2015 has drawn to its inevitable conclusion and another year passes into history. With it goes my second year living and working in the Netherlands. It’s been a year that has provided the opportunity to explore more of the small but fascinating country I now call home.
So here are my Top 10 Dutch highlights from 2015, all highly recommended if you find yourself in the land of windmills, clogs, cheese…and microbreweries in 2016.
1. Defying stereotypes, Amsterdam
It took me a long time to fall in love with the most touristed city in the Netherlands, but this is a magnificent and diverse city full of history, culture and a myriad of hidden treasures…and yes, it’s also one of the few places on the planet where you can witness a naked person being painted in the street in broad daylight.
2. Cycling the Waterland
North of Amsterdam’s busy streets lies a region of the Netherlands that is the perfect antidote to city life. Hire a bike, cycle over the IJ and head north into the Waterland, an area of sweeping vistas, vast skies and picturesque villages. It’s like stepping back in time.
3. The Big Cheese, Edam
Edam is a place that is both world famous and so low key as to feel almost asleep. It was here where I learned that the wax wrapping of Dutch cheeses fuelled the Dutch navy’s exploration of the world; while simultaneously providing something to barter with or use as cannonballs when munitions were running low.
4. Stepping back into history, Enkhuizen
A village built from historic buildings from across the region that recreates the life in an historic Zuiderzee fishing community, Enkhuizen also featured local people dressed in traditional costume. It was brilliant.
5. The dazzling beauty of the Tulip harvest
In the top three Dutch stereotypes, the Tulip also comes with an extraordinary history. During the Dutch Golden Age they traded at prices so astronomical a single bulb could cost the same as a large house in Amsterdam. The Tulip season does not disappoint.
6. Majestic Middelburg
Middelburg is an extraordinarily attractive place, ticking just about every box when it comes to picture-postcard-perfect Dutch towns. It also sits in the centre of the wonderful Zeeland region that demands exploration by bike.
7. The Zeeland Coast
If there is a more beautiful stretch of coastline in the Netherlands I’ve yet to find it. Zeeland is home to the mighty Delta Works, the flood defences that protect 16 million Dutch people from getting wet feet.
8. Kite flying in The Hague
Think kites are just for children? Think again. A cold but crisp autumn day in The Hague saw the International Kite Festival in Scheveningen take to the beach with some magnificent and enormous kites.
9. Eindhoven’s electric GLOW Festival
Cold winter nights are illuminated by some beautiful light installations in underrated Eindhoven. We managed to visit on one of the few nights it wasn’t raining, throw in some glühwein and you’ve got a winning combo.
10. Working windmills of Zaanse Schans
It wouldn’t be the Netherlands if there weren’t some windmills in this list. In spring this year I went to Zaanse Schans, the place where several working windmills still operate as part of an open museum.