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  • Janis Nunez

The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Giethoorn, Zaanse Schans, Haarlem

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

BEFORE YOU GO


ADAPTER: You will need an adapter for your electronics. I got these ADAPTERS from Amazon. A power strip with several USB plugs is a great way for everyone to charge their electronics. Make sure your electronics (flat iron) have worldwide dual voltage. With dual voltage you don’t have to worry about getting an adapter AND a converter.


PHONE: Contact your cell phone provider to see what is included. T-Mobile gives unlimited data and texting, but charges $0.25 per minute for calls. This includes if someone calls you and leaves a message on your voicemail. I have read other companies require you to get a European SIM card to use your phone, so just contact your provider to find out before you leave.


AUDIO TOURS: You can download the Rick Steve's Audio Tours. There are several walking tours with audio, and one by bike with printable maps that are very helpful. Download them before you go. RICK'S AUDIO TOURS FOR EUROPE.


WHERE TO STAY: The Netherlands is not cheap. We usually stay at an Airbnb in Europe for our family of four as the hotels are not that big, however, they were much more than we were wanting to spend. My husband had been to Amsterdam previously and stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Amsterdam Airport Hotel. The fact that it had a large room with two queen beds for a good price was what sold us. Something we didn't pay attention to was that there was no pool, which was a disappointment, but not a deal breaker. It's also about 25-30 minutes to the Amsterdam city center. We were okay with this as we really only planned to spend a day or two there.


Let's cut to the pros and cons. Pros: free parking right next door at the casino lot, large beds, shower and separate tub, pool table in the lobby, fitness center, close to the airport (15 minute drive), and located on a huge green park with bike and running trails. See the hotel website for more details. Cons: No pool, our room was dusty upon arrival, cannot get a cup of coffee any time like at most hotels, and no free airport shuttle (airport shuttle service is €6 each way). In hindsight I would have loved to spend a couple days somewhere in the city and just used the metro. The parking fees are crazy!


CAR RENTAL: We chose to rent a car through Sixt, as we were staying so far out of the city and planned to explore the surrounding areas of Amsterdam. This worked out great, but that being said parking can be extremely pricey in the city. I think in the end we paid about $181 in parking! That was more than the car rental. That's crazy to me, especially since it was really only 3 days of paid parking (2 in Amsterdam and 1 in Haarlem). If you are in the city I would recommend using the metro. The parking is paid in 15 minute increments and you will pay it for street or garage parking, so beware.


WHEN YOU ARRIVE


CURRENCY: In the Netherlands they use the Euro. It helps to have a currency converter app on your phone. We took money out at the airport ATM to avoid fees at the currency exchange counter. Call your bank to find out what the fees are for you to make a withdraw in the country, as well as if you use your card to make purchases before you go. They will probably also have a currency exchange fee, but ours was minimal. Notify your bank and credit card company before you travel so that they will not decline any purchases or withdrawls you make while out of the country. The ATMs do have an English option, so you will be able to read the screens.


SIGHTSEEING AND THINGS TO DO


The original plan was to drive out to Giethoorn from the airport and spend half a day there. When we checked the weather and saw thunderstorms, we had to rearrange some things. It was also going to be raining off and on in Amsterdam, so we decided to go to the museum and enjoy while staying dry. I always make a basic itinerary, and then when something comes up it's easy to change things around. We checked into our hotel, dropped off the bags, and took a short nap.


There is a parking garage right in the middle of all of the museums. I believe it was €1.60/15 minutes. If you are going to be staying for a significant period of time, it will cost you. I'd recommend taking the metro into the city if you can.

Day 1: We stopped in the square before going into the Rijksmuseum to get a bite to eat. There are a number of vendors right out front that you can get a quick bite or drink from with reasonable prices. We grabbed some hot dogs and espresso.


The Rijksmuseum is stunning from the outside, and has a beautiful garden to walk through with sculptures, a fountain, and there were people out painting by the pond. There are sculptures around the side of the building as well, so be sure to walk all the way around before going through the tunnel to the entrance of the museum. We also saw some street performers out front playing music.



