The Netherlands may be small but it’s big on amazing destinations. If you can picture tulip fields, historic windmills, cellar bars, beautiful countryside, wildlife, and world-famous art collections then you’re just scratching the surface of this incredible country.
And there is so much more than just Amsterdam to discover. Roughly the size of the state of Maryland in the United States, The Netherlands lies mostly at or below sea level. Now completely urbanized and densely populated it’s a unique and distinct country. With wide blue skies, unchanged villages, beautiful church spires, and lovely canals, The Netherlands is, indeed, a remarkable country.
Lets explore the best things to do in the Netherlands:
Once little more than a fishing village dating from the 13th century, Rotterdam is now a thoroughly modern city. Largely destroyed during WWII, architecture has become a thriving form of expression since reconstruction began. Check out the Erasmus Bridge, the Cube Houses, and Kunsthal Museum for some interesting examples. And for something truly unique, visit Market Hall with its 11,00o square meter ceiling-mural that covers the farmer’s stalls. In the summer enjoy the International Film Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival. And if you’re in the mood for history, Delfshaven district, which lies near the harbour, is the place that the pilgrims launched from in 1620. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen includes Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Dali, and more, in its permanent collection.
2. The Hague
Perhaps the most astounding place to visit in The Netherlands, The Hague is a place of huge sophistication and world-class art. Nicknamed the Royal City by the Sea thanks to the royals who live there, The Hague is best known for the exhibits at the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Summer visitors fall in love with Scheveningen’s beaches. Parliament, or Binnenhof, is located in The Hague, though Amsterdam is the capital. Be sure to visit the 360 view at Panorama Mesdag, and the miniature city of Madurodam.
Just 20km from The Hague is the perfect place for a canal ride on the Old Rhine. Leiden, Rembrandt’s birthplace, has been a university town since the 16th century and a mecca for culture lovers. The many museums in town are all within walking distance of each other and make for a fabulous few days of exploring. Though the university is the country’s oldest and most prestigious, the modern batch of students helps to invigorate a lively night life. You’ll enjoy exploring Gravensteen, the Old Latin School, and the huge steepled church of Pieterskerk.
Right in the heart of the tulip region is charming Haarlem, a testament to the Dutch Golden Age. Because it’s largely unchanged, it’s easy to imagine the city as it was in the 17th century as you stroll down cobbled streets. Known as Bloemenstad, or flower city, Haarlem sits alongside the Spaarne River and still has many of its medieval buildings. Tourists come for the museums, shopping, and architecture; much of which can be found in Grote Markt Centre. Teylers Museum has exhibits in art, science and natural history and is the oldest museum in Holland. Art lovers will want to visit Franz Hals Museums to see the Dutch masters and everyone will love the Annual Bloemencorso Parade.
If the Netherlands had an icon, it would be the windmills. And if windmills had a not-to-be-missed spot, it would be Kinderdijk. Because the country is at or below sea-level, windmills have been a crucial part of water management put in place to prevent flooding. Just a short excursion outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, which means “children’s dike,” is where you’ll find 19 fully functioning and phenomenal windmills. Built in the 18th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are truly something to see. During the winter you can lace up some skates and enjoy the fun on the frozen canals.
It’s unlikely that you need information about Amsterdam’s reputation as a party town, but this large city is deeper than the infamous red light district and liberal cannabis laws. There are 60 miles of canals to explore and over 1500 monumental buildings and bridges. Fantastic museums and endless small eccentricities make Amsterdam a delightful city to discover. You’ll want to include the Rijksmuseum Museum, the Anne Frank House, and the Prinsengracht district for shopping, pub crawling, and coffee drinking. The Canal Ring has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s wonderful to walk or bike around.
Considered to be the religious heart of Holland, Utrecht is an ancient town. Established by the Romans in 48AD, the history of the Middle Age is on full display. The inner canal wharf system, originally designed to keep the Rhine from flooding the city, is a brilliant piece of architecture left over from this period. The most famous landmarks are the 8th century Gothic Dom Tower and the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Martin (13th century). There’s also the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rietveld Schroder House, the Dick Bruna House, and the Miffy Museum. When you want some time out-of-doors, stroll along the Oudegracht Canal and stop in to one of the converted cellar cafes for a coffee long the way.
