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Getting To Know The Faces Of Holland
Holland's most recent campaign, "Faces of Holland," allows travelers to get to know the iconic facets of the region. Here are the six "faces," and how you can meet them for yourself.
Biking and Holland are almost synonymous. In fact, out of Holland's 16 million inhabitants, 18 million own bicycles, which means there are more bikes than people. With a flat landscape and over 18,000 cycling paths, there are many opportunities to enjoy the active pursuit.
Biking in Holland is safe and there are many marked routes, even in busy cities. In Amsterdam, a majority of bikes are old-fashioned, one-speed cycles with a back-pedal brake. You can get a biking map from the tourist office, which also gives information on safety, routes, repair shops and restricted areas. Major rental shops include Bike City, which use traditional bikes to disguise you as a local, Mike's Bike Tours, which offers daily tours and rentals, and Damstraat Rent-a-Bike, one of the cheapest options.
This race began in 1966, with the original organizers being sponsored by Amstel Gold. The brewing company has been a part of the event ever since. Generally, it's held in April, with the best international professional teams riding from the market at Maastricht to the Cauberg in Valkenburg. The race is part of the UCI World Tour.
Originally a touring version of the Amstel Gold Race, the event expanded into professional and family tours. Professional routes include two 60-mile tracks, one with more hills than the other, and a 93-mile challenge. The next event will be Sunday, May 26, 2013.
4Days Cycling the Achterhoek
At this annual cycling event, riders cycle distances of 16 to 37 miles in the Achterhoek past castles, windmills, forests and farmlands. The next event will be August 6 through 9, 2013.
The Dutch love cheese. In fact, they eat about seven pounds of it each year per person. Holland is home to two famous cheese destinations, Gouda and Edam. Gouda, the city of cheese and stroopwafels, or syrup waffles, has earned an international reputation thanks to its rich gouda cheese. A visit to both places in the summer will allow you to see a traditional cheese market, with the delicacy being traded in the same way it was centuries ago. In Gouda, you can find the market on the square between 'Waag' and City Hall. In Edam, 18th century cheese warehouses sit along the canal, with the market being in Jan van Nieuwenhuizen Square.
Even when it's not summer, visitors can still enjoy Holland's rich cheese culture. In Amsterdam, there are a plethora of cheese shops where you can go to sample a large variety of cheeses, which is one of the city's top three exports. If you want many choices, head to L'Amuse, located on Stadionweg in the Oud Zuid neighborhood. With over 400 varieties, their cheeses are stored in climate-controlled facilities specific for each cheese. Additionally, Kaashandel Kef on Marnixstraat was the first to specialize in French cheese and is still well respected for their French and Dutch types. To taste cheeses from one of the most popular shops in the city, visit
Reypenaer Shop and Tasting Room on Singel. This small cheese company offers tastings and classes in their basement.
For another cheese experience, visit the Alkmaar Cheese Museum. Located on the second and third floors of the Alkmaar cheese-weighing house, visitors can learn about cheese making, its history and how it relates to the culture of Holland. Some exhibits include illustrating the contrasts between cheese making on a farm and in a factory, as well as historic portraits and life-sized costumes of North Holland 16th century dress. Guided tours are available throughout the year with a reservation.
Many influential and pioneering artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and Frans Hals were Dutch, developing an international reputation in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dutch Masters changed the art world with their brush strokes before, during and after the "golden era of painting." Additionally, they positively affected the culture in the 17th century as trade grew and battles were won, allowing more people to afford art.
There are various museums located around Holland where you can see the works of these Dutch Masters. In Amsterdam, there's the Rembrandt House Museum, which showcases works from the artist and gives free demonstrations on how Rembrandt made his etchings and prepared his paint. There's also the Rijksmuseum, which features paintings from the Dutch Golden Age as well as Asian works, and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, where you can learn about the artist's life and see his art. Outside of Amsterdam, you can head to Delft to visit the Vermeer Centre and see the work of Johannes Vermeer. And in the Hague, you'll find an expansive collection of Golden Age paintings in the Mauritshuis.
