20+ Netherlands Travel Tips for First Timers & Must Knows Before You Go

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There are few countries in this world that inspire whimsy and wonder quite like the Netherlands.

Just mention the name and your brain leaps to sprawling tulip fields, bright wooden clogs, picturesque canals & comically tall cyclists going at the speed of light.

Delightful imagery aside however, there are many simple Netherlands must-knows that elude first time visitors – from what the country’s actually called to all the secret ways to save on transport and attraction tickets.

Luckily, you’re here! And you’ve landed straight in the den of an immovable Netherlands fan who has gone crawling back six or seven times over the years for “research”.

And in this post I’m finally putting that research to use. Keep scrolling for a list of my best Netherlands travel tips and must-knows, sourced over a decade of first-hand experience.

Save this list of Netherlands Travel Tips for later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. There is a difference between the Netherlands and Holland

For years, the name Holland has been used interchangeably with the Netherlands to refer to the delightful country we’re talking about today.

… I mean, even the country’s official tourism website is Holland.com.

BUT if we’re being technical, doing so is actually…. incorrect.

The reason is simple: the Netherlands is a country comprised of twelve provinces, only two of which (North Holland and South Holland) make up “Holland”. This means calling the Netherlands “Holland” would be like calling the entirety of the US “New England” or “the Midwest”.

… In other words, it doesn’t really make sense. And also isn’t fair to the rest of the country.

This branding crisis has complicated roots that I won’t get into here, but just know that there has been a movement lately to rebrand and remind people that the country is known as “the Netherlands”, not Holland.

So, keep that one in mind.

2. There’s much more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam

A big reason why the name “Holland” has stuck is because historically, this has been one of the most visited parts of the country in terms of tourism (with Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague all situated in Holland).

But as we now know, there’s much more to the Netherlands than just Holland, and far more for tourists to see than just Amsterdam.

So be sure to diversify your itinerary a bit during your trip! Given the compact size of the country and the ease of public transport, you really have no excuse.

From Amsterdam, you can reach tons of cool cities like Haarlem, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Delft within an hour, all of which offer a calmer alternative to the crowded chaos of Amsterdam.

And those who dare venture further will find everything from adorable villages like Giethoorn and Valkenburg to picturesque beaches, islands and national parks all over the country.

… So yes, there’s plenty more places to see in the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. Be sure to take advantage.

Magical views in Delft

3. Spring may be the best (though busiest) time to visit the Netherlands

In terms of when to visit, you really can’t beat Spring.

Granted, Dutch weather is notoriously hit and miss, meaning Spring time can yield just as many downpours as it does sunny days, but this time of year is the ideal period to catch those world famous Dutch tulips… and let me tell you, every bit of rain (and crowds) is worth it!

Of course, tulip season varies year to year so it’s tough to predict exactly when it happens, but if you are specifically planning a trip to see tulips, mid April is usually the safest time.

4. Winter or Fall are also great times to visit if you’re looking to avoid crowds

Of course, the major downside of Spring travel in the Netherlands is crowds.

Every year, millions flock to the country for a glimpse of those vibrant bulbs…

So if you value your personal space and sanity over cute photos of flora, my best Netherlands travel tip for you would be to visit during Winter or Fall, while steering clear of July and August, as well as school holidays like Easter because that’s when crowds and prices are at their worst.

5. Use 9292 to plan your journeys on public transport

In terms of getting around, public transport in the Netherlands is honestly a dream.

And one really great Netherlands transport tip I have for you is to check out the website/app known as 9292.

This magic wizard app shows you all the best connections from Point A to Point B using Dutch trains, buses, and trams. All you need to do is enter your Departure Point and Destination, and it’ll even tell you how much it should cost (giving it a clear edge over Google Maps).

So, be sure to save it for your trip!

7. For ease, use your contactless cards for train travel

If you plan on taking trains in the Netherlands, one good thing to know is that Dutch train prices are fixed based on distance, meaning no difference whether you buy tickets ahead of time or on the day of (apart from a 10% off-peak advance discount if you book early enough, which I’ll discuss later).

All that to say, planning train travel in advance is much less important here than in some other countries.

To make things even easier, as of 2023, you can even use contactless credit and debit cards to pay at the fare gates, which means you can show up at the station without a ticket and go right through by tapping in and out with your card.

