Ik ben Sophia en ik ben hier in Nederland al ongeveer drie jaar (I am Sophia and I have been in the Netherlands for almost three years).
Having lived in this beautiful, small country as a student and as a journalist, it has been my personal quest to go to places where the tourists don’t usually go.
One, having lived in Amsterdam for more than a year, finding solace and tranquility amidst the bustling streets and small, stacked houses can be quite difficult. Eventually, you’ll get to appreciate the open spaces in the countryside, the wide rivers or the bushy forest.
Two, nothing beats local experiences. That is why my first tip when you plan to visit the Netherlands is to get yourself a bicycle. Not only is it a practical way to travel, it also allows you to explore further and beyond your self-imposed itinerary.
It will be difficult and ill-advised to travel at the moment to these places because of the threat of Covid-19, but I hope this story will inspire people to dream about these places in the meantime.
This article is a tribute to spring and all the magic it brings. Spring is my favorite season in the Netherlands. The dampness in the air, and the wind slowly becoming warmer as leaves start to bud from the dried branches of trees are magic to me. It is a season that slowly creeps up on you after winter, and quickly fades away in transition to summer.
Let me take you to a virtual tour around the Netherlands (that are not in the main city of Amsterdam).
1. Keukenhof Garden (Lisse) and Hillegom Tulip Farms (Hillegom)
The Keukenhof Gardens, known as the “Garden of Europe”, is currently closed this May due to the outbreak, but you can view the beautiful tulip garden via this link. If you want to avoid the crowd in the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens when it’s once again open to the public, cycling around the Bollenstreek is the best way to see the naturally grown tulip farms in their habitat. Here you can see the biggest concentration of tulip fields in Noord Holland. These fields start to bloom from end of March and last until the middle of May.
It is as dreamy as the photos you see on books and aerial videos. The tulip farms can be quite far from each other (one or two kilometers), and cycling or walking is the best way to explore the area.
Remember that these farms are owned by Dutch farmers and these flowers are their livelihoods and a means to support their families. Not only would it be polite to ask for permission to take photos in the fields, it also shows respect and consideration.
These tulips are living things and they don’t like to be walked over, trampled upon or kicked to the side just so you can get your instagrammable photo. Be kind and considerate if you must take a photo, and leave no trace.
Pro tip: Bring a sunblock if you’re aiming to cycle around the tulip fields.
This is my video report aired on GMA News:
2. Cheese Festival (Alkmaar)
The early days of spring in March until September mark the folkloric tradition of the Dutch Cheese Festival. Back in 1365, the most important commodity of the town (cheese, obviously) was traded in the main square of Alkmaar called Waagplein. The cheese were delivered early in the morning, and the cheese market masters and traders would bid for the wheels of gouda, goat cheese or Edam.
While the cheese weighing tradition is now mostly done for touristic purposes, the tradition still very much lives in this small village.
Pro tip: Go in the early morning so you can sample all the free cheese sold by local cheese makers (I know I did!)
I also created a video report that aired on GMA News about the cheese festival:
3. Amsterdamse Bos (Amstelveen)
Spring is a magical time in the Netherlands, not only because tulips are at their full bloom, but cherry blossoms also start to blossom, covering the Amsterdam forest with pink petals swaying gently with the wind.
These cherry trees were given as a gift to the city of Amsterdam by Japan in 2000. In Japanese culture, the cherry blossom symbolizes both new beginnings and the fragility of life.
We cycled 30 kilometers from Amsterdam to Amstelveen to see these magical flowers, and it was worth every aching muscle in our body. The park is open to the public. This forest is technically a suburban part of the metropolitan Amsterdam.
Pro tip: Do a kleine borrel (small drinks) by the park. Spread your favorite mat on the ground, and enjoy a small picnic under the trees.
4. Fairytale Village of Giethoorn (Giethoorn)
The “Venice of Holland” is home to about 2,620 inhabitants and in the heart of the village, you will find no roads, but only bridges, waterways and ‘punters’ (typical boats from Giethoorn).
You can see 18th and 19th century farm houses hidden between the trees and wooden bridges. Of course all this is best viewed with a guided canal cruise or trip by paddleboat or whisperboat which you steer yourself! That’s my pro tip in visiting this village.
You can watch my video report about the fairytale village that aired on GMA News below:
6. Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken
Zaanse Schans is a popular tourist destination in the Netherlands because of its century-old windmills. Historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses are the landmark attractions in this village. It is usually a go-to place among tourists due to its proximity to Amsterdam. My pro tip is to brush up on history of the village by going to the Zaanse Schans Museum. Try their local cheese and learn how a wooden windmill works in the 18th century!
After a visit to Zaanse Schans, try a more local tour in the fishing villages of Volendam and Marken. Eat some freshly-caught fried fish covered in batter (kibbeling) and warm stroopwafels. Stroopwafels are wafer cookies made from two thin layers of baked dough joined by a caramel filling.
Marken is a small fishing village that you can easily reach by a boat 30 minutes from Volendam. There you can also learn the history of how the famous traditional Dutch shoes (klompen) are made. These wooden clogs are used as protective footwear in agriculture and in some factories and mines.
6. Slot Zuylen (Utrecht)
The last place of magic that I hope to share with you is our home city, Utrecht. People tend to think that the Netherlands only extends until the boundaries of Amsterdam, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past three years of moving from the North Holland to Brabant in the south, is that there is so much more to the capital.
Utrecht is a quaint city in the south of Amsterdam, around 20 minutes by train. Here you can find the century-old underground canals that used to be wine cellars. The wharf cellars and bridges formed a medieval city harbour around the city’s canals.
Originally, the wharf cellars in Utrecht were intended for goods which could be brought on shore from the water to the house cellar. Over the centuries, many merchants, craftsmen and companies used the wharf cellars to brew beer and even grow mushrooms.
Ten minutes from our house, you’ll also find the medieval castle of Zuylen. Slot Zuylen is one of the oldest castles along the Vecht (river).
It’s a challenge to find these hidden gems in the Netherlands. It takes a lot of physical effort (if you are going by bicycle), navigation skills, and determination to reach these places.
Going beyond Amsterdam’s veil could be quite difficult (as one can easily be lured by the promise of museums, shopping streets, cannabis, sex) but I promise you, these places are a wonder.
[Entry 304, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Hon Sophia Balod is the Global Editor of SubSelfie.com. She is also Editor in Chief and Outreach Manager for the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal and foreign correspondent for GMA News. She graduated from the Mundus Journalism Masters Programme in University of Amsterdam in 2018.
She is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Media Award given by the Media Correspondent and Volunteer Organization (MCVO) in The Hague, The Netherlands. She is a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and recipient of 2016 Gawad Agong and Sarihay Media Awards for Excellence in News Reporting on the plight of indigenous people and environmental issues. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.