More than windmills and tulips: beaches, islands, authentic villages and undiscovered green destinations
Why visit the Netherlands
There is probably no better country for making cycle tours that take you along green landscapes, small canals, traditional windmills and authentic villages. In spring you will see the colourful daffodil and tulip fields, along with the numerous green holiday parks and the quiet walks in sand dune habitats, all along the coast. There are many small cities rich in 17th century cultural heritage.
Distances in the Netherlands are short. Why not avoiding the crowds and discover other wonderful places at the same time?
Discover here the best green destinations in The Netherlands to add to your trip.
The Netherlands has 17 million inhabitants, 22 million bicycles and 35,000 kilometers cycle path. It ranks 7 in the latest country sustainability ratings and it has preserved and restored much of its cultural heritage. However, the climate crisis will have serious implications. 25% of the country is already below sea level and more low lands "polders" are sinking due to agricultural practices. Nitrogen emissions from livestock (cattle and pigs) and traffic are highest of Europe and cause huge biodiversity loss in nature areas.
Facing overtourism in several areas, achieving sustainability in tourism is a priority for the Netherlands government. One of their key actions is to spread tourism throughout the country away from more touristic places, as well as encouraging near-by tourism for local people.
In the words of Thomas Heerkens of Landal Greenparks:
‘People should be more aware that a holiday in your own country is an attractive and sustainable alternative’.
New Tourism Policy
Fighting overtourism in Amsterdam and the bulb region, by showing tourists that the distances here are small and by inspiring them to consider other areas. For this the government has decided to:
– Create awareness of tourism behavior.
– Reward sustainable initiatives and tax polluting activities.
– Make investments in soft mobility: developing the range of electric mobility and making bikes and electric bikes more easily accessible to visitors.
– Encourage the use of public transport and improve the booking-paying-traveling experience for tourist
Did you know?
The Netherlands is home to more bikes than people
There are around 18 million bikes in the country, including the clever (if not so elegant) bakfiets which combine a bike and a wheelbarrow. Ideal for taking the kids to school, bakfiets are even occasionally used for moving house. Dutch cycle an average distance of 2.9km per day and use bicycles for more than a quarter of all trips, compared to just 2 percent in the UK.
The Dutch government plans to ban the sales of petrol and diesel-powered cars in 2025
To promote green energy, the motion has been passed by the lower house but still needs to be ratified by the Senate. The government’s goal is to have only electric cars driving on Dutch streets in the future.
Reduce your footprint and try to avoid Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: its annual 500,000 flights are reported to cause serious nuisance and health impacts to 160,000 residents. From many European cities it is easy to reach any part of the Netherlands using trains, buses or ferries.
The public transportation network will get you anywhere, at reasonable costs. 9292 offers info on connections. Your best buy is an OV chip card to use any train, bus or tram service.
Car drivers: be aware the country has huge rush-hour traffic jams and expensive car fuel. More and more cities discourage car access, especially for SUVs and diesel cars.
Cyclists: OV bicycles can be rented at most railway stations. In cities, cyclists dominate the traffic, but be careful anywhere else! Inexperienced cyclists better wear a helmet.
Motor cyclists: making unnecessary noise is an offence and a nuisance for many.
Tourism & People
Amsterdam, Giethoorn and Kinderdijk are suffering from serious over-tourism. Many tourists don't respect residents' privacy or properties like gardens and flower fields which are damaged for taking pictures. This is very annoying for residents and the owners of the properties. In some tourism hotspots locals are literally chased away by tourist misbehaviour.
Many other towns are in the danger zone, but only ten Dutch destinations participate in sustainable tourism programs, trying to preserve their true values and to avoid over-tourism.
In the Netherlands human rights are well respected.
Travel tips from our editors
Avoid Amsterdam’s bustle
Cannot resist Amsterdam? Consider a 1-day visit to the museums around Museumplein and to explore some canals nearby. The city centre with a population of only 86.000 had 17 million overnight visitors in 2018, and is a hotspot for drugs, illegal weapons, crime and noisy events. Many locals are sad that the traditional establishments are replaced by international fast food & coffee outlets and trendy shops. The last flower sellers left is the famous floating Flower Market because of too many tourist just taking pictures and only buying cheap souvenirs.
