The Hollandse Biesbosch is a national park and large freshwater tidal area. It is kind of like a forest but with loads of meadows and canals. It’s just across the river from where my family lives in Sliedrecht. I made two visits to the biesbosch.
The first visit was by boat with some of my cousins, Rob, Roel and Irene. We entered the biesbosch area by passing through a lock. then the boys navigated us through some of the canal systems, being sure to point out where my dad used to take them camping when they were little. On our way out of the area we stopped at a canal-side pub for a drink and a snack.
My second visit to the biesbosch was with my aunt, Marjan. We took our bikes on the waterbus to cross from Sliedrecht to the Biesbosch. We had intended to go and visit the Grindmuseumpad which is a 6 kilometer walk through a specific section of the biesbosch. It was an area where my dad used to work. Unfortunately, that area is closed one day of the week, and that happened to be the day we were there. So instead we walked another route, enjoying the fresh air, warm weather and the country side. After our stroll and photo taking excursion, we cycled back to Sliedrecht over the railway bridge and then along the dijk. Despite not getting to see the Grindmuseumpad, we still had a fabulous afternoon.
Utrecht is a very popular city in the province of Utrecht, an hour north-east by train from Sliedrecht. It is a beautiful old city famous for the canals, most of which have two tiers, so you can actually sit by the water and have a coffee or head up to the higher level for some shopping.
Utrecht is often referred to as being a student city, though I am not sure I saw much evidence of this. I was headed to Utrecht for a conference, but managed a half day of sightseeing prior to the conference starting.
I had a great time just wandering along all the cobblestone streets. The two main sights I visited were the Dom Church and the Dom Tower. Originally they were one building but due to a major earthquake the section joining the two parts was destroyed and they are now two separate entities. They are both gorgeous, but my favourite by far was the tower. Entry to the church is by donation and you can come and go as you please. Entry to the tower is by guided tour only. Be sure to turn up within a reasonable time frame as it is a very popular tour and is often booked out. The cost was 9 euros, and absolutely worth the money!
A large portion of the Netherlands is below sea level and the land has been reclaimed so that it is inhabitable. The Dutch have very innovative (in my opinion) canal systems, dijks and locks for managing the water. In war time, between 1815-1940 there was a section referred to as the Waterlinie (Water Line) which runs from North to South, and was able to be flooded at will as a defence mechanism, blocking enemies attempting to invade from the east.
Along the Waterlinie forts, bunkers and castles were built. I spent a half day visiting a tiny portion of the Waterlinie with my cousin Quinty and her partner Adriaan. We started off at Fort Altena. Then visited the adorable little town of Woudrichem and ended with a visit to the castle, Slot Loevenstein.
In all of these places you can find the most adorable old architecture, it is well worth taking the time to wander around all of these sites. If the weather is good, it could be fun to pack a picnic, as there are many waterside spots to sit and relax. If you aren’t the picnicking type, then all of these sites have fantastic cafes and restaurants to stop for food and/or drink. We certainly enjoyed a beer in the sun outside Slot Loevenstein.
If you have the time, I would also suggest exploring additional sites along the Waterlinie.
Rotterdam is an interesting city, it got almost completely destroyed in the second world war through bombing (the city that lost it’s heart) and as a result is the most architecturally modern city in the Netherlands. It is a place that visited often, but only ever to shop; and despite my interest in architecture, I had never really bothered to look at the city, so it was about time to change that!
One way I really enjoy getting to know a city is through free walking tours. There are many cities that offer free walking tours, always offered by people who genuinely love their city and work for tips.
Surprisingly and disappointingly, it wasn’t so easy to find a free walking tour in Rotterdam in 2015, at the time of writing this post.
As Rotterdam has started to gain more tourist appeal, the walking tour options have improved, and inspired a revamp/rewrite of this post. My knowledge and interest of the city has also grown since I recently became a Rotterdam resident.
Rotterdam Free Walking Tour
On Saturday June 17th, 2017 Tim, Vincent and Hans started Free Walking Tour Rotterdam. Eager to see what the guys had to offer and coinciding with a visit from friends I went on their first tour.
Tim and Vincent did a fantastic job of showing the city sights, explaining the city’s history and sharing with us what makes the city tick.
Since I now live in Rotterdam I can vouch for the fact that the tour hits all the highlights including my personal favourites: the Market hall, Cube houses, Old Harbour and the White House.
At this stage Free Walking Tours Rotterdam only operate on Saturdays at 1:30pm from the Market hall. Due to popularity they are investigating increasing the frequency of the tours.
