Go Dutch for some great group experiences

Date Posted: 04/09/2012

Famous for its windmills and tulips, Jeannine Williamson unearths new attractions in this colourful country.

Accessible, friendly and relaxed, Holland has long been a top destination for groups and favourite sights such as the spectacular bulb fields, canals and windmills need little introduction.

To add variety to a trip several exciting new attractions have been unveiled in Amsterdam, along with the reopening of a cultural institution that has undergone a stunning facelift. For people organising group holidays, you may also want to consider visiting lesser-known Dutch cities either as standalone destinations or twinned with a few days in Amsterdam.

Looking ahead, Holland will be celebrating several major anniversaries in 2013 including the 400th anniversary of the Amsterdam canal ring, bicentenary of the Kingdom of Holland, 175th anniversary of Artis Royal Zoo - home to 200 species of trees and more than 900 species of animals in the heart of Amsterdam – and the 175th anniversary of the city’s Concertgebouw concert hall and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. A host of special events will be announced to mark the various milestones and group travel organisers will be able to find out more nearer the time on the websites of the tourist board and individual attractions.

Lights, camera, action…

EYE, the new film museum on Amsterdam’s waterfront, is located on the northern bank of the IJ River, directly across from Amsterdam Central Station. Opened in April, and housed in a striking complex that includes four cinema screens, interactive exhibitions and a restaurant, EYE is the only Dutch museum dedicated to film and the moving image.

Appealing to all age groups, the collection covers film history from silent movies to vintage Hollywood classics, Bollywood, the latest blockbusters and digital productions. There is also film-related memorabilia including posters, photographs and historic film equipment. It takes less than two minutes to get to EYE on the free ferry to and from Central Station and there are guided tours for group plus two free tickets for every ten paid for.

Open and shut

On 23rd September, after an eight-year refurbishment, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum will reopen its doors. Founded in 1874, the museum dedicated to modern art and design has undergone the most ambitious renovation and expansion project in its history. Groups will find a dynamic new building linked to the original museum and the increased space will enable the Stedelijk to showcase the first comprehensive display of its permanent collection.

In addition to works of art there will be displays of jewellery, ceramics, posters, furniture and textiles plus a changing programme of temporary exhibitions.

The neighbouring Van Gogh Museum is popular so worth noting that it is closing for six months from 24th September for refurbishment and will open its doors again in May 2013 with a special exhibition to mark the museum’s 40th anniversary. During the closure a collection of selected works by Dutch masters will be exhibited in the Herenvleugel wing at the Hermitage Amsterdam.

Amsterdam alternatives: Rotterdam and Utrecht

Away from Amsterdam there are other exciting cities waiting to be explored. Rotterdam is Holland’s second city and as one of the world’s largest ports many of the attractions are linked to water. You can visit the reconstruction of the 18th century warship De Delft, the historic vessel De Rotterdam and go on a harbour cruise that will take you all close to the mighty container ships. The oldest area is Delfshaven, with its old-world quaysides, which has historic links to the Pilgrim Fathers who later set sail from England on the Mayflower bound for America. Away from maritime heritage groups can head up to the top of the Euromast tower for panoramic views or admire the curious architecture of the city’s gravity defying cube houses.

Situated on the North Sea and the seat of the country’s parliament and home of the Dutch royal family, The Hague is home to many beautiful and historic squares and is Holland’s greenest city and a particular joy to visit in springtime when thousands of flowers are in bloom. Art lovers should note the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis is undergoing a two-year renovation and will reopen mid-2014. Whilst Vermeer’s instantly recognisable Girl with a Pearl Earring is on touring exhibition in America, other significant works are temporarily on display in the Gemeentemuseum. The Hague’s most novel attraction is Madurodam, where groups can experience Holland in miniature, including canals, windmills, the port of Rotterdam and Schiphol airport.

