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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Netherlands.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Netherlands.
Trying to choose the best gay pride party in the world is kind of like choosing a favourite child. There are so many cities that turn on a tremendous event – Sydney, San Francisco, London, New York, the list goes on. However, Amsterdam gets the vote having rolled the event into the supersized ‘Europride’, a three-week long LGBT celebratory extravaganza.
If three weeks off work is too much to ask, make sure you’re there for the last weekend (early August) – that’s when most of the major events take place.
Street parties, the Drag Queen Olympics, the Canal Parade, the Funhouse dance party, and the enormous Pride Closing Party. Some events are divided into either gay or lesbian, and some are themed, like the Bear Necessities, but the vibe is generally inclusive and fun for all.
Stadtholder William III, the future king of England, built the magnificent Het Loo Palace, regarded as the “Versailles of the Netherlands,” as a royal hunting lodge in the 17th century. Generations of the House of Orange used the lodge as a summer palace. The main architect was Jacob Roman (1640-1716); the interior decoration and garden design were the responsibility of Daniel Marot. The building’s Classical facade belies the opulence of its lavish interior; extensive restoration work was completed on both in 1984.
The marriage of Hendrik III of Nassau-Breda and Claudia of Chalon-Orange established the House of Orange-Nassau in 1515. Since that time, the family has played a central role in the political life of the Netherlands. The House of Orange is also important in British history. In 1677, William III of Orange married his first cousin, the English princess Mary Stuart. William and Mary became king and queen of England in 1689 when Mary’s father, James II, went into exile in France, and the couple ruled as joint monarchs.
The Orange-Nassau family continued to use Het Loo Palace as a royal summer house until 1975. The palace is now a museum, and painstaking restoration has re-created its 17th-century appearance. The interior, which is sumptuously decorated with rich materials, is laid out symmetrically, with the royal apartments located to the east and west of the Great Hall. The wings of the palace contain exhibitions of court costumes, along with documents, paintings, silver, and china belonging to the House of Orange-Nassau over three centuries.
In 1686, the Formal Gardens surrounding the palace were laid out and soon became celebrated. The designer was Daniel Marot (1661-1752), who added a host of small details such as wrought-iron railings and garden urns. The gardens, which include the Queen’s Garden and King’s Garden, were designed to be strictly geometrical.
They were decorated with formal flower beds and embellished with fountains, borders, topiary and cascades. Statues were placed throughout. Today, the King’s Garden features clipped box trees and pyramid-shaped juniper trees. At the center stands an octagonal white marble basin with a spouting triton and gilt sea dragons. The slightly raised Upper Garden is home to the impressive King’s Fountain, which is fed by a natural spring and operates 24 hours a day. It is a classic, eye-catching feature in a royal garden.
The wall coverings and draperies in this luxuriously furnished bedroom (1713) are of rich orange damask and purple silk.
The Chancery Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of international orders, decorations, and court-dress, is found here.
Old Dining Room
In 1984, six layers of paint were removed from the marbled walls of this 1686 room. They are now hung with tapestries depicting scenes from Ovid’s poems.
The gardens combine plants, statuary, and fountains in Classical style. The Fountain of Celestial Sphere stands in the Lower Garden.
Stadholder William II’s Closet
The walls of William’s private study (1690) are covered in embossed scarlet damask. His favorite paintings and Delftware pieces are exhibited here.
Vintage cars, carriages, and sleighs, some of which are still used by the Dutch royal family, are on display in Het Loo’s stable block and coach house, near the main entrance. One of the best exhibits in the stable block is a 1925 Bentley, nicknamed Minerva, which was owned by Prince Hendrik, husband of Queen Wilhelmina. The coach house has a state coach, a state chariot, and sports, shooting, and service carriages from the first half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th.
After the Death of the Dutch King William II (r. 1848-90), his daughter Wilhelmina was the first female to rule the country as queeen (r. 1890-1948). During her reign, Wilhelmina used the Het Loo Palace as her summer retreat.
Old prints, records, and plans were used as the guidelines for re-creating Het Loo’s formal gardens, which lie in the vast acres behind the palace. Grass was planted over the original walled and knot gardens in the 18th century, and this was cleared in 1975. By 1983, the intricate floral patterns had been reestablished, replanting had begun, the Classical fountains had been renovated and the water supply fully restored. The garden reflects the late 17th century belief that art and nature should operate in harmony.
1684-6: Building of the Het Loo Palace for Prince William III and Princess Mary.
1691-4: King William III commissions new building works on the palace.
1814: Het Loo Palace becomes the property of the Dutch state.
1984: Restoration of the house and garden is completed.
