Saturday, 10 August 2013

What non-tourist things can I do while in the Netherlands?

... or where to find some nice beers and snacks

If you're planning to visit the fine country called the Netherlands, but prefer to avoid the typical tourist things to visit, or just want to know about my favourite places to stroll around and enjoy a broad selection of beers, snacks and other food & drinks, then carry on reading!

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands. It's located in the province of Noord-Holland, and to many tourists it's probably mostly known for its infamous Red Light District and soft-drugs selling coffeeshops, however to the Dutch people it's way more than that.
Begijnhof, Amsterdam
Photograph by David "dbaron" Baron
Licensed as Creative Commons BY-SA-2.0
Most Dutch people I know prefer to associate Amsterdam with the many startups founded there, its rich social culture, the many lovely brown pubs, its architecture and colourful events.
While it's not my favourite city of the Netherlands, I will start with it since most tourists will know it and will probably be staying in it.

Begijnhof

If you need a little peace and quiet after walking through the crowded and noisy city centre, be sure to visit the inner courts of the beguinage the Begijnhof.
Once you close the door behind you, you also shut out most/all of the sound from the bustling city and get some peace and serenity in return.

Brouwerij 't IJ
Photograph by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson
Licensed as Creative Commons BY-2.0

Brewery/Brouwerij 't IJ

If you feel like trying out some local beer and thinking of visiting a brewery, then avoid the tourist trap that is the Heineken Experience Museum, and visit Brouwerij 't IJ instead and consider taking one of their tours. One of their breweries is located near a windmill, so you get to see a typical tourist thing too.

Meetups in Amsterdam

You could also have a look at what meetups are held in Amsterdam during the period you'll be staying in the Netherlands.
To give an idea of the variety available:

Wonderful view at the top of the Public Libary of Amsterdam

The Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam is a big public library located near the Central Station. It has several floors with various kinds of media such as books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, etc. However, the best place for me is the top floor, where they have a nice restaurant, which has an outdoors seating area with a wonderful view over the city of Amsterdam. Especially on a clear and sunny day, I would suggest taking a small detour before heading into the city centre, and visit this lovely viewpoint.

Beers from all over the world at Beer Temple

List of the Beer Temple's draft beers
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-3.0
by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter.
I recently paid a visit to the Beer Temple in Amsterdam for the first time. One of the reasons for visiting this bar was the wide variety of beers from all over the world, so I could hopefully try a few of the American stouts that +Steve Restless had recommended to me, especially since they mostly seem to focus on the beers from the USA.
List of the Beer Temple's bottled beers.
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-3.0
by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter.
While the beer which I wanted to try, the Southern Tier Crème Brûlee Stout, was a bit too expensive for me at €20 for about 65 cl / 22 floz, they did have quite some cheaper IPAs, stouts, ales and other beers to pick from. Read my Google+ post about my first visit to the Beer Temple for more details.
They also serve various snacks and if you need more than a snack then visit one of the various restaurants nearby. My favourites are 't Pakhuis, Carel's 3 and De Bekeerde Suster. Feel free to also read my Google Local review of De Bekeerde Suster, Amsterdam.


Take the train to other cities

And instead of just visiting Amsterdam, and the common tourist trap towns like Zaanse Schans, try visiting Utrecht for instance. If you feel adventurous, you could also just get on a random train to visit some random city with a weird and perhaps for you unpronounceable name!
Use intercity trains if you prefer to go to more busy cities, or get on a all-stop train (stoptrein in Dutch) and get off at a smaller station for more rural towns with less activity, but perhaps more interesting sceneries.

Visit Utrecht

Utrecht is the capital of the central province of the Netherlands by the same name, and is a fine city whose city centre features buildings from the Early Middle Ages. It's a big city with a nice cosy atmosphere, and it's for that reason I actually prefer Utrecht over Amsterdam. On many occasion I've visited Utrecht, and stayed there for quite some weekends, visiting friends, going out and doing some shopping.
If you are up for a nice long walk, I would suggest trying out this walking route:

City Centre

Walk from the train station via the Stairway to Heaven rock café towards the Domkerk (Dom church, or St. Martin's Cathedral). Perhaps even be the tourist and have a look inside.
Domkerk (St. Martin's Cathedral), Utrecht
Photograph by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-3.0.
Then walk around the Domkerk and from there carry on along the old channel (Oudegracht). This will take you through the city centre, with the usual shops you'd expect in a big city.