Another fascinating city is Utrecht, just half an hour by train from Amsterdam. Known as Holland’s cultural treasure trove, it has diverse museums devoted to old masters, railways, De Stijl, literally ‘the style’, artistic movement, music and Dick Bruna, creator of the rabbit character Miffy, whose stories have been translated into 40 languages. Like Amsterdam it is also a city that can be explored on a canal boat tour and groups can combine a cruise with a museum or theatre visit, delicious lunch in a pancake restaurant or a tour of the Stadskasteel Oudaen brewery.

Best of the rest

Maastricht: Holland’s oldest fortified city has a history going back 2,000 years. Located in the Meuse Valley between the hills of South Limburg, the many attractions include a labyrinth of underground casemates and mining caves and 18th century Fort St Pieter. Groups can also enjoy strolling around the cobbled streets and abbey church in the pretty white village of Thorn 45 minutes north of Maastricht.

Nijmegen: Overlooking a river and set amidst hills and woodlands near the German border, Holland’s oldest city has many excellent museums including the Museum Het Valkhof with its collection of Roman archaeological artefacts and the National Liberation Museum. It also has a modern side with its futuristic quayside.

Gouda: Your group will doubtless have heard of Gouda before setting food in Holland. As well as the famous cheese this southern city is also renowned for ‘stroopwafels’, or syrup waffles, that can be savoured in cafes overlooking its medieval streets. Gouda boasts one of Holland’s oldest gothic town halls and Saint John Church is noted for its fine 16th century stained glass.

Art attack

Running from now until the end of 2013, Arts Holland has been designed to introduce visitors to the country’s diverse culture, covering everything from art, fashion, design, heritage, museums, theatres and more across the four major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, which have all been given a theme. Amsterdam is all about fashion and design, Rotterdam represents contemporary arts and culture, The Hague has been called the city of royal arts and Utrecht will be highlighting its many festivals and events.

Making a mark

Another addition to Amsterdam’s thriving arts scene is the Tattoo Museum, the world’s largest and first professional museum dedicated to tattoo culture. Exhibiting designs from around the world, even the tattoos of high society and royalty, your group might be surprised to learn that tattoos existed in prehistoric times. That said, you might want to make sure you steer clear of the in-house tattoo shop to stop anyone going home with a permanent souvenir they might later regret.

3 top sights

1. Canals: Hop-on hop-off tours along Amsterdam’s scenic 17th century canal network are a relaxing way to see the city and reach other famous sights such as Anne Frank House, the wartime hiding place of the teenage diarist.
2. Kinderdijk: The largest concentration of Dutch windmills can be found near the village of Kinderdijk, east of Rotterdam. The 19 windmills built in 1740 have been beautifully preserved and are UNESCO-listed.  
3. Keukenhof: Renowned for its spring displays, including 4.5 million tulips covering 100 varieties, the Lisse attraction is the world’s largest bulb flower park. Open from 21st March to 20th May, the 2013 theme will be the United Kingdom.

Holland Essentials

Eat: Herring - the most popular fish in Holland - warming stamppot stew, sweet and savoury pancakes, fried meatballs, apple cake and treacle waffles.

Drink: Local Heineken and Grolsch beer, juniper flavoured genever or Dutch gin, which is traditionally served neat and chilled, apple juice and hot chocolate (cocoa powder was invented in Holland).

Try: A fun and informative cheese tasting at De Reypenaer in Amsterdam, set in an atmospheric 100-year-old warehouse and offering private sessions for groups of up to 20.

Buy: Decorative wooden clogs, blue and white Delft pottery ornaments and tulip bulbs.  

Go: A year-round destination, the end of March until the second week of May is the time to schedule trips to see the bulb fields.

Factfile

Travel time: 1hr 10mins by plane and 6hrs 15mins to 14hrs (overnight) by ferry. Another option is to travel by Eurostar to Brussels with onward rail connections to major cities.
Time difference: GMT +1hr.
Currency: Euro £1= €1.24.
Language: Dutch with English spoken everywhere.

Useful contact:
Netherlands Board of Tourism:
020-7539 7957
www.holland.com

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