Give yourself 2-3 hours in the museum. There is a lot to see here. We purchased our tickets at the door, but you could easily purchase online and skip the lines. Adult ticket price is €20 at the door (€19 online), 18 and under are FREE. Below are some of the art found inside. We really enjoyed it. You are allowed to take photos in this museum.



We stopped for lunch at The Pancake Bakery, which we had read about as a great spot to stop to try the Dutch pancakes. It was a bit pricey for what you get, but it was pretty mediocre. It's right down the street from the Anne Frank house and the Westerkerk church, so if you plan to visit the area you can stop, but I wouldn't make a special trip to eat there. The Anne Frank statue is just around the corner.



Walking along the canals you will spot a number of opportunities to take beautiful photos. Do it! Take a million photos. You won't regret it. We didn't.


We then headed to Dam Square to see the Royal Palace, Niuwekerk, the National Monument (Obelisk), and took a stroll down Kalverstraat. There is an old church about half way down the pedestrian street along with the shops and food. St Paul's Church was closed, unfortunately, so we didn't get to look inside, but it's known to have baroque interior. There are supposed to be 200 sculptures along Kalverstraat in plain sight. See if you notice any on your trip. Be sure to stop in a cafe or bar along your wandering and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere.



We called it an early night (around 9:00 pm) and headed back to the hotel. You definitely want a place with blackout curtains. It was still very light out at 10:30 pm.


Day 2: We started our day at Omelegg in De Pijp. I'm so glad we found this gem. It was our favorite breakfast on the trip! Everything is made to order right in front of you. They have an excellent selection of omelets as well as other items on the menu. Definitely check it out. I believe there are two locations in Amsterdam.



Next we set out toward Zaanse Schans to see the windmill village. It has the best collection of windmills. It is about 15 miles north of the city set on a river. There are a number of 18th and 19th century houses and windmills. You can also see how wooden shoes are made, taste cheese, and participate in a number of activities. They have a restaurant, shops, and a museum on site. You do need to pay for parking, but it's nominal. It's really amazing if you have the time to venture out there.



Next we headed to Giethoorn. It's a village with canals instead of streets. We rented a boat at Smit Giethoorn and had a bite to eat while we waited for one to become available. You are also able to take a picnic with you on the boat to enjoy. We saw several people do this.



When you rent the boat you choose how long you would like to be out on it. We chose the 2 hour boat path to follow. It does get crowded in certain areas, and it can be a bit frustrating when dealing with people who do not know how to drive the boats well (bumping into you, trying to pass when there is someone coming from the other direction, kids driving boats), but once you are out of the congested areas it is complete bliss.



The 2 hour boat ride cost us €30 and was worth every penny. The homes you are driving past are actual homes, so they encourage you to be respectful of the residents as you go by. You can also walk along the canals. There are a number of cafes and places to stop for a snack.


After turning in our boat we stopped for lunch at Het Wapen Van Giethororn. Someone on TripAdvisor had suggested ordering the plankie. Wow, we were not disappointed. It was delicious and just a short drive down from Smit Giethoorn.



We also stopped by Central Station on our way back to the hotel to check out the building and all of the bikes! Wow.


Day 3: We slept in a bit and then headed to the Albert Cuyp Market. We had a list of things we wanted to taste while in the Netherlands and we knew that the market had them all, so we couldn't wait to get started. Lucky for us there was a great coffee shop near where we parked so we got an espresso before we started taking a look around.


Stroopwafels are found at a number of locations, but THE ORIGINAL had our absolute favorite flavor. It's worth a trip to the market. Pickled Herring is another must try when in the Netherlands. We had it prepared Amsterdam style, which is cut into pieces. We did this so that we could all get a taste. It is served with pickles and onions. It's actually really good. And you can find herring pop ups all over the place. Poffertjes are tiny Dutch pancakes. We saw them on a YouTube video and couldn't wait to find them at the market. Unfortunately, they did not set up the day we were there. We did try them at The Pancake Bakery though, so you can find them there. Fries with sauce are found everywhere as well. Fries with Dutch mayo is our favorite. We had a cone at the market and along Kalverstraat near Dam Square.