Skip "theme park" Giethoorn
Once a hidden gem, an entrepreneur started to promote this small green pearl (with only 2600 inhabitants) to China, resulting in exploding visitor numbers (365,000 in 2019). This example shows that lack of regulations can also destroy visitor experience in very small places. Many visitors treat the village as a theme park, not respecting private properties. Chaotic boat traffic damage the traditional wooden bridges and the narrow canals. Many residents are annoyed and now the poor place is officially labeled as over-tourism.
Check before going to Zandvoort
If you are considering visit the Amsterdam beach (Zandvoort) or Kennemerduinen National Park, check the Circuit Zandvoort calendar first to avoid unpleasant noise from the race and traffic jams. A tip for you is to walk along the beach from Zandvoort to the south; you’ll hear less noise, thanks to the sea!
Get away from the crowds
Go for fresh air in the river delta of the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt: visit Westvoorne, Goeree-Overflakkee, Schouwen-Duiveland or Veere. These are all Award-winning destinations in Green Destinations’ QualityCoast program, and together they won a prestigious Nature Award at ITB Berlin in 2019, the world’s leading travel trade show.
Enjoy the Dutch dunes coast
Close to Amsterdam? Visit Noordwijk and Katwijk; best accessible by public bus service from Leiden Central railway station. From end of March till early May, rent a bike in Noordwijk (or Leiden) and explore the tulip fields. Close to Rotterdam? Catch a train to Hoek van Holland, make a dune and beach walk and be amazed by the massive ships heading for the Port of Rotterdam.
Go to the east
Take the train to the beautiful city of Nijmegen for historical monuments and city walks, abundant cultural activities and the river, where you can go for a walk or relax near the water. Then rent a bike or take a bus service to another true Green Destination: Berg en Dal (around Groesbeek). “Berg” means hill (do the N70 hike, taking you over eight hills) and “Dal” refers to the low lands (do a bike tour in the Ooijpolder).
A green island in the north
The Wadden Sea in the north is a UNESCO Heritage site, bordered by several “wadden islands”. The only one participating in Green Destinations programs is Ameland, which aims to become energy neutral soon and offers hiking and biking through dunes and polders. Take train and bus to Holwerd, and then the ferry crossing the Wadden Sea. Spot seals and birds.
Nine destinations in the Netherlands have been recognized for considerable efforts in sustainable and responsible tourism:
Recognised with the “QualityCoast Silver” ecolabel (or higher) are:
Ameland, Noordwijk, Katwijk, Hoek van Holland, Westvoorne, Goeree-Overflakkee and Schouwen-Duiveland.
Recognised with the “Green Destinations Silver” ecolabel (or higher) are:
Nijmegen and Berg en Dal.
One destination is fully certified by Green Destinations:
This means that this destination meets the global standard for tourism sustainability.
Certifications and recognitions
The ” Green Key” certification
Green Key is the international quality mark for sustainable companies in the leisure and leisure industry and business market. Companies with a Green Key quality mark do everything they can to save the environment without sacrificing comfort and quality for their guests. They go one step further than the normal laws and regulations require.
The ” ECEAT ” certification
European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism is the leading European organisation in the field of hundreds small-scale accommodations and tourist services all over Europe, offering sustainable quality of tourist services and approves their contribution to local communities and protection of the environment.
The ” Blue Flag ” certification
The iconic Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognised voluntary eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators. In order to qualify for the Blue Flag, a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained.
The EerlijkWinkelen Foundation
The foundation aims to show consumers the way to stores that sell fair trade, organic and/or second-hand products. The attention for sustainability and the range of sustainable products is growing in cities.
Zeker Zeeuws Foundation
Zeeuws Streekproduct is an independently recognized regional quality mark that guarantees that a product is truly Zeeland. This means that it has been grown, cultivated, fished or produced with Zeeland raw materials in Zeeland. Moreover, this has been done in a sustainable manner, with respect for the environment, people and animals.