The Netherlands is often incorrectly referred to as Holland, and is one of the most vibrant and interesting countries in Europe. Known for its eclectic capital city of Amsterdam, the Netherlands is far more than just canals and museums, and if you venture further afield you will find picture postcard pretty towns as well as dynamic cities like Rotterdam and The Hague.
Due to its relatively small size it is easy to visit the Netherlands fairly quickly and to see a lot of the country in a short space of time. Getting out into the countryside is often one of the highlights of a trip for many, especially if you visit famous areas like the traditional villages that are filled with iconic windmills and tulips. One of the best ways to take in the scenery is by bicycle and fortunately much of the Netherlands is flat which means you can easily navigate the landscape and enjoy the great Dutch outdoors.
Here are the best things to do in the Netherlands:
1. Explore the Canals of Amsterdam
Similar to many other cities that sit over water such as Venice, Amsterdam has a vibrant canal system.
The pretty waterways are one of the best loved attractions in Amsterdam and you can explore the idyllic routes by taking a boat tour or a water taxi that lets you hop around a range of locations.
If you don’t want to take to the water then you can still enjoy the canal sights with a leisurely stroll along the banks.
2. Visit Zaanse Schans
Those who wish they could travel back in time and visit the Netherlands of the 17th and 18th centuries have come to the right place.
Zaanse Schans is located around 15 kilometers to the north of Amsterdam and is styled as an open-air museum where you can take a stroll around a traditional Dutch village and find out how ancient craftsmen would have worked.
Just some of the sights include a shipyard, a grocery store, a pewter factory, and a range of dainty green wooden houses.
You will also find some graceful windmills although out of the 600 that would have dotted the area in the days of old, only 5 now remain and can be visited by the public.
These include an iconic saw mill as well as an oil mill and you will find fun live demonstrations like a clog making session.
3. Stroll around the Garden of Europe
Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, is a riot of color with blooms of every hue as far as the eye can see.
Tulips are the signature flowers of this country and the Garden of Europe just outside of Lisse is the largest public garden anywhere in the world.
Covering 70 acres of land, you will find gorgeous flower exhibitions as well as restaurants and a wide variety of flora including daffodils hyacinths, and crocuses.
4. Admire Grote Kerk
Grote Kerk is found in The Hague and is a large church that is built from red brick in Gothic style.
The original building here would have been built in the 13th century although it was razed to the ground in 1539 and rebuilt in the present structure.
The church has an illustrious history as the spot where many members of the Dutch royal family where baptized including King Willem-Alexander who had his christening here.
Things to look out for at the church include the dominating bell tower which is the highest in Holland and contains 51 bells as well as the ornate wooden pulpit and the huge pipe organ.
5. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch National Museum located in Amsterdam and is filled with an amazing collection of art and antiques which date from 1809. The building houses over 7 million items and has more than 5,000 paintings that sprawl over 250 rooms.
There is a library here with 35,000 books and you can see some of the most impressive paintings in the world created by the ‘Old Masters’. Much of the museum focuses on traditional Dutch artifacts like ancient handicrafts and sculptures from the medieval period but you will also find exciting modern art.
Make sure you leave ample time to see everything as you can easily spend a full day here exploring every nook and cranny.
6. Explore Hoge Veluwe National Park
The Netherlands is often thought of as a small country primarily made up of small towns and cities but actually it has some wonderful national parks.
The largest and most famous of these is the Hoge Veluwe National Park which sits in between Apeldoorn and Arnhem.
It sprawls over an areas of 13,800 acres and is perfect if you are looking for an easy day trip.
The park is covered in woodland and features other quirky exhibits such as a sculpture park, and just some of the residents you will find in the park include red and roe deer.
Other spots include graceful dunes that are covered with heath and if you like bird watching then this is the place to spot a whole range of species.
7. Visit the Anne Frank Museum
The Anne Frank Museum is one of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam and makes for an extremely moving visit.
The building is the former home of Anne Frank who hid from the Nazis here during the Second World War.
Anne Frank died two months before the war ended but her diary that she wrote in the home was found and went on to become one of the most important books in the world.
