DutchNews.nl destinations: take the train for a weekend in Rotterdam

DutchNews.nl destinations: take the train for a weekend in Rotterdam

With Eurostar now running a three-hour service from London to Rotterdam, the city's fortunes as a tourist hub are set to boom. So, get over there now and appreciate the fantastic views, great museums and excellent cocktails before the British stag parties take over, says Molly Quell. Only slightly smaller than Amsterdam by population, Rotterdam is the Netherland's second largest city. It is home to the largest port in Europe, a fact which is partially responsible for its diverse population - more than half of the city’s residents have at least one parents who was born abroad. Rotterdam was granted city rights in 1340 but was, famously, nearly totally destroyed during World War II, leaving the city with a much more modern skyline than the capital. Get walking The city is too large to do a walking tour of everything, but you can easily get around with the city’s bus and tram system, but also the water taxi system. It’s fast, efficient and just a lot of fun. Go up the Euromast, go under (and walk over) the Erasmus bridge, check out the Witte Huis, snap a photo of the Kabouter Buttplug, marvel at the Cube Houses, grab a snack at the Markthal, wander down the Witte de Withstraat and see the Van Nelle factory. If you’re really up for a walk, walk the Fire Boundary Line, which demarks what parts of the city were destroyed during the bombing and subsequent fire. Check out a museum Rotterdam offers a wide variety of museums and the Netherlands Photo Museum is one of the best. The permanent collection contains the archives of over 160 historical and contemporary photographers. A lot of the works focus on the Netherlands, but the exhibitions often come from all over the world. If you can’t make it to the actual museum, you can view some of the collection online. You can book a tour, free on Sundays, and the museum is part of the Museum Card, so if you have that, entrance is free. Have a cocktail at sunset Like any good city these days, cocktails are on offer and Rotterdam is a good city. It’s got several options for a tasty beverage. The Suicide Club, near the central station, is an eclectic bar with a nice view of the city from their 8th floor location. Another choice would be the Aloha Bar, in a former indoor swimming pool. Or make an appointment with the Doctor, which can give you a prescription for anything that ails you. Take in a show Take in a show at one of the many theater and performance venues in the city. There’s the Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestra, which performs at De Doelen, which is also the home of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. There’s lots of smaller venues as well, such as the Luxor, Theater Rotterdam and the Ro Theater. (The last two merged together under one name but in two separate venues.) The Luxor is, at the time of publication, showing Fiddler on the Roof while the Ro has Woof Side Story, West Side Story but with dogs. For something (even) more out of the box, try the Worm, which hosts everything from musical acts to live performances. Go for a sail Since you’re in the city with the largest port in Europe, you should take a good dip into the city’s maritime offerings. You can book a boat tour of the harbour, including the aforementioned port. Or if you want a shorter trip, take a water taxi around to the SS Rotterdam, the former flagship of the Holland-America line. You can wander around the ship and have a drink at the bar. The Maritime Museum, also a Museum Card member, highlights the port and shipping in general. And if you want to get out of the city a bit, check out the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier. It’s part of the Delta Works and you can get an explanation of how this engineering marvel keeps the country dry. You’ll even get to touch the barrier itself. Where to eat You can easily find a full meal at the Markthal, the fairly recently opened food hall whose building has a unique profile. The same goes for the more hipster Fenix Food Factory. But consider just snacking on the various bites (the croquette stand at the Markhal and the butcher at the Fenix Food Factory are especially delicious) on offer and spending your limited meal times at one of the other delicious restaurants. V11, a converted English ship, will give British visitors a taste of home, including an excellent Sunday roast. Or the De Matroos en Het Meisje, a fish restaurant with a prix fixe menu. For an upscale option Parkheuvel boasts a Michelin star and a French-inspired menu. For breakfast, go to The Bazaar and get the full breakfast spread (and bring your appetite.) If you’re just looking for a coffee and a snack, try De Zeeuwse Meisjes. The fenix Food Factory also has a good coffee place. And, if you want something sweet, try Baker’s Dough, a cookie dough restaurant. Where to stay The famous Hotel New York, which previously served as the launching point for the Holland-America line, is now a fantastic hotel with a lot of charm and a great restaurant and cocktail bar of its own. Get a room on the water side to enjoy the view. For a less expensive, but more adventurous option, Stay Ok offers rooms in Rotterdam’s famous cube houses, a slightly disorientating but architecturally interesting experience. How to get there Londoners, hop on the direct train and be there in three hours. For the rest of us the train is also a good option. Rotterdam is large but the city offers good local public transport, so you can get around by bus, tram, metro and even, as mentioned water taxi. Many thanks to Suus Peet, my Rotterdam expert, who gave me a list of things to do and see in the city that will take me years to work through.   More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: explore Leiden’s canals without the tourist hustle

