An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications

Molen de Ster

Dear Travel Publications and Websites:

You should apologize to my friends and readers. You see, you’ve got me ranting again. I noticed on Facebook that Travel + Leisure magazine was requesting hotel recommendations in Amsterdam, because they’re sending a reporter there next month. (Let me rant tangentially for a moment. Reporter? Really? That seems a bit grandiose of a term for someone writing about A’dam for a travel magazine.) Anyway, yes, a major travel publication is going to be reportingwriting about Amsterdam. Oh, but they’re going to be writing about some of the neighborhoods of Amsterdam. That’s different and branching out![/sarcasm]

I known I’m becoming a broken record on this topic, but I wouldn’t be if all of the travel magazines and websites weren’t broken records themselves. Just a few weeks ago, Mark Bittman, noted food writer, did a piece about Dutch cuisine for the New York Times. Yet he didn’t actually leave Amsterdam when trying various restaurants for his article and complained that restaurants in the Netherlands weren’t embracing their traditional Dutch cuisine. Perhaps he should have expanded his search. Furthermore, I really feel like they changed the title of that article. It now refers specifically to Amsterdam in the title, but I’m almost positive the original title was something more general along the lines of In Search of Dutch Cuisine. That was one of the reasons the article bothered me so much originally, because it was supposedly about Dutch cuisine, but never went outside A’dam.

What kills me is that we live in an age where everyone is so gung-ho to go off the beaten path and go to places that give you the real feel for the country and people, blah blah blah. Unless you’re visiting the Netherlands, it seems. Then you can’t leave Amsterdam. I sometimes wonder if people even know that there are other cities in the Netherlands. I’m pretty sure most people think that red-light districts and coffee shops are only in Amsterdam, which is very much not true. I mention these two things, because for a certain group of tourists, this is particularly of interest, especially the access to weed/pot/hash/ganja/maryjane/space cakes. People seem to think it’s only available in Amsterdam, when it’s quite the opposite. I can think of three coffee shops, just off the top of my head, that are within a five-minute walk (or much less) from my house. That’s not counting the various ones on the Oudegracht, if you prefer a bit more scenery.

Tall and Thin

Even if that’s not your thing, there’s plenty to do in other cities and you can see the same damn canals and narrow houses that you’ll see in A’dam. You want tourist trinket wooden clogs? Trust me, you’ll find them somewhere in most big cities, and you may actually find some of the trinkets cheaper than in Amsterdam!

Tourist traps aren’t for you? Then what are you doing in Amsterdam?! You prefer elegance, art, or something quirky? We’ve got the one-room hotel (Hotel Nieuwegracht) here in Utrecht on one of our famous and unique wharf canals. We’ve got innovative, modern fashion and homegoods in shops along Twijnstraat, Lijnmarkt, and elsewhere. We’ve got the stylish new Hotel Dom, with it’s attractive restaurant and bar right next door to the cathedral. We’ve got beautiful parks, fine dining, and interesting museums. We’ve got the Trajectum Lumen nightly art light displays that surely top any red-light display. We’ve got windmills! We’ve even got a UFO on top of a building!

But Are They Legal?

I recommend Utrecht, because it’s what I know, but really, there’s no excuse for every magazine and website to constantly focus only on Amsterdam. Den Haag (The Hague) is a beautiful city and more than just an international court. Rotterdam is a fascinating modern Dutch city. Arnhem is the green jewel of Europe. Maastricht gives you a southern take on Dutchness. I’ve worked as a magazine editor. I know how easy it is to run essentially the same story every year, especially if you’ve got a small budget. But when you’ve got CondΓ© Nast and American Express Publishing Company behind you, you’ve got the budget to search out new and interesting places. That means you’ve got no excuse to be doing the same tired article about visiting Amsterdam that everyone and their mother has already published a million times.

If it’s your first visit to the Netherlands, then of course you should visit Amsterdam. You can even make it your base. But if you’re staying more than a day or two, why not visit other places? Especially when those places are sometimes only a half-hour train ride away. You probably travel that long just to get to work each day! Be that traveler who takes the road less traveled, who lives with the natives, who goes off the beaten path. The best part is that here in the Netherlands, you can do all of that in stylish comfort and you probably won’t have to eat anything too weird. Well, except for the herring. Mmmmm. Lekker!

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40 thoughts on “An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications

  1. Well written! While I do have a certain penchant for Amsterdam (what can I say; it’s home), the other cities of the Netherlands are equally as charming–and some are even more so than the capital. Especially those in Friesland (Sneek, IJlst…) and of course, Utrecht πŸ™‚

    Greets from up North!

