While on our travels in the Netherlands, we visited about 8 cities and towns including Amsterdam, Haarlem, Keukenhoff (in Lisse), The Hague, Delft, Rotterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht. Overall, the trip was a feast for the eyes and the belly. Although a very difficult task, I decided to create a top 10 list of our favorite experiences while we were there. These expériences include bars, restaurants, and various other attractions. For a more complete list of all the places we visited, take a look at the Netherlands page on our website. Keep in mind, our favorites list is not in order of rank, because that was far too difficult to do !
1. Favorite Expérience #1 : Restaurant Max Amsterdam
I had done a lot of reseach prior to this trip, but sadly the restaurant I had on my list was full, so on the search for another place, we stumbled upon Max Amsterdam. Before going here, I did not know much about the Indonesian food culture, but I was soon to discover the culinary taste explosion that was about to happen. We decided to order the 5-course Indonesian tasting menu where they serve a traditional rijsttafel. Read this link to learn more about where and why this famous dish became what it is today. The star of the show in my mind was the course of the seabass filet cooked in a banana leaf served with a lemongrass sauce. The other dishes were also very tasty, but the seabass had a level of sophistication that surpassed the others. The other dishes included caramalized chicken, vegetable curry, spicy chicken curry, eggplant, eggs in a curry sauce, mixed vegetable salad, slow cooked beef with brown sauce, and a similar dish to that with added nutmeg. The appetizer was Javanese satay on a crispy salad with peanuts, cilantro, and peppers.
2. Favorite Expérience #2 : Rosalia’s Menagerie
The night we went to the nice bar, Door 47, we talked for quite a while with our server (something we end up doing a lot of on our travels). It turned out to be quite the gold mine of a conversation because it led us to Rosalia’s Menagerie. No exaggeration, one of my favorite cocktail bars I’ve ever been to. The interior was eclectic, moody, and cozy. The servers were so skilled but also had dynamic personalities. They will easily create custom cocktails for you based on your descriptions, and they will not let you down.
3. Favorite Experience #3 : Haarlem’s Market Square
In all honesty, almost every town we went to had some kind of adorable market square, but Haarlem’s had to be one of the best. I do not want to think of how many pictures Jared and I took together just in this spot, but I can tell you it was most likely over 100. In this square, there is the city hall, the church, the large plaza that holds the weekly market (which we got to see !), and quality restaurants and bars all surrounding it. There is even Michelin restaurant across from the church !
4. Favorite Expérience #4 : Sleeping by a windmill
While in Haarlem, we stayed in an Airbnb located above a restaurant, facing the town’s well-known Adriaan windmill. It was so cute ! We were also located on the water, so we saw all the small boats go by. Although it was not at the center of downtown, it was close enough where we could get to it in 10 minutes by walking. Try to stay in unique places if you can. It makes the experience so much better!
5. Favorite Expérience #5 : Keukenhoff
About 40 minutes away from Haarlem by bus, you will find one of the most beautiful parks you have ever seen – Keukenhoff ! We ventured out here after I read quite a bit about the park, saw hundreds of colorful pictures of all the tulips, and was encouraged by my former high school choir teacher that we must go. Definitely worth the trip out there, but make sure you check their website in the link above so you go when it’s both open and the tulips are blooming.
6. Favorite Expérience #6 : Scheveningen Beach
Admittedly, this beach and pier reminded me of a Europeon version of Myrtle Beach. But something about that was kind of endearing. We went later in the afternoon, enjoyed the beach as much as you can in 60-degree weather, and walked along the pier. Since it’s still early in the season, there were not many people, which made it pretty relaxing. You can tell how busy it gets in the summer, however, by how many restaurants and seats are along the boardwalk. As the sun started to go down, we figured we better have some dinner. So, we picked one of the many restaurants facing the beach – Oceans Beach House. The place itself was very cute and had really nice outdoor seating arrangements with firepit tables so you could keep warm during your meal.
7. Favorite Expérience #7 : Restaurant Old Dutch
I was raised by two foodies, so growing up, I was no stranger to fine dining and upscale restaurants. But as time has gone on, the idea of the ‘upscale restaurant’ has certainly evolved. Most of the things that have changed, have been for the better, but I do have some nostalgia surrounding what once was (both from my own memories of going as child and from the stories my parents told me of their food adventures in the 70s and early 80s before I was born). Coming to this restaurant brought me back to that era in a very good way. All the servers were dressed up in impeccable suits and had the manners to match. On the menu, I noticed ‘Lobster Bisque for two’ as an appetizer and almost squeeled with joy when I saw they cook it in front of you table-side (something I do not see often !). One of our few wonderful servers was a young man named Sebastien. He was so passionate about what he was doing, and once getting him to talk, he had a lot to say about food and restaurants. He even gave us a few samples of the cheese off his gourmet cheese cart, which we tasted with pleasure. He also gave us a couple of recommendations that we unfortunately did not have the time to go to but trust his advice : De Harmonie 23 (a Michelin restaurant with 23 dishes to taste) and Héroïne.
8. Favorite Expérience #8 : Markthal Rotterdam
A super modern building that houses a covered market and food court with an array of restaurants and shops where you are guaranteed to find food you love. Architecturally, it is super interesting, so you will spend a considerable amount of time just looking around. Equally as interesting are the food stalls and surrounding stores. We landed on the restaurant above the Asian supermarket which is called Umami. It serves a variety of streetfood offering vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. It was fast, reasonably priced, and very good. For dessert, we stopped at a bubble tea stand – the perfect sweet ending.
9. Favorite Expérience #9 : Haar Castle
About 30-40 minutes by bus outside of dowtown Utrecht is Haar Castle. It has a super interesting history which you can find here. I would describe it, but their website does a great job at doing so. The castle itself is very unique and has jaw-dropping interiors. Since the castle was renovated in the beginning of the last century, everything is in very good shape and every room is completely furnished. The details will astound you from the chandelier made of knights in shining armor to the fabric covered walls made of gold thread. The grounds are also impressive including a vast park and network of paths, a tea house, and a church.
10. Favorite Expérience #10 : Canal Ride
One of the unique things you can do in the Netherlands is take a canal ride. Many services offer that in Amsterdam and other cities, but we were lucky enough to have a friend living in Haarlem take us on his vintage boat. We spent the day cruising along the canals and then stopped at a sleepy fishing village called Spaarndam where we stopped for a hot drink and snacks after the wind on the boat chilled us a little too much. There is something to be said being that close to nature and the water all day and then getting cozy with a hot chocolate in a warm restaurant (that is not at all touristy).
We hope this list inspires you for your next trip to the Netherlands!