An Insight into the Netherlands, beyond Amsterdam | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

An Insight into the Netherlands, beyond Amsterdam

If you'd rather avoid the tourist trap of Amsterdam when visiting the Netherlands, travel writer Katherine Lambert tells where the authentic Dutch experience can be found

The irony is not lost on me when writing about the trouble of tourists in Amsterdam in the travel section of Redbrick. Of course, tourism is great and all of us love the chance to explore other countries and cultures as tourists ourselves, but the downside to all this and our enjoyment of the places we visit, are often dampened by our encounters with other tourists! Amsterdam sees around 14 million visitors flock to it every year, and although many areas of the city retain their Dutch charm, much of the centre is overrun with tacky bars and shops catering to the stag and hen-do scene, which has sprung up due to the famous red-light district and coffee shops. This is just one element of what Amsterdam has to offer and of course can be avoided, but in the summer months especially, it can feel as if the city is invaded by tourists, so if you are after authentic Dutch culture, it might be time to look beyond Amsterdam.

Outside of the vibrant capital, there are a wealth of places to discover, and having spent my year abroad there I ventured out to explore the world beyond Amsterdam’s A10 ring road!


The scale of the Netherlands and its fantastic public transport links make it ideal to hop around from place to place and discounted group tickets are available online at NS travel. Rotterdam, the second city, is just 40 minutes by train and has a very different feel to Amsterdam with a more industrial edge. With a housing shortage in Amsterdam and rocketing rents, many young creative’s are making the move to the 010, and the cultural scene is booming. Galerie Kralingen, the Nederlands Fotomuseum and TENT are all based in and around the city centre with internationally renowned contemporary art exhibitions. Bombed in the Second World War, areas of the city were rebuilt with variety of innovative architectural projects, such as the cube houses, and its dazzling modern skyline is unlike anywhere else in the Netherlands. The roof terrace at the Hotel Rotterdam is a great place to soak in views of the city and the famous Erasmus Bridge, which is spectacularly lit at night. Further into the centre, the lively area of Witte de Withstraat is bustling with bars and restaurants to every taste, and at a fraction of city centre prices in Amsterdam. North African culture has a strong influence in Rotterdam, and so fantastic Morrocan food can be sampled among the restaurants lining Witte De Withstraat, a personal favourite was Bazar, with huge platters at reasonable prices and modern Moorish décor.

The quaint area of Delftshaven provides some preserved older architecture, with typically Dutch buildings framing a small canal. The old charm here is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it isn’t overrun with tourists, so you can fully appreciate the cobbled streets at a less frantic pace. Delfshaven is home to Rotterdam’s only brewery, which also doubles as a charming café and a great place to sip on their Pilgrim brew.

In terms of nightlife, other cities in the Netherlands tend to pale in comparison to Amsterdam, however, Rotterdam certainly does not follow suit. Toffler and Transport are two major hotspots for the Techno scene, while the Maas Silo – a huge warehouse complex plays host to many big events and live music. In Amsterdam clubs like De School and Shelter can be intimidating for tourists to get into, so the nightlife in Rotterdam is a great alternative.


Utrecht is a student city, very architecturally similar to Amsterdam; chocolate box houses line picturesque canals and there are boutique bars and restaurants aplenty. Prices here are relatively low, and a personal favourite for lunch was Kimmade, a Vietnamese street food restaurant with brilliant Banh Mi setting you back a modest four euros! In the absence of mass tourism, the city centre retains a very Dutch feel, with most people there students at its university. The city has an impressive cathedral dating back to the 14th Century and is also home to the Dom tower, which I am told had fantastic views from the top, but it’s 465 narrow spiralling steps are not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic! After the Dom tower you’ll probably be in need of a stiff drink and just around the corner, there are cosy canalside cafés and café Ledig Erf has a great atmosphere and selection of Dutch and Belgian beers. Utrecht was almost a microcosm of some of the better aspects of Amsterdam without the crowded city centre.

Broek in Waterland

If a countryside adventure is what you’re after, the Netherlands can certainly deliver. Broek in Waterland is a great place for a day trip, hire a Fluister-boat or canoe at Broeker Boot Verhuur to explore the watery landscape and moor up at the little villages along the way. The countryside here is reclaimed from the sea and so you can see for miles across the flat land, with windmills and wildlife dotted around. The Fluister-boats are a great way to see the countryside in this area and are great fun to navigate through the winding backwaters. Being in the Netherlands you notice that boating is second only to biking as the nations past time and on sunny days you’ll find many of them heading out on their boats armed with picnics – so snap up the chance to blend in. The villages in this area are charming and you feel as if time has stood still, with 16th century wooden houses and churches, painted in pretty pastels with weeping willows flowing down off the banks. Although the area is visited by tourists, it isn’t overwhelmed and the slow pace of life is maintained, making it a perfectly relaxing day trip.


Durgerdam is about an hour by bike from Amsterdam and is well worth a visit if you’re in Amsterdam but fancy something a little different. Cycling for tourists in Amsterdam can be hectic and scary, and the locals often aren’t thrilled when they see the telltale red and green rental bikes. Cycling out of Amsterdam to Durgerdam is a great way to get a Dutch biking adventure under your belt with much less stress, a cycle path takes you around the IJselmeer with beautiful views and in no time you are in the pretty countryside. The Cycle path is easy to follow and signposted to Durgerdam. Here you can again see the pretty colourful houses around the shores of the lake with boats moored up and jetties out into the water. The Oude Tavern is a lovely (perhaps the only) place for a drink or some Dutch apple tart, with a terrace made out of narrow jetty’s stretched out into the lake. If by this point the saddle sore isn’t holding you back you can continue the cycle path further around the lake and come to more pretty villages along the way, as well as a farm selling delicious freshly made ice cream, including stroopwaffel flavour. The lake is perfect for a dip if you’re feeling brave but it isn’t exactly tropical, although the lapping clear water is very inviting. Durgerdam is a great option for exploring a bit beyond Amsterdam and getting a slice of Dutch culture at very little effort.

Amsterdam is a great destination and probably my favourite city, but if you are in the Netherlands it might be worth looking further afield as there really are some hidden gems.


28th November 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

28th November 2017 at 9:14 am

Images from

Katherine Lambert