Things to Do in South Holland
With 7 million flower bulbs planted every year across 79 acres (32 hectares), Keukenhof Gardens is a colorful sea of 800 varieties of tulips and other spring flowers, attracting visitors from around the globe who want to see the Netherlands' iconic tulip fields. More than 9 miles (15 kilometers) of footpaths provide space to stroll around the park, take photos of flowers in bloom, and enjoy this Holland tradition.
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, and the most charming place to admire the traditional Dutch landmarks is at Kinderdijk. Just outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk’s 19 windmills date back to the 17th century and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Famous for its Delft Blue pottery and as the birthplace of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, the quaint town of Delft is ringed by scenic canals and located in the western Netherlands between Rotterdam and The Hague. Delft is also notable for its striking medieval buildings, lively market, and connections with the Dutch Royal Family.
Revolutionary architect Piet Blom designed and developed Rotterdam’s collection of 40 innovative cube houses in 1984, each of which has a giant yellow and gray tilted, wooden cube balancing on top of the ground level. The houses were built to resemble trees in a forest and to present an alternative to high-density urban living. Blom took the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as his inspiration for the structures and included public areas below and private living spaces above in the cubes. These bizarre apartments are centered around a courtyard playground and lean at an angle of 45 degrees over the buzzy waterfront bars and restaurants of Oude Haven. The whole complex sits on top of a pedestrian bridge over a busy road.
Inside, the houses have three stories and myriad angled walls with plenty of light pouring in from the sloping, triangular, plate-glass windows. The rooms are also triangular, which makes furniture design especially tricky. Each unit consists of a living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second and a workspace or sun lounge on the top floor.
Two of the larger cube houses have been transformed into a funky hostel for tourists, but the three-floor Show Cube (KijkKubus) is a fully furnished pod open to impress visitors with the crazy planes and slopes of its interior.
Madurodam, a mini-Holland on a 1:25 scale, lets you tour the entirety of the Netherlands in an hour. One of Holland’s most popular attractions since its development in the Hague in 1952, it highlights the epitomes of Dutch culture in scale-model replicas of perfectly ornamented bridges, canals, windmills, and major national landmarks.
Mauritshuis is home to one of the best collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the world. Often referred to as "the jewel box," the ornately elegant 17th-century mansion is a textbook example of Dutch classical architecture, built as the private residence of John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen.
Built using funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) is one of The Hague’s best-known landmarks. The grand neo-Renaissance building is home to the UN’s International Court of Justice, which hears legal disputes between states.
The building that houses Den Haag’s premier fine-art museum is almost as important as its collections. Built the 1930s by HP Berlage, Holland’s leading exponent of Art Deco, the structure is of honey-colored brick, while the inside is all yellow-and-white tiles and straight, harmonious lines. Nowadays, the building forms part of a complex that includes the science-themed Museon, the Den Haag Museum of Photography, the Omniversum 3D movie theater and the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, there is so much to see in the world-class Gemeentemuseum Den Haag alone that several hours are required to do the vast displays justice. There are even two onsite restaurants to choose from so you don’t have to leave once you get hungry.
Top billing has to go to the world’s largest collection of abstract paintings by Piet Mondriaan; 50 of his works hang in the tranquil white galleries of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, including his last, the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie of 1944. Other permanent exhibitions are equally strong: “Discover the Modern” covers the very best of 20th-century art with artists ranging from Kandinsky and Schiele to Kirchner, Monet and Picasso.
There is also a sublime collection of decorative arts that showcases tulip vases from Delft, intricate doll houses, an enormous display of antique musical instruments and a horde of some 50,000 prints by illustrious artists of the last two centuries. A new innovation is the wonderfully child-friendly interactive exhibition called Wonderkamers, in which kids effectively become part of a space-age computer game as they explore the gallery.
