Why Visit The Netherlands?
Holland (officially known as The Netherlands) is the foreign country we have holidayed in more frequently than any other in recent years.
Why, you might ask? The primary reason why we favour Holland for our holidays is it’s close proximity to our part of the U.K., in particular the ease in which we can travel to the ferry port in Harwich (45 minutes away), take a convenient overnight ferry crossing before waking up in our destination.
However, this reason of practicality is closely followed by the hospitality that the Dutch people have unfailingly shown us. Even though I endeavour to learn and practice a few simple phrases of the native language wherever I travel (and my eldest daughter has developed an interest in doing the same thing), as soon as the Dutch twig that we are British they instantly switch to flawless English. It may be a generalisation, but we have always found the Dutch people we have encountered to be a sociable bunch, often keen to start conversation and fuss over our young kids.
Historic Cities and Beautiful Countryside
Although the Netherlands is a densely populated country, with the roads fairly heavy with traffic most of the time as a result, the drivers are courteous and law abiding which removes much of the stress for British drivers, especially if a sat nav is also used to locate your destination. There are numerous historic towns and cities that account for housing the majority of the population, leaving great swathes of lush green countryside dotted with ubiquitous Dutch windmills and grazing cattle, intersected by canals and rivers in this country where much of the land has been cleverly reclaimed from the sea.
Perfectly Presented Homes
Whenever we passed through residential areas, I was struck by how beautifully presented the dwellings were. Even balconies adjoined to modest apartments that overlooked main roads were personalised with vibrant flowers in window boxes and comfortable outdoor furniture. On terraced streets, benches were often positioned just in front of homes so that the owner could relax in the evening sun with a book. Windows facing the street are usually adorned with pairs of matching plants or lanterns for the appreciation of passers-by. The sense that homes are set up for the benefit of passers-by is heightened by the fact that many people leave their curtains drawn open long into the evening (if indeed they get closed at all), affording a clear view of the front room for anyone who cannot resist taking a look. Me? Guilty as charged!
I also adore traditional Dutch architecture, which is evident even in modern home designs- with large panes of glass (less frequently divided into smaller sections than windows here in England), cute gables and red roofs.
Everywhere was immaculate- the smooth roads (even in narrow village streets), the complete lack of litter and dedicated cycle lanes that were well used by people of all ages from commuters to work to young children cycling with their parents to school and toddlers in trailers on cargo bikes created an air of a highly civilised, well-functioning society. I couldn’t help feeling a little envious of some of these things, that were undeniably streets ahead of my homeland.
De Efteling Theme Park
We visited (for the third time!) a theme park called de Efteling, which is practically an institution in Holland. The park is structured around a fairytale theme, with a fairytale wood complete with replica houses from many fairytales and the respective characters found within them, such as Little Red Riding Hood poised knocking the the door of her grandmother’s house, while the wolf disguised as grandmother is propped up in bed and visible through the window. There is also a large, realistic-looking oak tree that speaks. You have to see it to believe it! As well as the fairytale forest area there are a multitude of imaginatively designed rides for all ages, from incredible dreamlike fairy themed Dreamflight to the thrilling Baron 1889. De Efteling is a huge park and takes two or three full days to do justice to the many attractions on offer. We stayed overnight at the Efteling Hotel (excitingly constructed in the shape of a castle) to enable us to easily fit in two full days at the park.
Beekse Bergen Holiday and Safari Park
After that, we moved on to a holiday park called Beekse Bergen, in the North Brabant region of Holland close to the city of Tilburg. This park is centred around a large lake and has many wooded areas where the mobile homes are sited, which created a sense of tranquility as well as privacy. The trees also encouraged many types of birds: we had a pair of ducks that took up residence right outside our mobile home for the duration of our stay, to the delight of my children who enjoyed feeding them. We all felt ourselves start to relax as the calming influence of our surroundings took hold. Playgrounds are dotted all around the site, which pleased my kids as they rode their bikes around and frequently stumbled upon new ones to explore. There was a great indoor pool complex on site, with several slides and water features in the pool for under fives as well as a lazy river and larger slide.
Free Days Out With the Extra Card
If you stay three or more nights at Beekse Bergen you are given an Extra card which allows you free access to a number of attractions owned by the Libema group. This includes the safari park adjoining the holiday park (one of the largest safari parks in the Benelux region, it offers visitors the option to take a bus safari, car safari, boat safari or explore on foot to catch sight of as many animals as possible), as well as a couple of other zoo type places within an hour’s drive. See image below (borrowed from inyourpocket.com) Also included is Speelland (Playland), a small scale theme park aimed at children aged under twelve with bouncy castles, adventure play equipment as well as a few rides. Speelland is accessed by boat across the lake which adds to the sense of adventure for young children. Image below of Speelland borrowed from Tilburg.com.
We were very fortunate with the weather- a heatwave made it feel almost conceivable that were in the Mediterranean rather than the lowlands of northwestern Europe.
Have you visited the Netherlands before? Prior to having children, I had visited Amsterdam several times, but never ventured beyond the capital. Now I have caught the bug, I can’t wait to start planning our next Dutch getaway for next year.
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