A range of walking tour options
Ani & Haakien hostel have a broad range of free walking tours on offer within Rotterdam, as well as a few offerings for paid tours further afield (If I hadn’t already been – the tour to the UNESCO heritage listed Kinderdijk would be pretty high on priority list!).
I enjoyed the architectural walking tour of the city, which runs on Saturdays at 11am. The tour covers the history of the city’s architecture, the architectural styles over time and the city’s programs for renovations. The focus of the tour was definitely the older architecture, pre and post war, but with little attention paid to newer architectural structures such as the new Market hall.
The added bonus – you do not need to be a hostel guest to access their tours and the staff I spoke to were awesome, friendly and helpful! (If I had a need to stay in Rotterdam, I would definitely book a bed in this hostel)
Self Guided Walking Tours
If, like I was, you are stuck with the problem of not being in Rotterdam the day that a particular tour is offered then the next best option is a self guided walking tour – which is obviously free.
With a keen interest in street art and the knowledge that Rotterdam had numerous hidden gems, I was pretty excited to hit the streets of Rotterdam. The best option I found was an app called Rewriters. The app costs a dollar but provides a fantastic interactive map through Rotterdam to a great number of interesting works of art from a variety of artists. The app contains audio and text to explain a bit about the artist of each piece, as well as some information about the piece itself.
I really had a fantastic time checking out all the art works, I was impressed by the quality of the work and range of styles and pieces visited on the route. It was also a great way for me to get to know my new city better.
The app offers two complete walking routes, one within central Rotterdam and the other in Capelle aan den Ijssel – this one is still on my ‘To Do’ list.
Note: Ani & Haakien offer a Graffiti and Bar Tour on Friday nights at 9pm. I was interested in checking out the street art in the middle of winter, so wasn’t prepared to walk for 1.5 hours in the dark and cold. Now that we have long daylight hours in Summer, I have already seen the majority of the art and as a result have not done this tour myself.
My self-guided architectural walking tour
The app is really well designed and walks you from place to place, with pictures, maps, descriptions and audio. I went with my cousin Roel and his friend Sjoerd (they are both still students and require good english for their studies and future careers, so the outing was partly english practice for them and partly about seeing the city).
The tour has 46 places of interest to visit, but we had limited time and were easily distracted by shops, food and drinks, so only managed to visit about 9 of them.
The tour starts at the tourist information office on the Coolsingel of Rotterdam, a short walk from Rotterdam Blaak train station. From there it heads across to the Maritime museum, though I am not sure why. The third stop was the Museum of Rotterdam, which was a gorgeous old building. The only seventeenth century building in the city center that was left standing after the war.
Continuing on was another old building, St Laurens Church, which was the only surviving late-gothic building from the original medieval city of Rotterdam. It was badly damaged in the war, but has since been restored.
Just a block or so from the cathedral the style of architecture is a drastic change, and switches from classic to extremely modern. The new markethall, the library, the pencil building and the cube houses are all very interesting designs.
The markethall is the newest of these, having been opened in October 2014 (not even a year ago). It has an arch shape, through the arch are apartments, the two ends are capped with glass walls. Internally the center section is filled with market stalls, cafes and restaurants. The walls and ceiling of the hall are beautiful bright colours and are essentially an artwork representing the foods and flowers you might find in a market, as well as some depictions of neighbouring buildings, such as the Laurens Church. It’s a thoroughly fascinating piece of architecture, one that has drawn many people in the direction of Rotterdam, where previously Amsterdam was the big drawcard of the nation.
From this very modern area in the direction of the wharf, at least one older building can be found, The White House. The first Dutch “Skyscraper” standing a not so high 45 metres tall, with 11 storeys. It’s a gorgeous building by the water, but once again, provides such a contrast to the modern buildings nearby.
From here it is about a block to the river where you can see the iconic Erasmusbrug and Willemsbrug (bridges). These weren’t on the walking tour officially, but they were so close that I threw them in for my own interest. The last stop I made it to from the official list was the Red Apple building. It’s a very new building and has quite a large overhang. I noticed actually, that many of the modern buildings in Rotterdam has an overhanging component, which I find fascinating, not to mention and engineering wonder (that is, to me, who is not an engineer).
We finished up our afternoon with a beer in one of the many restaurants in the market hall. A fabulous end to an enjoyable afternoon!
Franks Tours: Frank runs tours through Ani & Haakien, as well as independently. His city tour and graffiti tour both sound like they are worthy of investigation.
