Yay, you're visiting the Netherlands! Bring on the bikes and canals, the stroopwafels and coffee shops, the festivals and the cheese. Prepare for exploring medieval towns, stuffing your face with peculiar fried foods and washing it all down with beer served extra foamy.
Maybe you're just passing through for a few days, but hopefully you're here for a while. Either way "life" might happen on your Dutch excursion, and suddenly you're in need of an electricity adapter or some valerian root or a new bottle of Flower Bomb. So let's be prepared!
While there is a huge overlap in general product availability, Dutch shopping isn't quite like shopping in the States. You won't find big box stores and one stop shops like Target, Walmart or Costco. Shopping here is much more compartmentalized. In other words, don't expect mascara in a supermarket or a location that sells both tire chains and allergy medicine. But fear not, shopping in the Netherlands is simple once you have a bit of direction. Start with this list...
Hema: Think of Hema it as a tiny Target, or the closest thing to Target you will find in the Netherlands. The difference is, everything is self-produced, or "Hema" brand and everything is ridiculously inexpensive. However, don't expect much in terms electronics, furniture or gardening (I don't believe they sell tampons, either). Think clothes, house-ware, cosmetics and food items. With at least 530 stores, you should have no problem finding a location anywhere in the Netherlands.
Excellent if you need: Something in a pinch, like a pair of sandals, a bathing suit, socks, stationary or a small bite (their snack bar offers tasty cheese bread, rookworst and soft serve!). They also have a large cosmetic section - which I can't comment on either way. Be warned though, Hema has that "Target effect" - you go in for razors and leave with a bottle of wine, 12 postcards, gel pens and a hair mask.
Albert Heijn: The largest Dutch supermarket chain (and my personal favorite). Rather than talking about the offerings of AH (that would be redundant), here are a few tips to optimize your Dutch grocery shopping.
- Bring your own bag or you'll need to buy one while checking out
- Bag your own groceries or face angry glances/words from the people behind you in line
- There is a separate counter at the front of the store for basic medicine (not an isle)
- Some Albert Heijns have odd/limited hours (like opening at noon and closing at 6 on Sundays)
- You can find AH to-go's at many train stations, yay!
Excellent if you need: Snacks, beer or wine and don't feel like eating out.
Gall & Gall: The largest liquor store chain in the Netherlands. Most grocery stores strictly sell wine and beer, so if you're looking for something stronger, head to Gall & Gall.
Excellent if you need: A bottle of whisky or a large selection of wine.
Media Markt: One of the largest consumer electronic stores in Europe. Essentially the European equivalent of Best Buy.
Etos: The Dutch version of a tiny Rite Aid, minus the pharmacy. Etos has just about every brand of drug store beauty products and a decent selection of dietary supplements. One thing worth mentioning is certain brands are noticeably more expensive than they are in the States. I'm assuming this is attributed to import taxes.
Excellent if you need: Basic yet familiar hair products, makeup, first aid or dietary supplements.
Douglas: The closest thing to Sephora I've found in the Netherlands. I don't have an exact count, but it looks like there are around 100 Dutch stores, so when you're desperate for a tube of Smashbox Be Legendary, odds are there's a Douglas close by.
Excellent if you need: higher end cosmetics and perfume.
Now that you know some of the biggest names in Dutch consumerism, I hope to introduce some of my favorite, smaller vendors when I return from California! If you could make one shopping suggestion in your country, what would it be?
Be well, everyone!