Name some famous Dutch things. What comes to mind? Windmills? Clogs? Cycling? Cheese? Pancakes? Blue and white pottery? If you are short on time skip Amsterdam and instead visit Zaanse Schans and then pop over to Delft to get an iconic Netherlands experience.
Utrecht is the classic hidden gem, the ultimate understudy, the overshadowed sibling, a forgotten wallflower to cousin Amsterdam. This, however, turns out to be Utrecht’s unique selling point: a charming medieval canal town that is blissfully crowd-free. Only a short train ride away from Schiphol airport, I decided that although Utrecht may not have some of the big name attractions as A'dam it still had enough allure to entice me to visit. I started with an evening mystery light show.
When you catch a man accidentally admit out loud that a display of flowers is 'so beautiful' then you know that it must be pretty phenomenal. Tulips are synonymous with the Dutch and I'd been given rave reviews about the floral shows at Keukenhof, but had also been warned off, with someone else's advice that it was only for flower lovers. Curious to know the truth, I devised a plan for a thorough investigation.
‘s-Hertogenbosch, a.k.a Den Bosch. Nope, I hadn't heard of it either. I was visiting a friend who lives there and wondered if it is that far off the tourist map, is it any good? I was on a mission to see whether this little known Netherlands town was keeping any secrets.
Texel was chosen as one of the top places to visit in 2016, but they got it wrong, my Dutch friend said. Apparently, Schiermonnikoog, which is also one of the West Frisian islands, is way better and also her favourite place in the Netherlands. The rest of the Dutch population agree; it was voted their best loved nature spot. I was sold. However, she warned me that we should also be prepared for an adventure, as when she has missed the last boat before she slept on the floor of the ladies room of an empty ferry and at the foot of a desolate sea dyke. I wondered, how remote is this place?
From colourful art and shiny jewels to local hangouts and historic homes via Surinamese food and microbrewed beers, I took a quick dip into the more cultural edge of this town. I’d love to come back and explore some more!
Amsterdam has had for far too long a naughty reputation, often attracting the ‘wrong kind of tourist’. But this former port town has so much more to offer. I wanted to see beyond the seedy, smoky, party facade, take a little peek behind the right kind of curtains and find out what else Amsterdam has to offer.