Top 8 Must Buy Items For Expats in The Netherlands

By: Amanda van Mulligen

You can’t buy happiness but as an expat you can buy eight items that will help you get the most out of living in the Netherlands.

  1. A Bike

    There is no doubt whatsoever that the Dutch are cycling nuts. You could sum the locals up with “I cycle therefore I am” and if you want to mingle with the locals the first thing you need to do when you land on Dutch soil is head to a fietsenwinkel (a bike shop).

    For the Dutch cycling is not just a leisure activity it is a way of life. Children are carried on the front and back of bikes to play dates and school. Crates of beer are transported between the supermarket and home on the back of bikes and the DIY store also poses no problem for the seasoned Dutch cyclist.

    Cycling - reaches the places other modes of transport don't reach
    Cycling - reaches the places other modes of transport don't reach

    Of course, cycling is also a leisure activity and sunny Sunday afternoons are filled with cyclists out enjoying the weather, the sights, and a bit of fresh air. In fact, the Netherlands is so well equipped with cycle paths that there really is no excuse to join the locals and get out and explore your host country. It’s flat and cycle routes offer a chance to see so much more of the beautiful scenery the country has to offer than any other mode of transport.

    In short, whilst in the Netherlands ownership of a bike is a must. The Dutch are practically born sitting on a bicycle, travel though life on two wheels and pedal themselves into their grave. However, cycling may not come so naturally to every expat so do your homework to find the bicycle and accessories that will suit your needs. Do you want to ferry your children around on your bike? Then invest in child seats or even a bakfiets. If you are looking to do your shopping on your bike then don’t forget a bike bag for the back and a basket for the front. For occasional use second hand bikes are in abundance to buy (try entering the search term fiets).

    On a final note, if you want to go full out and integrate then it is advisable to hang colourful plastic flowers on your bike’s handlebars.

  2. Clothes With Big Pockets

    Your outdoor wear will need to comprise large pockets if you intend to leave your house whilst you are living in the Netherlands. This must-have is particularly relevant for pregnant expats.

    Simply put, the usage of Dutch public toilets costs money and can range from 20 cents up to a euro in extreme cases. This token (yet surprising cost for many expats) is paid to a toiletjuf who sits outside the facilities with a white plate for you to put your money on. If you attempt to pay for your convenience stop with a note you may be greeted with looks of disdain or shoulder shrugging.

    So to avoid being caught short or paying an extravagant amount to use a toilet it is advisable to keep a collection of small change about your person. Preferably easily accessible in the big pockets of your outdoor clothes.

  3. A Cheese Slicer

    An essential utensil for any Dutch kitchen is a cheese slicer. A cheese knife just won’t cut it. Dutch cheese, like Edam and Gouda, is relatively hard so cutting off slices of cheese for your sandwiches with anything but the right equipment is asking for trouble.

    A cheese slicer: a dangerous tool in unpracticed hands
    A cheese slicer: a dangerous tool in unpracticed hands

    This purchase does however come with a warning; it is not for the unskilled amongst us. In the wrong hands a Dutch cheese slicer is actually a finger amputation tool. Practice and caution is advised. A good way to observe the correct use of a cheese slicer is to go to one of the many Dutch cheese shops or farms where skilled professionals cut off slices of cheese for you to taste before you buy. Even better head to one of the Dutch cheese markets such as Alkmaar (link: for insider cheese slicing tips and demonstrations.

    Alternatively play it safe and choose packs of pre-sliced cheese from the supermarket.

  4. Gourmet

    Investing in a gourmetstel is a good way of entertaining in Dutch style. It is essentially a grill like apparatus that means your guests cook their own meal and you as host can stay at the dining table for the duration of the evening. The most you have to do, as host, is place a selection of raw meat, fish and vegetables on the table with an accompaniment of sauces and bread on the side. If even that seems like too much hard work than supermarkets and butchers even put together gourmet packets together for your convenience.

    Gourmetting is particularly popular around Christmas in the Netherlands so if you are celebrating the festive season with Dutch friends or family there is a good chance you will be introduced to a gourmet.

    However, there are two issues with the gourmet idea: the Dutch fire brigade do need to be on standby to assist with billowing smoke which usually engulfs the entire house and sets off smoke alarms when a gourmetstel is in operation; and dinner can be a lengthy process whilst you all wait for the meat to cook. Having said that there is no denying that the gourmet experience is, as the Dutch say, gezellig.

  5. Ice Skates

    Get your ice skates on and experience winter like the locals
    Get your ice skates on and experience winter like the locals

    Behind cycling, ice-skating is probably the most popular pastime in the Netherlands. Explained by the special relationship that the Dutch have with water, ice-skating is deeply ingrained in Dutch culture in a surprisingly big way.