The home has been restored although the hiding place in which the family lived is much as it would have been when Anne Frank lived here.
This is absolutely not to be missed if you are in Amsterdam and offers a poignant and personal view on this well known story.
8. Enjoy the village of Marken
The little village of Marken is known for being one of the prettiest spots in the Netherlands, particularly thanks to its strategic location on the Ijsselmeer Lake.
Crowds of visitors flock to the town every year to take in its picture-postcard worthy attractions such as traditional painted wooden houses as well as fishing boats.
In the summer months there are festivals held here where the residents dress in period garb and you can see traditional crafts like clog making taking place.
9. Have fun at Efteling
Efteling is the biggest amusement park in the Netherlands and is located at Kaatsheuvel.
The park is divided up into different zones that are known as realms and each one focuses on a different ancient myth or legend.
Efteling has the claim to fame of being one of the oldest themes parks in the world having first opened its doors in 1952 and has been entertaining visitors ever since with its fast rides and lush gardens.
Just some of the highlights here include rides like the Joris en de Draak or the George and the Dragon as well as The Flying Dutchman and the Python.
There are also other areas such as the Raveleijn which is a magical world with a nightly performance that tells the story of 5 siblings who battle and defeat an evil monster.
10. Take a trip to Madurodam
If you want to see the whole of the Netherlands but don’t have time then travel to Madurodam in The Hague.
Here you will find a mini version of the Netherlands on a 1:25 scale and you can see all the county’s top destinations including cute windmills, main landmarks, and decorative features like bridges.
This model city even includes its own harbor as well as a railway system and an airport.
11. Visit the Windmills of Kinderdijk
Enjoying a scenic location on the River Noord and nestled between Rotterdam and Dordrecht is the village of Kinderdijk which means ‘Children’s Dike’ in Dutch.
The main reason to come here is to take in the beautiful windmills that date from the 18th century and this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are 19 windmills here that date from 1722-1761 and this is the largest group of these structures anywhere in the Netherlands.
You can visit from April to October and there are designated times throughout the year when the sails of the windmills spin and you can see them in all their glory.
12. Take in the art at the Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is an ode to one of the greatest artists ever to have lived.
In addition to that, the Van Gogh Museum is regularly voted one of the best art museums in the world, so art-lovers should make sure not to miss it off the itinerary.
An impressive 1.5 million visitors make their way here each year and the museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh pieces in the world.
To that end you will find 200 beautiful paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters that give you a unique insight into the life of the artist.
13. Have a beer at the Heineken Experience
The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam is the place to come if you want to learn all about how this famous beer evolved.
The experience takes place in an old Heineken brewery and you can learn about the Heineken family as well as see the actual brewing process that is used to make the beer.
This starts from the kind of water used all the way through to the bottling process and you can also see classic examples of the iconic Heineken logo and see how it has changed over the years.
As if that wasn’t enough, you can of course also sample this famous brew and end the trip with a tasting session.
14. Explore Mauritshuis
Mauritshuis, located in The Hague, is one of the premium art galleries in the Netherlands and is known for its vast collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings.
The building itself is a work of art and dates from the 17th century and is nestled between Hofvijver Lake and the parliament buildings.
Filled with over 800 works of art, this is one of the smaller museums in terms of size but it has some of the most iconic works in the world such as the Girl with a Pearl Earring which was created by Johannes Vermeer.
15. Visit Historic Valkenburg
If you like history then make sure not to miss Valkenburg which lies in the beautiful Geul Valley.
The town is the proud owner of the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands which dates from the 12th century.
The castle sits atop Dwingelrots or Castle Rock and you can also take in the neighboring 14th century basilica called St. Nicolaaskerk Basilica.
As well as its ancient ruins the town is also famous for its spas and caves as well as its Christmas Market which opens from November to December in the beautifully named Velvet Caves.
16. Meet the animals at Artis Royal Zoo
Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam first opened its gates in 1838 making it the oldest zoo in the Netherlands.
It sprawls across more than 35 acres and has 900 different species of animals many of which are housed in ornate and spacious compounds that were designed in the 19th century.
