Updated: Jun 3, 2020
So, you're moving to the Netherlands. You’ve read all the practical information about housing and bank accounts etc. So now for the fun stuff - what life is really going to be like when you live here.
Pretty much everybody in The Netherlands owns a bicycle.
Bikes in The Netherlands really are a great way to get around. Every town and city has designated cycle paths and the journey by bike is often faster than taking public transport. It’s also much easier to park a bike, especially in cities where car-parking costs are high and spaces far between.
Most people use their bikes all day, getting to and from work on them as well as coming home by bike after a night out. Although you can be stopped by the police if you bike after drinking (obviously not something we recommend doing), in reality this only happens if you cycle so badly to be an obvious danger for yourself and others. The police would normally rather you got home than have to deal with you. More likely is that the police stop and fine you for not having lights or cycling whilst holding a phone. You only need to have the phone in your hand to risk a fine, irrespective of whether you are actually using it. They make good money for fining people so be careful out there!
If you bike, make sure to invest in a lock and to actually use it. A well-circulated photo even shows Prime Minister Rutte locking his bike right next to a royal guard when visiting the Dutch king! His bike was probably safe, but better to be careful than lose it.
Aside from being a great way to get around biking helps keep you fit and healthy. It is not uncommon for internationals to comment how moving to The Netherlands forced them to get active and lose weight!
Dutch summers and outside life
The Netherlands is not exactly famous for having great weather, but as soon as the sun comes out so does everyone else.
There are several beach areas on the Dutch coast, most of which can be easily reached by public transport, bike or car. If you drive on a sunny weekend, good luck finding a place to park! Sunbathing, swimming and kite-surfing are all popular, and during the summer Dutch beaches are lined with semi-permanent restaurants and bars. During spring and autumn, most of these have well-publicized opening and closing parties some of which get sold out in advance
Dutch towns and cities contain a lot of parks and other green spaces. Outdoor barbecues are allowed in many parks or other specific locations, whilst parks are often full of people eating a picnic or drinking alcohol. Many parks either stay open very late or through the night, so there’s no need to rush home until you’re ready. Enterprising companies and individuals walk round on sunny days selling drinks or snacks to those lying around – talk about service… In cities, if you or your neighbours have access to a shared garden or roof terrace area you can expect barbecues and parties almost every weekend.
If you prefer not to sit on the sand or in a park, many Dutch bars and restaurants have an outside seated area or terrace. Many have been built or extended in 2020 to enable people to keep their distance following their reopening after the initial lockdown for Corona.
The summer is also the best time for boat trips in the countryside or along city canals. There are man-made urban beaches within city limits, or people lying alongside river banks / taking a quick dip in the river or canal. In Amsterdam specifically this has increased in popularity over recent years, with specially allocated areas where swimming is encouraged such as the waters around the Marineterrein and Homelands brewery.
The Netherlands sometimes promotes itself internationally as being like the spider in the web.
The country has great connections to the rest of Europe and in non-Corona times is a very accessible place to travel to and from. Germany and Belgium can be reached by train or car, and there are fast non-stop train lines to many cities including London, Brussels, Paris, Cologne, Frankfurt or even further afield to Basel, Munich and Berlin. Schiphol airport has connections to all corners of the globe, with both national airlines and cheaper carriers also operating flights to and from other smaller Dutch airports.
Large International Community
If you move to one of the main Dutch cities (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Eindhoven), then you’ll find a large international community. This is also the case in certain smaller cities including Haarlem, Utrecht and Groningen.
This makes it easy to meet people when you first arrive. Many other international people are new or comparatively recent arrivals, and looking to make friends and connect with other people. Organisations like MeetUp or Internations have large memberships especially among the international community, plus there are loads of Facebook and other groups offering advice, networking opportunities or friendships for both new arrivals and long-term residents.
Another advantage of there being so many internationals is that in the main cities especially it is easy to get by with little or no knowledge of Dutch. This is definitely an advantage when you first arrive though the longer you stay the more you will be encouraged and expected to have learnt at least some Dutch.
For those relocating from cities like London or Tokyo, the Dutch work-life balance may come as something of a shock.
A high proportion of people only work part-time, with one repeating day off either each week or every second week. Working at least 1 set day per week from home was common even before Corona, especially for employees with children. These types of arrangements are usually fixed points in an employment contract, so the boss cannot easily change the rules without prior agreement. Most companies do allow overtime, but this is not always an option. Offices are physically closed with no access outside of working hours and officially at least many companies discourage logging in on your own time.
In certain companies it can be acceptable to take time out during work hours for things which elsewhere might be done on your own time. The internet is full of jokes about Dutch colleagues having their hair cut or going shopping during working hours, though in reality this type of attitude is much less common than bloggers might have you believe.
Local Beers and Beer Festivals
The Netherlands may be famous for Heineken but don’t be fooled into thinking this the only beer available. In reality many Dutch people avoid mass-produced beers like Amstel or Heineken which they consider to be lower quality than other beers.
Over the last few years especially companies brewing craft beers have sprung up and expanded massively in The Netherlands. Smaller breweries have large followings especially in the city or town where they are located. IJ Bier, Homeland, de Prael, Butcher’s Tears, Brouwen door Vrouwen and Oedipus are among the better-known breweries operating in Amsterdam whilst Jopen is long-established in Haarlem. Texel beers come from the north, and Oproer from Utrecht. And this is just the beginning, there are far too many to list here.
Luckily the Dutch are fans of beer festivals. In more normal years during summer months especially, there are small and large beer festivals almost every weekend. If you don’t fancy a festival, many of these beers are sold in bars, supermarkets or speciality beer stores. During Corona lockdown many breweries also started up their own home delivery services.
King’s Day, Canal Pride and other festivals
There are many other Dutch festivals in a normal non-lockdown year.
King’s Day is a national holiday celebrating the King’s birthday on 27th April. Everyone dresses in orange, with kids or adults selling everything from unwanted toys, bric a brac and homemade cakes on the street. Canal Pride is a huge boat parade in Amsterdam celebrating the lesbian, gay and bisexual community every August. And anyone living in the Catholic south should expect parades with floats alongside fancy dress public drinking in the weeks leading up to lent in February/March.
There are also music and other cultural festivals to suit a range of tastes across the country and throughout the year. Not to mention all the small food or wine festivals, museum night and various theatre events.
I’m definitely not alone in staying in the Netherlands far longer than I’d originally planned! It truly is a fantastic place to live and we hope you’re looking forward to taking part in some of the activities above…