    As soon as the temperature drops below zero there is a nationwide scurry to the back of closets for the ice skates. There are ever-hopeful whispers about this being the year for an Elfstedentocht (a gruelling 200km skating event on natural ice that passes through eleven cities in Friesland in the north of the Netherlands which last took place in 1997). As the freeze continues the speculation mounts, the national news is full of news of measures being taken in Friesland to help the ice grow on the natural waterways. Men are filmed prodding the ice with sticks to measure the thickness. Hysteria rises as Dutch skaters prepare themselves to head north should the announcement come. Nothing is more important in daily life than will it or won’t it take place this year? And then the bubble bursts. There is a national groan of disappointment as the weather forecaster announces the coming of the big thaw and all hopes for an Elfstedentocht vanish with the melting ice.

    It’s a fascinating event to follow for expats and if you want to make the most of your time in the Netherlands grab your skates and head to the nearest frozen canal, river or lake for some winter fun.

  6. A Sledge

    Following hot on the heels of ice skates, a sledge is also a must have for any stint in the Netherlands. Once there is snowfall the railway systems collapse and motorways clog up so there are two main ways to travel – by bike (I did say the Dutch are cycling nuts) or by sledge.

    Even the Dutch recognise the hazards of cycling with children on the front and back of their bike on unsalted, slippery roads and cycle paths so the sledge makes a guest appearance from the shed. Children are transported to and from school on the sledge, or to the nearest park to sledge down the Dutch equivalent of a hill. You can join the locals by heading to your nearest garden centre or toy shop as soon as snowfall is forecast.

  7. A Potato Masher

    As winter sets in the supermarket shelves fill up with stamppot packs. This is essentially a bag of vegetables you add to potatoes. It’s a popular Dutch dish and involves boiling potatoes and vegetables in one big pan (common vegetables to use are cabbage, carrots or spinach) and then mashing them together with a potato masher. There is some serious mashing to do so it is worth investing in a quality potato masher if you want it to last the winter season (and you’ll need good arm muscles). The stamppot is served with a smoked sausage and jus (gravy). Heerlijk, as the Dutch say.

  8. Orange Clothes

    One of the most amazing experiences expats will have in the Netherlands is to witness one of the national parties. Queen’s Day is one such event that has the Dutch out in force in orange costumes, T-shirts and hats to party in style. From music events in Amsterdam to street markets nationwide there is something for everyone to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Each year a royal visit to a different part of the Netherlands is televised and the royal family get stuck in and take part in traditional Dutch games and events and watch performances from local schools and clubs.

    2013 (link: will see a particularly special Queen’s Day as it is the date earmarked for Queen Beatrix to hand the throne over to her eldest son Willem-Alexander. Expect the national party of all national parties. And for that you will certainly need orange clothes.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAmanda van Mulligen is a British expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: This blog is my tale of mothering abroad, about the ups and downs of parenting in a foreign country.
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Contest Comments » There are 10 comments

Lucie C wrote 11 years ago:

Hi, I would say specialized clothes such a complete rain proof set of clothes (boots, pants and jackets to go over your normal clothes when biking in the Spring or Fall and some thermal underwear for the winter...

Jo wrote 11 years ago:

As of next year queens day morphs into kings day weird huh? To your list I'd add flowers- cheap, gorgeous and essential visiting present. Little trays - for coffee and a biscuit (never saw that at home) - quite convenient really. Ov chip card to avoid total rip off transport (and enjoy cheap transport). Anything from Hema :-) And I forgot - an Albert hein bonus card

Dave Hadfield wrote 11 years ago:

Hmmm interesting, although the potato stamppot sounds very similar to bubble and squeak. Might have to go and visit you in Holland and try some of the aforementioned delicacies.

Corinne wrote 11 years ago:

Yes, yes, and yes. I lived in the Netherlands for two years, and I wholeheartedly agree with your listje!

Jen wrote 11 years ago:

Yes to everything except the Gourmet. Definitely a full set of waterproofs too.

Anthony Hargraves wrote 11 years ago:

Another great article that emphasizes that even though the UK and NL do have so much in common, sometimes it seems we are on separate planets!

Lars wrote 11 years ago:

As a native I could not agree more... However some say I am biassed...

Amy wrote 11 years ago:

I have 6 of the 8.... Just need to give in on the bike thing... And pretty much will never do the ice skates! All 8 are things I never had (or used) in the US.

Renée wrote 11 years ago:

I'm on year 19 and have yet to own a potato masher :) then again I never really liked mashed potatoes that much anyway!

Ersatz Expat wrote 11 years ago:

You have almost all of them I would say. You have left out the tea stand though. All Dutch houses have a tea stand with a space for a tealight to keep the tea warm. I could not bring mine with me to Kazakhstan and I miss it every day. I am not quite sure how people get by without them (a tea cosy is just not the same).

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