SEA LIFE® Scheveningen is an indoor/outdoor aquarium with a wide variety of underwater creatures, from fish, sharks, and sea turtles to otters and penguins. Here, visitors of all ages can learn about life under the sea, watch feedings, or even interact with sea life through a variety of educational experiences.
Better known by its affectionate local nickname of “the Swan,” Erasmus Bridge crosses the River Nieuwe Maas with its elegant white spines, constructed in 1996 to link north and south Rotterdam across the harbor. Designed by Ben van Berkel, the bridge is an iconic landmark in Rotterdam, and its 456-foot (139-meter) single pylon supports 32 steel cables from which the half-mile (800 m) roadway is suspended. The southern side of the bridge includes Europe’s heaviest bascule, which lifts in order to let shipping transport through. It’s best seen at close quarters from the water on a harbor tour, from above on the viewing platform of Euromast or from the walking and cycling trails around the Port of Rotterdam.
The Swan is beautifully illuminated at night and often provides an eerie backdrop for Rotterdam’s festivals and fireworks displays. In 2005, several planes flew beneath the bridge as part of the daring “Red Bull Air Race.”
More Things to Do in South Holland
Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) is known for its successful conservation and breeding programs. Visit the zoo for the chance to see creatures from all around the globe, from African pygmy hippos to Asiatic lions, North American polar bears to Australian swamp wallabies. There’s even an on-site aquarium and butterfly garden.
Rotterdam’s brand new market hall is more than just a place to shop for produce and grab a bite; it’s an attraction in its own right. It features over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants and 15 shops, all located underneath an imposing horseshoe-shaped structure with glass facades consisting of 4,000 small windows hanged by steel cables – it is, in fact, the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, and as such, is considered an architectural masterpiece by many experts.
Additionally, the inside of the market is covered by more than 4,000 colorful tiles that give the horseshoe-shaped arch a boost of color, making it the largest artwork in the Netherlands. A 10th-century farm was uncovered seven meters underground during construction of the market, and several foundations and artifacts are now on exhibit throughout the market hall in homage to Rotterdam’s agricultural past.
Designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant for the 1960 Floriade flower festival, Euromast dominates the Rotterdam skyline with its futuristic shape, serving as a much-loved city landmark. Now standing 606 feet (185 meters) tall, Euromast was originally only 328 feet tall before its extra height was added in the 1970s to counter its lost title as Holland’s tallest structure. Originally built as an observation tower, Euromast is better known today as a center for fine dining and adrenaline-pumping extreme sports.
From the bottom to the top, a visit to Euromast tests bravery. Speedboats depart from the foot of the tower for high-speed tours of the port of Rotterdam, getting up close to Erasmus Bridge, as well as the wharves and ships of one of the world’s largest commercial ports. Up at Euromast’s viewing platforms, which are accessible by elevator, visitors can rappel down the tower (summer only, check dates) or zip-line to the ground on the last Sunday of every month.
The revolving Euroscoop elevator corkscrews its way up from the viewing platform and takes those unafraid of heights to the very top, while a brasserie serving snacks such asbitterballen (spicy Dutch meat balls) can be found perched up at 314 feet (96 meters). If you can’t bear to leave, the tower houses two hotels rooms with stupendous views from their private balconies.
The Hague’s 13th-century Binnenhof (Inner Court) complex encompasses several landmarks, including the Gothic Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights)—a state building characterized by medieval-style turrets. Now home to the Dutch Parliament, the heritage site attracts visitors with a blend of courtly features and political significance.
Secreted away in a quiet Den Haag side street, Panorama Mesdag is the largest painting in the Netherlands, at more than 45 feet by 400 feet (14 meters by 120 meters). The sea, sand dunes, buildings, churches, lighthouses, and fishing boats of 19th-century Scheveningen are all represented in minute, accurate detail.
The Old Harbor, or Oude Haven, of Rotterdam is the city’s first port, dating back to 1350. Today, the Old Harbor is an entertainment center of Rotterdam, with a unique mix of old and new structures and a collection of terraces and restaurants to enjoy some time to relax in the bustling city.
