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The Netherlands, also known as Holland, is best known for its cheeses, tulips and windmills. This low-lying, densely populated Country offers visitors engaging cities along with historic towns, a sandy coastline and 20 national parks, all waiting to be discovered by car. The small size and friendly people of this liberal, flat nation are conductive to exploring through self-drive, from quirky Amsterdam to quaint Delft.
With no motorway tolls and mostly flat terrain, the Netherlands makes for easy and rewarding driving. One thing foreign drivers may not be accustomed to is giving way to cyclists, who frequently have their own dedicated lanes in the Netherlands.
Driving licences: driving licences issued in the EU are also valid here. Non-EU licence holders must obtain an International Driving Permit.
Which side does the Netherlands drive on?: the right.
Motorways: 74mph (120kph)
Rural areas: 49mph (80kph) or 62mph (100kph)
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: 0.05% of blood, this is slightly higher than the 0.08% limit in the UK. Offenders are subject to fines, prison sentences or the withdrawal of their driving licence.
Driving age: 18 years, however to hire a car most suppliers require you to be 21 or over.
Seatbelts: compulsory for all front and rear passengers, if fitted. Children under 3 years can not travel in the back if rear seatbelts are not fitted, while only passengers above 1.35m (4ft 5”) in height can travel in a front seat not fitted with a seatbelt. Children less than 1.35m (4ft 5”) in height and under 18 years must use a restraint system adapted to their size.
Mobile phones and GPS: mobile phones may only be used in conjunction with a hands-free kit. The use of GPS is allowed but the navigation unit must be programmed while the car is stationary.
Cost of fuel in the Netherlands: petrol is marginally more expensive than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: most petrol stations accept credit card payment. UK travellers should inform their card issuer they will be travelling to the Netherlands in advance to avoid problems.
Insurance: Your hire car will come with compulsory third party insurance but you may want to purchase excess protection as well.
Traffic and parking: parking infringements may result in on-the-spot fines or the towing away of the vehicle. Parking in Blue Zones requires a parking disc, available through newsagents, while parking in P Zones is metered.
High-speed trains connect Amsterdam with Brussels, Frankfurt and many more European cities, and are often more convenient than flying. Many international routes stop at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and The Hague, among other key Dutch transport hubs. UK visitors can take the Eurostar from London to Brussels, from where quick connections to Amsterdam depart hourly. A useful site to find out the latest prices and book tickets is www.ns.nl
Due to excellent public transport, taxis are rarely used and can be expensive and slow due to traffic congestion. It is best to seek out a legitimate taxi with a blue licence plate if hailing a cab in the street, or book a ride through a reputable company through your hotel in advance.
Eurolines coaches serve major European cities, including Amsterdam from London on a daily basis. Tickets are cheap, especially for under 26s. Once in the Netherlands, it is best to use trains to get between cities due to their speed; however, buses can be a convenient, albeit sometimes slow, way to travel within cities and to remote villages. The main providers are: Qbuzz, Connexxion, Arriva and Veolia.
It is hard to beat travelling to the Netherlands by car due to the country’s excellent road and car ferry links. Regular ferries operated by Stena Line, DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries connect the UK ports of Harwich, Newcastle upon Tyne and Kingston upon Hull with Hoek van Holland, Ijmuiden and Rotterdam Europoort, respectively.
Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam is a major European flight hub with routes to destinations across the globe, including low-cost flights to and from other European cities such as London. Rail links at the airport take passengers into the city for around £3. There are secondary airports in other major Dutch cities such as Eindhoven and Rotterdam.
Western Netherlands is where visitors will find the nation’s four largest cities: Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as its primary international airport (Schipol) and ferry ports. Outside of the big cities, Delft draws crowds with its blue-and-white ceramics and Gouda with its namesake cheese. The windmills of Kinderdijk and the flower fields of Keukenhof are other highlights.
Little populated Northern Netherlands attracts few foreigners but its West Frisian Islands and their slow pace of life make for one of the country’s worthwhile visitor spots. These remote islands are accessible by car from Amsterdam.