The correct amount will then be charged to your card automatically. It genuinely couldn’t be simpler.

8. Learn all the ways to save money on train tickets

As you could probably tell from my feverish rants, I’m a huge fan of train travel in the Netherlands – squeaky clean, easy to use and ultra widespread, with about 400 train stations across the country.

Sadly, there is a downside. Trains in the Netherlands can cost many a penny.

But before you start docking funds from your Stroopwafel fund, here are some easy ways to save money on Dutch train tickets:

  • Off-Peak Early Booking: Often you can get a small discount of 10% for booking a digital ticket at least four days in advance for offpeak periods (meaning weekdays before 06:30, between 09:00 and 16:00, and after 18:30, as well as all day during weekends and public holidays).
  • Off-Peak Group Tickets: Buying a group ticket for off-peak periods often means lower prices per person.
  • Day tickets: Buying a day ticket means you pay one price and get unlimited travel during the day. This kind of ticket would be ideal for big day trips.
  • Attraction / special deal tickets: The official NS website here has a page of special deals and offers, usually including admission to attractions with some food and the train tickets all for one set price.

9. Don’t miss the free train WiFi

Okay: last piece of positive Dutch train propaganda – there’s usually WiFi on board – just look for the network WiFi in de trein.

10. Dutch is the official language, but don’t stress about learning beyond the basics

Language-wise, the official language of the Netherlands is Dutch…

But honestly, it’s incredible how well some Dutch people speak English. Especially younger Dutchies living in big cities.

Not only do they have immaculate grammar most of the time – they get the slang, they get the humour… it’d be borderline enraging if it wasn’t so impressive.

So, that said – don’t worry too much about mastering Dutch before your trip, although knowing some basics like greetings and thank you (dankjewel, pronounced “donk-yeh-vel!”) is advised.

11. Learn to pronounce the places you’ve visiting

Dutch is a tough language, and while you won’t need to learn everything during your visit, one important Netherlands tip I have for you in terms of language is to (at the very least) learn how to pronounce the names of places you’re visiting.

Because while Dutch people can speak phenomenal English, one area where they struggle is understanding mispronounced versions of Dutch place names, because well, they know how to say everything correctly.

So, if you keep yelling “GEET-HORN” at them when they know it as “hyeet-hoorn” (with plenty of throat action), they may have no idea what place you’re asking about.

So if you need to ask for directions at any point, knowing how to pronounce names can be really helpful.

PS: It would be helpful to learn all the Dutch names of your destinations too, as trains and buses tend to display those rather than English names.

12. Don’t be shocked by Dutch directness

Much like German efficiency, Dutch directness is a stereotype that has a longstanding reputation in Europe. Most say it’s a result of Dutch culture’s emphasis on honesty… but for some first time visitors, this difference in communication may come off as harsh or rude.

Search up “Dutch directness” and you’ll be bombarded with tales from tourists and expats alike – from co-workers commenting that they hate your haircut to customer service professionals asking “what do you want?!”

And while I haven’t quite had this experience, it’s worth noting that Dutch communication styles may vary from where you’re from, so if you feel that someone is being abrupt with you, it could just be that infamous Dutch directness at play… so don’t take anything personally!

A direct Dutch person for instance might tell me how stupid this photo looks. And they’d be right!

13. Visiting for tulip season? Book a photo session at a special farm

If you plan to join the flower-hungry army of tourists that descend upon the Netherlands every Spring, then here’s one important must-know: there are special farms you can visit that are made specifically for photos.

Why would you partake in something that’s so shamelessly vain? Well, it may come as a shock, but regular tulip farmers don’t take too kindly to strangers trampling their fields in search of photos.

… And simply admiring fields from afar isn’t quite the magical bucket list experience many hope for.

Hence, the establishment of photo-forward tulip farms! They really are the perfect solution. You pay a fee and get free reign at the tulip photoshoot of your dreams (filled with cute props and installations), and no innocent ‘made for sale’ tulips need to be sacrificed in the process. It’s a win win.

