Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in South Holland
Rotterdam’s brand new market hall is more than just a place to shop for produce and grab a bite; it’s an attraction in its own right. It features over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants and 15 shops, all located underneath an imposing horseshoe-shaped structure with glass facades consisting of 4,000 small windows hanged by steel cables – it is, in fact, the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, and as such, is considered an architectural masterpiece by many experts.
Additionally, the inside of the market is covered by more than 4,000 colorful tiles that give the horseshoe-shaped arch a boost of color, making it the largest artwork in the Netherlands. A 10th-century farm was uncovered seven meters underground during construction of the market, and several foundations and artifacts are now on exhibit throughout the market hall in homage to Rotterdam’s agricultural past.
With 7 million flower bulbs planted every year across 79 acres (32 hectares), Keukenhof Gardens is a colorful sea of 800 varieties of tulips and other spring flowers, attracting visitors from around the globe who want to see the Netherlands' iconic tulip fields. More than 9 miles (15 kilometers) of footpaths provide space to stroll around the park, take photos of flowers in bloom, and enjoy this Holland tradition.
Mauritshuis is home to one of the best collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the world. Often referred to as "the jewel box," the ornately elegant 17th-century mansion is a textbook example of Dutch classical architecture, built as the private residence of John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen.
Linking north and south Rotterdam across the River New Meuse, the Erasmus Bridge (Erasmusbrug is one of the city’s most notable landmarks. Opened in 1996, it’s striking for its single, angled pylon, which lends it the nickname “The Swan” (De Zwaan and makes it a must-see for visitors.
Even in a city with lots of out-of-the-ordinary architecture, Rotterdam’s Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen manage to stand out from the crowd. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom and built in the early 1980s, these yellow-and-gray cubic houses are perched at a 45-degree-angle, creating unusual lines and strangely shaped interiors.
Built using funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) is one of The Hague’s best-known landmarks. The grand neo-Renaissance building is home to the UN’s International Court of Justice, which hears legal disputes between states.
Rotterdam’s Euromast observation tower—which was built in 1960—rises to 607 feet (185 meters, making it the Netherlands’ tallest building. Extended to its current height in 1970, the observation tower offers restaurants, hotel suites, abseiling experiences, a viewing platform, and a rotating Euroscoop glass elevator with panoramic views.
The Church of St. Lawrence (Sint Laurenskerk) is the primary landmark of Rotterdam, and the only remaining building of medieval times in the city. The late-Gothic structure was built between 1449 and 1525, originally consecrated as a Catholic cathedral before being converted to a Protestant place of worship following the Reformation in 1572. Much of the ornate decoration from the interior was removed at this time.
For a time, from 1619 to 1642, the church was topped with a wooden spire designed by architect Hendrick de Keyser, but this was demolished due to rot. The next idea was to top the tower with a stone pinnacle, but this caused the tower to tilt, requiring new piles to be added under the foundation. Much of the remaining interior decoration was removed during the Batavian Revolution of 1795.
Sint Laurenskerk was heavily damaged in the German bombing of May 14, 1940, the images of which still symbolize the hardship the city endured during this period. After the bombing, there was controversy over whether to keep or demolish the church, and in the end, a restoration was agreed upon.
One of the main attractions of the Sint Laurenskerk is the Carillon of bells, which were originally installed in 1661 as a set of 36 designed by F. Hemony. More were later added during the post-war renovation, and there are now 49.
As the main railway station of the city of Rotterdam and one of the most important transportation hubs in all of the Netherlands with over 110,000 daily passengers in 2007 (as many as Amsterdam Schipol airport), Rotterdam Centraal was just recently renovated and reopened in March 2014. Because it is
now connected to several high-speed networks in Europe and because of its proximity to Schipol airport, it is expected that the numbers of daily passengers will increase to 323,000 by the year 2025.
In terms of architecture, the station has already received the acclaim of the industry thanks to its bold yet efficient design – a nod to the city’s architectural heritage, which is famous for being edgy and resolutely non-traditional. One of the main changes from the recent renovations works is the difference
between the north and south entrances; one faces the residential Provenierswijk neighborhood and the other, a futuristic, skyscraper-ridden commercial district. The station was designed so that commuters feel the gradual evolution from a more modest northern entrance with plenty of natural light and green
spaces merging into a metropolitan, dramatic allure to the south as the stations opens up onto a large and lively public square and a 5000-bike parking.
