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Netherlands

Also known as Holland, the Netherlands is a low-lying country that borders the Atlantic Ocean in the northwestern region of Europe. Its recorded history begins in the first century BC, when Romans stumbled upon tribes of natives living in the area. The Romans ruled what is now the Netherlands for nearly four centuries. Their presence would eventually give rise to Germanic groups that inhabited the area, including the Franks, Frisians, and Low Saxons. The area saw numerous missionary efforts from Anglo-Saxon and Hiberno-Scottish groups in the eighth century and as a result, adopted Christianity. The modern Dutch language that is spoken throughout most of the region today arose from a cultural group known as the Salian Franks after the eighth century.

During the Middle Ages, the country fell into the hands of both the Burgundians and the Spanish. The Dutch Revolt led to the formation of an independent Dutch republic in 1572 and seven years later, Belgium split off. The Dutch were at the peak of prosperity during the 17th century, when they colonized a great deal of the New World, including what is now New York City. The Netherlands later became a Kingdom and although it maintained a neutral stance in the First World War, it was invaded and occupied by Germany in World War II. Currently, the Netherlands a modern, technologically-proficient nation and exporter of agricultural goods.

de_0033_netherlands - Peace Palace (UN Court of Justice in The Hague; Netherlands)

Attractions

There is much to see and do in the Netherlands, from the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam to the fields of tulips, seaside windmills, and extensive canals characteristically associated with the country. The country has miles of coastline and sandy beaches that seem to extend for as far as the eye can see. Depending on how long you’ve decided to stay in the Netherlands for, you can pick and choose from a wide variety of attractions.

In Amsterdam, the long canals that the city is known for make for a picturesque stroll around the city. However, the city is also a cultural center, and is home to the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and the Rijksmuseum, which houses famous works by artists including Rembrandt.

Outside of the city, visit the West Frisian Islands off of the northern coast of the country. Cycling across the islands makes for a pleasant day trip. If you’re an aspiring botanist, visit the Keukenhof Gardens to see the largest flower gardens in the world and home to over seven million bulbs. The park features daffodils and hyacinths, and of course, tulips. If you want to see traditional, old-style windmills, the village of Kinderdijk is also worth a visit.

de_0034_netherlands - Glass dome

Local Food & Drink

Contrary to popular opinion, Dutch food is distinctive, hearty, flavorful, and delicious. Typical meals include meat, potatoes, and vegetable side dishes that are prepared with mild spices. The Netherlands is also home to world-renowned cheeses, including Edam, Gouda, and Maaslander. Some of the country’s common dishes include pea soup, mussels with boiled vegetables, raw herring, bitterbal, sauerkraut, smoked sausage. But aside from meal entrees, the Dutch have a sweet tooth and sweets, including chocolate sprinkles and spreads, waffles, and Dutch pancakes.

When it comes to drink, the Netherlands is best-known for its Heineken brand. However, in the Netherlands there are plenty of brands to compete with Heineken, including Amstel, Bavaria, Grolsch, and Brand to name a few. A special brew of white lager includes added spices or fruit flavoring. Take a tour of some of the local breweries to get a feel for how beers are brewed.

de_0035_netherlands - Facades at the water front in Amsterdam Netherlands

Safety

The Netherlands is a safe country by European standards. There is a greater likelihood of encountering trouble in the larger cities, particularly in neighborhoods of Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam. However, major violent crimes are extremely rare and most of the complaints are of pickpockets or bicycle thieves. The police are ready to respond to emergencies and can be reached by dialing 112 on any phone, including mobiles and landlines.

The Netherlands is known for its liberal policies on alcohol consumption, prostitution, and drugs. The legal drinking age is 16 for both beer and wine and prostitution is legal when the woman gives her consent. Through a technicality, the use of drugs is illegal but is regulated in the country via a policy that tolerates or accepts use. The use of marijuana is not prosecuted.