Whether you’re mapping out your itinerary or dreaming about canals and tulip fields, we’ve rounded up the best books about the Netherlands to read before visiting. In this post, we’ll share a selection of books to enhance your Netherlands trip that will help you appreciate and understand this captivating country, even before you start packing.
From engaging novels and profound histories to enchanting children’s stories, helpful travel guides, and a mouth watering cookbook, there’s a perfect book for every type of traveler and bibliophile.
As the founder of Trip Scholars, I love diving deep into a country’s rich tapestry before and after my trips. I have had the great joy of exploring the Netherlands myself and here I’ve compiled some of the finest books on the Netherlands and invited other travel writers to share their top picks as well. Give it a read to find the best books to enjoy before your Netherlands trip!
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Fictional Netherlands Books
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a famous painting by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. He is a great master of the 17th century Baroque movement and is known for his depiction of ordinary people and everyday scenes, often set in his home in Delft.
This intriguing portrait has raised many questions about the anonymous subject. Who is she? Why is she wearing a huge pearl earring and a turban? What is she thinking? Is she smiling to seduce the painter?
Tracey Chevalier has imagined a fictional backstory about the girl and the artist loosely based on history. A 16-year-old Dutch girl named Griet is hired as a servant by Johannes and his wife Catharina. Griet cleans the artist’s work area and captures his attention. First, she is his assistant, and as their intimacy grows, she sits for him as a model.
Catharina discovers the portrait of Griet wearing her pearl earring. She is furious and Griet and tensions rise. Later Griet receives a mysterious package containing the set of pearl earrings from an unknown sender.
Be sure to read the full story and piece together the puzzle before visiting the Hague to see the masterpiece for yourself.
Contributed by Jennifer at Illuminated Experiences
The Assault by Harry Mulsich
This not so voluminous, but impressive novel has had great significance for the Netherlands since its publication in 1982 and has quickly become a classic. Mulisch, one of the ‘big three’ of Dutch literature, tells the story of Anton Steenwijk, a boy who witnesses the murder of a collaborating police officer at the end of WWII, and the influence of this event on his life.
Mulisch masterfully connects Anton’s personal tragedy with the post-war history of the Netherlands. He succeeds in providing an in-depth insight into the Dutch national character and the impact of war trauma. Guilt, innocence, victimization, and perpetrator hood seem obvious at first, but gradually Mulisch paints an in-depth, complex picture and in the end, it becomes clear that one story can contain different truths.
The main setting of this book is Amsterdam where Anton spends most of his adult life. A lot of famous places in the city are mentioned in the book, like the Prinsengracht and the Keizersgracht where he lives, the Wilhelmina Gasthuis where he works as a doctor, and the Museumplein, places that you will surely visit when you embark on a trip to Amsterdam!
Contributed by Annelies at Travelers & Dreamers
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is a historical novel set in 17th-century Amsterdam. It follows the story of a young woman named Petronella Oortman, who marries a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt.
As a wedding gift, Johannes gives Nella a miniature replica of their home, to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist. The miniaturist’s creations seem to expose the secrets of the Brandt household, eerily predicting real-life events.
As Nella unravels the mysteries surrounding the miniaturist and navigates the complexities of her new family, she grows from a naive girl into a strong, independent woman.
The Miniaturist is a fascinating novel which brings Golden Age Amsterdam to life. It will add an extra dimension to your visit to Amsterdam, particularly if you visit the Golden Bend and some of the grand houses in the area. The Huis Willet-Holthuysen and the Museum of the Canals are both wonderful places to visit after reading the book.
Don’t miss seeing the elaborate dolls houses in the Rijksmuseum which inspired the author, particularly the one which was owned by a woman named Petronella Oortman. While the novel isn’t the real Petronella’s story, you can’t help but think about what she was really like.
Contributed by Helen on Her Holidays
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“The Fault in Our Stars” is a poignant novel by John Green that follows the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenage girl with cancer, who meets Augustus Waters, a charming and witty boy also battling the disease, at a support group. Despite their health struggles, Hazel and Augustus form a deep and meaningful connection, sharing their fears, dreams, and love for literature.
As their romance blossoms, they embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favorite author, but their journey is fraught with emotional challenges and heartbreaking revelations. Through their experiences, they confront the fragility of life, the complexities of love, and the importance of cherishing every moment.
Several locations in Amsterdam are mentioned in “The Fault in Our Stars,” including The Anne Frank House, where Hazel and Augustus visit and learn about the life of Anne Frank and her experiences during the Holocaust, The Rijksmuseum where they view famous works of art, including Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” and The Hotel Filosoof where stay during their time in Amsterdam.