DutchNews.nl destinations: explore Leiden’s canals without the tourist hustle

Once considered a broken down, blue-collar burg, Leiden has shed this reputation in recent years to become a sort of ‘mini Amsterdam’. Brandon Hartley shares a glimpse at one of the most often overlooked cities in the Randstad. At first glance, it might be easy to mistake the canals of Leiden for those in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district. They’re lined with picturesque houses, arched bridges, and the occasional house cat snoozing in the sun. While the city lacks the world famous museums and bustling nightlife of the real deal, it’s also a welcome refuge from the stag parties and tourist hordes that have laid claim to the nation’s capital. It’s also a city rich with history. Leiden is the birthplace of Rembrandt and was once home to the American Pilgrims before they hightailed it to the New World. In 1574, its brave citizens managed to withstand a months-long siege by the Spanish. They were later rewarded by King William of Orange with their very own college. Leiden University’s alumni list includes prime minister Mark Rutte, former Queen Beatrix and her son, Willem-Alexander. Albert Einstein also lectured there in the 1920s, which is why one of Leiden’s most popular taverns was named in his honour. The city was in decline and unemployment was high throughout much of the 20th century. Over the past generation, however, Leiden has bounced back and it’s a great place to visit for both history buffs and those looking for a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s larger communities. Things to do Hortus Botanicus Leiden Dating back to 1590, this botanical garden is the oldest in the Netherlands. You’ll find gigantic water lilies among the 60,000 plant specimens among its indoor and outdoor exhibits, which include a small Japanese garden. One of the Hortus’ ‘crown jewels’ is a Titan arum, a rare plant that’s native solely to western Sumatra in Indonesia. It gives off a notoriously foul smell when it’s in full bloom. Burcht van Leiden Located on a man-made hill in the centre of the city, this fortress dates back to the 11th century. It’s a great place to take in a 360 degree view of the city and the nearby Hooglandse Kerk, a gothic church built in the 15th century. Over the years, the Burcht has served as everything from a water tower to a stronghold for Ada van Holland, a 12th century countess who got into a bitter battle with her meddlesome uncle over her title. These days, the hill and the fort are used for public events, picnics, weddings, and sledding whenever it snows. Wander the streets Leiden is home to a series of gorgeous canals and cobblestone streets. The ones near the Pieterskerk, the final resting place of several American Pilgrims, served as stand-ins for Amsterdam in The Miniaturist. Pop into the nearly unpronounceable 't Suppiershuysinghe for a koffie verkeerd if you need a break. This centuries-old cafe is the very definition of gezellig but the adjacent public square’s blood-soaked history is anything but (it was used as an execution grounds for the neighbouring prison). Also keep an eye out for Leiden’s wall poems. At the last count, there are 110 of them all across the city. Naturalis This research centre and natural history museum is best known as the home of Trix, one of the world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons. At the time of  writing, she’s on tour and will be making stops at museums in Barcelona and Paris before returning to Leiden in 2019. Naturalis is also undergoing renovations but it’s open to the public and currently hosting an exhibit about poisonous animals. De Valk Fully restored in 2000, this majestic 18th century tower mill currently serves as both a museum and Leiden’s centrepiece. It’s another great spot to take in a panorama of the city or learn more about the inner workings of windmills. De Valk also features living quarters that contain original furnishings and decor. Where to Eat It’s tough to find a decent bagel in the Netherlands but Leiden is home to the country’s first traditional bagel bakery. Proprietor Frank Zweerus and his crew at Better Bagels specialise in making them fresh each day and often break out themed-ones inspired by everything from Pokemon to Maria ‘Goeie Mie’ Swanenburg, the notorious serial killer who killed dozens of innocent Leideners in the late 19th century. It’s a great place to stop for lunch but, if you’re on the go, Mamie Gourmande is another option. This authentic French bakery is one of the very best in the lowlands. Stop here for a delicious sandwich or a take-away quiche along with a frosty Orangina. There are also plenty of freshly-made croissants, macarons, and eclairs up for grabs. If it’s a Saturday, check out Leiden’s nearby outdoor market, which has been going strong for over 900 years. Vishandel Atlantic owns a stand and they’re among the top contenders for the coveted ‘best herring’ award every year. The Bishop, a bistro located in an historic building that once served as a brothel, is where to head for ‘hip’ international cuisine. For more family-friendly fare that won’t break the bank, there’s Oudt Leyden, a beloved cafe stuffed full of ‘Old Dutch’ decor that’s been around since 1907. Over the past century, they’ve served Dutch-style pancakes to Charles de Gaulle, Sir Winston Churchill, and members of the royal family. Where to Stay The Golden Tulip owns two side-by-side properties near Leiden Centraal station; the four star Hotel Golden Tulip and the more low-key Hotel Tulip Inn. For a more unique experience, book a few nights at the historic Nieuw Minerva. Located inside a 16th century canal house, a few of its rooms feature some truly extraordinary beds. The Rembrandt Room contains an exact copy of a gorgeous box bed once owned by the artist himself. How to Get There Leiden is easy get to by train and you can be standing in Leiden Centraal within 15 minutes of departing from Schiphol Airport. Making the journey by car along the A44 from Amsterdam takes about 45 minutes. If it’s springtime and you’re feeling limber, you can also cycle down from Amsterdam through the tulip fields outside the city and make a pit-stop at the world famous Keukenhof. A non-stop journey via bike from the nation’s capital takes a little over two hours. When to visit? Much like the old cliché claims, just about anytime is a great time to come to Leiden. Every spring, the SieboldHuis museum hosts an incredibly popular Japanese market to honour a visit made by the country’s emperor in 2000. The annual springtime Lakenfeesten feature a whimsical boat parade that’s always guaranteed to be a hoot. The Leiden International Film Festival, which takes place in the autumn, keeps getting bigger and better with each passing year. The city also hosts a floating Christmas market with an ice rink during the holiday season on a canal located mere footsteps from its monumental stadhuis. But Leiden is best avoided during its notorious 3 Oktober celebrations. The city is invaded for several days by rowdy crowds on the prowl for carnival rides, ear-splitting dance music, and tons of cheap Amstel pilsner. Some people love it, some people loathe it and, if you can’t stand drunken revelry, stay away.  More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

In the winter, a wander along a blustery Texel beach is a popular way to blow the cobwebs away - lekker uitwaaien, as the Dutch would say. Robin Pascoe visited the biggest of the Wadden Sea islands. Just a few minutes by ferry from the navy town of Den Helder, Texel's regular population of over 13,000 is constantly inflated by a steady stream of holidaymakers all year round, mainly from the Netherlands and Germany. Texel is a something for everyone kind of place. The dune landscape is a haven for bird life and around one third of the island is a designated nature reserve. In the summer, tourists flock to its enormous sandy beaches, and the popular west coast villages of De Koog and De Cocksdorp, where most of the holiday villages and hotels are located. Despite Texel's popularity, it is easy to escape the crowds - but you will need to book the more popular restaurants in the evening. The local tourist office, which is extremely helpful, has a very comprehensive website in English. Things to do Museum Kaap Skil Oudeschild, the little fishing port on the south east coast, is home to the Museum Kaap Skil. The story of the Texel adventurers is told in vivid detail in the basement, while upstairs is case upon case of 'treasure' reclaimed from the surrounding seas. Outside, you can visit a working mill, several traditional fishermen's cottages and a warehouse containing part of a massive collection of finds made by beachcombers which is truely bizarre. Lots to entertain children as well. The Slufter The Slufter is a nature reserve on the west of the island, covering a large area of dune, marsh and sandbanks and populated by a huge variety of bird life. In total, the Slufter covers about 700 hectares, but that includes a huge stretch of tidal flats. There are several guided walks of different lengths and a wheelchair ramp down to the walkway for the less able bodied. Lighthouse The red lighthouse nestling in the dunes at the northern end of the island is open to the public, if you can climb the 118 steps to the gallery. The view, even on a rainy day, is stunning. There are two nice restaurants nearby where you can escape the wind and have a big bowl of pea soup instead. Wezenspyk A dairy farm with a cheese shop, plus a short guided walk across the polder to a traditional and restored Texel barn - you will see these distinctive barns all over the south of the island - so its interesting to get a peek inside. Wezenspyk has won prizes for its Texel sheep and goats cheese and we did, of course, buy them on the premises to bring home. Ecomare This combination of a sea life rescue centre and natural history museum is situated on the western side of the island and is a permanent home to two porpoise and some 15 seals which can no longer be released into the wild. The aquariums have a wide variety of native sea life - see how many flat fish you can spot - while the museum section includes the skeletons of several whales and other strange creatures which have washed up on the shore. Great for kids. Where to eat Texel has its fair share of snack bar/pancake/burger and chips joints, as any holiday destination, but it also has some highly rated eateries as well. Top of the bill is fish restaurant T' Pakhuus on the harbour front in Oudeschild which is described by Lekker magazine as a 'culinary pearl' but was fully booked when we were on the island. We had a perfectly respectable, if somewhat noisy, steak and chips dinner De Kastagneboom in Den Burg, the main town, and a very good four-course meal with local fish and lamb - and  their own liqueurs - in Topido, De Cocksdorp. We can also recommend lunch at beach bar Paal 17, even in winter. Where to stay There are hotels galore and the Texel tourist office has a wide range of privately-owned holiday houses and an easy to use website in English. We stayed at Vijverhof on the edge of a forest, which has a large, secluded garden, solar panels and sleeps up to 12. If you are renting a holiday house, check whether the price includes final cleaning, sheets and towels and energy costs. These are often added on as extras.  How to get there Drive, take the train or a bus to the ferry terminal in Den Helder, then take the ferry. It's an hourly service - every 30 minutes in peak periods - and you can't book. A return ticket costs €2.50 per person and €18.20 for a car of less than 2.5 metres. If you do take a car buy a parking ticket online for your whole stay - it saves a lot of money! If you are fit and love cycling, you don't need to take a car at all - there are lots of places to hire bikes - but it can get heavy going cycling into the wind so don't under estimate the long trip back after a day out. Anything else? Combine a visit to Texel with a boat trip over to neighbouring Vlieland from De Cocksdorp or island hop up the entire Wadden chain.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Unfortunate Train Name Edition – Week 44