    • Every once in a while, someone will mention Friesland and stuff like the waddenlopen, but yeah, that’s about as rare as Lonely Planet finally giving Utrecht a mention. I do enjoy Amsterdam when I go; I just wish people in publishing would remember there’s more to the country than one city. πŸ™‚

  2. You nailed it! I do love Amsterdam, but I think there is so much more that our little adopted country has to offer. Personally, I love just hoping on a bus or train and getting off in whatever town I see a promising looking building. Also, I miss you, stop working and take a coffee break with me!

    • Exactly. There’s always something pretty or interesting to see somewhere. I mean, I’ve lived here for coming up on four years and I still gawk like a tourist when I see a particularly “Dutch” looking building or landscape scene. Surely someone just visiting would be even more easily amused/amazed. πŸ™‚

      Are you free some time next week? I think my birthday is next Thursday and if nothing else, I’m determined to be somewhat social at least one day next week!

  3. It’s the same in most every EU country, I think. People stick to Rome, Paris, London..Which are all fabulous cities of course. Venturing out into less known territories forces people to think outside the box; and while lots of travelers do, there are many that find it to be too much.

    Whenever I hear people say they are only going to A’dam, I tell them it’s a wonderful city (it is) but to please consider hopping on a train and visiting other spots. As far as ‘Dutch cuisine’ goes- uhhhmmm…well, it’s nothing to write home about, haha! I would suggest restaurants that have good reps, etc. but are not necessarily ‘Dutch’.

    Nice write up on Utrecht, Ali πŸ˜‰ And yeah, when are we getting together for a beer?

    • The kicker is that there are usually at least one or two other cities in other countries that people at least seem to know about and consider visiting, even though it often takes more time to travel to them than it does to get anywhere here in tiny NL. That’s why it amazes me that travel sites never talk about anywhere other than Amsterdam. Sure, not every visitor is going to want to branch out, but at least the travel sites and magazines should let them know what’s out there!

      I’m still getting over this cold from hell, but are you free this Thursday maybe?

  4. Good rant! You should work for a tourist office πŸ™‚ But eriously, you’re absolutely right, I too get the feeling all the time that The Netherlands=Amsterdam=clogs/weed/prostitues. Which is rather insulting for the rest of the country and it’s culture, to say the least. And especially to Utrecht, the city I love, and that has the same things to offer as Amsterdam, only cheaper, more truly Dutch then tourist-trap Amsterdam and with a beautiful cathedral to boot. O, and lower-level wharfs with cozy little restaurants where you can eat AND feed the ducks at the same time. Eat that, Amsterdam!

    There. My own little rant to compliment yours πŸ™‚

    • Excellent! Seriously, the wharves alone should more than merit a visit! πŸ™‚ Plus, Utrecht is so much more accessible, but there’s still more than enough to do to fill quite a few days.

      Are you free next week at some point, even if just for a couple of hours? I’m dying to check out Josephine on Twijnstraat. They have macarons!

  5. But the cool UFO artwork thing on the “Inktpot” (that’s it’s nickname in case you’re wondering) building has disappeared since you took that photo I think… sadly. It looked so cool πŸ™‚

  6. We’ve talked about this before, so you know that I agree 100% with you about this. It makes me very angry too, that A’dam seems to get all the attention all the time – I will agree that it is an extraordinary city to explore but hey, the Netherlands is not the same as Holland and out there you will get to see probably less hordes of tourists like you and get to see what the country really is about. There are beautiful cities in the rest of the country like the ones you’ve mentioned.
    I was thinking of posting about the blubs/tulip season soon, and I was just thinking that all the tourists go to Keukenhof and Lisse, when actually most of the production of bulbs and tulips come from the Noordoostpolder in Flevoland. The Floriade starting in April in Limburg is going to be huuuuge, and do people know about it? Does anybody really care to write about it? Yes, Keukenhof is beautiful and world famous but it’s not the only gigantic flower exhibition taking place in the Netherlands.

    • I think I’ve only vaguely heard of the Floriade, but then I’m not very up on my flowers. The bloemenmarkt is usually enough for me. πŸ˜‰ But you’re right, more people should know about it. There is such a wealth of topics to write about, which makes it even stranger that publications choose to continuously write about the one same place. You’d think the editors themselves would be sick of reading the same stuff every year. I know I got sick of it when I was editing! πŸ™‚

      • Sure – Keukenhof/Floriade thing was just an example. About Dutch cuisine – how about Bourgondisch or Zeeuws? People tend to think that it’s all about haring and stampot but if you don’t bother to find out first and go out and explore once you are here, well, probalby you don’t deserve to taste good food anyway. Besides, it’s a small country, for God’s sake!

