I’m not really sure why, but Holland had never particularly appealed to me as a holiday destination. Perhaps it’s because it’s so close to home and the weather isn’t much different. Naïvely, I didn’t think there was much there.
But two years ago, one of my best friends friends, Kaisha, moved to the vibrant, underrated city of Rotterdam, in the east of Holland, to become a baker and blogger at thefrizzybaker.com.
This all happened while I was living in New Zealand so it wasn’t until now that I had the opportunity to visit. And fortunately, ALL of my best friends were also keen for a trip!
We stayed in Rotterdam, but with Kaisha as our tour guide, we took day trips to Amsterdam and Utrecht as well. After a long weekend full of sightseeing, cycling, eating and drinking, I’m already thinking about when I can return – and with budget airlines offering flights as cheap £20 to the Netherlands, there’s no excuse not to!
I’ve put together this guide to help you make the most of your time in the Netherlands – and to prove this underrated country is well worth a visit and has so much more to offer than just the capital! Here’s how I spent 3 days in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam’s cooler little sister is the new ‘in’ place to be – it made Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2016. Bursting with life, quirky people and boutique shops, Rotterdam’s arts and music scene is huge – and brunch isn’t too bad either.
Its huge, shiny skyscrapers mixed with older heritage buildings reminded me of Warsaw. The city was completely rebuilt after it was pretty much destroyed in the Second World War, which is why the architecture here is so different to the traditional feel of Utrecht and Amsterdam.
This is a modern city, with heaps to see and do, and something that stuck out to me is that the people who live in Rotterdam love their city. I loved it because there were so many amazing places to eat!
Explore the city like a local: on two wheels! Rotterdam, as well as the rest of the Netherlands, is a very flat country (you don’t even need gears on your bike!) Renting a bike is a cheap and easy way to get around the city and explore all it has to offer. And in the evening it’s perfectly acceptable to try the numerous bars and pubs and cycle home afterwards.
Situated in Kralingen Park, Lake Kralingen offers beautiful views of Rotterdam’s skyline. This is a popular place for locals to walk their dog, go for a stroll or ride their bike. There are two historic windmills near here that are still in use today for grinding spices and tobacco.
A clear example of post-WW2 architecture, the Kubuswoningen were designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom. They are basically a normal block of houses with bright yellow cube-shaped upper stories – and yep, people do live here and you can go inside one of them.
Built in 2009, this office block is a little different to the rest: it’s got a huge food market inside it! There are stalls inside selling everthing from fruit and veggies to specially-crafted cakes and foods from all around the world. Escalators in the middle of the market lead to further shops and boutiques. However, the most notable feature of the market has got to be the ceiling: a huge, semi-circular roof covers the building, and tiny windows dot the beautiful artwork.
During our time in Rotterdam, we stayed at Sparks Hostel which is centrally located, in easy walking distance from the train station and the bars and restaurants. This is probably the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in and I would 100% recommend it!
Its traditional buildings watch over the canal with a smug but modest beauty; whilst it isn’t as well-visited or even as well-known as other cities in the Netherlands, Utrecht’s understated charm does not go amiss. With bikes lining the pathways and trees framing the water, Utrecht is postcard perfect.
This is the ideal city in which to put down your map and just wander, watching the world go by. Stop at one of the many cafes or restaurants for a coffee or bite to eat and experience true Dutch life; with so many fewer tourists than other cities in the Netherlands, Utrecht is a great place to familiarise yourself with life as the locals live it.
Once you’re done walking, hop on a pedalo and explore the city from the water! You can take a self-guided tour of the canals and not only see the city from another perspective but also get a good workout in (unless you’re in the back like I was – in which case you can be chief photographer!)
This imposing, gothic structure is possibly a symbol of Utrecht as you can spot it from miles away. You can climb the 465 steps to the top for panoramic city views – you can see as far as Amsterdam, weather permitting!
We took a day trip to Utrecht from Rotterdam, but you can search the deals below to find the perfect place to stay.
We spent our final day before flying home in the capital, having just enough time to walk through the city to see the Iamsterdam sign before heading to the airport!
I’m not usually keen to visit places that are either extremely touristy or which everyone seems to have been to; of my eight friends, I was the only one who was visiting Amsterdam for the first time. But Amsterdam was a pleasant surprise for me. Although it’s hugely touristy and busy, from the little I saw of it, I thought it is a beautiful city and I would have liked to spend more time there!
I didn’t spend enough time in Amsterdam to advise you on what to see and do (besides see the Iamsterdam sign!), and there are hundreds of other posts about Amsterdam online, so I won’t repeat what you can find elsewhere.
See below to search for the perfect place to stay in the capital, or why not try Airbnb?
Unless you’re sticking to one city, in which case you’ll most likely be exploring on foot or by bike, you’ll probably want to explore the Netherlands by train.
Trains in Holland are efficient, speedy and easy to navigate. You can by a top-up card called a OV-chipkaart which can be used across the train, tram and bus network in the Netherlands. These can be topped up at pretty much every station and then you just scan it as you enter and exit the station – easy. There’s a great post about this card here.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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