Take Five: Holland for the Sober Tourist

Travel Lists

The Netherlands may be a small country but there’s a lot more to it than cheese production, marijuana and the infamous windmills. Each town has its own attractions, each region its own particular vibe.

Follow our guide through Holland to find out what else you should see besides a kaleidoscope of colors through the lens of Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Your journey will start in the northern region of Brabant and make its way all the way up toward the picturesque seaside town of Medemblik.

1. Strijp-S in Eindhoven

Eindhoven is located in Holland’s region of Noord-Brabant and is often dubbed the “Philips Town.” The technology company found its roots in Eindhoven in 1891 and although it has spread out since, the Philips Lighting and the Philips Research center still remain. For many years, Philips Industrial Park Strijp-S was not accessible to the public and was therefore nicknamed “The Forbidden Town.” In 2006, Strijp-S was transformed into Eindhoven’s ultimate meeting-point for the creative. The industrial park now houses the skate park and party venue Area 51, the PopEI DJ School, the Monk Bouldergym (Sports & Recreational Center), Ontdekfabriek (Discovery Fabric) and the STRP, a concert hall that invites you to enjoy experimental films, music, light installations, art and robotics. On every third Sunday of the month, you can cruise the popular Feel Good Market for handmade treasures or watch spontaneous AcroYoga performances. During the last week of October, Strijp-S welcomes the Dutch Design Week, one of the biggest furniture, clothing and tech design events in Northern Europe.

2. Vincent Van Gogh’s Hometown

If you’d like to escape the Dutch city life for a long weekend, we recommend a stay at the beautiful hotel La Sonnerie in Son. Son itself is a small village but is well connected to surrounding towns like Best, Sint Oedenrode and Nuenen, Vincent Van Gogh’s hometown. Your best transport option here is of course the bicycle; from Son, it will take you around 30 minutes to reach Nuenen. The ride will take you along the Dommel-Canal before leading you to the Hooidonksche Beek toward Nuenen through the Dutch countryside, which inspired many of Van Gogh’s paintings between 1883-1885, such as the famous The Potato Eaters. It depicts a somber atmosphere and is considered to be one of the artist’s most successful paintings. The famous Roosdonck windmills can be found on the outskirts of the town center, just before you enter Nuenen. Van Gogh incorporated these windmills into seven of his paintings. From here you can enter Nuenen’s town center and enjoy a lekker hapje (delicious bite) at the typically Dutch Café Ons Dorp.
3. Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse

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Now that you’ve seen the best of North Brabant, make your way toward the South of Holland, to Lisse in particular. This area is often referred to as the Duin- en Bollenstreek (Dune and Bulb Region) and is where you will find the world’s largest flower garden, the Keukenhof. The gardens are built around the Keukenhof Castle, which dates back to 1641, during Holland’s Golden Age. Counts, Countesses and noble families once used the 230-acre estate to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables to use in their kitchens, hence the name, which literally translates to “Kitchen Court.” These days, the garden fills around 79 acres with about seven million flower bulbs on an annual basis and is open to the public from March until May. There are a variety of gardens, each exhibiting different garden styles and bulbs, like tulips which are best viewed in April. Other popular attractions in Lisse include the Bloemencorso (Flower Parade, pictured above) with its stunning floral-floats and the Castlefest, a festival held at the Keukenhof Castle, during which, following the medieval/fantasy theme, the castle and the terrain transform into a medieval town complete with a market, blacksmiths, sculptors and live music. Several workshops offer the opportunity to learn more about Wicca, Celtic rituals or felt work.

4. Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem

Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem is known all over Holland and it’s easy to see why. The overall design of the park is stunning and its philosophy inspiring and educational. The animals’ quarters truly resemble the natural environments from which they originated, for example, the giraffes inhabit an area filled with massive piles of rocks to make them feel like they are at home in the Savannah. The design also helps visitors feel as though they are discovering new terrains. An eerie tunnel, designed to look like an abandoned mineshaft, leads down to Burgers’ desert, where you’re invited to examine minerals and fossils. Burgers’ Mexican-American rock desert is home to bighorn sheep, Gila monsters and collared peccaries. For a quick trip Down Under, Burgers’ ocean has the largest living coral reef outside of Australia. Young adventurers can go off on their own discovery mission through crawl spaces and secret shortcuts.

5. The Harbor in Medemblik

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Once you’ve done the obligatory Amsterdam tour, you’ll be happy to escape Holland’s tourist haven and head toward Medemblik. Only a 45-minute drive from Amsterdam, Medemblik is the perfect beach day trip where you can hang around the harbor sipping a cool Heineken. The village itself is rather small with many cobblestoned paths and is surrounded by traditional Dutch farm/town houses. The harbor is picturesque and offers the perfect setting for a stroll at sundown. If that’s not enough for you, play pirate for a day by going out to sea on one of the many impressive sail boats adorning Medemblik´s harbor.

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.

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