Backpacking in the Netherlands

Countries  »  Netherlands

If you know the Netherlands (otherwise known, somewhat inaccurately, as Holland) for anything, it’s probably Amsterdam and its hedonistic reputation worldwide. Yes, the notorious Red Light District and coffee shops will undoubtedly have pride of place on any itinerary when backpacking in the Netherlands, but the rich culture of Amsterdam - and the whole country - has so much more to offer.

Whether you venture to other cities like rowdy Rotterdam, quirky Utrecht, or green-minded Groningen, or head out into the famously flat countryside in search of tulips and windmills, a gap year in the Netherlands is bound to be a captivating experience.

Cities in the Netherlands

Amsterdam balances quaint, off-kilter cool with bustling modernity, giving it a character all of its own. Although it’s rammed with world-class museums (the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Museum of Sex being particular favourites), you could comfortably spend all your time cycling around the rambling streets or cruising the city on a canal boat, marvelling at the cafes that spill out onto the pavement and the mismatched canalside buildings that prop each other up like amiable drunks. Finish of the day with a (liquid?) picnic on the lawns of the magical Vondelpark.

Many travellers never leave Amsterdam when backpacking in the Netherlands, and they’re missing out. Rotterdam is modern, diverse, and laidback; Maastricht is the oldest town in the country and brimming with history; Utrecht blends medieval architecture with student nightlife; no two cities in the Netherlands are quite alike.

Countryside in the Netherlands

Usually whenever we write about European countryside we talk about rolling hills, dramatic mountains, and rugged coastline. The Netherlands doesn’t have any of that. It’s flat as a delicious Dutch pancake - but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see.

Most iconic among sights in the Netherlands are the ubiquitous windmills, dotting the landscape in memory of their crucial role in 13th-century industry. Most of the land is given over to agriculture, most famously the rainbow fields of tulips.

Two hours from Amsterdam lies Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens, a riot of colours when spring arrives. It’s the perfect escape from the city and, with some 800 species of tulip represented, a gorgeous taste of the traditional Netherlands.

Top Experiences in the Netherlands

Canal tours in Amsterdam

If we had to pick just one thing to do in Amsterdam, it would be cruising the historic canals either early in the morning as the city awakes, or in the evening as the lights spring up ahead of a long, messy night.

Keukenhof

Lying a couple of hours from Amsterdam, visit these sprawling flower gardens in spring to see seemingly endless fields of tulips in bloom, as well as greenhouses, rockeries, and tacky tourist magnets.

Hoge Veluwe National Park

The Netherlands aren’t known for varied landscapes, but here you’ll find forests, marshlands, drift sands and more, as well as a brilliant museum.

Maastricht

Although modestly sized, Maastricht practically hums with energy, be it from the large student population or the muddled European styles of architecture that line the historical streets.

Den Bosch

A little off the usual trail, Den Bosch boasts canals more peaceful than what you’ll find in Amsterdam, as well as the country’s oldest building in the Moriaan and the imposing Gothic splendour of St John’s Cathedral.