Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister, chats into his phone while striding alone across the cobbled courtyard of the Binnenhof, the Dutch Parliament building in The Hague.
Unexpectedly spotting him a couple of metres away, without a scrum of burly security guards, prompts me to do a double take. He greets me with a nod.
The chance encounter typifies the Netherlands’ laid-back vibe – a reason why I enjoy spending time here. I’m cutting through the courtyard to reach the Mauritshuis. That grand, waterfront building was constructed nearly 400 years ago for Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, the Governor of Dutch Brazil.
This year it’s celebrating 200 years since becoming an art museum. The permanent collection features artworks from the Dutch Golden Age. Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and numerous Rembrandt works help make the Mauritshuis one of the world’s great art museums. I always enjoy the amusing details in Jan Steen’s boisterous scenes.
Today I’m drawn to the insightful In Full Bloom exhibition. Running until June 6, it explores the evolution of the floral still life, a genre in which several female artists flourished. The paintings record details of flowers that bloomed four centuries ago.
Previously unseen plants and flowers were transported to the Netherlands by sea at that time. They were planted at Leiden and Amsterdam in botanical gardens that continue to welcome visitors. Plants such as the tulip were commercially exploited as the Dutch developed expertise in gardening and farming.
Floriade Expo 2022
The Floriade Expo (floriade.com), an international horticultural exhibition held every 10 years, opened on April 14 at Almere, 30km from Amsterdam.
The 2022 edition continues until October 9 on a site that’s the size of 60 rugby fields. Its theme is Growing Green Cities.
The event celebrates Dutch horticulture and sustainable technology. In national pavilions visitors can see how recent discoveries and developments are likely to shape urban life.
A cable car provides elevated views. Meanwhile, the cultural programme brings a variety of live music. Adult entry costs from €29 (£24.50).
ToursByLocals offers a customisable guided Floriade tour for up to four people. The eight-hour tour stops at nearby attractions, including Muiderslot Castle and windmills at Weesp.
In addition to coach tours encompassing the Floriade, Shearings offers a seven-day Amsterdam and Floriade aboard MS Arena tour priced from £1,049pp.
The June river cruise itinerary includes Het Loo Palace, which reopened in April following lavish restorations.
To Amsterdam and beyond
The Netherlands is ideal for city breaks and short holidays embracing the country’s waterways and cultural history. Typically, most UK travellers stay in Amsterdam.
“Clients can once again appreciate Amsterdam’s world-class museums and art galleries after two years of strict Dutch COVID-19 measures.
“Travelling now means people can enjoy the city’s attractions before crowds return,” suggests Patrick Millar, Marketing Manager, Kirker Holidays, while highlighting the Rijksmuseum and neighbouring Van Gogh Museum.
The country has an easy-to-use rail network meaning easy access to hotels outside of the capital. First-time visitors may be surprised that journeys into Amsterdam from nearby cities are quick and inexpensive. Haarlem is just 15 minutes away while Leiden is a 35-minute ride.
“We always get excellent feedback about The Hague. The city has canals and outstanding museums, and trams run to the sandy beach at nearby Scheveningen, which is lovely to visit in the summer,” says Millar.
Cuddle a cow:Embrace alternative wellness therapy while snuggling with cattle at the Kastanje-Hoeve dairy farm, 35km north of Amsterdam. Close proximity with cows reputedly calms humans. Boots and protective overcoats are provided.
Free cycling:Pedal one of the 1,800 free-to-use white bicycles around De Hoge Veluwe National Park. Explore more than 40km of tracks. The park’s Kröller-Müller Museum holds the world’s second-largest collection of Van Gogh artworks.
Dutch courage:At National Genever Museum in Schiedam, near Rotterdam, visitors can discover the story of juniper-based spirit genever. The building has a distillery and offers tastings. It’s a short walk from the world’s tallest traditional windmill.
Go plastic fishing:Boat tours of Amsterdam’s historic canals, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have long been popular. Plastic Whale presents visitors with opportunities to head onto the waterways and scoop out plastic waste using nets. The tours are also available in Rotterdam.
Summit else:Peaking at 322m (1,058ft) above sea-level, the Vaalserberg is the highest point of the Netherlands’ mainland and makes for a pleasant country stroll. It’s a reason to spend time in rural Limburg, near to where the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany converge.
Take the biscuit: Round, syrup-filled cookies called stroopwafels are a Dutch treat. Workshops at Berg’s Bakery discuss the heritage of the delicacy and give participants an opportunity to make their own.
“We now have direct returns on the Eurostar from Amsterdam. Visiting Amsterdam is now as easy as a weekend in Paris. The train connection means it appeals to people looking for sustainable breaks and customers still reluctant to travel through airports following the pandemic,” says Millar.
Rooftops of Rotterdam: The world’s first publicly accessible art storage facility opened in Rotterdam during November. Pre-booked tickets are required to visit Depot Boijmans van Beuningen. The contemporary building has a mirrored façade.
It houses more than 151,000 artworks, the highly rated Restaurant Renilde and a rooftop garden with city views.
Opening for Rotterdam Architecture Month in June, The Podium (until August 17) is a free-to-visit installation on the roof of Het Nieuwe Instituut, the design and digital hub in the city’s Museum Park. City roofscapes will be linked by Rotterdam Rooftop Walk, a 400-metre air bridge, during Rotterdam Rooftop Days (May 26 to June 24).
Attractions: The Efteling theme park resort in Kaatsheuvel, a popular family attraction, is celebrating 70 years since opening.
Hotels: Amsterdam’s recent openings include the 19-room De Ware Jacob Boutique Hotel, within easy walking distance of popular museums. dewarejacobhotel.com
With 62 rooms in three townhouses, the centrally-located four-star Jan Luyken Hotel is another chic Museum Quarter option. janluykenhotelamsterdam.com
Meanwhile, the 306-room Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Landmark embraces a post-industrial look and features a spa. inntelhotelsamsterdamlandmark.nl
Elsewhere, Gouda’s 16th century orphanage has been transformed into the Weeshuis, a 25-suite boutique property marrying contemporary design and rooms with wood beams. relaischateaux.com
Where to book it
The six-day Best of the Netherlands canal and Lake Markermeer cruise with Croisieurope has 10 departure dates in 2022. The route includes Edam, Gouda and Haarlem plus Kinderdijk’s windmills. Costing from £1,291pp, the round-trip cruise departs Amsterdam and includes onboard meals and drinks, excursions, port taxes and repatriation insurance. croisieurope.co.uk