When visiting Amsterdam after having read “The Fault in Our Stars,” these local places come to life, allowing the reader to even further understand the love and longing both Hazel Grace and Augustus were feeling at this time and creating an even deeper connection to the sights and experiences in Amsterdam.
Contributed by Mackenzie Jervis at A Wandering Scribbler
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
“Girl in Hyacinth Blue” by Susan Vreeland is a beautifully woven tapestry of stories connected by a single piece of art—a fictional Vermeer painting. Vreeland takes readers on a journey through time, tracing the painting’s history back through the centuries, exploring the lives it touched and the various owners whose stories paint a vivid picture of Dutch history and culture. Each chapter delves into a different period, from the painting’s creation to its existence in modern times, revealing the profound impact art can have on individuals across generations.
This novel is a celebration of the enduring power of art and its ability to connect us to the past. Vreeland’s meticulous attention to historical detail and her deep understanding of human emotions make the stories compelling and the characters relatable. The painting itself, though fictional, embodies the essence of Vermeer’s style and the Golden Age of Dutch art, serving as a focal point for a rich exploration of themes such as love, loss, and the search for beauty in everyday life.
Reading “Girl in Hyacinth Blue” before visiting the Netherlands will enhance your trip by adding depth to your understanding of Dutch art and its historical context. As you wander through museums like the Rijksmuseum or the Mauritshuis, you’ll find yourself looking beyond the surface of the canvases, contemplating the lives and stories that each piece of art encapsulates. This novel promises to transform your museum visits into personal encounters with history, inviting you to see not just the art, but the human experience reflected within.
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
Before you pack your bags for the land of bicycles and canals, immerse yourself in the intoxicating world of “Tulip Fever” by Deborah Moggach. This novel, set in the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, a period when the Netherlands was at the zenith of its power and tulips became objects of unprecedented speculation and desire, offers a tantalizing glimpse into a fascinating chapter of Dutch history.
The story revolves around a young orphan, Sophia, who is married off to a much older merchant, Cornelis Sandvoort. Their lives take a dramatic turn when Cornelis commissions a portrait of them from a talented young artist, Jan van Loos, setting off a chain of events fueled by love, betrayal, and obsession against the backdrop of the tulip mania that gripped the nation.
Reading “Tulip Fever” before visiting the Netherlands will enrich your experience by adding layers of historical context and emotional depth to the places you visit. As you wander through Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum or stroll past the flower markets, you’ll find yourself transported back to the opulent world depicted in Moggach’s novel. Understanding the tulip mania phenomenon will give you a unique perspective on the Dutch character, shaped by a history of commerce, art, and an unparalleled affinity for beauty and the risks they’re willing to take for it.
This novel is not just a historical romance; it’s a window into the soul of the Netherlands, offering insights into the complexities of its people and their enduring love affair with tulips. “Tulip Fever” promises to add a vivid, emotional dimension to your Dutch voyage, making the experience not just a trip but a journey through time.
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
“Lust for Life” by Irving Stone is a vivid and immersive biographical novel that brings to life the tumultuous story of Vincent van Gogh. Set against the backdrop of the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, this meticulously researched narrative captures the intensity of van Gogh’s world, from the vibrant landscapes that inspired his paintings to the inner turmoil that drove his genius.
Stone’s portrayal of van Gogh is deeply empathetic, tracing the artist’s life from his early attempts to serve as a pastor in impoverished mining communities to his final years as a painter, where he produced some of the most iconic works in the history of art despite struggling with mental illness and poverty. The novel explores van Gogh’s relationships, his unwavering dedication to his art, and his quest for understanding and beauty in a world that often seemed indifferent to his vision.
“Lust for Life” is one of the best books about the Netherlands that you can read before your trip because it offers travelers a profound connection to the landscapes and cities that van Gogh immortalized in his work. I first read this book as a teenager and was transformed by it. Decades later, it helped to make my visits to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam peak experiences and incredibly moving.
By reading this book before your trip, readers will feel a deeper connection to the artist and his work. “Lust for Life” is not just a book about an artist; it’s an invitation to experience the transformative power of art and the beauty of the Netherlands through the passionate spirit of Vincent van Gogh.
Nonfiction Books About the Netherlands
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank is an essential read for anyone visiting the Netherlands, offering a poignant and deeply personal perspective on the horrors of World War II and the enduring human spirit. Written by Anne, a young Jewish girl, while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, this diary is a powerful testament to the optimism, resilience, and introspection of a young soul in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Anne’s observations and reflections, penned in the seclusion of the Secret Annex, bring to life the daily challenges, fears, and hopes of those living under Nazi occupation. Her insightful and often profound commentary on human nature, set against the backdrop of a dark period in history, makes the diary a timeless document of youth, growth, and survival.
