10 Ways to Explore Holland by Water

The Netherlands should be underwater, but it's not. See how the Dutch have tamed the sea for more than a thousand years, and explore North and South Holland and beyond by river, swamp and canal for incredible views and adventures you just can't reach by car. Here are 10 must-dos in "the land of water."

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Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: HomeAway

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Sail Through Kinderdijk

I was recently invited by the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions to learn about Holland's rich maritime culture and history, and no place embodies this more than Kinderdijk. The UNESCO World Heritage site features 19 historic windmills still standing after hundreds of years. You can step inside a real, working windmill, cycle past the dikes and chat with millers preserving an almost extinct trade. But, for a unique view of the polder landscape and incredible photos of the windmills, hop aboard one of the park's cruises.

Tour Fairytale Geithoorn

No, this isn't a theme park or movie set. People actually live here. Nestled against the Weerribben-Wieden National Park, the idyllic village of Geithoorn sits on peat islands connected by more than 170 small wooden bridges. You can tour the adorable cottages with real thatched roofs in a "whisper boat." It doesn't get more fairytale than that. The open punter boats feature an electric motor that won't disturb the dozens of ducks and swans you're sure to see while gliding down the picturesque canals.

Take the Tulip Cruise

If tulips are on your bucket list, hop aboard the MS Magnifique for a "flower-full holiday." The five-day cruise includes cycling excursions through bulb fields, a visit to the iconic Keukenhof flower park and Amsterdam's famous flower market.

Kayak Weerribben-Wieden National Park

Nature lovers, especially birders, should make Weerribben-Wieden National Park a top priority. The largest marshland in Northwest Europe features unique reed beds that are the perfect home for rare birds such as the Black Tern. You can also spot Great Cormorants, Egrets and, if you're lucky, an otter. For complete serenity, stay in a charming waterfront cabin inside the park.

Shop Amsterdam's Floating Market

Hop aboard Bloemenmarkt, the world's only floating flower market, for a unique Dutch souvenir. Glasshouse barges along the Singel canal burst with tulips, peonies, orchids, snowdrops and more. If you can't travel with fresh flowers or bulbs, you can shop hundreds of seeds and other Dutch wares to take home.

Rent a Houseboat

To experience life like a true local, rent an authentic Dutch houseboat along one of Amsterdam's many canals. This adorable houseboat on HomeAway features a large wall of windows to open, catch the breeze and watch boaters pass by.

Take a Canal Tour

It may be touristy, but a canal cruise in Amsterdam is a great way for first-timers to get their bearings. Because the city is so compact, you can see a lot of the 18th-century architectural highlights in just an hour on the canals so cruising is a good activity for Amsterdam day-trippers. Make your cruise even more memorable with a themed ride, from the Dutch Pancake Boat to pizza cruises.

But Take Another Tour at Night

While a canal cruise by day allows you to pack in all the Amsterdam sights, if you can, make time for a cruise after dark for a completely different perspective. The Venice of the North lights up at night with glowing architecture and bright, flashing bridges with marquee-style bulbs. You don't have to book a crowded dinner cruise for this experience. Some Amsterdam home-rental hosts are incorporating excursions into their bookings and, when I visited the city, my HomeAway apartment included a private evening boat tour with my hosts.

Go Boating at Biesbosch National Park

Vacation like a local at De Biesbosch National Park. The freshwater delta has a web of tiny rivers and streams to explore via boat or canoe. And the nature reserve is known for its illusive mascot: the beaver. There are more than 100 dams in the nature preserve, and if you go out very early in the morning you just might spot one working on his creation.

Race Around Rotterdam

While the South Holland hub is incredibly walkable, you get the best views from out at sea. But hold on tight! The city's water taxis are not your typical ferries. These speedboats jet to more than 50 stops along the port of Rotterdam at 50 kph.

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