This is a city with a diverse cultural history, which makes it seem a bit of an outsider in this Dutch country. You’ll see Roman and Spanish ruins as well as French architecture throughout town. There are even hills here! Sitting on both sides of the Meuse River, Maastricht is beautiful and full of historic churches and squares. Popular attractions include het Vrijthof square, the Caves of St Pieter and the Casement, Saint Servatius Church, and Vestigingswerkens. If you feel like splurging, check out any of the five Michelin-starred restaurants or some of the incredible cafes or bars in the town square.
9. De Hoge Veluwe National Park
Take a spin on one of 1700 free bicycles that the park staff keep on hand and spend a day exploring all of the 41km of paths in De Hoge Veluwe National Park. This national treasure is made up of 5,400 hectares of woods, heath, sand dunes, and peat bogs. This is a great spot for bird watching with Res List species like the Wryneck, the Moor Frog, and the Wheatear that call it home. There’s also unique plant species, red deer, and wild boar. Deep in the heart of De Hoge Veluwve is the Kröller-Müller Museum, with a surprising number of Van Goghs. Nearby are Elburg and Arnhem with medieval buildings and the historical site of the Battle for Arnhem.
Close to the German border, Nijmegen recently celebrated its 2000th anniversary. As one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands it is home to two history museums that highlight Roman artefacts and traditional life. The large student population from the country’s only Catholic university brings energy to the place. Take a walk along the Waalbrug (the bridge that crosses the Waal River) in order to catch an awe-inspiring sunset, complete with boats below. In the centre of Nijmegan is the historical quarter and not far from that you’ll find the National Fietsmuseum Velorama that showcases over 250 bikes. A real peek into the Dutch obsession with two-wheelers.
Just like Amsterdam, Delft is built on a series of canals that were originally designed to defend the city. An entire weekend can easily be spent strolling through the historic quarter and exploring the markets. Johannes Vermeer, who painted The Girl with the Pearl Earring, among many others, called Delft home. You’ll find it to be a progressive town that has worked hard to restore its historical feel. Popular sites include Renaissance styled City Hall, the Prinsenhof Museum (where William of Orange was assassinated), the Vermeer Centrum, and several lovely churches including Nieuwe Kerk and Oud. If you need to pick up gifts to take home, consider the blue, hand-painted earthenware that been fired here since the 17th century.
12. The Wadden Islands
Off the north coast are five islands collectively known as the Wadden Islands. They’re part of a larger chain of 50 that are dotted along the Wadden Sea between Denmark and the Netherlands. Each is unique and a great place for outdoor adventurers. Bird watchers will want to head straight to Terschelling, beach lovers will want to make Texel their first stop, and for those that want a remote trek through the woods, Vlieland is perfect. A boat will take you to any of the five, but for those that love a challenge you can also try wadlopen (mud-walking) across the seabed during low tide. Only for the truly brave – as some have called it “horizontal alpinism!”
Because it’s easily accessible by rail and car, Gouda is an extremely popular day trip from Amsterdam. Famous for its cheese (yes, THAT Gouda) and stroopwafels (syrup waffles) this is a traditional Dutch town that’s full of charm. Visit St Janskerk with its colourful and incredible stained glass windows, a town hall that dates to the 15th century, and the Waag, an old cheese weighing house built in the 17th century and which is now home to the Kaaswaag, Holland’s cheese museum.
With two colleges, this culturally diverse town is a major destination for those interested in arts, education, and business. The Groningen Museum is one of the most popular in all of the Netherlands but you’ll also find a comics museum, graphic museum, university museum, and a maritime museum. Live entertainment at the cafes, as well as fantastic theatre, round out the cultural aspects of this small but vibrant city. For those interested in Groningen’s nightlife, check out the Vismarkt, The Grote Markt, and the Peperstraat.
This is your typical Dutch province, but with a few twists. Not only do they have their own language here, but the locals are a hardy, self-reliant group – even by Dutch standards. The north end of Friesland morphs into the Waddenzee and the land goes from solid to muddy so the people had to actually build and fortify the land here. It’s incredible to explore and UNESCO designated. Visitors love Leeuwarden and Hindeloopen two charming villages that cater to tourists and have lots of tradition to soak up. Right across the water you’ll find the Wadden Islands