Netherlands Tourist Information and Tips
A lot of shops do not accept banknotes of ˆ100, ˆ200 and ˆ500, due to concerns about counterfeiting and burglary. Shops usually open by 9AM and they usually close by 5:30PM or 6PM. Most shops are closed on Sundays, except the first Sunday of the month. In Amsterdam centrum area is an exception, since you can see the shops open till 9PM and Sundays from noon till 6PM. The shops can be crowded with people coming into town from outside the city. In some area's shops are closed on Monday morning.
Accommodation and food is on the expensive side. Rail travel, museums, and attractions are relatively cheap. Retail prices for clothing, gifts, etc. are similar to most of Western Europe; consumer electronics are a bit more expensive. Gasoline, tobacco and alcohol are relatively expensive due to excise taxes.
The Netherlands is a good place to buy flowers . Outside florists, you can buy them pre-packaged in most supermarkets.
The Netherlands is famous for its wooden shoes. However, nowadays almost no one except for farmers in the countryside wear them. You could travel through The Netherlands for weeks and find no one using them for footwear. The only place where you'll find them is in tourist shops. Wearing wooden shoes in public will earn you quite a few strange looks from the locals.
If you do try them, the famous "wooden shoes" are surprisingly comfortable, and very useful in any rural setting. Think of them as all-terrain footwear; easy to put on for a walk in the garden, field or dirt road. If you live in a rural area at home, consider taking a pair of these with you if you can. Avoid the kitschy tourist shops at Schiphol and Amsterdam's Damrak street, and instead look for a regular vendor which can usually be found in towns and villages in rural areas. The northern province of Friesland has a lot of stores selling wooden shoes, often adorned with the bright colors of the Frisian flag.
The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but hearty Dutch fare can be quite good if done well. A conventional Dutch meal consists of meat, potatoes and some type of vegetable on the side. The Dutch, however, are known for their specialties and delicious treats:
- Dutch cheese is particularly famous, especially Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer, Maaslander and Maasdam.
- Raw herring ( haring ), which is actually cured in salt. It's available both from ubiquitous herring stands and fancy restaurants, usually served with chopped onion and occasionally even plopped into a bun to make broodje haring . New herrings ( Hollandse Nieuwe ) is a special treat available around June.
- Pea soup ( erwtensoep or snert ), made of green peas and smoked sausage. Can be very hearty and a meal itself if there are enough potatoes and other veggies mixed in.
- Bitterbal (a round ball of ragout covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), served in bars as snacks with drinks and usually arrive in groups of at least five or as part of a bittergarnituur, always with mustard. Be sure to try these, Dutch people love them.
- Bittergarnituur , a plate containing different warm and cold snacks, like blocks of cheese, slices of sausage, bitterballen, perhaps something like chicken nuggets or mini spring rolls, and mustard or chili sauce for dipping. One usually orders a bittergarnituur along with (alcoholic) drinks, from which the name of the dish is derived (translated to English "bitterganituur" would become "Dutch gin garnish").
- Borecole mash pot ( boerenkool ), mashed potatoes with borecole, often served with a sausage.
- Dutch Sauerkraut ( zuurkool ), mashed potatoes with sauerkraut.
- Hotch-potch ( hutspot ), mashed potatoes with onions & carrots. Served with slowly cooked meats or sausage.
- Endive mashed pot ( stamppot andijvie ), potatoes mashed with endive and bacon.
- Rookworst (literally "smoked sausage"), available to go from HEMA department store outlets, but also widely available in supermarkets.
- Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken), which are either sweet ( zoet ) or savoury ( hartig ) in variety of tastes, like apple, syrup, cheese, bacon etc. Eat them in pancake houses ( pannenkoekenhuizen )
Other "typically Dutch" foodstuffs are:
- Chocolate sprinkles ( Hagelslag ), sprinkled on top of buttered slices of bread (much like jam).
- Chocolate spread on bread (like Nutella).
- Unadorned chocolate bars ( Pure chocolade ).
- Dutch peanut butter on bread, which is considerably different from e.g. US peanut butter. Dutch peanut butter is also the basis for Dutch Indonesian or 'Indo' sate (satay) sauce which also contains lots of Asian herbs and spices.