  7. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. And, you know, I’ve tried to pitch travel articles to travel pubs about other parts of the Netherlands, but they’re not interested because it’s not about Amsterdam, making the topics too obscure. That’s why I was so glad to see that Lonely Planet article you shared listing Utrecht as one of “10 of the world’s most unsing places.” The other thing that drives me bonkers is when I tell people or they hear that I live in the Netherlands and they automatically assume I live in Amsterdam. they ask me all kinds of questions about Amsterdam, no matter how many times I tell them that I can’t answer their questions because I don’t know the answers… I don’t live in Amsterdam! It’s even worse now that we moved to Amersfoort. People automatically read/hear it as Amsterdam. Oy! Thank you for this!

    • It’s insane that anything outside Amsterdam is considered obscure. Of course, if they’d actually publish some articles about other places, it wouldn’t be obscure anymore. Catch 22, I guess! Thanks for the RT, by the way.

  8. Hear! Hear! Alison, you tell ’em. I find the whole focus on amsterdam by foriegners amusing at first and then increasingly annoying. There is lot’s to do in the Netherlands, and that includes Amsterdam, only includes though. On the other hand I secretly kinda like the fact that amsterdam is the huge tourist trap. More tourism in Utrecht would be good for the city but I certainly would NOT want the endless hordes of zombified phototakers, that constitutes a lot of the mass tourism in Amsterdan invading my own beloved city. I’d like more people to enjoy Utrecht, but I am also protective of it LOL

    • I know what you mean. I want Utrecht to be more appreciated and be visited a bit more, but I don’t want to be inundated with awful tourists. πŸ™‚ It’s such a fine line! I’ve definitely noticed an increase in tourism here in Utrecht over the past year, as the city has made more of an effort. I’ve started seeing actual tour groups, which I hadn’t noticed my first couple of years here.

  9. I totally agree with everything you have said Alison, there are many beautiful cities and towns in the Netherlands, but the focus is too much on cities like Amsterdam and De Hague.

    • I’m always surprised that I see listings for events and such in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Den Haag, but then nothing for Utrecht. I’ve seen travel tv programs do the same. If you’re going to cover the other three major randstad cities, why not include Utrecht, the fourth? Especially since we’re such a pretty city and easy to get around.

  10. This makes me feel a little smug that I’ve been reading your blog, as well as that of Aledys, for some time because I realize it is quite possible that I now know more than the editors of Travel & Leisure about the Netherlands. πŸ™‚

  11. Hi Alison,

    For my work I am in Utrecht almost everyday. I drive around to visit customers who are located in all kinds different neighborhoods. Each part of the city has its owm charm. Sometimes it’s a sculpture, an ancient building or a fantastic playground for kids. I have lived here all my life and the city still surprises me in a good sense. I love my Utrecht.

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s been such a pleasure to hear from so many others who love this wonderful city, especially those who have lived here for a long time. It’s so true that there’s always something interesting to see, no matter where you go.

    • It’s been great to see the positive response to this piece. I might have to pass it along to the editors so they can see that there IS interest in places outside of Amsterdam!

  12. Hey! Thanks for the interesting post. I just got back from a three week trip about the Benelux region (my first trip to Europe) and spent ten of those days in the Netherlands (four nights in Amsterdam with a Haarlem half day trip, two in Utrecht, two in Leiden, one in Rotterdam and one in Domburg) and still felt apologetic for not seeing more!) When I returned no one had heard of almost anywhere but Amsterdam (I was surprised that even Rotterdam was unknown to some). I had been hunting about for ideas of things to see and to get a feel for Utrecht before I left and now it’s nice to see photos of somewhere I’ve been (however brief!) I had lovely weather when I was there: March 18-20.

    A couple of Dutch girls I met in Amsterdam before I left for your fair city said if they couldn’t live in Amsterdam they’d pick Utrecht and I could see why. (I found some lovely second hand boots but had to space to pack them! Also stopped into Josephine for coffee and something sweet so it was neat to see it here on your blog) Utrecht has so much to offer (and as you say, given people’s penchant for escaping the larger hoards of other tourists) I’m surprised magazine’s wouldn’t give it more mention.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip to Utrecht — and that you got around to see so many other places. It’s a shame that so few cities are known, when there’s so much to see without exactly having to go off the beaten path. πŸ˜‰

  13. Pingback: Utrecht: Come Visit | A Flamingo in Utrecht

  14. Pingback: Utrecht: Come Visit | International Almere

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