Travel and books, two of my favourite things.  Maybe that is why I like a book with a strong sense of place.  Whilst we were in the Netherlands we saw lots of paintings that had inspired books and visited places familiar from novels.  Just in time for World Book Day, here is my selection of Books to Read in the Netherlands listed in the order of when we met them in our journey.


THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

Goldfinch Mauritshuis

Fresh off the ferry we headed to The Hague and the Mauritshuis to see the real life Goldfinch painted by Carel Fabritius and star of Donna Tartt’s hefty novel.  In the book thirteen year old Theo Decker is caught up in a bombing in New York and ends up with The Goldfinch in his hands.  Possession of the painting affects the rest of his life and we follow him in New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam.  Seeing the tiny painting that was the centre of such a long novel was a treat.


Dutch Cultural Ducks

The Mauritshuis has proved a fruitful hunting ground for the modern novelist in search of inspiration.  Tracey Chevalier imagined the story of the girl who looks out at us from Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’.  The Mauritshuis is stuffed full of wonderful paintings that all hint at marvellous stories.  I quite like the idea of a novel based on a group of novelists visiting the gallery in search of inspiration and the stories that they come up with.  Maybe I should write it myself?

THE COW WHO FELL IN THE CANAL by Phyllis Krasilovsky

Alkmaar Cheese Market

When I was a child a Dutch lady came to stay at our house for an extended period.  She bought with her Genever or Dutch Gin for my parents, a blue and white tin of hopes which are coffee flavoured boiled sweets and a copy of ‘The Cow who fell in the Canal’ for the children.  I loved this book.  It is the tale of a cow who is bored with just eating grass and craves adventure, one day she falls into the canal and floats down stream to the local market town, based on Alkmaar, where she wreaks havoc.  More than anything I wanted to visit the Netherlands and see where Hendrika, the cow, lived.  The book was the reason that the first holiday I took without my parents was to Holland!

RIDDLE OF THE SANDS by Robert Erskine Childers

Wadden Sea Netherlands

Technically ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ is not based in the Netherlands at all but in Germany, but in my mind it is Dutch and so it is included here!  ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ is a spy story set (and written) in the years before the First World War.  Carruthers, a minor civil servant in the Foreign Office is invited on a last minute yachting holiday off the North German shore.  They sail in the shifting sands of the German Frisian Islands and persued by spies and trying to puzzle out the meaning of mysterious events.  The book has a strong sense of place and was one of the big reasons why I was so keen to visit the Frisian Islands.

THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton

Miniaturist Dolls House Rijksmuseum

Art galleries in the Netherlands are full of depictions of what is known as The Golden Age, a time in the seventeenth century when wealth flowed into Amsterdam via the Dutch East India company. ‘The Miniaturist’ is set in this glittering, exciting period.  We follow 18 year old Nella as she arrives from the country to marry a prosperous merchant.  Many mysterious things happen, most mysterious of all is when her new husband presents her with a dolls house that is the image of her own house.  Jessie Burton drew her inspiration for the story from seeing the collection of doll houses on show at the Rijksmuseum.


Anne Frank was a schoolgirl in Amsterdam during the Second World War, she was also Jewish.  Her family went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  The family were betrayed and ended up being taken to concentration camps.  Anne died in Bergen Belsen, her father was the only member of the family to survive.  Anne kept a diary during these years, amazingly it survived and was published in 1947.  The story is harrowing, you can visit the house where Anne and her family hid.  I read this as a teenager and firmly believe that all teenagers should be aware of the story to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

THE WORDS IN MY HAND BY Guinevere Glasfurd

This is one of the books that I read during our Dutch holiday.  ‘The Words in my Hand’ is another book set in the seventeenth century, this time it is the tale of Helena a maid who is desperate to learn how to read when women of her class didn’t do such a thing.  She works in the house of a bookseller and a mysterious ‘Monsieur’ comes to stay.  He turns out to be the philosopher Renee Descartes, many twists and turns follow to a satisfying ending. It was the perfect book to read as we travelled south from Amsterdam.


