Contrary to popular belief there are lots of things to do and to see in the Netherlands besides Amsterdam. We have charming cities, medieval towns, nature parks, megaliths, the women are beautiful and yes we also have tulips, cheese and windmills. What more the country is small and mostly flat which makes it easy to navigate, in case you would like to cycle the full length of the country.
Picture by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay
Although Netherlands is the country where I have been born and raised I have not seen everything there is to see. That is why I have asked some fellow travel bloggers to share their tips on sightseeing, activities and nature to add to some of mine.
Sightseeing and activities in the Netherlands
Of course this can’t be an exhaustive list, however below you will find many of the highlights. Click on the link in the markers below to see and read more about the place. And yes, in case you were wondering, many of these trips can be made as day trips from Amsterdam.
IT IS ALL ABOUT FLOWERS
Cities breaks in the Netherlands
Rotterdam, second to none
Rotterdam is not only the second largest city in the Netherlands, it has also one of the most important harbours in the world. The city is famous for its modern architecture, international vibe and is easy to explore on foot. It has excellent public transport, waterways and of course the iconic Erasmus Bridge.
- explore the food markets
- let your heart be touched by the Second World War monuments or
- if you really want to go local, visit a coffee shop.
- Alternatively book a private day trip Rotterdam and the Kinderdijk windmills.
The Hague or Den Haag
The Hague or in Dutch ‘Den Haag’is after Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the most important city in the country.
While The Hague is mainly known for being the home to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice and the Dutch government, it is also a great destination for a city break or a stop on a European adventure. This northern city in The Netherlands is home to some stunning architecture, fascinating galleries and museums and is one of few cities in Holland to be located on the coast. While it’s not really considered a beach town in the same way as Barcelona or Nice, it still has a wonderful coastal atmosphere.
The architecture in The Hague is probably one of the best reasons for visiting this Dutch city with buildings like the Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk (St. James Church), the Noordeinde Palace, (the king’s office), Binnenhof and the Peace Palace (picture below) all being must-sees. Thankfully, many of these buildings are located in near each other in the historic quarter, making a whistle-stop tour of the top sights easy and inexpensive.
Art in The Hague is a big deal with some world-renowned works by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Mesdag housed in galleries around the city. The Mauritshuis Museum is home to the famous Girl With The Pearl Earring, while the Museum Mesdag features a 360 degree panoramic piece that allows you to step into the fishing village of Scheveningen in the 1800s!
Drink and Dine
Once you’re all cultured out, head to some of The Hague’s cool bars, cafés and restaurants to drink and dine the night away. The UNESCO-listed ‘Passage’ is a lovely spot to enjoy a coffee and the Haagse Market is the best place to pick up some local produce and delicacies. There are tons of bars around the Grote Markt and the Van Kleef Distillery is an amazing place to try gin and genever.
Or if you want to combine as much as possible in one day, book a private tour of The Hague with a local guide.
By Chrysoula – Travel Passionate
Utrecht, the centre of the Dutch universe
Our favourite city in the Netherlands is Utrecht, full of all the character that you get in Amsterdam but without the crowds. There’s so much to see in the beautiful city of Utrecht from canal sidewalks to parks and woodland. There’s plenty of history too and the quirky, old world streets are so picture perfect.
Some of our favourite museums are in Utrecht including the Miffy Museum (this is where author Dick Brunas came from so a great place to indulge in everything to do with the sweet little rabbit) and the amazing Speelklok Museum which is packed full of musical instruments including some fantastic travelling organs.
For some alternative fun go on a quest around the city in search of a monster, by solving clues that will unlock stories.
On our trips to Utrecht, it’s always the city that makes us wish we had longer to linger there and explore some more. It’s beautiful.
By Nichola – Globalmouse Travels
Utrecht is the most central city in the Netherlands, that is why the central station is rather busy with sixteen platforms and with more than 176,000 passengers per day. The station is connected to Hoog Catharijne, a large shopping mall.
The Delft blues
We always love visiting the Netherlands, especially during the Spring. With such a vast array of little towns, cheese farms, sandy beaches, and family-friendly fun, it’s often hard to decide what to visit first!
During our week-long trip to the Netherlands, one of our favourite towns was Delft. It might have been the fun of celebrating Kings Day (April 27th), but it is a beautiful quintessential town with its flower-filled baskets lining the streets, towering historic churches, fabulous cafes, and warm people.
If you decide to visit Delft, here is how to spend the day. Start off with a coffee and snack from Kek located near the market square, and wander over to the town square to admire the church from the outside and inside. If there is a festival, this is where all the action will take place!
After you enjoy a nice lunch (the pancakes are a favourite), then head over to the Delft Pauw factory where you can see how the fabulous Delft pottery is created and hand painted with intricate designs. Might not seem like a kid-friendly activity, but there is a great park just down the road to either play in before or after the tour.
Check out more ideas on what to see and do with kids in the Netherlands.
By Chelsea Sipe – Pack More Into Life A family travel blog
Eindhoven, the city of lights
Eindhoven, in the south of the Netherlands, is the former home of Philips and the alma mater of many technical wizards who graduated at the Technical University. Although not the prettiest of cities, it is an interesting place to visit, if only because of its history. At the beginning of last century it was a small village with only a couple of hundred inhabitants. Due to the Phillips family, who started a factory in light bulbs the city became bigger and bigger. Now expats and international students flock here to work at one of the many tech firms, study at the Technical University or work as an industrial designer.
The city has many excellent international restaurants, several interesting museums (Philips, Daf, Modern Art) and in some places fascinating architecture. The gentrified old Philips factories in Strijp-S are fertile ground for industrial design, hip restaurants and alternative shops.
It is all about flowers
Flower Market Aalsmeer
Fans of tulips religiously head to Keukenhof in spring, but flower-lovers can enjoy vast quantities of amazing plants at any time of the year in Aalsmeer. It is the home of Royal Flora Holland, the largest flower market in the world. The company with its three auction houses (the largest being in Aalsmeer) handles 60 per cent of the world’s flower trade.
Every day 45 million flower pieces change hands in the area of 200 football fields. It is not allowed to walk around the grounds, but you can witness the amazingly efficient operation of the market from elevated walkways. After gazing at the hectic traffic of the little flower carts, one can also observe how the deals are concluded. The flower brokers behind the glass windows of the trading area will remind us of the trading floor in Wall Street. The market even had its price crash: at the peak of the tulip mania the price of certain flower bulbs skyrocketed, but tulip bulb prices collapsed abruptly in one day in 1637.
Aalsmeer is only about an hour from central Amsterdam by public transport and the entry fee for Royal Holland is 8 euros. The market is open from Monday to Friday between 7-11 a.m. (Thursday only until 9 a.m.). The sooner you arrive, the more activity you can witness, so it is worth getting up early to see more action.
By Eva Kisgyorgy – Travellina
See tulips in the Keukenhof
Less than an hour from Amsterdam is one of the top attractions of the Netherlands in the springtime—Keukenhof gardens in Lisse. From mid-March to mid-May, over 1 million visitors come to see the colourful tulips that the Netherlands is famous for.
What many visitors don’t know is that Keukenhof is much more than tulips. There are 1600 varieties of flowers, so no matter what time you visit and whether spring comes early or late, there are many types of roses, hyacinths, daffodils, and more to see across Keukenhof gardens’ 80 acres.
Each year has a theme, and there are displays, sculptures, and flower beds designed to go along with that theme around the park. Visitors will also find hands-on exhibits, workshops, and plenty of places for photographs such as the popular windmill.
After you visit the gardens, rent a bicycle in the parking lot and explore the nearby flower fields. The commercial growers whose land surrounds Keukenhof have fields with giant stripes of purple, white, and all the colours of the rainbow. And they smell fantastic. There are loops from 5 km up to 25 km that you can explore.
If you don’t have a car, getting to Keukenhof via public transportation is easy. Visitors can catch a special shuttle straight from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Haarlem Station, and Central Station Leiden.
In case you don’t want the hassle, book a private tour to the flower fields.
By Laura Longwell – Travel Addicts
Nature at its best
Biesbosch Nature Reserve
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about The Netherlands, but the country’s nature is divers and truly stunning. A great example is Nature Reserve De Biesbosch, a river delta with creek, willow forests. It is the largest freshwater tidal area in Europe. The water level changes about 70 to 80 cm due to the tide, thanks to its connection with the sea. Freshwater creeks and rivers that are influenced by tides is a rare phenomenon, even on a world scale.
The most famous inhabitant of the area is the beaver. After its extinction in 1826 they were reintroduced in the area in 1988 and at moment the population has grown to over 250. The rodent is the pride and joy of De Biesbosch, so try to spot one at a beaver hot spot or during a beaver walking tour. To get the ultimate experience, you can even camp in a beaver lodge!
As the area is now a nature and recreational park, De Biesbosch is great for walking and biking. However, the best way to absorb the feeling is from the water. You can either go on an electrical cruise (the whisper boat!), or rent a canoe. It is also a perfect location for a family holiday as kids will love the wooden boardwalks and adventurous paths (but leave your stroller at home and take the baby carrier with you!)
By Babs – travel gear for kids
Visit Texel, one of the Wadden islands
Located around two hours by a train from Amsterdam, Texel Island could be a nice day or a weekend trip from Dutch capital. You can take a train to Den Helder and a ferry to Texel Island from there. The best way to get around the island is on a bicycle. You can take your own or rent one when on Texel. Bicycle paths are everywhere, so it’s really lovely to get around on one.
