Netherlands //

Travel essentials

Addresses

These are written, for example, as Haarlemmerstraat 15 III, meaning the third-floor (US fourth-floor) apartment at no. 15 Haarlemmerstraat. The ground floor is indicated by hs (huis, “house”) after the number; the basement is sous (sousterrain). The figures 1e, 2e, 3e and 4e before a street name are abbreviations for Eerste, Tweede, Derde and Vierde, respectively – the first, second, third and fourth streets of the same name. Some side streets, rather than have their own name, take the name of the street that they run off, with the addition of the word dwars, meaning crossing – so Palmdwarsstraat is a side street off Palmstraat. T/O (tegenover, “opposite”) in an address shows that the address is a boat: hence “Prinsengracht T/O 26” would indicate a boat to be found opposite building no. 26 on Prinsengracht. Dutch postcodes are made up of four figures and two letters.

Climate

The Netherlands enjoys a temperate climate, with relatively mild summers and moderately cold winters. Generally speaking, temperatures rise the further south you go, with the south of the country perhaps a couple of degrees warmer than the north and east for much of the year. This is offset by the prevailing westerlies that sweep in from the North Sea, making the wetter coastal provinces both warmer in winter and colder in summer than the eastern provinces, where the more severe climate of continental Europe has an influence. As far as rain is concerned, be prepared for it at any time of year.

Concessions

Concessionary rates apply at almost every sight and attraction as well as on public transport. Rates vary, but usually children under 5 go free and kids over 5 and under 15/16 get a substantial discount. There are senior discounts too, but the age of eligibility is rising in increments from 65+ to 67+ by 2023. Family ticket deals are commonplace. See also “Museum cards”.

Crime and personal safety

By comparison with many other parts of Europe, the Netherlands is relatively free of crime, so there’s little reason why you should ever come into contact with the Dutch police. However, there is more street crime than there used to be and wherever you go at night it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Using public transport any time of the day or night isn’t usually a problem, but if in doubt take a taxi, and if you’re on a bike, make sure it is well locked up – bike theft and resale is a major industry here. Be especially vigilant in the big cities, especially in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, where the Red Light District can have an unpleasant, threatening undertow (although the crowds of people act as a deterrent). In Amsterdam, there has also been a spate of street crimes in which thieves impersonate plain-clothes police, flashing false IDs: only very rarely will genuine non-uniform officers stop you in the street, so be sceptical if you are stopped in this manner.

If you do have to approach the Dutch police, you’ll mostly find them courteous, concerned and usually able to speak English. If you have something stolen, make sure you get a copy of the police report or its number – essential if you are to make a claim against your insurance.

As for offences you might commit, drinking and driving is treated harshly and although you’re allowed to be in possession of cannabis for personal use (up to 5g), anything more can result in confiscation by the police. It’s not illegal to smoke cannabis in public, but it is frowned upon and you can be fined – stick to the coffeeshops (for more on drugs). If you’re detained by the police, you don’t automatically have the right to a phone call, although in practice they’ll probably phone your consulate for you – not that consular officials have a reputation for excessive helpfulness. If your alleged offence is a minor matter, you can be held for up to six hours with or without questioning (though note that midnight to 9am is not counted – tough luck if you are arrested at 11.59pm).

Electricity

The current is 220 volts AC, with standard European-style two-pin plugs. British equipment needs only a plug adaptor; American apparatus requires a transformer and an adaptor.

Entry requirements

Citizens of the EU/EEA, including the UK and Ireland, plus citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US do not need a visa to enter the Netherlands if staying for ninety days or less, but they do need a current passport. Travellers from South Africa, on the other hand, need a passport and a tourist visa for visits of less than ninety days; visas must be obtained before departure for the Netherlands and are available from the Dutch embassy.

For stays in the Netherlands of longer than ninety days, EU/EEA residents (with the exception of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals) will have few problems, but everyone else needs a mix of visas and permits. In all cases, consult your Dutch embassy at home before departure.

Dutch embassies abroad

Australia w netherlands.org.au.
Canada w netherlandsembassy.ca.
Ireland w ireland.nlembassy.org.
New Zealand w newzealand.nlembassy.org.
South Africa w southafrica.nlembassy.org.
UK w dutchembassyuk.org.
US w dc.the-netherlands.org.