Ben Coates Why the Dutch are Different

Once any holiday is booked I head to Daunt Books to browse the relevant country section in search of reading inspiration.  How could I not pick up a book entitled ‘Why the Dutch are Different’ when heading to the Netherlands!  Ben Coates got stuck in a snowy Dutch airport on the way back to the UK, he rang a girl that he had met travelling and went to stay with her and never really made it back to the UK.  He is now married and living in the Netherlands.  In the book he looks at not only the the history and geography of the country but also the quirks and customs.  If you are heading to Holland make sure that you have a copy to hand.


Dutch tulips

Tulips are everywhere in the Netherlands.  We even tried some tulip vodka on our food tour of Amsterdam.  There is also a whole slew of books about them, here are the three that I have enjoyed most.

THE BLACK TULIP by Alexandre Dumas

‘The Black Tulip’ is yet another novel set in seventeenth century Holland, but this one was written in the nineteenth century.  Fans of The Three Musketeers will be familiar with the derring-do of Dumas novels.  ‘The Black Tulip’ is no exception, it tells the tale Cornelius van Baerle a tulip grower intent on breeding the first black tulip.  Things don’t run smoothly and a tale of love, jealousy and obsession unfolds against the background of tulipmania.


Anna Pavord’s Tulip book is fact not fiction, she tells us the story of the tulip from a wild flower to the present day.  Who would have thought that a plant could have such an interesting biography.  Tulip mania occured during the Dutch Golden Age.  Contract prices for certain varieties of tulip bulb spiralled to dizzying heights and then collapsed spectrally in 1637 leaving lots of people out of pocket.  Anna Pavord gives us the background to how this happened and how the tulip continues to be one of our favourite cut flowers.

TULIP FEVER by Deborah Moggach

My third tulip book is ‘Tulip Fever’ once again set with the background of tulip mania, Deborah Moggach weaves in Golden Age painting too.  Cornelius Sandvoort (was every tulip obsessed man called Cornelius?) and his wife Sophia are desperate for children.  Cornelius arranges to have her portrait painted by a young painter and sparks begin to fly.  Deborah Moggach had me up way into the small hours of night turning the pages to finish the book, a thrilling page turner.


Going abroad was not something that we did as children, my travelling was done in books.  Many of those books have inspired real life journeys these two sent me over the sea to the Netherlands.

Kijkduin beach Holland

WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA by Arthur Ransome

Arthur Ransome’s books feature children sailing, often in East Anglia.  As an East Anglian child I loved his books and longed to be allowed out sailing on the Broads without adult company.  It never happened and one of the reasons given was ‘We didn’t mean to go to Sea’.  The Swallows are staying at Pin Mill (where we also stayed as children) just up the River Orwell from Felixstowe and Harwich.  Our heroes are given permission to sail provided they don’t venture beyond the Beach End bouy at the end of the Estuary.  Fog desends and one way and another they end up in the Netherlands.  It was thrilling as a child to think that you just sail a little bit further on you could end up abroad.

A TIME OF GIFTS by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In 1933 the teenage Patrick Leigh Fermor set out to walk from the mouth the Rhine to the mouth of the Danube.  He didn’t write up his account of the journey until 1977 when ‘A Time of Gifts’ was published, followed swiftly be ‘Between Woods and Water’ the final instalment ‘The Broken Road’ was not published until after his death in 2011.  Once again this book was an inspiration to travel.  I have lived on the Rhine and travelled up and down its banks on many occasions and recently we cruised and cycled along the Danube. The Dutch part of book starts at the Hook of Holland, where many of my own continental adventures have begun, and weaves through the Rhine delta to the German border.  This series of books is among the best travel writing that I have read, if you haven’t discovered Patrick Leigh Fermor yet make sure his books are on your birthday wish list!