Rotterdam’s Old Harbor is home to a number of old sailing ships that harken back to the heyday of the city as a trading port. Alongside the harbor stands Het Witte Huis (The White House), recognized as the first skyscraper of Europe. Standing 45 meters, the White House was built in 1898, and was not only the first, but also the highest skyscraper in Europe.
The ten-story, art nouveau-style building was designed by Dutch architect Willem Molenbroek, and stands on 1,000 piles that keep it from sinking into the soft soil. It is one of the few buildings in Rotterdam to have survived the German bombing campaign of May 14, 1940.
The Old Harbor used to be the home of the Plan C business complex, built in 1880. This complex combined shops, offices and homes around central arcades, allowing shoppers to remain dry even during the rain. This complex was, in fact, one of the first shopping malls similar to the malls of today. Unfortunately, most of Plan C was destroyed in the bombing, and only the railing and some underpasses of the complex remain today.
Taking its place around the Old Harbor are the restaurants and modern apartments that the Old Harbor is known for today. Chief among these are Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, built in 1984. These houses, designed by Piet Blom, look like giant yellow blocks, tilted on their side and raised up on poles. The cube house complex is known as the Blaakse Bos, or Blaakse Forest, as each of the houses can be seen to look like a tree. One of the cube houses is open to the public, or you can spend the night at the Stayokay hostel, which is located within one of the cubes.
The area around the harbor has now been transformed into a center for dining and nightlife in Rotterdam. There are thirteen restaurant and cafes that surround the harbor, along with a CitizenM hotel.
The Maritime Museum Rotterdam is one of the world’s oldest and largest museums dedicated to naval history and displays more than three quarters of a million objects from the 15th century to modern times, including photos, models, blueprints, videos and actual ship objects and uniforms.
One of the core displays is the collection of ship models, which formed the core of the museum when it was founded by Prince Henry of the Netherlands in 1874. In addition, the site also contains some actual ships; its open-air Harbour Museum of Rotterdam features historic ships, as well as relics from the old port Leuvehaven, such as cranes, a lighthouse, a tugboat, a locomotor, and a steam-powered grain elevator.
Another important permanent exhibit is Mainport Live, an interactive, multimedia model of the Port of Rotterdam. Here you can not only learn about the history of the port, but also experience the world’s largest and port in miniature. A display of video, lights, sounds and actions brings the bustle of the port to you, while standing in the middle of the old port of yesteryear.
For kids ages 4 through 10, the Professor Splash playground is a fun educational experience. Children can carry out a series of port-related actions that help Professor Splash and his friends prepare for their adventures, while learning about the museum’s collection in the process.
Transformed from a farmhouse into a stately home in 1533, Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) in The Hague was presented to William of Orange’s widow in recognition of her husband’s service to the Netherlands. Noordeinde Palace is one of four palaces across the country owned by the Dutch royal family and serves as the office of King Willem-Alexander.
This Rem Koolhaas-designed art museum houses about half a dozen exhibits at a time in its sleek, low-slung stone and glass exhibition hall. Exhibits in the museum’s spacious white galleries have included the works of Andy Warhol, an extensive collection of objects from World War II and the avant-garde fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier. Kunsthal Rotterdam made headlines in 2012 when seven important works by the likes of Monet, Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso were stolen in a daring late-night raid of the museum.
The Hague’s present redbrick Gothic-style Great Church (Sint-Jacobskerk) replaced a 13th-century wooden church that was destroyed by fire in 1539. Located on Torenstraat, which is named after the church’s six-sided bell tower, it is one of the oldest buildings in Den Haag and had become increasingly run down before extensive renovation work in the 1980s restored it to its former magnificence. It was in this church that many Dutch Royal baptisms took place; King Willem-Alexander was christened here, as was his daughter Catharina-Amalia.