On my recent trip, I went to the Tulip Barn in Hillegom and had SO much fun. Truth be told, I might have even enjoyed it more than the famous Keukenhof gardens nearby…

On that note…

14. Beware that Keukenhof is a flower garden, not a flower field

Year after year, I hear accounts of disappointment from visitors to the Dutch wonderland known as Keukenhof, AKA Europe’s most famous flower garden.

The reason for their floral despair? The lack of sprawling tulip fields.

And, fair enough, marketing materials for Keukenhof (and 3rd party companies selling tours to Keukenhof) can be deceptive, so let me be clear right now: if your goal is to frolic through dreamy fields of tulip after tulip, Keukenhof is not where you want to be.

You can think of Keukenhof more as a manicured garden/flower show, filled with themed displays and installations. Is it beautiful? Of course! But the only fields you’ll see there are from a distance (or from a very sad little boat ride that circles them, with no possibility to stop or get out).

So before you book that (admittedly) pricey ticket to Keukenhof, know what you’re in for. My full guide to Keukenhof can help with that.

15. Book tickets for big attractions well in advance

The Netherlands is an amazing country to visit for culture lovers, with more museums and galleries than you could ever reasonably visit.

The good news is, there’s plenty of cool attractions to enjoy. The bad news is, you definitely won’t be alone in enjoying them.

So, especially if you’re visiting the Netherlands during peak seasons like Spring and Summer, make sure you book your must-see attractions in advance. For particularly big sights like the Anne Frank House, doing so weeks, if not months in advance, is necessary for avoiding disappointment.

And if you see skip the line tickets – treat yourself to them. Time is money!

16. Know where to find the best attraction deals

Another downside of major Dutch attractions? They can burn some deep holes in your wallet.

Unlike many other countries in Europe, I found the Netherlands to be lacking in age-based discounts unless you’re a literal child (meaning few discounts for students, youth and seniors).

Nonetheless, there are some other ways to save money if you’re crafty! Here are some:

  • Sightseeing passes and cards e.g. the I amsterdam Card: Well worth it if you plan to do many attractions because it gives you access to multiple attractions for one set price. Be sure to crunch the numbers first though because the passes themselves are often quite expensive, and not worth it unless you’re doing a LOT of attractions.
  • Bundle deals: Great for saving a bit of cash on 2-3 attractions. Be sure to browse sites like GetYourGuide or Tiqets, where there’s often deals that combine two or more attractions for a slight discount e.g. this ticket that combines the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam with a canal cruise.

17. Beware of bike lanes

Alright, now moving onto more practical Netherlands travel tips for when you arrive.

This one may be the most important one on the list. Please, for the love of Gogh, be mindful of bike lanes. They’re everywhere in the Netherlands because everybody and their mom here rides bikes, and it’s VERY easy to accidentally walk on one if you’re not used to them.

So, if you see any red asphalt paths, steer clear. Unless “getting run over by a bike” is on your Netherlands bucket list.

This is what bike lanes will typically look like, although the never-ending parade of bicycles on it will probably also be a good sign:

18. Don’t rent a bike in the Netherlands unless you’re super confident on one

While most tourist guides will recommend renting a bike to “experience the Netherlands like a local”, I’m going to take the opposite approach and say….. don’t. Save yourself.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dutch cyclists are next level. They practically exit the womb on a bike.

And they don’t have much patience for struggling tourists, so unless you’re an excellent cyclist who is familiar with the Dutch rules of the road, don’t rent one just for the experience, unless said experience is making every cyclist in the Netherlands hate you.

Stationary bikes are the way to go

19. Bring cash

Another important Netherlands must-know? Make sure you always have a bit of cash.

While card payments are widely accepted in the Netherlands these days, the Dutch tend to prefer using debit over credit.

As such, you might have trouble paying with a credit card in some places, which is why I would recommend having cash on you just in case.

Up until 2023, some places would even only accept Maestro debit cards (which were previously only used in Europe). Luckily, they are now in the process of phasing them out, which means the Netherlands is likely to become a lot more Visa/Mastercard-friendly in the near future.

On my most recent trip, I noticed that my Visa credit card would randomly not work at certain supermarkets and shops, so for ease of mind, I’d recommend always having at least a bit of cash.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

20. Bring coins for public toilets… especially if you’re a woman

Like in many other European countries, sadly public toilets in the Netherlands aren’t free, with toilets in train stations costing as much as 70 cents!