Kafé België and Tivoli Oude Gracht

As you keep walking along the Oudegracht, be sure to pop by Kafé België and order a lovely Tostie België (which is a ham/cheese toastie with garlic/herb butter and red onions), and wash it down with one of the more than hundred international beers they have. Have a look as well at my Google Local review of Kafé België.
Continue your walk along the Oudegracht and perhaps cross one of the bridges there to visit the concert venue Tivoli Oudegracht to check if there are any interesting bands playing that day. If you are lucky, perhaps an awesome up-and-coming Dutch metal band will be playing.

Twijnstraat

As you carry on along the Oudegracht, it will turn into the Twijnstraat, a small shopping area with an Albert Heyn supermarket, an eco-friendly food shop, a liquor store with a wide variety of beers (have I mentioned yet I love the beer variety available in Utrecht?) and some other shops like a chemist to keep the local residents happy. Apparently it is Utrecht's oldest shopping street.
Yours truly sampling beers at Kafé België, Utrecht.
Photograph courtesy of +Siw Falch 

Ledig Erf and city park area

Once you get to the end of it, turn right and maybe sit down at the terrace of 't Ledig Erf and then start walking towards the train station again, but this time through one of the city's park areas. If you like to check out the architecture of churches, have a look at the Geertekerk along the way.

Observe

As you walk, observe how your surroundings change from the average world city shops to quaint little shops (such as the Angel Shop and the various board-game shops) to cosy pubs and lovely city park areas. Take some time every now and then to stop, look around, visit some shops and have a closer look at the architecture.

Google Maps Route:

If you are interested in following this route, or having a closer look at it, then you can check out the route I've plotted through Google Maps. If you are already on the new gMaps preview, then first try the new Google Maps Preview route for Utrecht. In case this link doesn't work for you, or if you aren't in the gMaps beta yet, then try the old Google Maps route for Utrecht instead.

Visit Haarlem

Haarlem is also worth a visit and is easily accessible by train. Haarlem's railway station is also our oldest railway station.
This capital of the province of Noord-Holland has a couple of nice parks where you can kick off your shoes and relax, such as the Kenaupark and De Haarlemmerhout.
As for museums and other sights to see, have a look at the Sights and Sounds page of Haarlem's tourism website.
The oldest museum in the Netherlands, the Teylers Museum, for instance is located in Haarlem, as well as the Frans Hals Museum, which sports art from the 15th century and onwards from (Dutch) masters such as Frans Hals, Verspronck and De Bray.

Haarlem also has its own beer with many varieties, Jopen, and their brewery + bar are located in an old church.

IJmuiden and Zandvoort's beaches

If you feel more like taking a long stroll along the beaches of the Northsea, then you could consider visiting the beaches of for instance Zandvoort and IJmuiden.

From Amsterdam you could take the train to Zandvoort (though in my experience that beach tends to be rather over-crowded). Instead you could also take the train from Amsterdam Central Station to Amsterdam Sloterdijk, and from there on take the Connexxion Bus 82 in the direction IJmuiden aan Zee, and get off at the last stop, IJmuiden aan Zee (IJmuiden by the Sea).

Dunes of IJmuiden by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Creative Commons Licence
IJmuiden's beach stretches out quite far, and is connected to the Kennemer duinen dune area through which you can also take a nice long walk. After this walk you can find various of fish & chips shops either on the beach or the promenade, or visit the centre of IJmuiden for various of other restaurants. A couple of suggestions:

