For a relatively small country, the Netherlands offers a wide range of places to stay, from standard hotels to seaside vacation parks and former monasteries. If you’re looking for accommodations that are distinctly Dutch, interesting options include historic canal houses, houseboats and even windmills.
A few things to keep in mind, regardless of where you stay: Because the Lowlands are densely populated, most Dutch housing is compact, with steep and sometimes spiraling stairwells built into the tightest spaces possible. Typically only newer and larger accommodations contain elevators. Also, as in much of Europe, you’ll rarely encounter air-conditioning. But no worries — with the Netherlands’ location along the North Sea, hot days are the exception.
Hotel and Motels
The Netherlands follows the international star rating system, from basic one-star hotels to uber-luxurious five-star options. Hotels with more than 20 rooms are considered large by Dutch standards. Note that you’ll find mostly twin beds at non-luxury hotels, and room rates are based on occupancy. While wireless Internet is usually included, breakfast often is not (and can be quite pricey).
You can find many Western and European chains in the Netherlands, but the country has some favorite homegrown brands as well. Van der Valk is the largest hospitality chain in the country, with more than 60 branches in the Netherlands, and is known for its reliably clean, basic and affordable rooms. A more upscale popular chain is Golden Tulip Hotels, which was founded in the Netherlands in 1962 when six independent hotels merged. Though part of the American company Starwood Capital since 2009, the brand remains a source of Dutch pride.
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Some of the nicest properties in the country are canal houses, usually historic homes overlooking a canal. The houses are typically narrow, tall and deep, with doors usually reachable only by stairs.
You can find canal options in the form of small hotels, apartments for rent, and bed and breakfasts. Two of the most luxurious hotels in Amsterdam are actually several canal houses combined. The high-end Hotel Pulitzer comprises a collection of 25 restored 17th- and 18th-century canal houses, framed by water front and back and situated in the tree-lined Jordaan area. The newest addition, opened in 2014, is the luxe Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, where six former private canal residences overlook the canal or the property’s large courtyard garden.
In Utrecht, 24 miles southeast, a unique feature of its two canals is the brick “yards” between the canal embankments and walk-in cellars. You can experience one yourself at Hotel 26, where two renovated upscale apartments feature patios along a canal.
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Quirky and innovative Dutch design has been on the international stage for decades, originally for its bold, identifiable graphics and lately because of its sleek and sly product design. So it’s no surprise that the movement has spilled into the world of lodging.
The ultra-modern and affordable chain citizenM, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, started in Amsterdam and now has several other properties in the Netherlands and beyond. Its pod-like rooms are controlled with a touchpad that includes options to change the interior lighting to a rainbow of colors. At the Lloyd Hotel, also in Amsterdam, rooms range from one to five stars, each unique in appearance (ranging from industrial to whimsical). To the south, in the cosmopolitan city of Maastricht, the un-aptly named Trash Deluxe Hotel contains eight rooms with different themes, as well as handmade wallpaper and furniture.
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Bed and Breakfasts
One of the best ways to see how the Dutch live and to connect with them personally is by staying at a bed and breakfast, which you can find in all regions of the country. For breakfast, expect to see plentiful breads and cheeses. To fit in, spread a piece of untoasted bread with margarine and top it with hagelslag — chocolate (or other flavored) sprinkles. If you enjoyed the taste, compliment your host by saying “lekker” (delicious).
Other hallmarks of a Dutch home include the aforementioned steep staircases, multiple bicycles, a lack of curtains and vases filled with fresh flowers. If you bond with your host, you might even receive the traditional three cheek kisses when you depart.
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Former Monasteries and Convents
Throughout the Netherlands, historic buildings once dedicated to spiritual study and practice have been repurposed, some as lodging. One of the best known is the 15th-century Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht, which also is a feted design hotel. Stroll through the glowing tunnel leading to the lobby and you’ll find a remarkable mingling of old and new, with exterior light filtering through original stained-glass windows. Individually decorated rooms surround what was the cloister.
In Utrecht, the popular Grand Hotel Karel V once served as a monastery and military hospital. The 14th-century buildings and courtyard gardens combine medieval charm and modern luxury. A more budget-friendly option is Hotel het klooster in Kloosterburen, a small village in the northern province of Groningen. The 1920s hotel and conference center was originally a convent with a school and later became a retirement home.
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Renting your own apartment or house is an excellent way to feel like a local. The types of accommodation and activities you can expect to find depend on the region. In the country’s four largest cities — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht — homes will be smaller and usually very urban, so you might want to ask about traffic and noise. If you have a car, parking could be challenging.
Open space and larger homes are especially ample to the north in the provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe. Or you could go even farther north to the Wadden Sea Islands, a chain of islands reached by ferry (five are inhabited).
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Campgrounds and Holiday Parks
Because so many Dutch people live in urban areas, they love to get away to the countryside. Ironically, their campgrounds and holiday parks resemble small cities, with cafes, stores, playgrounds, indoor game rooms and swimming pools; they’re usually geared toward families.
One of the closest to the center of Amsterdam is leafy Camping Vliegenbos, a short (and free) ferry ride away. For those not traveling with a tent or caravan, it offers cabins and a “camping hotel.” Another option is to book a cabin through Landal GreenParks, part of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, which maintains more than 50 holiday parks in the Netherlands, from the seaside to pastoral regions.
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Unique to the Netherlands
The country has a number of properties in quirky, unique settings, but the two most iconic are windmills and houseboats. When searching for just the right houseboat (most rentals are in Amsterdam), consider how busy the canal it’s parked on is, whether it has a patio and if it offers free or rental bicycles, which many do.
These days the Dutch use sleek, thin-bladed windmills to generate power, but plenty of the traditional ones can be found throughout the country. Some can be visited on specific days, while others have been converted into cafes and even apartments. In a rural area outside of Groningen, for example, you can stay at Restaurant in de Molen, which has two simple but nice and spacious rooms inside a windmill that also houses a gourmet restaurant.
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Getting Around the Netherlands: Transportation Tips
Amsterdam Travel Guide
–written by Diane Daniel