The ornate bell tower is one of the tallest in Holland at 330 feet (100 m), and although it had a famous peal of bells that rang out across Den Haag from 1686 onwards, they disappeared during WWII and were replaced by a new carillon of 51 bells in 1951. The Grote Kerk has an airy vaulted interior, several important memorials and tombs, a decorative carved wooden pulpit and a massive organ dating from 1881. However its finest feature is the glittering stained-glass window sponsored by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who visited Den Haag after the original church burned down in 1539. He is depicted kneeling in prayer before the Virgin Mary.
The Grote Kerk is now deconsecrated and is used for a year-round succession of rock, pop, choral and classical concerts, trade fairs and exhibitions.
Just a short drive outside of Brussels, this village offers some of the area’s best luxury shopping with access to 95 designer shops. The area’s traditional Limburg style of architecture is reflected in the form of the buildings, and the location in the quiet countryside carries over into the village. Conceived as a historical mining village, it is now filled with high-end boutiques containing both local Belgian brands such as Essentiel, Olivier Strelli, and Sarah Pacini, and internationally known labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Prices are often significantly lower than similar nearby shops.
Of course it is important to refuel after a long day of shopping, and the village has both traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and moules frites in addition to Italian cuisine at the center’s outdoor Gastronomia Cellini. Just be sure to bring enough strength to carry multiple shopping bags.
The Museum Gouda specializes in religious art from the 16th century, paintings from the 'Haagse School' of the 19th century and 20th-century Dutch pottery. Visitors will get to know the classical scholar Erasmus, who grew up in Gouda and played on the street where the museum is now located, and Dirck Crabeth, the master artist who created eight of the stained-glass windows in the nearby St John Church (leading to the church being placed on the UNESCO list of monuments).
The museum has a large collection of smoking pipes, tiles, antique apothecary jars and a solid selection of works from artists such as Toorop and Redon. If this sounds like an eclectic mix, it is! But hundreds of years ago, beer, cheese, pipes and pottery were cornerstones of Gouda's economy, and the museum does a wonderful job of showcasing how the town developed over the years.
The Hague’s seaside suburb of Scheveningen is also the most popular holiday resort in The Netherlands. Just a tram ride from the center of the city, Scheveningen has a 2.5-mile (four km) long promenade backing a sandy beach and the pristine waters of the North Sea. It had its heyday in the 19th century but recent injections of cash have spruced the town up to its former gentility.
The pier is the focus of Scheveningen beach and there’s plenty for families to enjoy around here, from bungy jumping to banana boating and wind surfing. Jet skis, surfboards and sailing dinghies can be hired and there are various schools teaching all manner of watersports. Kids will also love the sharks, delicate seahorses and rare otters at Sea Life Scheveningen and the fun but educational 3-D films at Omniversum. Quirky sculptures by US artist Tom Otterness line the promenade and there are more magical artworks to be found in the Museum Beelden aan Zee among Scheveningen’s sand dunes.
It’s worth taking a quick peek at the Panorama Mesdag, a vast 360° cyclorama of Scheveningen and its seashore as it appeared in 1881. At more than 45 ft (14 m) high and 400 ft (120 m) in length, the landscape was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag and is a masterly exercise in perspective. Nearby Madurodam is another firm favorite with children, for the models of Holland’s most famous buildings and windmills in miniature.
Scheveningen comes alive at night, offering a casino, plenty of quality seafood restaurants and bistros, cinemas, Kooman’s Puppet Theatre, musical theaters and a throbbing late-night party scene. The summer months see a healthy nightlife take off on the beach, with pop-up clubs and parties most nights. Between mid-November and January the Cool Event takes place in front of the splendid Kurhaus Hotel, featuring an ice rink, skating discos and parties for kids.
Dating back to 1653, Royal Delft (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles) is the world’s best-known manufacturer of the Netherlands’ iconic blue-and-white porcelain goods. The factory—the only such manufactory that remains from the 17th century—is open to travelers looking to learn about this one-of-a-kind hand-painted stoneware.
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