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Traversing the Netherlands: Discover 3 1/2 Delightful Days with the Dutch

Picture the Netherlands, and you’ll most likely imagine a historic windmill sitting behind a meadow full of brightly colored tulips. While this scene is something you may see when visiting the Dutch, their famous cultural icons are not the only reason to visit this stunning location. The country sits on the North Sea and offers beautiful beaches, national parks, and other stunning sites. A Netherlands vacation offers activities for people of all interests in a picturesque setting.

After time in Brussels, our family spent 3 ½ days in the Netherlands as the last leg of our 2 week Europe trip. With the current pandemic situation, we have created an update to our itinerary that includes travel requirements, current Covid updates, and any changes to destinations we visited in August 2019.

Netherlands Vacation - Day 1/2: Spending Time in North Holland

We took the two hour Brussels Midi/Audi train to Amsterdam Central Station. The station was surprisingly beautiful which is bordered by a waterway and the stunning city of Amsterdam on the other side. This view offered a pleasant welcome to the start of our Netherlands vacation.

We hoped to use one of the Station’s available storage areas in order to avoid lugging our baggage around the city. Unfortunately, it was full by the time we arrived. It’s best to have a backup plan in this situation, as there’s always a chance the lockers may be full. We ended up taking another train right to our Airbnb in Alkmaar instead.

Netherlands Vacation

We highly recommend spending time in Alkmaar, even if you don’t have accommodations here. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a combination of small streets lined with brick townhomes and contemporary architecture around the corner. We also caught a few bike racers finishing the UEC Road European Championships.

We also lucked out with our Airbnb! The location has picturesque views of the bustling main square with busy locals who weaved expertly amongst each other and around scores of tourists. One of the best parts about our Airbnb was the proximity to a delicious Dutch Candy store (directly below us) and a french fry shop.

Next, it was time to take a canal boat tour through Alkmaar. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should have! You’ll be expected to duck under every underpass as the boat barely squeezes through. We spent the last bit of the evening trying a new restaurant, peeking into stores, and looking at the incredible ancient architecture. We did a little bit of everything before enjoying a nice meal and going back to our Airbnb to rest.

The Netherlands went into a full lockdown until January 14, 2022, so certain activities, like canal cruises, are closed. After this date, Holland will begin reopening, though it’s unclear when canal cruises will be available again. When they are available, they only allow smaller groups and ask for travelers to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters between groups. However, there are plenty of other activities to explore in the lovely city of Alkmaar. 

Netherlands Vacation - Day 1: Visiting Amsterdam's Top Tourist attractions

There are so many activities to do in Amsterdam that it deserves a full day of exploration! We took a train back the first day, though we were unfortunately met with cloudy skies and rain through the early morning. This caused us to change our plans from outdoor attractions to indoor ones. They book up quickly here especially major museums, as we learned the hard way. We could not get a time slot into the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh Museum in the Museum Square. The long lines at Rijksmuseum were also not manageable for our family.

After a disappointing morning, we decided to take it in stride and headed to the Heineken Museum with our four kids (yes, really!). Even though it may sound like an adult-only museum, there were plenty of activities to keep our kids entertained, including fun exhibits and displays that were interactive. You’ll even get a free beer at the end (sodas for kids) while you enjoy Heineken branded games and competitions.

Unfortunately, the Heineken Museum is closed until further notice due to the shutdown. However, when it reopens, you can expect to see social distancing. Masks will likely be required along with a negative Covid test or proof of vaccination. Double-check the Heineken Museum tour requirements, as some only allow visitors over the age of 18.

After our exciting tour at the Heineken Museum, the rain had cleared, and it was time to explore the A’dam Lookout. This overlook provides stunning views of the historical center of Amsterdam and the canals, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An exhibit and audio tour are available, which dive into the history of Amsterdam. There’s also a swing (highest in Europe!) that has visitors dangling 100 meters in the air. We declined to try the swing, partially for budget reasons and partly because of the stomach-churning height!

Like many attractions, the A’dam Lookout is closed for the foreseeable future. When it reopens, you can expect similar restrictions, including a facemask in the elevator and proof of vaccination. You’ll also want to reserve your time slot before heading to the overlook and bring credit cards as they do not currently accept cash.

The last event of the evening was another canal tour. Though, we didn’t have to do any ducking for this one! When the canal tours reopen, they’re an excellent way to see the city as many have guided audio tours and even snacks.