I hope you like my rundown of books to read in Holland.  Fancy some German reading inspiration?  Then try my Books to Read in Germany post.  Do you like to read books inspired by where you visit or do books prompt you to travel?

The Netherlands is one of the countries that I visit most often. You can read about visiting a Dutch Windmill, crossing the Afsluitdijk, exploring the Frisian Islands, Cultural capital in Leeuwarden, staying in a Dutch Castle, delightful Leiden, where to stay with teens in Amsterdam and a food tour of Amsterdam by clicking on the blue words.


Books to read in the Netherlands
Wander Mum

Contains affiliate links, if you end up buying a book from Waterstones having clicked on the link I will get a few pennies.


  1. March 1, 2018 / 10:40 am

    Just bookmarking this for future reference – I have just discovered via your list that I love a bit of Dutch historical fiction! Read many of these but not all. Love the Arthur Ransome reference. My cousin has a first edition of Swallows and Amazons acquired by her late father. He wrote some brilliant novels

  2. March 1, 2018 / 2:17 pm

    Love a good booklist and love this idea to tie it to a location. Have you read History of A Pleasure Seeker? Set in Amsterdam.

    • March 1, 2018 / 3:30 pm

      No I haven’t but its added to my TBR

      • March 1, 2018 / 5:39 pm

        There were mixed reviews from my bookclub but it is full of Amsterdam history.

  3. March 1, 2018 / 4:05 pm

    Love this, I am a big theme-reader for our trips and we’re heading to the Netherlands shortly! I’ve read The Miniaturist. I’d also recommend the Baroque Cycle by Neil Stephenson, he covers parts of France, England, the Netherlands and Germany in the 17th century, and it’s fascinating. #farawayfiles

  4. March 3, 2018 / 10:03 am

    Since i’m now living in Rotterdam I have definitely immersed myself with the Dutch culture. I have only read the Ann Frank Diary however so will save your post to expand my reading list!

  5. Sarah
    March 3, 2018 / 11:30 am

    I’m bookmarking this page so I can read some of these as I start living in the Netherlands myself!! Great list.

    • March 3, 2018 / 7:21 pm

      Such a great country to live in, lucky you!

  6. March 3, 2018 / 11:41 am

    Thank you for sharing this great list of books to read in the Netherlands. I love reading books from other countries so will deffo be reading some of your suggestions in the near future.

  7. March 3, 2018 / 3:30 pm

    Great recommendations! I´m living near to the Netherlands and will try some of your tips.

  8. Susanna Bavin
    March 3, 2018 / 5:38 pm

    What a fab idea for a blog. You have given me some titles to add to my TBR list. I remember The Cow Who Fell in the Canal. I love the thought that it actually inspired you to take a holiday in Holland. I did a mini-pilgrimage round part of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex once; and I went to Lyme because of Persuasion and walked along the Cobb. And reading The Italian House by Teresa Crane made me want to sell up all my possessions and go to live in Tuscany…

    • March 3, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      I’ve done the Wessex pilgrimage too!

    • March 3, 2018 / 8:17 pm

      Love your list, there are several that I have read and some to add to the TBR pile!

    • March 3, 2018 / 11:03 pm

      Secret History one of my favourites ever

  9. March 4, 2018 / 1:11 am

    The Goldfinch is one of my favorite books ever. I would love to see the painting in person.

    Before visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I feel like everyone should be required to read Anne’s diary. It provides context and makes your visit so much more meaningful!

    I’ll definitely be checking out some of the other books on your list! Thanks for the recommendations!

    • March 4, 2018 / 10:36 am

      I was just stunned at how tiny it was, goldfinch sized!

  10. March 4, 2018 / 12:03 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful blog post. I enjoyed it very much.

  11. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    March 5, 2018 / 7:33 pm

    What a brilliant collection! I loved The Goldfinch so I can understand how thrilled you were to see the little painting. I enjoyed parts of The Miniaturist. Have you read her latest novel, The Muse? I much preferred that.
    I remember taking A Room with a View with me when we were travelling round Tuscany 21 years ago. I’ve read it a few times since as it always takes me straight to that wonderful region.