Health

Under reciprocal health arrangements, all citizens of the EU and EEA (European Economic Area) are entitled to free or discounted medical treatment within the Dutch public health-care system. Non-EU/EEA nationals are not entitled to free or discounted treatment and should, therefore, take out their own medical insurance – though some countries, for example Australia, do have limited mutual agreements. EU/EEA citizens may want to consider private health insurance too, in order to cover the cost of the discounted treatment as well as items not within the EU/EEA’s scheme, such as dental treatment and repatriation on medical grounds. Note also that the more worthwhile policies promise to sort matters out before you pay (rather than after) in the case of major expense; if you do have to pay upfront, get and keep the receipts. For more on insurance policies and what they cover, see below.

Health care in the Netherlands is of a high standard and rarely will English speakers encounter language problems – if the doctor or nurse can’t speak English themselves (which is unlikely) there will almost certainly be someone at hand who can. Your local pharmacy, tourist office or hotel should be able to provide the address of an English-speaking doctor (or dentist).

If you’re seeking treatment under EU/EEA reciprocal public health agreements, double-check that the medic is working within (and seeing you as) a patient of the public health-care system. This being the case, you’ll receive reduced-cost/government-subsidized treatment just as the locals do; any fees must be paid upfront, or at least at the end of your treatment, and are non-refundable. Sometimes you will be asked to produce documentation to prove you are eligible for EU/EEA health care, sometimes no one bothers, but technically at least you should have your passport and your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to hand. If, on the other hand, you have a travel insurance policy covering medical expenses, you can seek treatment in either the public or private health sectors, the main issue being whether – at least in major cases – you have to pay the costs upfront and then wait for reimbursement or not.

Anyone planning to stay in the Netherlands for more than ninety days (even when coming from another EU/EEA member state) is required by Dutch law to take out private health insurance.

Pharmacies

Minor ailments can be remedied at a drugstore (drogist). These sell non-prescription drugs as well as toiletries, tampons, condoms and the like. A pharmacy (apotheek) – generally open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 6pm, but often closed Monday mornings – is where you go to get a prescription filled. There aren’t many 24-hour pharmacies, but the local tourist office, as well as most of the better hotels, will supply addresses of ones that stay open late.

Insurance

Prior to travelling, it’s a good idea to take out travel insurance to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you already have some degree of cover: for instance, EU/EEA health-care privileges apply in the Netherlands, some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad.

A typical insurance policy usually provides cover for loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey and medical costs. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports – horseriding, windsurfing and so forth – unless an extra premium is paid. Many policies can be chopped and changed to exclude coverage you don’t need – for example, sickness and accident benefits can often be excluded or included at will. If you do take medical coverage, ascertain whether benefits will be paid as treatment proceeds or only after your return home, and whether the policy has a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the per-article limit will cover your most valuable possessions. If you need to make a claim, keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment. In the event you have anything stolen, you should obtain a crime report statement or number.

Internet

Almost all the country’s hotels, B&Bs and hostels provide internet access for their guests either free or at minimal charge. Many cafés offer internet access too, as does every library, where services are free but usually time-limited. If you are bringing your own laptop, the useful website w kropla.com gives information about electrical systems in different countries as well as international codes.

Mail

The Dutch postal system has been privatized and is now run by TNT (w postnl.nl). TNT has closed many of the old post offices, replacing them with counters within large stores and supermarkets, though these can be difficult to track down. Fortunately, stamps are sold at a wide range of outlets, including shops and hotels, and TNT has not reduced the number of postboxes, which are legion.

Maps

There are lots of Netherlands road maps on the market and for the most part they are widely available both at home and in the Netherlands. The Hallwag (w hallwag.com) map is particularly good and is also one of the more detailed (at 1:200,000), a feat it accomplishes by being double-sided; it also includes an index. The problem – and this even applies to the Hallwag – is that the Netherlands is such a crowded country that following any fold-out road map can be very difficult: if you’re doing any serious driving, you’re best off investing in a Road Atlas. The best is the Nederland Road Atlas (1:100,000) produced by ANWB (w anwb.nl), the main Dutch touring organization; it includes an index and has detailed insets of major Dutch towns and cities. ANWB also publishes a whole raft of specialist/regional maps, including waterproof maps specifically designed for cyclists.