Many Dutch cities, like Amersfoort, Alkmaar, Dordrecht, Leiden, Utrecht, Leeuwarden and Groningen, were built with canals as a focus. The most famous canal city in Holland is, of course Amsterdam, whose canal district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the city's name is the "Venice of the North." Along with simply strolling along these waterways, you can experience them in the following ways.
Renting boats and floating around the city, taking photos and enjoying a picnic.
The Floating Dutchman
The Floating Dutchman is a floating bus tour in Amsterdam (shown right), that starts at the airport Schiphol or the Amsterdam City Center, drives around the city then splashes into the water to continue the tour for 45 minutes through the canals.
The Houseboat Museum
Located in Amsterdam near the Anne Frank House, The Houseboat Museum was created by houseboat owner Vincent van Loon when he noticed how curious visitors were about his floating home. You can take a tour and learn about houseboat living and typical Dutch decor, purchase a gift in the shop or grab a coffee in the 1950s style Dutch-lounge.
Holland is home to the world's largest flower park, Keukenhof, where seven million tulips bloom annually. Their love of tulips runs deep, and there are numerous sites and events taking place each year to help locals and visitors experience it for themselves.
Amsterdam's Floating Flower Market
Located in the Singel Canal, flowers are sold on floating barges. First held in 1862, the market is a symbol of the old days when plants were shipped and sold on boats. It's open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is located in the Jordaan neighborhood and outlines the history of the tulip in the Netherlands. While small in size, visitors can learn interesting facts like how tulips were used as food during wartime and how the flower helped the Dutch economy during the mid-17th century.
Holland's Botanical Gardens
There are many worthwhile botanical gardens throughout Holland showcasing their prized tulip. The oldest in the Netherlands is Horus Botanicus located in Leiden, which has been collecting and analyzing plants for over four centuries. There's also Hortus Haren in Haren, which has 20 acres and 15 gardens of tulips, fruits, herbs, coffee bushes, cinnamon trees, Chinese gardens and more.
There is an array of tulip events throughout Holland. "Get Into The Greenhouse" takes place the first weekend in April. This is when greenhouse owners allow visitors to learn about produce and flower cultivation, see demonstrations and take cooking classes. There's also the annual Tulip Festival each spring in the Noordoostpolder, home the largest amount of tulips in the country. Attendees can hike, bike or take a wagon tour or a carriage ride through the flowers. In the winter, travelers can experience the Holland Flowers Festival and stroll through colorful gardens, learn about cultivation and be exposed to the latest trends in Dutch gardening.
Windmills are a large part of Holland's culture, with five of the world's largest windmills being in the center of Schiedam in South Holland. They are over 130 feet high, and played a large roll in the production of gin. Additionally, in the village of Kinderdijk you can find a UNESCO Heritage-titled mill network of 19 polder draining windmills. Along with visiting these areas, you can experience windmill culture through:
Windmill And Beer At Brouwerij 't IJ
Brouwerij 't IJ in Amsterdam is a combination of windmill and brewery, as it sits in front of Molen de Gooyer windmill allowing visitors to experience Dutch culture in two different ways. The beer is 100% organic, and the tasting bar is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Originally built in 1725, Molen de Gooyer is one of six original windmills in Amsterdam still standing today.
Molen de Valk
Built in 1785, Molen de Valk in Leiden was made into a municipal museum in 1966, with exhibits on the milling process, books and tools from the last miller. The windmill is still in operation, and you can purchase flour onsite.
Celebrating National Mill Day
Each year on the second Saturday of May, the locals of Holland celebrate National Mill Day. This is when 600 watermills and windmills welcome the public to come learn more about this Dutch icon. Not surprisingly, many locals like to explore the mills by bike.
[Images via the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions]