The Netherlands literally means “lower countries” because of its low land and flat geography. Many of the areas that are now above sea level are artificial, and have been reclaimed from the sea and lakes. Because of the amount of engineering work that goes into this, the Netherlands is considered a world leader in water management. Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalistic country, and it once had the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and shipping network in the world. Today, the Netherlands is a popular tourist destination in Europe, but also plays a critical role in European democracy as a founding member of the EU and NATO. It is a very densely populated country, but it’s still beautifully scenic to cruise through.
On our river cruises, the Netherlands was always either the first country on tour, or the last. In either direction, it was always a charming destination to show our guests. In this post I will talk about the two destinations I have spent the most time in while working on the Rhine River.
During my time as a Tour Director on the Rhine River, we often began or concluded our tours in Amsterdam. The riverboats could dock just north of the city center, making it a perfect location to originate exploration of the city. One of the advantages of river cruising is the convenience of not having to change hotels every couple of days like on a land tour. And when you can dock in town, and completely avoid the tour bus all together, that creates the ideal cruising scenario for many guests. Amsterdam is one of those dream destinations for river cruising because of this.
Amsterdam is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of its network of canals, interspersed with hundreds of bridges and cobblestone lanes. It’s easy to get lost among these canals, yet the city is small enough that if you lose your way, you will soon find yourself someplace familiar. This is why Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities to walk without a map, or without a final destination; it’s just fun to explore. Just beware of the bicycles and stay off the bike lanes!
Amsterdam’s architectural and cultural heritage is mostly found within the “Old Amsterdam” section of the city. The main square, Dam Square, sits on the Amstel River, while the imposing Centraal Station resides just north of here on three artificially made islands along the IJ River. Both of these serve as great landmarks for further exploration. The skyline is dotted with a few lovely church steeples that include the Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kirk, and Zuidekerk, all worth a visit if you like churches as much as I do. Rembrantplein is a destination square that houses many cafés and is a great place to people watch. Waterlooplein has an interesting flea market and is the gateway to the city’s Jewish Quarter with the Portuguese Synagogue and Rembrandthuis. And, of course, while in Amsterdam you should stroll through the flower market just to appreciate the beautiful colors and smells. If you have time, and come during the spring, a trip out to the Keukenhof is a must for those who love flowers. Your hotel concierge can often arrange tours to the gardens outside the city if you want to see the tulips.
The Rijksmuseum is a must-see for art lovers and houses the country’s national collection including works by Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer. The recent renovation of the museum artistically combined the old with the new to create a modern entrance and lobby. Just outside the museum is a beautiful square that is often filled with art and souvenir stands, including the famous “I Amsterdam” sign. If you walk a little ways down this square you will come to the Van Gogh Museum which houses the largest collection of works by the artist. Finally, one of the most popular attractions is the Ann Frank Huis, where the Frank family hid, and were eventually betrayed, during the Nazi occupation. If you do not have tickets, be sure to get here early, as the line to enter can often stretch for blocks. Of course, the best way to get an overview of this beautiful city is by canal boat. You can take a guided tour which will sail you past most of the above-mentioned attractions.
De Hoge Veluwe & the Kröller-Müller Museum
The park was established by the businessman Anton Kroller and his wife Helene Kroller-Muller as a private estate in 1909. It is approximately 55 square kilometers in area, consisting of heathlands, sand dunes, and woodlands. The park is situated in the Veluwe, the area of the largest terminal moraine in the Netherlands. It is a destination for tourists and locals alike because of the beautiful scenery and easy to ride bike trails.
Helene was an amateur art aficionado and in 1920, the Kroller-Mullers commissioned a museum so Helene could exhibit all the artworks that she collected. She purchased many works by Vincent van Gogh including Edge of a Wood, Sunflowers and The Sower. In total, she amassed 272 of Van Gogh’s works, which formed the nucleus of her collection.
Today, the Kroller-Muller museum is one of the world’s best, as it houses many works by Vincent van Gogh, but also pieces by Picasso, Seurat, Redon, Braque, Gauguin, Cranach, Ensor, Gris, Leger and Modriani, among others. The sculpture garden was added in 1961, with more than 75 acres of land, making it one of the largest in Europe. It has a fine collection of modern and contemporary sculptures by artists such as Rodin, Moore, Dubuffet, Suvero, Fontana, Oldenburg, Wortruba, Lieshout, and many more. The garden reflects Helene Kroller-Muller’s conception of a symbiosis between art, architecture and nature.
While I would love to see more of the Netherlands some day, I appreciate the time I was able to spend here as a Tour Director. I hope to return to the Netherlands someday to continue my exploration of this lovely country!