Transformed from a farmhouse into a stately home in 1533, Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) in The Hague was presented to William of Orange’s widow in recognition of her husband’s service to the Netherlands. Noordeinde Palace is one of four palaces across the country owned by the Dutch royal family and serves as the office of King Willem-Alexander.
More Things to Do in South Holland
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, and the most charming place to admire the traditional Dutch landmarks is at Kinderdijk. Just outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk’s 19 windmills date back to the 17th century and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Leiden's Museum De Lakenhal and the building it is housed in (the Laecken-Halle) are considered to be one of the best examples of Dutch Golden Age architecture in the Netherlands. For centuries, the building served as the inspection hall and the bustling center for Leiden's famous fabric trade, the products of which were exported to all corners of the world. The original façade of the 17th-century palace remains intact, although the interior has undergone quite a few changes over the centuries.
The site welcomed the Museum De Lakenhal in 1874, bringing in a diverse collection of works by Leiden-born master painters including Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucas van Leyden and Theo van Doesburg. With a focus on fine arts and Leiden history, the museum hosts visiting exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection. A mix of armaments, old tile, fabric, paintings and even an altarpiece from a 'hidden church' are tied together by the history of Leiden, allowing visitors to easily imagine what life in this historic city may have once been like.
The Old Harbor, or Oude Haven, of Rotterdam is the city’s first port, dating back to 1350. Today, the Old Harbor is an entertainment center of Rotterdam, with a unique mix of old and new structures and a collection of terraces and restaurants to enjoy some time to relax in the bustling city.
Rotterdam’s Old Harbor is home to a number of old sailing ships that harken back to the heyday of the city as a trading port. Alongside the harbor stands Het Witte Huis (The White House), recognized as the first skyscraper of Europe. Standing 45 meters, the White House was built in 1898, and was not only the first, but also the highest skyscraper in Europe.
The ten-story, art nouveau-style building was designed by Dutch architect Willem Molenbroek, and stands on 1,000 piles that keep it from sinking into the soft soil. It is one of the few buildings in Rotterdam to have survived the German bombing campaign of May 14, 1940.
The Old Harbor used to be the home of the Plan C business complex, built in 1880. This complex combined shops, offices and homes around central arcades, allowing shoppers to remain dry even during the rain. This complex was, in fact, one of the first shopping malls similar to the malls of today. Unfortunately, most of Plan C was destroyed in the bombing, and only the railing and some underpasses of the complex remain today.
Taking its place around the Old Harbor are the restaurants and modern apartments that the Old Harbor is known for today. Chief among these are Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, built in 1984. These houses, designed by Piet Blom, look like giant yellow blocks, tilted on their side and raised up on poles. The cube house complex is known as the Blaakse Bos, or Blaakse Forest, as each of the houses can be seen to look like a tree. One of the cube houses is open to the public, or you can spend the night at the Stayokay hostel, which is located within one of the cubes.
The area around the harbor has now been transformed into a center for dining and nightlife in Rotterdam. There are thirteen restaurant and cafes that surround the harbor, along with a CitizenM hotel.
Relishing in the glorious history of Dutch painting, Delft Vermeer Centre (Vermeer Centrum) celebrates the legacy of Johannes Vermeer, the famous painter who once called Delft home. In the Netherland’s Golden Age, Vermeer flourished as one of the most successful and highly regarded Dutch painters. His ‘Girl With the Pearl Earring’ painting has become one of the most recognizable in the world.
The museum expertly tells the story of his life and his works, while also highlighting the technique of other painters of the time. There are even pieces of his equipment and supplies that lend a glimpse into his artistic process.
The center is designed to show Delft as Veneer once saw it, allowing for a journey back to 17th century Holland and into his world of light and color. It teaches of his upbringing, mentors, and the influences that shaped him an his work. Visitors also have the opportunity to visit his studio and, using the camera obscura, play with light, composition, and perspective just as he once did.
