A nosy round the Netherlands by Amy Robinson
If you’re looking for some alternative springtime travel ideas, you’ve come to the right place! Amsterdam draws millions of tourists to the Netherlands each year, but I was lucky enough to visit two alternative destinations at the beginning of April – Leiden and Rotterdam. The accessible rail system and regular timetable made it a breeze to travel to these cities by train from Schiphol airport in no time at all.
Before heading to Leiden, my first city stop, I spent a sunny afternoon in Lisse at the Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens, spanning over 7 hectares. Not only were the grounds beautifully manicured and laid out, there was plenty to keep all visitors entertained, such as windmills and themed garden areas (think Delft-inspired pottery and tile planters), petting zoo areas, and greenhouse cafés.
The weather was on my side, but even if it had been raining I would have been more than happy wandering around the indoor flower exhibition, which showed off all different varieties of tulips, lilies and amaryllis to their colourful best, showing the best blooms in coordinated and themed beds.
The historic university city of Leiden boasts picturesque waterways and quaint Dutch architecture, and was a beautiful setting to spend a few days. I really enjoyed wandering by the canals in the sunshine, and taking in the relaxed atmosphere. The Rapenburg canal is lined with 18th century houses that were home to some of the wealthiest citizens in Leiden, and oozes history – no wonder the BBC were filming down there for their adaptation of The Miniaturist! After visiting a pancake house for a delicious lunch, I walked up to the Burcht fortress for a 360° view of the city, before stopping for a coffee in one of the charming cafés. Having visited the Keukenhof the previous day I gave the botanical gardens a miss, but would definitely put them on my ‘to-do’ list for my next visit, along with the National Museum of Natural History.
On the final day of my trip, I took the train from Leiden to Rotterdam – I had purposefully read little about this city before visiting it in order to be surprised by what I found, and picked up a self-guided walking tour from the train station for around 2 EUR. Stopping for some Belgian chips for lunch from a food van, I happily spent a full day exploring the city on foot, taking in famous sculptures and modern architecture such as the cube houses and the Erasmusbrug – the second largest bridge in the Netherlands. Having been virtually destroyed during World War II and practically rebuilt from the ground up, the history of the city is tangible, and the new modern buildings set Rotterdam apart from the more ‘quaint’ sights of Amsterdam and other more traditional cities, giving it a grittier edge with plenty of quirky attitude. My highlight of the day was visiting the Markthal food market, a jaw-dropping structure which is packed full of every kind of cuisine and plenty of character.
Don’t think that travelling to the Netherlands begins and ends with Amsterdam, there are plenty more destinations standing apart from the capital with their own feel to them and their own attractions to offer!