The famously flat landscapes of Holland are well-known for their windmills and tulip fields. The majority of tourists come to Holland to enjoy a city break in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. However, there is much, much more to Holland than can be found in its urban areas.
Holland is comprised of twelve provinces, each of which has something to offer the rural-loving holidaymaker. The three main airports in the country are Amsterdam airport, serving visitors to the capital and surrounding areas, Eindhoven airport and Rotterdam airport.
This post will take you through the natural highlights of Holland, province by province, so you know where to go for your nature fix, regardless of where you are staying.
South Holland is the location for the cities of Rotterdam and the Hague, but it is also home to one of Holland’s finest beaches, at Scheveningen. Whilst the seaside resort offers the usual seaside fare: a pier, shops, restaurants, a harbour and great watersports, it is also a great place to go hiking or biking. Enjoy a picturesque walk through sand dunes and forests, or visit Westbroek Park, with its beautiful rosegarden and exceptional playground for the kids.
Take a trip to Kinderdijk to explore the windmills. Ninteen windmills, built around 1740, are on display here, and there is plenty to do in Kinderdijk besides having your photo taken beside a mill! Alternatively, you can rent a bike from the bike rental shop in Scheveningen, for a half or full day of cycling along the many car-free roads in the area. From Scheveningen, the nearby beach at Kijkduin can be reached within twenty minutes by bicycle, and affords a wonderfully peaceful and pleasant ride.
Zuid-Holland is also the place to go to enjoy the tulips, and other spring flowering bulbs in and around Keukenhof Park. Whatever time of year you come, you are guaranteed a breathtaking bouquet!
Amsterdam is situated in this province, directly translated as North Holland. The province is also home to distinctive Dutch villages such as Alkmaar and Volendan, and popular beach resorts, Bloemendaal and the Wadden Island Texel.
To visit a traditional Dutch fishing village, take a trip to Volendam, or if you are a keen fisher yourself, why not visit the enormous Ifsselmeer Lake. Ifsselmeer Lake is great for both freshwater fishing and watersports, as well as being outstandingly beautiful in itself. This province also boasts a stretch of over 100km of sandy beaches, backed by stunning dunes which are great for a relaxing walk.
Noord-Brabant is a friendly province in the south of Holland, which is full of fun things to do, such as the Efteling theme park and Beekse Bergen safari park. However, it is another location that features sand dunes. The Loonse and Drunense Dunes are colloquially known as the ‘Brabant Sahara’, and make for a lovely, romantic walk in the sand.
The smallest of Holland’s twelve provinces, Utrecht, in central Holland, is home to a lively university city (the capital of the province, also called Utrecht). The city is known as a ‘cultural treasure trove’, with plenty to keep culture vultures amused, particularly the Slot Zeist castle and Soestdijk Palace.
Outside Utrecht city, there is a great cycling route along the New Dutch Waterline, as well as the Utrechtse Heuvelrug hills, featuring awesome pine forests. The lakes of Vinkeveense Plassen and Loosdrechtse Plassen are well worth a visit, as is the River Vecht.
The southernmost province of Holland, Limburg is uncharacteristically (for Holland) hilly. It is a very green and rural place, in which natives speak their own dialect, known as ‘Limburgs’. Limburg is famous for its beers, in particular Brand, Alfa and Gulpener.
History fans will enjoy exploring the mines of Maastricht and Valkenburg, as well as Maastricht’s casements, basilicas, and museums. Maastricht is home to TEFAF, the globally-renowned annual arts and antiques fair, the four-day culinary celebration known as Prevenemint, and the all-out annual knees-up of the Limburg Carnival. Limburg is also the location of the tripoint between Holland, Belgium and Germany.
With fantastic beaches, and the famed river delta system comprising the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt. Tours of the cities of Middelburg, Vlissingen and Zierikzee are popular, but most of all, visitors to Zeeland will be drawn to the fantastic riverways.