Netherlands Vacation - Day 2: Enjoying Alkmaar's Dairy Market

Day two consisted of spending time closer to our place in Alkmaar. Here, we found a more relaxed atmosphere and less rain, thankfully! Alkmaar offers bike rentals, which we took advantage of as the weather was beautiful this day. The Netherlands is bicycle-friendly, so there are plenty of routes to take. Plus, rentals are around $11 for a full day, making it a much more budget-friendly option than a taxi. Unfortunately, I was stuck with a flat tire halfway to the beach! It’s challenging to get a bike fixed when your Dutch is limited, but we managed.

Netherlands Vacation

You can’t pass up heading to Alkmaar’s Cheese Market when visiting; it was the highlight of the day! This market occurs weekly from March to September. The locals wear traditional clothing and offer huge wheels of cheese for judges to weigh and ceremonious assess. Don’t worry – you’ll be able to purchase this delectable dairy as well. This event is a fun way to spend time with family while enjoying exquisite cheese. Here, we happily consumed the best-grilled cheese sandwich we have ever encountered.

The Cheese Market was closed in 2020 due to Covid and has yet to reopen. There has not been an update yet on whether 2022 will be the year when this market starts back up.  Check out the Alkmaar Cheese Market webpage for updates.

Netherlands Vacation - Day 3: Spending Time in the Province of Zeeland

My wife’s great-grandparents are natives of a small seaside town named Yerseke so we decided to make a visit. It was a 2 ½ hour drive from less expensive to rent a vehicle than take my family of six on public transportation. We had to make due with an Audi station wagon meant for five, though we made it through the trip there and back.

Most car rental companies are going above and beyond with cleaning measures. You can expect a contactless drop-off, social distancing measures in place, and all staff wearing masks and gloves throughout the process. Cars are disinfected thoroughly, then sealed until you open the car door and drive it out of the parking lot.

Yerseke has a long history of seafood trade. Seeing the village from their perspective, including stores they used to supply with oysters and their old church, was a unique and unforgettable experience. Even if you don’t have Dutch ancestors, you should definitely include an excursion outside the city into your Netherlands vacation itinerary. 

Ideas for Taming Your Netherlands Vacation Budget

Lodging

While we used Airbnb for this trip, plenty of affordable hotels are available in the Netherlands. Some excellent options start at $81 per night (not including taxes), which would bring us right up to our budget of $250 for a 3-bedroom stay.

Transportation 

Walking, renting bicycles, and taking public transit are some of the cheapest methods for getting around the Netherlands. If you plan to use buses or trains, an OV-chipcard will allow you to acquire tickets slightly cheaper than buying them one by one. Even with our car rental and public transportation, we were able to stay under budget during our trip by $20.

Meals

As we found during our trip, grab and go food from small shops really helps keep the budget down, especially for lunch. Other budget-friendly options include purchasing food from the supermarket or heading to a HEMA for breakfast. This location offers five items for about $3, though you’ll need to arrive between 9 and 10 am. 

Excursions

We still stand by finding budget-friendly or free activities to stay within budget, as we did on our trip. There is also an I Amsterdam Card, which includes many of the popular attractions. However, it has a $75 cost per person.

Misc. Expenses

Unfortunately, our last trip included a lot of unexpected ATM fees. Check your credit cards to see which ones offer reimbursements or at least extra points to help offset these fees before traveling. Our AMEX card was not accepted at all locations on our last trip, which caused issues. With covid, fewer locations are accepting cash, so it’s best to ensure you have other options available such as Visa or Mastercard. 

While Amsterdam and the Netherlands, in general, can be on the pricier side, it’s easy to stay within budget. Use the above tips for planning your trip, so you can enjoy the beauty of Holland safely when it reopens.

Netherlands Vacation – Latest Covid Guidelines

Like many other destinations, the Netherlands has been bumped up to a Level 4 destination. This indicates that travelers should currently avoid traveling to this destination, especially if unvaccinated. It is highly recommended to be fully vaccinated before traveling outside of the US or any international location. A negative Covid test is necessary for entry, even for those who are vaccinated. Masks are also mandatory, and a 10-day quarantine (5 days if a negative test is received during this time).

The Government of the Netherlands requires proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test from the previous 24-48 hours (depending on the type of test taken) to enter the country. Masks are required to be worn during public transportation.

As a reminder, check your local government’s website and the website of your intended destination before traveling to ensure you have the latest information.

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