  • Siam Thai Restaurant, if you are looking for some spicy Thai food, served by warm and friendly locals. The menu here is in Dutch and English and the personnel speaks both Dutch and English, as is common all through the Netherlands. Especially try their selection of starters.
  • Kota Radja, for (Dutch-style) Chinese/Indonesian food. They have both take-out as a cosy restaurant where you can sit and eat in peace.
  • Augusta, has a nice selection of posh food for lack of a better description. The food might be more expensive than the aforementioned places, but it's definitely worth it. When I last visited it with +Siw Falch the dishes were original, well-dressed, colourful and well-balanced. Especially the appetisers were a pleasant surprise as they were a delicious flavour explosion. Feel free to read my review of Augusta on Google Local for some more details.
  • Various Dutch snackbars can be found all through the city. Might be worth a visit just to see all the weird deep-fried snacks we Dutchies sometimes rave about, such as the (sateh-)kroket, berenhap, frikandel, bamihap and gehaktstaaf. If you don't like your fries drowned in mayonnaise, be sure to ask if they can put the sauces separately. Bonus points if you order it with speciaal or oorlog as sauces. ;-)
  • I think most of the restaurants are located in the Kennemerlaan, or the Lange Nieuwstraat. For fish-related restaurants I would suggest looking at the harbour and fishmarket area.

Visit Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the second-largest city of the Netherlands and for many years it had the largest port of Europe. It's located in the province of Zuid-Holland (South-Holland) and is considered part of the Randstad.
Willemsbrug in Rotterdam, as photographed by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter while taking a boat tour to Kinderdijk.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Creative Commons Licence
Playing a round of Carcassonne, at one of Rotterdam's many terraces.
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-3.0 by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter.
Tourists might know it mostly for the cube houses (Kubuswoningen in Dutch); cube-shaped houses designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom back in the seventies. These unconventional houses consist of a 45 degrees rotated cube of a conventional house and is rested upon a hexagon-shaped pylon. Most of them are actually inhabited, while others house offices, an amusement centre and one of them even a museum to show how it looks inside and how people (can) live there. There's also a small chess-pieces museum located in between the houses, along with a life-size chess board.
Personally I prefer visiting that area because of the various pubs and restaurants located along the water, so I can drink a nice beer and burn my mouth on a traditional bitterbal while enjoying the view over the old harbour. If you are there around lunch time, visit Kade 4 and see if they still have their mixed lunch; I remember thoroughly enjoying their freshly baked bread with various cheese and meat toppings with a friend of mine years ago.
An old windmill at Kinderdijk,
by Filip H.F. "FiXato" Slagter.

Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-3.0 
If you prefer checking out the shops in the city centre, have a look at the Koopgoot (Shopping gutter), which is a shopping street with shop in two levels; the shops at the regular level, and the ones in the 'gutter' located in the middle of the street. Should you get peckish and are looking for a snack, try the Vietnamese springroll stand near metro station Beurs. Looking for something more filling or a nice refreshing drink? Walk on to Stadhuisplein (cityhall square) and visit Café 't Fust; a cosy brown pub with bar made out of an old copper kettle once used for brewing Heineken. However, instead of ordering a Heineken, I would suggest ordering a Palm beer with a platter of mixed deep-fried snacks (bittergarnituur) instead.
If you need transportation then you can easily get around by using the extensive metro- and tram-network; though it might be hard to find your way around Central Station, since it still seems to be undergoing its never-ending renewal. I must say though that last time I visited, just a few weeks ago, it seems to have come a long way, and most of the construction work seems to be going on outside of the train station now. If you do want to be the tourist, take one of the guided boat tours to Kinderdijk, one of the nearby villages known for their many, still active, windmills which were once used to drain the polder.

Twelve Provinces

The Netherlands has 12 provinces; each of them with their own identity. Make use of that and explore more of the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. Even though us Dutchies like to complain about it whenever we can, we actually have a wonderful public transport system that can bring you to and from lots of wonderful places most Dutch people haven't even heard of.

So, what are your favourite places in the Netherlands?
Where do you go to drink uncommon beers and ciders, and what are your secret spots to relax and enjoy nature?

Disclaimer: I have no ties to any of the aforementioned venues, companies or institutes, nor am I getting a compensation for covering them in this blog post.I have mentioned them because I personally like visiting them, or see them as landmarks I find interesting.
This post was inspired by my replies to Max Huijgen's reshare of Cédric Lombion's post to Europeans Today (Questions to Europeans) in which Cédric asked for suggestions of non-tourist things to do during his stay in Amsterdam.