Dating back to 1653, Royal Delft (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles) is the world’s best-known manufacturer of the Netherlands’ iconic blue-and-white porcelain goods. The factory—the only such manufactory that remains from the 17th century—is open to travelers looking to learn about this one-of-a-kind hand-painted stoneware.
The Museum Gouda specializes in religious art from the 16th century, paintings from the 'Haagse School' of the 19th century and 20th-century Dutch pottery. Visitors will get to know the classical scholar Erasmus, who grew up in Gouda and played on the street where the museum is now located, and Dirck Crabeth, the master artist who created eight of the stained-glass windows in the nearby St John Church (leading to the church being placed on the UNESCO list of monuments).
The museum has a large collection of smoking pipes, tiles, antique apothecary jars and a solid selection of works from artists such as Toorop and Redon. If this sounds like an eclectic mix, it is! But hundreds of years ago, beer, cheese, pipes and pottery were cornerstones of Gouda's economy, and the museum does a wonderful job of showcasing how the town developed over the years.
Behind the 17th-century façade of this palace—formerly the winter home of Queen Emma of the Netherlands—lies a series of lavishly appointed rooms plus an ornate Art Nouveau staircase and stained-glass skylights. It’s also home to a startlingly eccentric collection of works of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher.
The Hague’s 13th-century Binnenhof (Inner Court) complex encompasses several landmarks, including the Gothic Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights)—a state building characterized by medieval-style turrets. Now home to the Dutch Parliament, the heritage site attracts visitors with a blend of courtly features and political significance.
Rotterdam is famous around the world for its modern architecture, but this quirky feature came about by obligation rather than by imagination. The vast majority of the city was turned to ashes during the destructive Rotterdam Blitz by the German Air Force of 14 May 1940, but one building miraculously survived: the City Hall. Built between 1914 and 1940 as per Queen Wilhelmina’s request, it has a symmetrical design and a sober Renaissance style that is not without resemblance to other Dutch city halls. It features and four wings and a small interior courtyard, as well as two statues on either side of the main entrance: the ‘Portier’ (doorman) and the ‘Fiscus’ (tax collector); there are ten other statues scattered around the city hall’s gardens, each representing Rotterdam’s values and virtues. The most striking part of the building, however, is the 70-meter high tower featuring a clock, a bell, and an angel of peace. During the holiday season, Rotterdam's biggest Christmas tree is set up in front of the City Hall.
A visit to Kunsthal Rotterdam, one of the city’s most prestigious museums, offers the opportunity to appreciate both art and architecture. The dynamic institution is known for its ever-changing and intriguing exhibition program displayed in an architecturally inspired multifloored building, designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
Madurodam, a mini-Holland on a 1:25 scale, lets you tour the entirety of the Netherlands in an hour. One of Holland’s most popular attractions since its development in the Hague in 1952, it highlights the epitomes of Dutch culture in scale-model replicas of perfectly ornamented bridges, canals, windmills, and major national landmarks.
Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) is known for its successful conservation and breeding programs. Visit the zoo for the chance to see creatures from all around the globe, from African pygmy hippos to Asiatic lions, North American polar bears to Australian swamp wallabies. There’s even an on-site aquarium and butterfly garden.
Famous for its Delft Blue pottery and as the birthplace of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, the quaint town of Delft is ringed by scenic canals and located in the western Netherlands between Rotterdam and The Hague. Delft is also notable for its striking medieval buildings, lively market, and connections with the Dutch Royal Family.
Housed in a historic 15th century former monastery, this museum holds an impressive collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings. The Prisenhof Delfthas a fascinating history; after its use as a convent it served as the residence for William of Orange, who was murdered (bullet holes still visible) in the house by a fanatic in 1584. Operating today strictly as an art museum, its collection consists mostly of 17th century paintings and Delftware ceramics. There’s also rich period furniture, tapestries, portraits, pottery, and fine gold and silver items that give a sense of Dutch aristocracy.
Themes from the time period, including the life of Prince William of Orange and the House of Orange-Dassau, the city of Delft, and the Dutch Uprising, are all well represented in the art. The interior also gives visitors the chance to experience Dutch life much as it was in the 16th century. Interactive multimedia and video presentations do a great job of bringing the history to life.
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