot on. While we didn’t make it to Winkle 43, I’ve heard theirs is the best. My personal favorite was served at Tierney’s Irish Pub in Haarlem.

Travel by Bus, Tram, and Train

As long as you have a credit card where you can “tap” to pay, travel in the Netherlands is surprisingly easy to navigate. All public transportation require the same payment (just don’t forget to “tap” out!) which makes it simple to jump from bus to train to tram. We rode the bus primarily in Haarlem which did require a bit of Google Maps navigation and the tram in Amsterdam. The trains are very clear with their scheduling and stops, as long as you are traveling between Centraal stations. We only had an incident once where the trains seemed delayed or canceled due to an issue on the tracks, but finding an alternative route took only minutes.

Travel by Bike

While we did not bike while in the Netherlands (considering our older travel companions and Baby C on board) it is the fastest and most direct way to get around. A trip to dinner that took us 15-30 minutes by bus would take my aunt, uncle, and cousins less than 10 minutes. Be weary of the bike lanes, though, if you’re walking around and go with the flow. It was really neat to see so many folks biking, especially during the school drop off where kids rode alongside on seats or in little carts.


All in all, I highly recommend you visit the Netherlands if you have the chance. Don’t sleep on Haarlem, which was our favorite city of the trip (though we may be a little biased). Also, I’d recommend a slower itinerary with room for wandering, exploring, and lots of leisurely meals.

While we visited in February which meant we missed out on the tulips and boating down the canals. If we were to visit again, I’d love to visit in late spring to see and do both.

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