There is also an aquarium section that was built in 1882 that features diverse species like sharks, eel, and colorful tropical fish.
Make sure to look out for the tray bikes that circle the zoo selling traditional Dutch pancakes called bitterballen.
17. Sample some cheese in Edam
Edam cheese is famous the world over for its red hued rind and signature round shape.
Many people won’t realize however that Edam is actually not just the name of the cheese but also the place it comes from which is the pretty town of Edam.
The town is located on the water and dates back to the 12th century and has an array of cheese related sites to enjoy.
Don’t be surprised if Edam cheese looks a little different here, as it is actually sold with a yellow rind rather than a red one.
Some of the signature attractions for cheese lovers here include a large cheese market and a famous cheese-weighing hall.
18. Explore Zeeland’s Dikes
The area of Zeeland sits on the Schlede, Maas, and Rhine rivers and is covered in little islands and coves.
Most of the area sits below sea level, and for this reason needs to use dikes to guard against flooding.
The main dike project here is called Delta Works which is a series of cutting-edge dam systems which control all the water entering the area from the neighboring North Sea.
In case you are having troubling understanding the scale of the dikes here, Delta Works has been described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
19. Visit Ridderzaal
The Hall of Knights, also known as Ridderzaal in Dutch, is located in The Hague and is part of a court complex that dates from the medieval period.
Dating from the 13th century the hall backs on to a huge courtyard covered in cobbles and this is considered to be one of the centers of Dutch politics in the modern day as this is also the spot where the Opening of Parliament ceremony is conducted every year.
Now you can also visit the Hall of Knights and take a guided tour of one of the most important buildings in Dutch history.
20. Journey to Volendam
Situated in the north of the Netherlands is Volendam which makes a great day trip if you are also visiting neighboring Amsterdam.
A small fishing village, Volendam is full of traditional Dutch delights such as wooden houses, clogs, and scenic landscapes.
Volendam is so pretty that is was painted by greats like Renoir and Picasso and it has a dainty harbor that backs on to fisherman’s houses and more canals.
21. Enjoy the Houseboat Museum
The Houseboat Museum is one of the quirkiest museums in all of Amsterdam and sits on the water on one of its pretty canals.
The boat is called Hendrika Maria and is furnished to give you a glimpse of how people have lived on these houseboats over the years.
There are also displays of how life on houseboats has changed and pictures of the canals as they would have been in the days of old.
22. Visit the Oude Haven in Rotterdam
Oude Haven is the Old Harbor in Rotterdam which happens to be the oldest port in the Netherlands having first started operations in 1350. Here you will find a huge number of attractions such as charming eateries and cafes as well as a selection of ancient sailing ships that give a nod to maritime history of this city.
One of the other iconic structures located on the harbor is Het Witte Huis or the White House which has the claim to fame of having been the first skyscraper in Europe.
23. Travel to the town of Delft
The cute town of Delft is nestled in between The Hague and Rotterdam and makes a great day trip.
Some of the main sights here include the Town Hall as well as the famous Nieuwe Kerk or New Church which has a tall tower that you can climb and look out over Rotterdam and The Hague.
The church also houses a well known royal burial ground where the remains of Prince William of Orange are interred.
Other attractions include the Technology Museum and the Markt which is the main traditional market that opens every Thursday.
24. Enjoy Venustempel Sex Museum
Venustempel Sex Museum in Amsterdam has the claim to fame of having been the first sex museum in the world.
The museum is located in a building that dates from the 17th century and has a wide display of sex related memorabilia.
Just some of this includes an array of erotic art work as well as photographs, sculptures, and other oddities like chastity belts.
The aim of the museum is to tell the story of how sexuality has evolved over the years and is a quirky stop off on a trip to Amsterdam.
25. Explore Kasteel De Haar
Close to the city of Utrecht sits Kasteel De Haar which is actually the largest fortification in the Netherlands.
The big draw here is the stunning castle which sprawls across a 250 acre park and originally would have dated from the 14th century.
The renovated version that now stands was built in 1892 and you will find a wide collection of paintings, textiles, antiques, and furniture.