- A bread roll with butter and a slice of cheese for lunch, rather than more elaborate lunches,
- Dutch coffee (dark, high caffeine grounds, traditionally brewed),
Some of these "typically Dutch" foodstuffs taste significantly different from, but do not necessarily improve upon, specialties from other countries. For example, while Dutch coffee and chocolate can instill feelings of homesickness in expats and might be seen as "soul food", fine Belgian chocolate and Italian coffees (espresso, etc.) are considered to be delicacies.
Seasonal food: Pepernoten , Kruidnoten , taai-taai , kerststol , paasstol , oliebollen .
As Dutch people usually eat Dutch food at home, most restaurants specialize in something other than local fare. Every medium-sized town has its own Chinese/Indonesian restaurant , often abbreviated as Chin./Ind. restaurant, where you can eat a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. Usually you get a lot of food for a small amount of money. Do not expect authentic Chinese or Indonesian cuisine though, the taste has been adapted for Dutch citizens. These restaurants have been influenced by the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) from when they were a colony of the Netherlands. Typical dishes are fried rice (Indonesian: nasi goreng ), fried bakmi ( bami goreng ) and prawn crackers ( kroepoek ). A suggestion is the famous Dutch-Indonesian rice table ( rijsttafel ), which is a combination of several small dishes from the East Indies, not unlike the nasi padang of Indonesia. Most of them have a sit-in area and a separate counter for take-away with lower prices.
Modern Dutch restaurants serve good quality food and are relatively expensive compared with surrounding countries. Most of the time, profit is made from the drinks and the desert, so be careful ordering those if you are on a budget. In the Netherlands, going to a restaurant is generally not seen as a quick way to eat food, but as a special night out with friends or family, which can take a couple of hours. Service fees and taxes are included in the menu prices. Tipping is not mandatory, but rounding up is pretty much expected and polite. Keep 10 percent in mind if you want to give a tip.
Since 1 July 2008, smoking has been banned in all restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents and nightclubs. Smoking is allowed only in separate, enclosed, designated smoking areas in which employees are not allowed to serve. Staff may only enter such smoking rooms in emergency situations.
In town centers, near public transportation areas or even in more quiet quarters you can find a snackbar , sometimes known as frituur or cafeteria . These snackbars are pretty much the antithesis of high cuisine, but their snacks are considered typical for the country, and many Dutch expats miss them the most when going abroad. The popular Febo chain's outlets are basically giant vending machines, just slot in a euro or two and take out the snack of your choice.
Vegetarians should not have any major trouble. 4.5 percent of the Dutch population is vegetarian and most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menus or can make you one if you ask for it. Most supermarkets sell vegetarian products or even have a part of their supermarket dedicated to vegetarian products. It is advisable to specifically mention what you do and do not eat (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as not everyone has the same definition of vegetarianism. Finding a vegetarian option in a fast food restaurant might provide more of a challenge. Chip shops that sell veggie burgers are the exception rather than the rule.
The Netherlands has two drinking ages: 16 years for alcohol under 15% (beer, wine, etc), and 18 for all other drinks.
Although the Dutch beer "Heineken" is one of the world's most famous beers, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc.
In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch wheat beers ( witbier ), which are flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavored varieties are also available.
Traditional beers come from monasteries in the South of the Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the 'Trappistenklooster'. It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it's not so traditional any more.
Most breweries have nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt. Which consist sometimes 0% or less than 0,5 alcohol and is very suitable for people who would like to drive and don't drink (or sometimes called "de Bob" as promoted in its campaign).
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy . While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen ; literally this means to accept or tolerate , legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.
Note that this doesn't mean the Dutch are all permanently high though! In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. A large part of the clientele of the coffeeshops (see below) is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.
You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (under 5 grams) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop , which are are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view. In the border province of Limburg, it will only be possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you've got a wietpas ("weed pass") from 2010. This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is generally much stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff. Be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cakes") as it's easy to eat too much by accident — although there are also unscrupulous shops that sell space cakes with no weed at all. Wait at least one hour after eating!
Hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms, once legal, are banned as of December 1st, 2008.
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs, eg. ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms, is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possession is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.
At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.
Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in The Netherlands' liberal climate
- while marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal and unregulated. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers.
- some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of commiting illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in The Netherlands.