The Netherlands and its cities have fast become one of my favourite places to be. With its friendly, family oriented people, active culture and rich history, this European destination is one that I would 100% encourage anyone to put on their list. Although Amsterdam is undeniably on most people’s bucket lists, 20 minutes out is the beautiful city of Utrecht, and both are filled with so many activities to keep you busy on your Dutch adventures with all of the food and culture that the Netherlands is known for. During the spring and summer months, temperatures can go up to the mid twenties and can get as cold as below zero during the winter time, so you’ll want to be alert for which time of year you book your holiday to make sure you bring the right wardrobe. Public transport is easily available to make your way round the cities but I would recommend that the easiest way to get around the cities are by bike, since the country is very bike friendly and this way you’ll get the authentic Dutch experience. I’ve made a list of everything that I love to see, do and discover when I’m in these beautiful cities, to give you just a taste of what would await you.
Dom Tower & St Martin’s Cathedral
The pride and joy of historical Utrecht, the Dom Tower stands proudly among the canals in ‘the fastest growing city in the Netherlands.’ Standing at 112 meters, it remains the highest church tower in the Netherlands and has stood since 1321, never actually having been completed. A storm in 1674 destroyed the uncompleted nave, leaving the tower standing on its own and the remaining section of the Cathedral remains unconnected to it, separated by a street and Domplein square. Visitors can tour the iconic structure and there are plenty of activities which go on in the area such as concerts and festivities which reflect the vibrant and colourful Dutch way of life. However, the structure is currently under reconstruction. Visitors and locals can also tour the beautiful church wherein people can pray, as well as view the various art exhibitions and religious celebrations that are held within.
If you’re in the Netherlands in the month of April, the Dutch celebrate Koningsdag (King’s Day), a celebration of the much loved Dutch royal family. The entire country is painted orange, the festivities last the whole weekend and it’s basically one big open air party with merriment and music flowing non stop down every one of the country’s winding streets.
Gay Pride: Being held on the 16th June this year, Utrecht proudly celebrates the LGBTQIA community during the Canal pride, with a parade in the morning and a raging street party in the evening.
Tulip season! I can’t believe I just missed tulip season this year! If you’re an avid instagrammer you’d have seen your feeds filled with the endless tulip fields of Lisse. The iconic fields and the national flowers are such a part of the Dutch culture that they even have festivals and parades dedicated to the multicoloured beauties. This year the festivities ran from the 22nd March till the 13th May. I only just made it in time to catch a few of the remaining bulbs in Amsterdam this season but be sure to book your trip during these spring months so as not to miss the spectacular blooms. The Utrecht University Botanic Gardens also have some beautiful displays during the blooming seasons and visitors can visit the various sections of the garden and marvel at the flora.
Houg Catherijne & shopping
Boasting over 150 stores, you’ve got all your shopping sorted in one of the biggest indoor shopping centres in the Netherlands. From local brands to international names, from food to designer bags you’ve got it all right there for your perusing!
The canals, boat houses & canalside architecture
When you think of the Netherlands your mind goes to windmills and canals that elegantly make their way between adorable multicoloured houses. And you’d be right! Utrecht has got the perfect mix of quiet canals with the most adorable river boat houses and busy city centre with canals that snake their way between the shops and restaurants. Grab a bite to eat by the canal or take a ride on the river boats. Hire a bike for the day or walk around with a bag of delicious dutch potato fries, however you want to explore the quintessential dutch culture, you won’t be disappointed.
Food: Markets, fries & don’t even try counting calories
I’ve already mentioned potato fries, and it’s impossible to not have a giant bagful, with nearly every street having a shop and that warm smell just tempting you to indulge, with an unbelievably big selection of sauces. In the winter, the best thing to have is the warm Kroketten which you can buy out of vending machine type things on the go; they’re basically small breadcrumbed fried food rolls containing, usually as main ingredients, mashed potatoes or ground meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, and mixed with béchamel or brown sauce. They’ve also got the Stroopwafel which is a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle and is sickening sweet but so yummy. The cheese markets are everywhere and you can sample them as you walk by the stalls before deciding which of the dozens of flavours to take home. And let’s not forget the fish, the Kibbeling which are battered chunks of fish, and the salmon which, if you love salmon, you won’t get enough of.
The Netherlands is, as I’ve come to discover, such a vegan friendly country. Although traditionally the cuisine is very meat and fish heavy, when I had a conversation with a girl in a shop who told me she was also trying to go vegan, she explained how despite the availability of options, it wasn’t so easy within the family home. Which is fair, and goes back to what I’ve always thought about the importance of not altering national identities and cultures in the name of the ‘vegan’ label so long as everyone is doing their small bit to contribute to the welfare of the planet. None the less, you can’t deny that the Dutch definitely do their part, what with all the bicycles and the generally very healthy lifestyles! Hover over the pics below to check out some of my favourite vegan spots in Utrecht!
The Railway Museum, Centraal Museum, Museum Catharijneconvent, Museum Speelklok, Museum Voor Het Kruideniersbedrijf, Sonnenborgh Observatory and De Haar Castle are some of the most visited museums in the city, dedicated to showcasing and appreciating the rich history of the Dutch. Tickets are fairly cheap but if you get yourself a museum card, you can then enter for free into all of the museums that Utrecht has to offer.
Being the country’s capital, Amsterdam is much busier than Utrecht, and the canals are bustling with activity, whether you’re coming from the station and need a tour of the city by canal boat, or whether you’re simply pursuing down the streets. The beauty of the city is evident in its iconic architecture, with many of the buildings actually beginning to sink into the ground, hence why they may appear crooked. It’s not due to bad construction but rather the fact that its been around for 700 years!! The smallest house in Amsterdam measures 2.02 meters wide and is registered as a national heritage site. You can visit the courtyard in which it is found, which is only accessible by a small archway, but visitors have to be quiet and respect the residents of the compound. There’s also plenty of shopping to be done in this bustling city, with brands such as Primark and Top Shop having outlets on the main road as you leave the station and if you’re looking for the more up market brands, De Bikenkorf in Dam Square is the department store you need to make your way towards. In the same square, you’ll also find a Madame Tussauds, the Royal Palace Amsterdam and plenty of little souvenir shops to get your traditional Dutch wooden clogs to take home. And yes, if it’s coffee shops or the allure of the promiscuous that’s brought you to the city, then you’ll find that simply walking around for a bit along the canals will land you right at the doorstep of the world’s largest and most reputed Red Light District.
This time round I made it my mission to take a trip to a must try vegan restaurant in Amsterdam and I dare anyone to say that vegans have less fun! Much to my dismay, the day after I left the Netherlands was the Vegan Food Festival in Amsterdam and I kid you not I was ready to jump back on the next train but alas, I’ll have to wait till the next one.
The Rijsmuseum & ‘I Amsterdam’
The Museum is a national monument dedicated to art and history in Amsterdam and if a picture in the Museumplein and the nearby ‘I Amsterdam’ sign is what you’re looking for, you’d better come early because the area is overflowing with tourists especially when the weather has taken a good turn.
Amsterdam’s floating market is the top place to go to fulfil your flower fantasies. From the stunning displays to the varieties that you can buy and the seeds that you can take home, the market is beautiful at this time of the year as people bustle about to get their little bits of flower fun.
I’ve barely grazed the surface of some of the things that the Netherlands has to offer if you were to visit and maybe now you’ll even consider adding it to your list of must see places in the world. This beautiful planet of ours is full of places to discover and I intend to see as much of it as I can.
Sit back, grab some Oreos, and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next.