DutchNews podcast – The Unfortunate Train Name Edition – Week 44

This week's podcast has a transport theme as a judge calls time on Amsterdam's beer bikes, the Anne Frank Foundation cries foul on Germany's national rail operator and Russia has a hissy fit over air cargo slots at Schiphol. We also tackle the mystery of the cat that travelled 150km to a Belgian town with an appropriate name. In our discussion we analyse the two-day debate in Parliament to welcome the new Dutch government. Top story Government 'will ignore result of Big Brother referendum' News Russia threatens to close airspace in Schiphol row Sint Maarten agrees to Dutch conditions for reconstructing Amsterdam wins long-running war on beer bikes Migrants from Europe and America boost Dutch population Anne Frank Foundation objects to name of German train Max Verstappen triumphs in Mexican Grand Prix Missing cat turns up in Belgian town called Muizen And if you want an expat insight into what goes on in Dutch neighbourhood meetings... 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨The boyfriend has jumped into the fray. This is not a drill. He's now arguing with the Gemeente guy. 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 — Molly Quell (@MollyQuell) November 2, 2017   More >


DutchNews podcast – The Shoes That Should Be Sterilised Edition – Week 43

DutchNews podcast – The Shoes That Should Be Sterilised Edition – Week 43

In this week's we give you the lowdown on who's who in the new Dutch government and find out why the health minister's shoes made a splash at the swearing-in ceremony. Others to make a splash this week were the protester who disrupted a dolphin show in Japan and the students who came up with a novel way to stop green roofs leaking. In sport, we find out why Max Verstappen is still angry about being pushed off the podium and which Dutch player is officially the world's best footballer. Top story New government takes office after marathon coalition talks conclude News MeToo campaign on sexual harassment spreads to Netherlands You can read Gordon's blog post The Weinstein Spectrum here Students win award for roof coating made from old condoms and tampons Traffic jams to get worse despite roadbuilding plan Illegal bird killing worse than suspected Sport Max Verstappen fuming as overtaking penalty costs him podium finish Lieke Martens named FIFA's footballer of the year      More >


DutchNews podcast – The Bus Baby Eagle Edition – Week 21

Our latest podcast features the mother in Breda who checked in for one on the bus but checked out for two, why a Dutch-trained American eagle is minding Donald Trump in Brussels, and how a court decided an Iraqi refugee was 'not gay enough' to stay in the Netherlands. We also discuss the fall-out from Ajax's defeat in the Europa League final and whether we're any closer to a new Dutch government. Top story Work starts on Amsterdam Eurostar terminal News Gay refugee refused asylum Baby born on bus in Breda Wageningen tree takes to Twitter Record traffic jams on Ascension Day Police hunt 14-year-old boy playing with toy guns (NOS) Ajax lose Europa League final Drone eagle patrols skies over Nato summit Discussion: where now for the coalition talks? Dutch coalition talks reach stalemate as D66 picks up some of the blame Schippers warns party leaders that a minority cabinet looms All at sea: Rutte and Pechtold discuss the formation problems at a beach bar  More >


