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The Netherlands is a country known around the world for its liberal attitudes, its tolerance towards other people, and its impact on European history. Small villages, scenic canals and hard-partying University towns make the Netherlands a perfect mix for travellers.

The Netherlands is situated in western Europe, bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the south. To the west the country faces the North Sea and the United Kingdom. Although a small country geographically, covering only 41,526 square kilometres, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a population of approximately 16.5 million people.

The Netherlands is unique in that much of it is below sea level, but has been reclaimed and protected by dikes. Around two thirds of the land is less than one metre above sea level. With such a vast amount of the country being flat, this makes the Netherlands the perfect country for cycling. Only in the extreme south of the country does the landscape differ significantly, in the foothills of the Ardennes Mountains.

Culturally the Netherlands is famous for its tolerant attitudes. Prostitution is decriminalised here for prostitutes registered at a permitted brothel. This can be seen most prominently in areas of the bigger cities, such as the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Sex shops, sex shows, sex museums and drug museums are also popular. The sale, possession, and consumption of small quantities of cannabis, while technically still illegal, is officially tolerated. You can purchase cannabis in many of the country’s coffee shops, although there are moves to stop foreigners from buying the drug.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, and one of the most-visited destinations in Europe. With its stunning architecture, beautiful criss-crossing canals, and famous nightlife, it’s not hard to see why.

The Amsterdam that most visitors experience focuses highly around the city centre, a semi-circle with Centraal Station at its apex. The city centre is broken into four main areas -– The Old Centre, Canal Ring, Jordaan, and Plantage.

The Old Centre is the oldest and most-visited area of Amsterdam. It is known for its traditional architecture, canals, shopping, and many coffee shops. Most of what goes on here evolves around Dam Square, Nieuwmarkt, and the Red Light District. The Canal Ring is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to the city’s Rembrandt Square, Leiden Square, and some of the city’s prime nightlife spots. Jordaan is a traditional working-class area gone upmarket, with plenty of art galleries, hip boutiques and restaurants, while Plantage is a leafy area with lots of greenery, botanical gardens, and Artis Zoo.

Getting to and from The Netherlands

Most visitors arrive into the Netherlands by plane. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is a European hub, and the fourth-largest airport in Europe. Travellers can easily fly in from almost any international destination via a range of different airlines, including the Netherlands’ largest airline KLM.

To and From the Airport has the rundown on getting you from the airport to the city. Frequent Flyer Masters learn to earn their miles fast, and get free flights around the world.

Other international airports in the Netherlands include Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, and Groningen Airport Eelde. These smaller airports are mainly serviced by low-cost budget airlines. It is also possible to come into the Netherlands via airports in surrounding countries, such as nearby Duesseldorf International Airport, and Brussels Airport.

There are many international high-speed trains running in and out of Amsterdam Centraal Station everyday. You can often find very cheap prices, provided you book well enough in advance, via the Dutch Railways website NS Hispeed. Eurolines, the budget international coach service, also have a base here in Amsterdam, servicing over 500 European destinations.

Ferries run regularly to the Netherlands across the North Sea from the UK. The most popular routes include Harwich to Hook of Holland, Hull to Rotterdam, and Newcastle to Amsterdam (Ijmuiden).

The Netherlands is part of the Schengen agreement, and citizens of many countries (including the US, Canada, Australia, and NZ) don’t need a visa to spend up to 90 days in the region in a 180-day period. EU and EEA citizens only need an officially approved ID card or passport to travel to the Netherlands.

Netherlands travel resources

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Check out our Best Cities in Europe podcast or browse the articles below.

This page by “Runaway” Jane Meighan.