As for city maps, your first port of call should be the local tourist office, which will almost invariably supply free, reasonably good-quality maps. Otherwise, Falk city maps are usually the cream of the cartographic crop with the exception of Amsterdam, where the best map is our own Rough Guide Map to Amsterdam, (1:16,000 & 1:10,000), which has the added advantage of being waterproof and rip-proof. This map also marks all the key sights plus the location of many restaurants, bars and hotels.

Money

The currency of the Netherlands is the euro (€), divided into 100 cents. The exchange rate for one euro at time of writing was €0.84 to the British pound; 1.34 to the US dollar; 1.33 to the Canadian dollar; 1.24 to the Australian dollar; 1.59 to the New Zealand dollar; and 10.02 to the South African Rand. There are euro notes of €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5, and coins of €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c, but note that many retailers will not touch the €500 and €200 notes with a bargepole – you have to break them down into smaller denominations at the bank. For the most up-to-date rates, check the currency converter website w oanda.com.

ATMs are liberally distributed around every city, town and large village in the Netherlands – and they accept a host of debit cards without charging a transaction fee. Credit cards can be used in ATMs too, but in this case transactions are treated as loans, with interest accruing daily from the date of withdrawal. All major credit/debit cards, including American Express, Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and cafés, as well as in ATMs. Typically, Dutch ATMs give instructions in a variety of languages.

You can change foreign currency into euros at most banks, which are ubiquitous; banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm, with a few big-city banks also open Thursday until 9pm or on Saturday morning. All are closed on public holidays.

Mosquitoes

These pesky blighters thrive in the country’s canals and can be a real handful (or mouthful) if you are camping. An antihistamine cream such as Phenergan is the best antidote, although this can be difficult to find – in which case preventative sticks like Autan or Citronella are the best bet.

Museum cards

If you’re planning to visit more than just a couple of Dutch museums, you’ll save money with a Museumkaart (Museum Card; w museumkaart.nl), which gives free entry to over 400 museums and galleries nationwide. It costs €40 for a year (less if you’re 18 or under) and you can purchase one at any participating museum – most major museums are in the scheme.

Opening hours

The Dutch weekend fades painlessly into the working week with many smaller shops and businesses, even in Amsterdam, staying closed on Monday mornings until noon. Normal opening hours are, however, Monday to Friday 8.30/9am to 5.30/6pm and Saturday 8.30/9am to 4/5pm, and many places open late on Thursday or Friday evenings. Sunday opening is becoming increasingly common, with many stores and shops in every city open between noon and 5pm.

Most restaurants open for dinner from about 6 or 7pm, and though many close as early as 9.30pm, a few stay open past 11pm. Bars, cafés and coffeeshops are either open all day from around 10am or don’t open until about 5pm; all close at 1am during the week and 2am at weekends. Nightclubs generally function from 11pm to 4am during the week, though a few open every night, and some stay open until 5am at the weekend.

Phones

Almost all of the Netherlands has mobile phone (cell phone) coverage at GSM900/1800, the band common to the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Mobile/cell phones bought in North America will need to be able to adjust to this GSM band. If you intend to use your mobile/cell phone in the Netherlands, note that call charges can be excruciating – particularly irritating is the supplementary charge you often have to pay on incoming calls – so check with your supplier before you depart. You may find it cheaper to buy a Dutch SIM card, though this can get complicated: many mobiles/cells will not permit you to swap SIM cards and the connection instructions for the replacement SIM card can be in Dutch only. If you overcome these problems, you can buy SIM cards at high-street phone companies, which offer myriad deals beginning at about €5 per SIM card. Text messages, on the other hand, are normally charged at ordinary or at least bearable rates – and with your existing SIM card in place. The Dutch phone directory is available (in Dutch) at w detelefoongids.nl.

