So typically Dutch
Tulips in Amsterdam. Round Edam cheeses. Colourful clogs and typical Dutch windmills … No matter how much of a cliché some images of Holland may seem, they’re still a loveable set of classics. Look at it another way and our rich horticultural heritage, traditional artisan foods, rural crafts and the story of our landscapes have simply adopted an icon or two.
Whether you visit Holland with a bucket list of must-sees or prefer to just go with the flow, taking in Dutch colour, history, delicious local fare and traditions as they present themselves along the way, there are some things which will just brighten up you day – the Dutch way.
Windmills & polders
Back in the early 1900s, there were more than 10,000 windmills in use in the Netherlands as grinding mills, sawmills, oil mills or pumping stations. Holland owes much of its landscape to these early feats of engineering as they enabled the country below the sea level to be drained. Today, there are still 1,000 historic windmills in Holland.
Polder is the term used for an area of land reclaimed from the sea. In effect, it’s artificial and man has won it back from the natural world. One famous example of Dutch polder landscape is the island of Schokland in the Netherlands which was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.
Did you know..? About 26% of the Netherlands is below sea-level. If you arrive at Schipol Airport, you are technically already several metres below!
Tulips & other floral delights
In springtime, wide, colourful tulip fields are a true feast for the eyes. It is not the flowering tulips, but the bulbs that have been cultivated and traded in the Netherlands since the 16th century. Up until 1637, coveted bulbs created "tulip mania" as aristocracy all over Europe craved forever intricate tulip colours and styles. Like taking risks on the stoke exchange, the situation ruined many a citizens and wealthy merchant with spiralling prices and speculative trade. Today, bulb-fields and displays like the world famous Keukenhof attract visitors from all over the world. Hyacinths, narcissus and even orchids are also grown on huge scales and the beautiful tulip has become a symbol of the friendly and colourful nature of Holland.
Did you know..? Holland has a National Tulip Day in January when everyone is invited to pick their own tulip for free from a special ‘picking garden’ in Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
On your bike…
Bicycles, cycles, push-bikes – they’re a way of life in Holland and the Dutch love them. As a means of transport, they are practically the equivalent of a car in the Netherlands - the infrastructure for cyclists is simply outstanding. The Dutch cycling policy encourages the use of bicycles not only for tourists and leisure cyclists, but for day to day living and commuting. So Dutch people are more than happy to reach for their bike as a means of getting to work or school or heading out to do the shopping.
Did you know..? About 1.2 million new bikes are sold in the Netherlands every year. (Told you we love them!)
Following a decade of rebuilding work, the most famous museum in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum - one of the most prestigious museums in the world - reopened in April 2013. The collection of magnificent historic works from great Dutch Masters like Rembrandt’s ‘Nachtwache’ (Nightwatch) is truly amazing and the museum offers a real insight into Dutch history as a whole, but the building itself is worth the visit and real admiration too. It is the work of architect, Pierre Cuypers, who also designed Amsterdam Central railway station.
Did you know..? As well as paintings, the Rijksmuseum is home to fine examples of sculpture, furniture and interiors, fashion and applied arts, weapons and ship models and Asian art.
The ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ – Not exactly a red herring!
This all sounds a bit fishy. ‘Matjeshering’ is a Dutch specialty and a ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ is the term applied to a herring only when the fish has a fat content of at least 16% and has been traditionally salted and filleted. It’s considered a fortifying sort of delicacy – or maybe you just need to have a strong constitution. Anyway, we love them and eat such delicious herring with fresh onions or ‘sour cucumbers’ (pickled gherkins). You’ll find them (and us!) often at small stalls at markets or in ports.
Did you know..? If you find yourself sitting on a packed bus or tram, Dutch people would say that you’re sitting ‘like herrings in a barrel’. Sardines are clearly only a popular fish with English speakers.
Flat bottomed boats
In former times, cargo ships with flat bottoms and side weights instead of a keel were built with a low draft especially for travelling the ‘Wadden Sea’(Frisian Sea), an expanse of water which can fall dry at low tide. In Holland many of these beautiful old ships have been restored for use as tourist charter vessels and now sail their guests across Lake Ijssel and the Wadden Sea.
Did you know..? The Wadden Sea is a real haven for wildlife. Its extensive mudflats and salt meadows are home to wadders including curlwes and avocets, gulls, ducks and apparently even the occasional flamingo!
... is the colour of the Dutch royal house ‘Oranjen-Nassau’ and generally considered to be Holland’s national colour. It is an expression of Dutch identity - not only in the football world.
Did you know..? The top field of the Dutch flag was originally orange ("oranje boven"). No-one really knows why it was later replaced by red.
Thoroughly modern architecture
Although the Netherlands is often associated with old masters, wooden shoes and gabled houses, it is home to many innovative housing estates and world class examples of modern architecture. The mixture of old and new contributes to the attractiveness of many cities.
Did you know..? Amsterdam’s NEMO Museum for Science looks like a huge ship and was designed by Renzo Piano, architect famed for the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Cheese – a tasty morsel of Dutch history
Cheese specialties from Holland are well known all over the world. And there’s no better way to savour these Dutch delights than directly from the producer. Many cycling holidays with Holland-by-Bike take you right to the cheese producer’s door to get the most authentic taste for the place.
Gouda or Edam cheeses are perhaps the most famous native cheese varieties, but even these can differ greatly in flavour from producer to producer. In Edam, you’ll find a permanent exhibition on cheese production in the "Kaaswaag" (cheese-weighing) building, where you can also try and buy the classic Edam. There are plenty of cheese shops around too – and different cheeses from other local parts of the country too, such as the ‘Beemster’ cheese, which comes from the region around De Rijp.
Did you know..? Holland exports well over 100 million pounds of cheese (500 million kgs) every year.