Urban Guides: Cost is between €17,50 – €25, tours take 2,5-3 hours and it is by bicycle – this one sounds pretty cool, but in September it only operates on the weekend and unfortunately my weekends are already all booked up. Leijnse Stadtoers: Cost is €15, it takes 1,5 hours and is available on request. Gilde Rotterdam: Cost is €5, it takes 1,5 to 2 hours and there is an agenda from which you can select a walk. Rotterdam Roots: Cost is crazy expensive, tour lengths range from 1,5 to 4 hours. City Walking Tours: They offer a few tours, you need to call or email for bookings.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2015, the walking tour options in Rotterdam have since greatly improved and this post has been revised and republished as a result. Happy Walking!
Something I have made no secret of, is the fact that I am dual citizen Dutch-Australian. My immediate family lives in Australia, but the remainder of my family lives in a small town in The Netherlands, called Sliedrecht. It is in the province of South Holland.
I find that when I visit the family I tend to stop blogging, because it is home to me. I have visited every 3 years since I was 3 months old and I don’t really see it as one of my adventures. However thinking about it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t blog about it because it’s just as beautiful, interesting and history-rich as any other place I visit.
So, in addition to standard home life, I have done a bit of sightseeing in my first week here. My cousin Roel and I made a day trip to The Hague, I visited the windmills of Kinderdijk and I went to a food truck festival in Dordrecht with a cousin and her family.
The Hague (Den Haag) is in South Holland on the west coast of the country. It is the political capital of the nation, it’s where the government, the parliament and various homes of royal family members can be found. It is also where most foreign embassies can be found (I have personal experience with the Australian embassy, as a 16 year old I only had a Dutch passport and left Australia after my re-entry permit had expired. So I had to make a quick trip to the Aussie embassy to get a new permit so I could return home).
The Hague isn’t a city where I have spent much time, but it is a pretty cool place to visit. The city center has some fantastic architecture, some very important and historical buildings and a lovely atmosphere. An interesting art gallery in the city center that is worth visiting is Panorama Mesdag. The gallery was created simply to house the enormous 14m by 40m cylindrical panorama painting. Even for someone who isn’t into art, the idea of this massive cylindrical panorama is really cool, as a 16 year old at my last visit I can assure you I didn’t appreciate it as much as it is worthy of. Entry costs 10 euros.
Nearby The Hague is a place called Madurodam where much of the Netherlands has been re-created in miniatures. I used to love going as a kid, but haven’t returned since I was 18. Entry costs 13,50 euros. If you have never been to Madurodam, then I highly recommend it, it provides a fantastic insight into the country, the culture and the history.
Also, just a 2km walk/cycle from the city center is one of The Netherlands’ more famous beaches, Scheveningen. When you tease people about trying to pronounce crazy words from a different language, we use this beaches name. In my recent visit to The Hague, we had planned to cycle to Scheveningen, but ran out of time.
With some of those facts aside, my cousin Roel and I made a half day visit to The Hague. I really enjoyed wandering around the old city, stopping for coffee and simply enjoying the atmosphere. The contrast of old and new architecture is thoroughly fascinating. Mostly you see old buildings and new buildings, but every now and then you see old and new combined in one. The old government buildings are simply gorgeous and it’s almost worth visiting just to see them. The city has a really good vibe, I’m surely I only saw the tiniest portion of what it has to offer. I would highly recommend a visit if you are in the country.
Kinderdijk is the name of a town several kilometres up the highway from Sliedrecht. With the use of my auntie’s car with built-in GPS it took about 15 minutes to drive there.
Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site that is well known for the windmills. The area has 19 windmills dating from the 1500s. The windmills were originally created to control the water level in the region, which is now done by diesel pumps. One of the windmills is open to the public as a museum, but the remaining ones can only be viewed from outside.
The area is a beautiful spot to go for a stroll or cycle, you could probably even take a picnic lunch. I have been many times, but my most recent visit was when the windmills were lit up with flood lights at night time, which happens every year in the second week of September. I have seen many windmills in my life, but the night time perspective was simply stunning. For the event, entry was free, but during the day the entry fee is 7,50 euros.
Food Truck Festival
Dordrecht (often referred to as Dordt) is another town in the South Holland Province, the town where I lived and worked when in both my gap years. It’s a few kilometres from my home town of Sliedrecht, but is a slightly bigger town.
On September 12th I went to Dordt with a cousin and her family to a Food Truck Festival called Eterij op Wielen (Food on wheels). While the weather was overcast and drizzly which possibly affected the number of people visiting, it was still a fantastic and pleasant afternoon.
We shared some foods between the three adults: poffertjes (tiny dutch pancakes), pulled pork rolls, pulled chicken wraps, vegetarian pasta, hamburgers and of course a selection of wine. A fantastic afternoon/evening out!