Shopping

The Netherlands has a flourishing retail sector and each of its large towns and cities is jammed with department stores and international chains. More distinctively, the big cities play host to scores of specialist shops selling everything from condoms to beads. There are certain obvious Dutch goods – tulips, clogs and porcelain windmills to name the big three – but it’s the Dutch flair for design that is the most striking feature, whether it’s reflected in furniture or clothes.

Normal opening hours are Monday to Friday 8.30/9am to 5.30/6pm and Saturday 8.30/9am to 4/5pm, though many smaller outlets take Monday morning off and larger stores and shops often open late on Thursday or Friday evenings. In the cities, Sunday opening is increasingly common (noon–5pm) and many supermarkets stay open until about 8pm every night. Also in the cities, a handful of night shopsavondwinkels – stay open into the small hours or round the clock. Out in the sticks, on the other hand, Saturday afternoon can be a retail desert with just about everywhere closed. Most towns have a market day, usually midweek (and sometimes Sat morning), and this is often the liveliest time to visit, particularly when the stalls fill the central square, the markt.

Clogs
You’ll see clogs – or klompen – on sale in all the main tourist centres, usually brightly painted and ready for the nearest mantelpiece or even wall. They are not typical: about three million wooden clogs are made in the Netherlands every year and the unpainted variety are the chosen footwear of thousands of Dutch workmen, who swear they are safe and sound – apparently they pass all European safety standards with flying colours.

Smoking

In 2008, smoking tobacco was prohibited inside all public buildings, including train and bus stations, as well as in restaurants, clubs, bars and cafés. It was also banned in (dope-smoking) coffeeshops – which created some rather odd situations. Four years on, however, there has been some relaxation of the ban: for instance, small bars, where only the owner works, can permit their customers to smoke tobacco if they wish. There are also outside smoking areas on train station platforms. One in four Netherlanders still puffs away.

Time zones

The Netherlands is on Central European Time (CET) – one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, six hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, nine hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time, nine hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time and eleven hours behind New Zealand. There are, however, minor variations during the changeover periods involved in daylight saving. The Netherlands operates daylight saving time, moving clocks forward one hour in the spring and one hour back in the autumn.

Tipping

Tipping isn’t quite as routine a matter as it is in the US or even in the UK. However, you are expected to leave something if you have enjoyed good service – up to around ten percent of the bill should suffice in most restaurants, while taxi drivers may expect a euro or two on top of the fare.

Tourist information

The Netherlands’ Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) operates an all-encompassing website (w holland.com), which highlights upcoming events and is particularly strong on practical information. It also publishes a wide range of brochures and guides. Once in the Netherlands, almost every place you visit will have a tourist office, most of which are known as a VVV (pronounced fay-fay-fay), with a distinctive triangular logo. Staff are nearly always enthusiastic and helpful, and speak excellent English. In addition to handing out basic maps (often for free) and English-language information on the main sights, many tourist offices keep lists of local accommodation, which they can book for a small fee.

Most tourist offices sell province guides which list every type of accommodation, from plush hotels to campsites, albeit almost always in Dutch. However, establishments must pay for inclusion, so the listings are not comprehensive.

Travellers with disabilities

Despite its general social progressiveness, the Netherlands is only just getting to grips with the requirements of people with mobility problems. In Amsterdam and most of the other major cities, the most obvious difficulty you’ll face is in negotiating the cobbled streets and narrow, often broken pavements of the older districts, where the key sights are often located. Similarly, provision for people with disabilities on the country’s urban public transport is only average, although improving – many new buses, for instance, are wheelchair-accessible.

Practically all public buildings, including museums, theatres, cinemas, concert halls and hotels, are obliged to provide access, and do. Places that have been certified wheelchair-accessible now bear the International Accessibility Symbol (IAS). If you’re planning to use the Dutch train network and would like assistance on the platform, phone the Bureau Assistentieverlening Gehandicapten (Disabled Assistance Office; daily 7am–11pm) on t 030 235 7822 at least 24 hours before your train departs, and there will be someone to help you at the station. NS, the main train company, publishes information about train travel for people with disabilities at w ns.nl and in various leaflets, stocked at main stations.