  12. kateandkris
    March 7, 2018 / 3:42 pm

    A great range of books here, from children’s to fiction and fact. Interesting list. I was surprised actually that I’ve read so many of them. I loved the Goldfinch.

  13. Nicole
    March 7, 2018 / 3:56 pm

    What a great idea exploring an area based on books! I love to read, however, the only book on your list I have read (I am ashamed to say) is the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I loved this book. I am always looking for new books to add to my list and you have given me a few new ideas!

    • March 7, 2018 / 5:59 pm

      It makes for some interesting discoveries!

  14. March 7, 2018 / 4:07 pm

    I loved Donna Taart’s first book I read it three times but never got around to reading Goldfinch despite it sitting on my bedside table. I’ve read a few of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s other books – love how he so vividly evokes the Mediterranean – but had no idea he’d written on Amsterdam. I was too busy writing to read on my last trip to Amsterdam so will definitely jot some of these down.

    • March 7, 2018 / 4:16 pm

      The Goldfinch is a huge book to carry around!

  15. March 7, 2018 / 5:16 pm

    Riddle in the Sands sounds like my kind of book! I will definitely have to read that one. Thanks for the great suggestions!

    • March 7, 2018 / 5:56 pm

      Pleasure, enjoy Riddle in the Sands!

  16. March 7, 2018 / 6:31 pm

    Sounds like a great list! I only know the diary of Anne Frank. I think I am going to buy Why the Dutch are different. Sounds great.

  17. March 7, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    I’ve read the Diary of Anne Frank, but am always looking for new book suggestions. What a great list!

  18. March 8, 2018 / 12:02 am

    I love reading books set in a place I’m going or about the history of it. I really think it helps get you in a good mindset, and appreciate the trip better.

  19. March 8, 2018 / 9:55 am

    Wow! This is soooo cool and very inspirational! I loved the Netherlands and have many Dutch friends, I need a copy of that book about them being ‘different’ – superb find 🙂

  20. thegetawayjournals
    March 8, 2018 / 8:02 pm

    Books and travel! Two of my favorite things! Thanks for the recommendations.

    • March 9, 2018 / 9:04 am

      Thank you, I think they are perfect companions

  21. March 13, 2018 / 10:22 am

    This is a great list! I’ve read Anne Frank, and I’m adding other books to my reading list.

  22. March 13, 2018 / 10:08 pm

    What a great collection of books tied to art, history, and flowers. I never expected so many books on tulips! Out of all of these, I definitely want to learn more about Daunt Books. The title “Why the Dutch are Different” sounds like a book that is not to be missed!

  23. March 13, 2018 / 10:39 pm

    Such a wonderful list and thank you for recommendations. I am saving them . Happy reading and happy travelling #citytripping

  24. March 14, 2018 / 7:35 am

    What a great list with plenty of inspiration. I love how it is thanks to the Cow Who Fell Into the Canel – that you chose the Netherlands as your first holiday without parent. Books really do have a big influence – even children’s ones. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  25. March 14, 2018 / 3:03 pm

    The only book I’ve read on this list is the Diary of Anne Frank, and I found it incredible and haunting to walk through their hiding place. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. The Goldfinch has been on my list for awhile though, so perhaps I will move it up the list and see if my library has it on e-reader. Thanks for all the suggestions! #Citytripping

    • March 14, 2018 / 4:28 pm

      Goldfinch is such a weighty tome that it is best tackled on an e reader!

  26. bavariansojourn
    March 17, 2018 / 1:24 pm

    Brilliant list. Some of them I have heard of, some of them I have added to my wishlist… And you have reminded me of hopjes now too. I love those!! 🙂 #citytripping

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