Gelderland is the largest province of Holland, and hosts the fantastic de Hoge Veluve National Park. Enjoy the national park’s breathtaking nature and wildlife on one of the free-to-use bikes, over the 5,400 hectares of woodland, heathland, peat bogs and drift sand. The de Hoge Veluve National Park is habitat to some extremely rare species, including the Red Deer, Roe Deer, Mouflons and dozens of wild boar.
Best explored on foot or by bicycle, Overijssel boasts a combination of nature and historical towns. It is a province defined by a green and varied landscape, with unspoiled nature reserves. Overijssel’s scenery owes its vibrancy and fertile beauty to the Ijssel river, which flows through and nourishes the surrounding countryside. The Weerribben-Wieden National Park is the breeding ground for thousands of birds.
The town of Giethoorn, often known as ‘the Venice of the North’ was, until fairly recently, entirely car-free. All transport was conducted on water, via the many canals that run through the town. In addition to its natural, watery beauty, history-lovers can experience the area’s Hanseatic past in the towns of Deventer and Zwolle.
The youngest of Holland’s provinces, Flevoland was not created until 1986. Aside from its urban pleasures, Flevoland has a team of over 1,500 conservationists, dedicated to preserving the natural landscape of Flevoland. The Oostvaardersland is a huge 15,000 hectare site which is in the process of being developed into a nature reserve and recreational area. The area is due to be ready in 2014.
Featuring the largest chain of connected inland lakes in Europe, Friesland is the perfect place for watersports enthusiasts. The province hosts a range of watersport events in summer, such as the skûtsjesilen championships, ‘Sneekweek’ and the regional event, Fierljeppen, which is basically pole vaulting across a body of water. In severe winters, Friesland also hosts Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), the biggest ice-skating event in the world.
Aside from its water-based activities, Friesland is characterised by its large areas of tidal mud flats, which are a twitcher’s paradise as they are home to lots of wading birds, ducks, geese, gulls and terns. When visiting Friesland, don’t forget to sample the traditional Fresian drink, Beerenburg, which is a herbal liqueur, unique to the area.
The most northeastern province, Groningen boasts a superb, varied countryside, the ideal location for walkers and cyclists. The famous Dutch walking track, Het Pieterpad, begins in the town of Pieterburen, which is also the location of a seal rehabilitation and research centre.
The capital of Groningen, Groningen city, is a university city with very lively nightlife, as well as shops, museums and monuments to enjoy. The fortress of Bourtange nearby is a great site for history lovers. Groningen is home to one of the greenest places in Holland, Haren, and you can also take pleasure in swimming and watersports at Paterswoldemeer.
With 1,400km of cycling paths, and vast areas of natural beauty including heaths, sand dunes, marshes, forests and swamps, Drenthe is a real treat for nature-loving cyclists. The province also features the Hunebedden (‘Giant’s Beds’). The Hunebedden, it is believed, were transported from Scandinavia via glacier during the last ice age, and used as burial sites for pre-historic tribes. The stones are believed to have been used as burial chambers in approximately 3450 BC, and the skeletal remains of the dead still remain.
Drenthe is generally a peaceful province, although its quiet is shattered once a year as motorcycle fantatics flock to the area to enjoy the annual Assen TT, in which the best motorbikes and riders from all over the world commune at the Dutch Grand Prix track in the province.
If coming to Holland for a relaxing rural break, you need not limit yourself to nature’s pleasures. Holland has an excellent selection of activities for all tastes, ages and budgets.
A great tip is to intersperse your enjoyment of Holland’s natural surroundings with engagement in the wide variety of sporting activities, cultural and historical offerings and excellent eateries and bars that Holland has to offer. Whether you’re coming with your partner, for a couples’ break, with your children, friends, or even on your own, you will certainly find a wealth of things to keep you amused in Holland.
This guest post was brought to you in partnership with Holiday Taxis.