Visiting the Anne Frank House, where Anne and her family hid, becomes a much more impactful experience after reading her diary. Walking through the same rooms that Anne described with such vivid detail in her writings connects visitors to her world in a deeply personal way. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the themes of persecution, freedom, and the importance of remembering history.
Reading “The Diary of a Young Girl” before traveling to the Netherlands will not only enrich your visit to the Anne Frank House but also offer a profound connection to the city of Amsterdam itself.
The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan
This book delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the discovery and arrest of Anne Frank’ and her family during the Holocaust.
Part Holocaust history book, part true crime expose, Sullivan meticulously investigates the events leading to Anne’s betrayal, drawing on newly uncovered documents and testimonies.
The book examines the possible motivations behind her betrayal, exploring the identities of potential informants and collaborators, and unraveling the tangled web of betrayal in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
Through thorough research and compelling narrative, the book offers readers a deeper understanding of the tragic fate of Anne, her family, and Jews in Nazi Europe.
Reading this book before visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam will give visitors a deeper understanding of the mentality of Dutch people under Nazi occupation, and the dangers faced by the Frank family, and the heroism of their friends who risked everything to keep the Franks safe.
Contributed by Tamar of World by Weekend
Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates
When planning your trip to the Netherlands, “Why the Dutch Are Different” by Ben Coates is a great addition. This book offers a captivating window into Dutch culture. Coates, who moved to the Netherlands for love, shares his journey of discovering what makes this country unique through a blend of history, personal anecdotes, and insightful observations.
The book delves into the Netherlands’ complex history, from its days as a naval superpower to its unique social policies and cultural practices in the modern era. Coates explores the Dutch approach to issues like immigration, the environment, and their famed cycling culture, presenting a nuanced view of a nation that’s often misunderstood.
“Why the Dutch Are Different” is one of the top books about the Netherlands to read before visiting because it offers travelers a deeper understanding of Dutch culture. You’ll not only appreciate the sights you see but also grasp the significance behind them. Imagine cycling through Amsterdam’s streets, not just as a tourist, but with an understanding of how cycling reflects Dutch values of efficiency, sustainability, and community. Or visiting a café, knowing the role such establishments play in the social fabric of Dutch life. This book transforms the Netherlands from a postcard-perfect backdrop to a rich, living culture where every canal and cobblestone tells a story. It’s an enlightening prelude to your Dutch adventure, promising a journey as enriching as it is enjoyable.
The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama
Simon Schama’s “The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age” is a masterful exploration of the Netherlands during its most opulent era. This comprehensive work delves into the social, cultural, and political life of 17th-century Holland, a period marked by unprecedented economic prosperity and cultural flowering.
Schama weaves a rich tapestry of narratives, examining how wealth, art, and religious tolerance shaped Dutch society and identity. The book covers a wide array of topics, from the intricacies of daily life to the grandeur of Dutch art, providing readers with a deep understanding of the factors that led to the country’s Golden Age.
For travelers heading to the Netherlands, this is one of the best books about the Netherlands because it offers invaluable context for the art, architecture, and cultural norms you’ll encounter. Understanding the historical backdrop of the Dutch Golden Age will enhance your appreciation of the country’s museums, buildings, and even its landscape, transforming your visit into a rich, educational journey.
Dutch Feast by Emily Wight
For those with a culinary curiosity and a love for Dutch culture, “Dutch Feast” by Emily Wight is an excellent companion for learning about the Netherlands before and after your trip. This cookbook is more than a collection of recipes; it’s a deep dive into the heart of Dutch cuisine, offering readers a taste of the country’s rich culinary traditions and modern twists on classic dishes.
Certainly a highlight for any visitor to the Netherlands is the incredible food. Whether you are enjoying frites with an array of sauces, poffertjes that melt in your mouth, or an elaborate Indonesian Rijsttafel, you will be creating memories to last a lifetime. When home, you will likely want to remember and recreate some of the culinary delights of your trip.
From hearty stamppot to sweet stroopwafels, Wight guides you through the preparation of a variety of Dutch dishes. Beyond the recipes, “Dutch Feast” is sprinkled with cultural insights and historical tidbits, painting a vivid picture of the Netherlands’ culinary landscape.
Reading “Dutch Feast” before visiting the Netherlands will not only whet your appetite for the journey but also equip you with the knowledge to appreciate the depth of flavor in every bite. Whether you’re wandering through a bustling street market or enjoying a meal in a cozy café, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that define Dutch cooking.
Best Netherlands Travel Guides
The Lonely Planet Guide to the Netherlands
A great book to read that will enhance your trip to the Netherlands is the Netherlands Lonely Planet guide. This guide thoroughly covers the best things to see and do throughout the country. Topics within the book are organized in a variety of ways. These include geographical location (Northeastern Netherlands, Central Netherlands, etc) itineraries, need to know information, and more.