So, bring coins with you to make sure you have a way to pay.

While some of the more modern machines will accept card payments, I ran into a faulty machine that refused my card no matter what, so I needed a friend to let me in!

…. and yes, it was embarrassing, so bring coins to avoid being sad like me.

NOTE: Around the Netherlands, there actually are public urinals set up on the street that are free to use, but toilets for my fellow squatters are far less common, and far less free.

21. Bring a jacket with a hood

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my travels in the Netherlands, it’s this: prepare for rain. Random rain. And lots of it.

Bundled with vicious winds, Dutch rain can be brutal, and the best defence is (in my opinion) a solid jacket with a hood, rather than an umbrella.

After all, the only thing more embarrassing than needing someone to pay for your pee break is the walk of shame when your umbrella flips inside out.

So yes, bring a jacket with a hood. Even in the summer. You just never know.

22. Try all the best Dutch delicacies

Ahh, now onto tastier Dutch travel tips.

The Netherlands may not be particularly known for its cuisine, but there are a few standouts in my mind that are well worth trying for any first time visitor… usually in the calorically dense snack food category. I apologize in advance to your arteries.

Here are a few iconic Dutch foods/experiences to try:

  • Hagelslag: Sprinkles usually served on buttered bread for breakfast. SO GOOD!
  • Automats: Wall-mounted vending machines that serve hot food in little cubbies. It’s not the best food in the world but it’s a fun novelty that allows you to try some classic Dutch snacks like croquettes and bitterballen with minimal effort.
  • Stroopwafel: Two thin cookies pressed together with a caramel filling, and sure to ruin your for other cookies. NOTE: Be sure to try a plain one first. Many places these days do fancy ones coated in chocolate and other toppings, but to me original is best.
Stroopwafel, Amsterdam

Lastly, of course I can’t talk about Dutch food without mentioning the most famous street food – raw herring.

With stalls all across the country selling this unique delicacy, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it. Just remember to eat it correctly – hold it by the tail and let it slide into your mouth and throat. Yum!

23. Know the difference between coffee shops, cafes and brown bars

Ahh, now THIS is a must-know for first time visitors to the Netherlands. If you’re drowsy and trying to caffeinate for the day, be very careful where you go, because “coffee shop” here doesn’t mean what you think it means.

… because that’s where marijuana is sold!

Sure, sometimes they sell coffee too, but their main purpose is trading cash for hash.

Further complicating things: don’t forget that there are also ‘brown cafés’ or brown bars, which are like cozy traditional pubs for enjoying a drink or two. Going to one is a must when in the Netherlands!

In summary:

  • If you want coffee, go to a cafe
  • If you want marijuana, go to a coffee shop
  • If you want an alcoholic beverage in a pub-like setting, go to a brown cafe or brown bar
Visiting a brown bar – one of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam

24. Plan around some cool annual events

Alright, are you ready for some insider Netherlands knowledge?

If you’re still in the planning stages of your trip, here are two annual events to have on your radar:

  • Museum Week: Happens every Spring, where many museums nationwide offer free entry and special exhibitions/events.
  • Open Garden Days: Happens one weekend a year in June, where many canal houses will open their doors to the public so you an admire their hidden gardens. One paid ticket gets you access to 30+ participating gardens! I happened upon this event one year and it was SO cool.

25. Be respectful of Dutch customs that are different to yours

Last but not least, it has to be said: the Netherlands is a unique place, with a lot of rules and customs that may differ from your home country.

For instance, many first time visitors are surprised to see that prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, or that marijuana is decriminalized.

And while surprise is fine, being obnoxious and vocal about these differences is not.

Remember, what seems utterly novel to you is just the normal way for locals, meaning you should be respectful, considerate and… not do things like take photos of women in Red Light Districts because of their perceived novelty.

Tourists (especially in Amsterdam) have developed a pretty nasty reputation among Dutch locals over the years, with multiple campaigns aimed at cracking down on ‘rowdy tourists’.

So, remember to be a polite guest and treat both locals and destinations with utmost respect!

I hope this list of Netherlands travel tips was helpful!

I admit this was a VERY long list of tips for Netherlands travel, but if you have any more questions, let me know in the comments.

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Airalo: My go-to eSIM

🏨 Booking.com: For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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