11 of the prettiest Dutch villages which aren’t too over-run by coach parties

11 of the prettiest Dutch villages which aren’t too over-run by coach parties

Cobbled streets, waterways, tiny thatched cottages covered with roses, secret gardens and wooden bridges - Dutch villages can be a delight. So this is a totally subjective compilation of places we think worth checking out - and which (we hope) won't be totally full of coach loads of tourists. Appingedam Appingedam first evolved on the banks of the Delf river in around 1200. With open access to the sea, it was somewhat prosperous and second only in importance in the region to Groningen. It enjoyed a resurgence as an industrial centre in the late 19th century and was home to the Appingedammer Bronsmotorenfabriek, which made ships motors until 2004. Appingedam's most famous attraction is the hanging kitchens above the Damsterdiep. Bourtange The leafy star-shaped fortified village of Bourtange in Groningen province has pretty houses, a charming central square and several museums and fortifications to poke around in. Totally renovated in the 1960s, Bourtange was built way back in 1593 to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. It is now a big draw to German tourists from just over the border - so avoid public holidays. Bronkhorst Bronkhorst, in Gelderland, is technically a city but only has around 170 inhabitants. It used to be a lordship and its earliest known lord - Gijsbert - was first mentioned in 1140. Bronkhorst is just a stroll from the banks of the river Ijssel and has a nice little museum devoted to Charles Dickens which was set up by local fanatics. If you make a day trip of it, there are lots of castles to gawp at in nearby Vorden. De Rijp Less than an hour north of Amsterdam, De Rijp is a village of cottages with some grander buildings in between. You can rent a little electric boat and tour the waterways of the Beemster polder and there are some nice walks across the fields, if you really want to go off the beaten track. Information at the tourist office in the town hall. Popular with Dutch day trippers, there are lots of nice places for lunch. Doesburg Granted city rights in 1237, Doesburg has a strategic position along the Oude IJssel and Gelderse IJssel rivers, which helped boost its prosperity. Top attractions include the Doesburgse mustard factory and weighhouse (de Waag). The town also has a museum dedicated to the work of René Lalique with some 250 items of jewellery and glass and a cafe devoted to Elvis Presley. Durgerdam The dyke village of Durgerdam to the north east of Amsterdam dates from the 15th century and has a splendid view over the Buiten IJ - even though Amsterdam is encroaching on its skyline.  Of the 100 or so wooden houses, 73 are listed buildings. There is nothing much to do apart from walk or cycle along the waterfront, watch birds and admire. The sunsets can be particularly fine. If you are a cyclist, a trip taking in Uitdam, Ransdorp and Zuiderwoude as well is highly recommended. There are also buses, of course. Elburg Elburg is one of the Netherlands oldest settlements and was completely rebuilt in the 14th century, giving it the square street pattern it has today. The town's museum is housed in the imposing 15th century Agnieten convent. Opposite is a little house built into the old town walls - the muurhuisje - which is open to the public. Eext Eext, in Drenthe, is a charming village of thatched farmhouses and wide open spaces, with a few fine places to eat, a couple of hotels and a tiny museum. It is also home to a couple of hunebedden or megalithic burial chambers. Hotel Rikus is very reasonably priced, grows its own veg, serves massive breakfasts and organises bikes or walking tours for those that want them. Hindeloopen Hindeloopen is a little port town in Frisland, and one of the province's 11 cities. The Hindeloopen painting style – flowers and curly cues on a white, green, red or blue background – is the town’s main claim to fame. The people of Hindeloopen couldn’t get enough of it and covered absolutely every piece of furniture in it. The Hindeloopen Museum has lots of examples and more Hindeloopen history – including skating – besides. Thorn The village of Thorn in Limburg dates back to the 11th century and was home to an important convent for ladies of the nobility around that time. The white houses date back to the village's occupation by the French in 1794. They, so the story goes, introduced a tax on windows. The good folk of Thorn were said to be so poor that they bricked up their windows and whitewashed their homes to disguise the fact. Thorn has a small museum and a nice selection of cafes. Grand cafe Het Stift has a wide selection of local beers. Veere Veere in Zeeland is a gem of a village with some splendid medieval buildings and an enormous church (1348) that Napoleon’s soldiers used as a military hospital. Veere’s wealth stems from its position as a major port in the wool trade with Scotland back in the 15th century. The Schotse Huizen museum on the waterfront is well worth a visit. Our favourite place to stay is the Auberge De Campveerse Toren - built into part of the town walls. Veere can get very busy in the summer so we recommend a winter weekend away. Please note that Giethorn, the thatched cottage idyll where the locals get around by boat (ha ha), is such a massive tourist trap that we think it is worse than Venice and only worth visiting on a cold misty morning in November when no one else is around.  More >