One of the best places to begin with the Netherlands Lonely Planet guide is by reading the top recommended experiences/destinations in the first few pages of the book. This gives you a round up of Lonely Planet’s highest recommended places to see and things to do in the Netherlands. Reading this section of the book and adding some (or many) of the suggestions to your itinerary will help ensure you see and do some of the best that the Netherlands has to offer.
The Netherlands Lonely Planet Guide is a great resource for travel planning. Reading it will help you plan your highly personalized trip to the Netherlands.
Contributed by Chelsea Espinoza of Adventures of Chels
Dutch Phrasebook and Dictionary, Lonely Planet
While you can certainly get away with speaking English during a trip to the Netherlands, learning some conversational phrases in Dutch shows a sign of respect to the locals and it is nice to make an effort.
The Lonely Planet Dutch Phrasebook and Dictionary served as a great little pocket guide that gave you the basic manners and lots of other helpful words and phrases that cropped up all over the place such as transport lingo, dishes commonly found on menus and lots of phrases that allowed you to interact with the locals on a basic level.
The book breaks down every word phonetically which is super useful to make sure you get your pronunciation right!
Something particularly helpful in the book was the section on food. If you suffer from allergies or have any dietary requirements, this book was great for helping translate the back of packages and menus.
You’ll likely not become fluent in Dutch using this little handbook but it is a great starting point for getting more comfortable with the language before your trip to the Netherlands!
Submitted by Charlotte at The Geo Room
Best Children’s Books About the Netherlands
KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Amsterdam, Netherlands by Shannon Jones
For families traveling to the Netherlands with little explorers in tow, “KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Amsterdam, Netherlands” by Shannon Jones is the perfect pre-trip read. This children’s book follows the adventurous calico cat, KeeKee, as she explores the sights, sounds, and tastes of Amsterdam. Through KeeKee’s curious eyes, young readers will be introduced to Dutch culture, landmarks, and traditions in an engaging and educational way.
The book is beautifully illustrated, capturing some of the main sites you will see in Amsterdam from the canals and bicycles to the iconic windmills and tulip fields. Each page is a delightful blend of fun facts and vibrant storytelling that invites children to learn in a fun and accessible manner.
Reading “KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Amsterdam” before visiting the Netherlands will ignite children’s imaginations and excitement for the journey ahead. It provides a wonderful opportunity for families to discuss the places they’ll visit and the new experiences they’ll share. As you wander through Amsterdam, children will recognize landmarks and cultural elements they read about, making their travel experience even more meaningful and interactive.
This book not only serves as a delightful story but also as a tool to foster a sense of adventure and curiosity about the world. It’s a heartwarming introduction to the joys of travel and discovery, perfect for preparing young minds for the trip that awaits them in the Netherlands.
Mission Amsterdam: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon
“Mission Amsterdam: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure” by Catherine Aragon is an innovative travel guide and activity book that turns a visit to Amsterdam into an exciting adventure for children and families. This interactive book is designed to engage young travelers with the city through a series of quests and challenges, encouraging them to observe, explore, and discover Amsterdam’s rich history, art, and culture in a fun and interactive way.
As participants work their way through the scavenger hunt, they’re invited to solve clues and complete tasks related to landmarks such as the Van Gogh Museum, and the city’s famous canals and bridges. This hands-on approach not only makes the sightseeing experience more engaging for kids but also educates them about the significance of each site in an entertaining manner.
Reading and participating in “Mission Amsterdam” before and during your trip to the Netherlands will enhance your family’s travel experience by adding an element of gamification to your exploration of Amsterdam. It’s a fantastic way to keep children motivated and excited about sightseeing.
The book is also a great resource for parents looking for an educational yet entertaining way to introduce their children to the joys of traveling and discovering new cultures. By completing the scavenger hunt, young adventurers will not only learn about Amsterdam’s heritage and traditions but also develop valuable observational and problem-solving skills. “Mission Amsterdam”can make your family’s visit to the Dutch capital a more interactive, enjoyable, and enriching experience.
The Best Books to Read Before Your Netherlands Trip
I hope you found the perfect books to read before you travel to the Netherlands and that they help you make the most of your travels! Trip Scholars is committed to helping you learn more through travel, both about your destinations and about yourself.
We have many articles to support your particular travel interests. Find advice and engaging activities on ancestry travel, family travel to the Netherlands,, to visiting churches and museums. We even have suggestions for crafting your trip around your favorite books!
Do you plan to visit the Netherlands or have you in the past? Are you someone who enjoys reading books before you travel? Do you have any favorites in this article? Tell me about it in the comments, I would love to hear!