Eastern Netherlands draws thousands of tourists each year with its Hoge Veluwe National Park and Hanseatic cities along the IJssel River such as Zwolle, Zutphen and Doesburg. Visitors shouldn’t miss the national park’s Kroller-Muller museum where dozens of van Gogh masterpieces are on show.
Southern Netherlands has a culture akin to that of Burgundy. Here, the beach resorts of Zeeland and the landscapes of Limburg make for scenic driving, while Maastricht entertains tourists with its collection of historic buildings and cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Hanseatic cities — take in the seven historic Hanseatic cities which line the banks of the IJssel River in a single trip with the use of car hire in the Netherlands. Zutphen is one of the oldest medieval cities in the country, with its well-preserved centre taking visitors back in time. Zwolle has an equally impressive collection of heritage buildings, while Doesburg’s historic centre attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Hoge Veluwe National Park — the country’s biggest national park, at 20 square miles, is one of the best places to take in the Netherlands’ natural beauty by car. Access is via the N311, the N304 or the N310. The park’s main roads take visitors to the starting points of many cycling and hiking trails as well as the Kroller-Muller art museum, which houses works by Dutch painter van Gogh.
South Limburg — there is no better way to take in the lush green landscapes, timber-framed houses, pretty villages and historic castles of South Limburg than by car. This beautiful part of the country can be accessed via the E14 or E25, with minor roads connecting the lovely villages of Epen and Gulpen. Vaals, a compact city abutting the borders with Germany and Belgium, has perhaps the most scenic routes.
- New Year’s Day (1 January)
- Easter (March/April)
- Queen’s Day (30 April)
- National Windmill Day (14 May)
- Holland Festival (June)
- Saint Nicholas’ Eve (5 December)
- Christmas Day (25 December)
The Netherlands has a moderate maritime climate which is characterised by mild winters and cool summers. Coastal communities see the warmest as well as the coolest temperatures.
Visitors to the Netherlands can ensure their trip runs smoothly by brushing up on these essential travel tips before departure. Tourists will encounter few money, health or safety problems in this modern, safe country, while the friendly locals are willing to go the extra mile to ensure newcomers enjoy their culture and heritage.
Netherlands contact numbers
Country Code (+31)
Emergency services – 112
British Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 4270 427
The Netherlands uses the euro as its official currency along with other eurozone countries, with €1 divided into 100 cents. ATM withdrawals and debit and credit card transactions in euro within the eurozone are charged as domestic transactions. UK visitors face international charges for transactions involving the exchange of pounds sterling, but using local ATMs remains the most convenient way to withdraw euro.
Health and safety
Visitors to the Netherlands face few threats to their safety and health. No vaccinations are required. Food hygiene is good and the tap water is drinkable. Certain areas of the big cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam present the threat of pickpockets after dark, and in some cases in the day. Forest ticks may carry Lyme’s disease so be sure to cover up when hiking.
The easy-going, liberal Dutch are very hospitable to visitors, often greeting new acquaintances with three cheek-kisses or a handshake. They are unlikely to be easily offended, being known for their tolerant attitudes. To see the locals at their best, visit during one of the national celebrations when all and sundry come together to party.
Visas for the Netherlands
The Netherlands allows visa-free entry and unlimited length of stay EU and EFTA countries.
Electricity in the Netherlands operates at 230V, 50Hz. Plugs here feature two round pins, with plug adaptors widely available.
Shops typically open from;
11:00 to 18:00, Monday;
09:30 to 18:00, Tuesday to Friday;
09:30 to 17:00, Saturday;
noon to 18:00, Sunday in cities
Shops in small towns may have more restrictive Sunday opening hours. Banks and post offices open from 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday, and sometimes from 09:00 to noon on Saturday.
Hallo / Goededag / Goeiedag - Hello
Wat is jouw naam? / Hoe heet u? / Wat is uw naam? - What's your name?
Waar kom je vandaan? / Waar komt u vandaan? - Where are you from?
Goedemorgen / Goeiemorgen - Good morning
Goedemiddag / Goeiemiddag - Good afternoon
Goedenavond / Goeienavond - Good evening
Goedenacht / Welterusten - Good night
Proost! - Cheers!
Ik begrijp het niet - I don't understand
Hoeveel kost dit? - How much is this?
Dank u / Bedankt – Thank you