There’s no better way to celebrate spring than surrounding yourself with picturesque countryside and flowers. And there’s no better place to surround yourself with picturesque countryside and flowers than the Netherlands! Having just been to Amsterdam about a month prior, we wanted to go back at the peak of tulip season to see what else the country had to offer. We based ourselves in Haarlem (a small city 15 minutes west of Amsterdam) for nine days and rented a car so that we could get around to see as much as possible (though I should note the rail and bus systems are fantastic). We saw a variety of places which we will break out into four posts—two focusing on countryside and small towns (of which this is the first) and two on cities.
The first thing we did after landing in Rotterdam (a pleasant 45-minute flight from London!) and grabbing our car was drive to nearby Kinderdijk, home to a collection of over a dozen old windmills dating back to the 18th century. We were quickly introduced to Dutch ingenuity and charm when on the ride there we encountered what looked like a bridge on the GPS but ended up being a really short car, bicycle and pedestrian ferry! We paid the fare (something like 3€) and sat giddy in the car as we made the 60-second journey to the other side of the canal. Not soon thereafter we arrived to Kinderdijk. There are a series of paths along the canals from which to enjoy the views of the windmills and the expansive farmland surrounding the site. We had seen pictures of this place but we didn’t realize quite how large it really is. Even more surprising to us was that people live in some of the windmills!
Another can’t-miss sight, at least during tulip season, is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Keukenhof, which is only open from March to May, houses a collection of tulip fields, thoughtfully-designed flower beds and other flower-based displays. In order to enjoy the experience it’s crucial to arrive early. We got in right as it opened and for the first hour or so more or less had the place to ourselves; by the second hour the crowds had grown significantly and the main entrance gate looked like a scene out of mid-summer Disney World. As if the millions of flower aren’t enough, Keukenhof also hosts a working windmill, a handful of buildings and greenhouses, fountains, a maze, and, most exciting to us, a petting zoo! We spent far too long (or not long enough!?) hanging out with the baby goats.
We partnered with Owl & The Oak during our trip to feature their beautiful weavings amongst the many picturesque landscapes we encountered. We work with artists and small businesses through our Travel Partners program to showcase their products or artwork in unique locations that complement its beauty or function. Brooke Klingsheim's handmade wall hangings are well made and easily brighten up a space with their organic texture and playful use of color. We're so thrilled to have this hanging in our London flat after showing it off throughout the Netherlands!
The beach is a 10-minute drive from Keukenhof, so we made our way to the coast to decompress after fighting through the crowds to get out of the park. We walked along the beach at Noordwijk which was basically empty, but for those looking for something a bit more action-packed, the big beach resort of Zandvoort is only 7 or 8 miles north. We enjoyed our walk along the water and grabbed some seashells to take home with us. Unfortunately we were out of 1€ coins so we had to skip out on driving the coin-operated bumper car back toward the parking lot. We can only imagine how hopping this place must be during summer!
While it’s a bit out of the way (a two-hour drive from our home base in Haarlem and not really near anything else of interest), the fairytale village of Giethoorn was one of the main inspirations for our trip to the Netherlands. We had seen pictures of it years ago and knew we had to see it with our own eyes someday. The town has no roads and the primary mode of transportation is boats along the canals; as such, it claims, along with Amsterdam, the title of “Venice of the North.” Especially charming is the thatched-roof style houses and the various wooden bridges from which to appreciate it all. As is always the case with places like this, the charm draws big crowds. We didn’t get there until early afternoon which is high time for big bus tourism and it was a bit overwhelming for such an otherwise peaceful village with an infrastructure not quite built for so many people (the canals were absolutely packed with tourist-rented boats!). We grabbed lunch at Ristorante Fratelli (bread with garlic butter and a pineapple pizza) which was surprisingly good given the limited choice of restaurants, wandered around a bit more and then jumped in the car for the long ride back to Haarlem.
It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with the Netherlands. We have a lot more to share, so stay tuned!