When the weather in the Netherlands is good, master chef Angelique Schmeinck fires up the stove and the burner of a cheery hot-air balloon, ready to serve up Dutch specialities while floating through the air. The CuliAir Hot Air Balloon Restaurant is nifty fitted out with space for Schmeinck’s mini kitchen and a dining area that accommodates up to 14 guests. Visitors sip champagne and enjoy a leisurely ride over sloping valleys and rugged snow-capped mountains, while Schmeinck preps and plates fresh meals. Like the balloon’s route, the menu is dictated by the season.
It features culinary treats crafted from fresh, local produce, like scallops with wine and mushrooms and a white chocolate and passion fruit mousse. The primary ballooning season is from April to September though there are trips in autumn and winter as well. Guests can choose a champagne breakfast at sunrise or multi-course dinner extending over four to five hours.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK? Built in the 17th century fora wealthy sugar trader, this nine-room hotel on the Prinsengracht canal still has the feel of a grand private home, and is full of period furnishings and gilt-framed artworks. Extras like afternoon tea in the library (pictured) are included, so you can sit back with a book and a slice of cake and pretend you own the place.
WHICH ROOM IS MOST MEMORABLE? Room at the Top is a rich, duck-egg blue, with views over surrounding rooftops.
With her moving diary translated into more than sixty languages, Anne Frank is one of the world’s most beloved teenagers, and her hiding place is one of Amsterdam’s most visited sites. As vivid as the world’s recollections of her concealment from the Nazis during WW II may be (who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie or the play?), a visit to the attic of this modest 1635 canal house is so powerful that it comes as a surprise to many.
Amsterdam has long harbored a climate of tolerance, a fact that makes a reflective visit to the shelter all the more poignant.
After two years of living with her parents and the family of an employee of her father in cramped quarters in silence, unable to open a window for a breath of fresh air, the two families were turned in to the police and sent to concentration camps.
The fifteen-year-old Anne, together with 100,000 other Amsterdam Jews, never returned. Her father survived and was presented with the diary upon his return; it is on display downstairs as part of a permanent collection.
The swinging bookcase that hid the secret door to the attic is still there; so are the black-and-white pictures she clipped from movie magazines and pasted on her wall.
Amsterdammers are very attached to the old-time concept of gezelligheid, which means more to them than just “coziness” or “homeyness.” It is what draws locals to the ubiquitous so-called brown cafes (bruine kroegen), a name taken either from their smoke-stained interiors (the result of tobacco or hashish) or, more appetizingly, from the time-burnished wood paneling found in many of them.
Amsterdammers come alive here and conversation flows like (or as a result of) the unfailingly great Dutch brews and the popular jenever, a smooth but potent Dutch gin, served ice cold but never on the rocks, and often followed with a beer chaser.
There are said to be more than 1,000 of these social sanctuaries—including one that supposedly has not closed its doors since it first opened in 1574. Unless you have time to check them all out, simply wander the elegantly funky Jordaan district, or head for the Cafe’t Smalle, a favored watering hole since it first opened in 1786 as a liquor distillery and “tasting house.”
Its splendid waterside terrace is a heaven-sent alternative to the murky, smoke-filled interiors of some old-time brown favorites.
If you’re looking for old-world glamour, try the decidedly unbrown Cafe Americain, built as part of a canal-cornered grand hotel in 1880. Mata Hari would still recognize its ornate albeit faded Art Deco interior as the location for her wedding reception.
It’s a venerable favorite among the local cafe society, and after a performance at the Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theater) just next door, it’s impossible to get a table. But in the late afternoon a quiet, cozy hour can be enjoyed as the waning daylight illuminates the stained-glass windows.
Think it’s too touristy to see Venice by gondola? Then you probably won’t be inclined to experience Amsterdam by boat either, but you’ll miss seeing this City of Canals the way it was meant to be seen.
The canalside town houses and warehouses built by merchants in the 17th century were high (four or five stories) and narrow (land was at a premium, and property taxes were steep), each distinguished by its fanciful gables, every one of them different.
Of the five concentric semicircles of elm-lined canals and the 160 smaller canals connecting them to create a fanlike historic center, Herengracht is lined with the largest and most stately of the canal houses.
The “Gentlemen’s Canal,” it was the most stylish address during Amsterdam’s golden age. But the smaller houses on other canals (especially in the Jordaan neighborhood) can be more interesting architecturally.
Amsterdam takes pride in its trim brick homes, and has designated a great portion of them as protected landmarks. Many facades are illuminated at night, and so are the city’s 1,281 characteristic arched bridges. Add that to the glow of old-fashioned streetlamps reflected in the glimmering canals and a candlelight cruise makes for a romantic evening along the dark waters of time.
