Holland (or properly, The Netherlands) and its capital Amsterdam is a popular travel destination thanks to its grand architecture, interesting museums, friendly people, and laid back atmosphere. The laid back approach extends to the seedier side of life, and the red light districts and ‘coffee shops’ are another draw – it’s a popular stag do destination for badly behaving Brits Abroad.
I’ve been three times – once as a student just for the hell of it, and twice while Interrailing, arriving / departing on each occasion by ferry, train, or bus. Whatever your reasons for visiting, the well-developed infrastructure, the country’s compact nature, and its position near Germany, Belgium, France, and the UK, make the Netherlands a natural stop when overlanding through Europe:
Travel to, from, and within the Netherlands overland
The Netherlands has well-developed road and rail networks, both of which are easy ways to get to and around the country; Thalys and ICE high speed services run to Germany, Paris, and Belgium (with Eurostar connections to London). An Interrail pass (for Europeans) or a Eurail pass (for non-Europeans) is a good way to travel to the Netherlands overland as part of a wider European trip.
There are also three ferry routes operating between Dutch and British ports, namely Harwich to Hoek van Holland, Hull to Rotterdam, and Newcastle to Amsterdam, which you can book online here (also Interrail pass holders get a 30% discount on the Harwich – Hoek van Holland route). I’ve done the Hull-Rotterdam route several times, it’s a comfortable overnight journey and the bar can get quite lively!
As a member of the Schengen Area, and sharing borders with fellow Schengen countries Belgium and Germany, border crossings aren’t something you have to think about much when overlanding through the Netherlands (although police do sometimes board trains near borders to check IDs). This doesn’t apply to the sea routes though, as the UK is not in Schengen so full immigration controls apply.
Things to do in the Netherlands
Stroll (or take a boat ride) along Amsterdam’s canals.
Check out some ‘coffee shops’.
Wander around the red light district; seedy for sure, but interesting to see and far less dodgy than most similar places elsewhere.
The Heineken brewery tour is a good way to start an evening out, what with the free beer at the end – they only give you tickets for three beers, but the guy just kept them coming anyway and got us nicely pissed.
Museums – there are many to choose from, but the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House are the main draws. They’re also very popular so plan for crowds and try to visit on weekday afternoons.
Resources and Useful Links for Visiting the Netherlands
Official website for the Interrail pass
Official website for the Eurail pass
World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas (most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand)
Seat 61 has the schedules & fares for London to the Netherlands by train
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