In the spring, riverboats and barges take to the canals to view the largest flower spectacle on earth, offering three- to seven-night cruises that sail through and past the country’s patch- work, rainbow-colored countryside.
Almost all put in at the Keukenhof Gardens, a historic, once-royal park where more than 6 million tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths cover 70 acres. Ten miles of footpaths wind past imaginatively manicured flower beds, fountains, tree-shaded ponds, and large greenhouses that showcase some 500 tulip varieties, among them the purplish “black” tulip. Other cruise stops include the remarkable auction house at Aalsmeer (the world’s largest, with 17 million cut flowers on the block daily) and some of the country’s major nurseries.
A Bulb Route (Bloemen Route) originating in Amsterdam encourages the independent travelers to “do it yourself’ (doe het zelf), whether by bike, train, or car. Those who avoid the spring crowds will also miss the tulips, but for a consolation prize, visit Amsterdam’s daily year-round floating Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) along the Singel Canal. For 200 years, barges have come here laden with cut flowers and potted plants.
Together with neighboring Belgium, the Netherlands gave the world its largest musical instrument, the carillon, a bronze chorus of multiple bells that grace an untold number of church towers across the Low Countries.
During the so-called 17th-century golden age, as the Dutch empire expanded, Amsterdam became one of the richest cities in the world, and merchants donated large sums to their local churches.
Today Amsterdam’s churches have more carillons than any other Dutch city (nine in total, of which four give weekly concerts), and the joyful sound of their music cascading down cobblestoned streets and rebounding across the canals and squares makes astonished visitors (and the occasional unjaded Amsterdammer) stop and smile.
The Rolls-Royces of carillons are those cast by the 17th-century French Hemony brothers, whose state-of-the-art technology produced an exceptional sound quality that has never been matched. Amsterdam’s oldest church, the Oude Kerk (Old Church), dating from about 1300 (well before the small red-light district that ironically grew’ up around it), promises the best venue for weekly concerts with a magnificent, restored forty-seven-bell Hemony carillon.
The Oude Kerk’s delightful location in a linden tree—shaded square means outdoor cafes and ringside seats from which to listen to Amsterdam’s oldest “singing tower.” The Netherlands is also famous for its organs, and the Old Church proudly owns three of the most sophisticated extant in the country; their summertime concerts are one of the season’s greatest pleasures.
One 18th-century model is said to be one of the world’s finest. If the concerts don’t take your breath away, hike up the 230-foot tower for the best view of this unique City of Canals.
Located on one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals and cleverly created by internally adjoining more than twenty landmark merchants’ homes, the Pulitzer Hotel could only be found in Amsterdam.
Four and five stories high, most of the Pulitzer’s narrow, whimsical buildings of diamond-paned windows and gabled roofs are at least 200 years old: some line the Prinsengracht (Princes Canal), then curve around on a small side street before lining the parallel Keizergracht canal, creating a U-shape that encloses an interior courtyard and garden.
The great-grandson of press magnate Joseph Pulitzer rescued the hotel’s decaying, canalside merchant homes in 1971, creating an environment whose timeless charm reflects the character of this civilized old-world city, an impression underscored by the hourly bells of nearby Westerkerk, chiming away since 1631.
Half the rooms have extraordinary water views—who needs to stay on a houseboat?—made even more magical at night, when the arched bridges are illuminated by tiny white lights. Rambling and romantic, the hotel offers plenty of private, cozy comers to sit and catch your breath or pass an hour on a late afternoon, as the light that the Dutch landscape painters made famous filters through the leaded windows.
Pulitzer’s, the new and immediately trendy cafe/bar/restaurant, is further reason to be held captive within these welcoming walls.
What so fascinates visitors to Amsterdam about its red-light district (De Walletjes) that a nocturnal stroll through this medieval heart of downtown ranks on most tourists’ agenda up there with the museum shrines to Rembrandt and van Gogh?
The world’s oldest profession, practiced by the businesswomen (and some men) who give new meaning to the expressions “window dressing” and “window shopping,” is here on display, in an architecturally interesting (and only marginally seamy) warren of quaint gabled buildings and narrow canals.
Amsterdam has long been known as an “open city” and these denizens of the night are registered, regulated, and taxed, and represented by a union since 1984. The proud Dutch housekeeper’s penchant for window display takes a most peculiar twist here.
You won’t see much going on; it’s infrequent that you’ll even get a beckoning “come hither” look from any of the rose-lit windows and their generally impassive inhabitants. But maybe that’s what makes it all the more remarkable, to see these ladies of the night patiently await their next assignation, braiding their hair, doing their nails or the crossword puzzle, reading Dostoyevsky, while showing off their wares to sailors, foreign businessmen, and assorted innocents abroad.