The biggest place on Texel is Den Burg village. It’s centrally located and a great place to start your trip from. There are many cafes and restaurants, together with a tourist info office there.
One of the most interesting places on Texel Island is Ecomare. It’s a seal shelter and a nature museum. They are taking care of sick or wounded seals and are providing shelter for them. Once they are healed, they are brought back to the North Sea. Ecomare is located at the western part of the island, where the Dunes of Texel National Park is. You can cycle through a beautiful nature there.
That variety of landscape is something so unique for Texel when comparing with the rest of the Netherlands. The Island also has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Netherlands, with an amazing combination of white sand and a dark blue sea. It’s perfect for surfers! There are many restaurants there, so you can spend the whole day just by staying at a beach.
With its beautiful nature, many child-friendly places and Ecomare seal shelter, Texel Island is a great place to visit during your trip to the Netherlands.
By Tea – Culture Tourist
Three countries point – Drielandenpunt Vaals
Want to spend the day in the outdoors and visit three countries at the same time? You can do just that at the Three Countries Point or as they say in the Netherlands: ‘het Drielandenpunt’. Located in the very south of the Netherlands in the province of Limburg, the Three Countries Point is exactly what one might expect – a point where three countries share a border. Also called a “tri-point”, the spot in the south of the Netherlands is shared with Germany and Belgium!
To get there, you can head to the small town of Vaals, NL (close to the Germany city of Aachen), and make your way to the point via car or walking trails. You might make it a day trip from Maastricht if you are in the area!
The area itself is characterized as very rural – making it great for hiking, biking, bird-watching, photography, and just enjoying some fresh air. Given the high elevation (which is still quite flat but for the Netherlands it’s high), there are a number of lookout towers you can climb for a fee. These towers – one in the Netherlands and one in Belgium – allow for amazing views of the rolling countryside below.
At the actual three countries point, there is a stone monument with flags and the borders are laid out on the ground so you know which country you are in! The whole area around the point is made for visitors – with a number of restaurants, cafes, and patios to relax on. There is even attractions for kids like the Labyrinth Drielandenpunt – a large, very difficult hedge maze!
By Eric and Lisa – Penguin and Pia
Borderline at the Meinweg national park
The Netherlands is one of my favorite countries on Earth for its open-minded, intelligent people and beautiful landscapes. One place that you’ve probably never heard of which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area is Vlodrop. Nestled in the Southeast corner of the country about 40 minutes by car from Maastricht you will find the sleepy town of Vlodrop. But the real attraction is just up the road where there is the De Meinweg National Park. It is a seemingly enchanted forest filled with interesting flora such as heather fields and rare fauna such as the common adder and blindworms. There are also wild deer and boars which are always exciting to encounter. In 2002 Meinweg became part of the Maas-Swalm-Nette park, a protected area shared between Germany and the Netherlands.
There is a popular place to stay within the forest called The Boshotel which is a great way to relax and unwind from the world. Further up the road, deeper into the national park is the former residence of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was guru to The Beatles. He set up his university there on a small campus and to this day they regularly hold courses on meditation, yoga, and Ayurveda. And last time I was there they had tours of the campus available every Sunday afternoon. Vlodrop is definitely a quiet place but the peace you will feel walking through that forest especially in the Spring and Summer will certainly be a magical experience.
By Asher – Asher & Lyric
Feel like the king of the castle at Bourtange
Bourtange is a fortress town in the east of the Netherlands, right at the border with Germany in Groningen province. The term “fortress town,” however, doesn’t do it justice. This village, with fewer than 100 residents, is completely surrounded by an extensive system of earthen walls, restored to their 1742 appearance. Not only that, but the walls are star-shaped. The effect is fascinating and makes for a lovely day out.
The fortress dates back to the Eighty Years War (1566-1648), when Prince Willem of Orange ordered a series of forts to be built along the border with Germany, hoping to cut off Spain’s supply lines. It was marshy land at the time, and this was one of few places with solid ground. After centuries of neglect, Bourtange was restored in the 20th century.
Make sure to walk all the way around the village along the top of the wall, admiring the moat surrounding it and the concentric earthen walls beyond that. Looking inward toward the village, you’ll see the cluster of small brick houses, a windmill, a church, and various ex-military buildings such as barracks. Descend from the wall and walk toward the cobbled plaza at the exact center of the star-shaped village; there you can sit in a sidewalk café under a tree and enjoy the scene. Several museums, including a synagogue and a preserved 17th-century captain’s house, are definitely worth seeing as well. You can read more about it at Rachel’s Ruminations.
By Rachel – Rachel´s Ruminations
Dolmens of Drenthe
A dolmen, or a Hunebed as it is called in the Nehtherlands, is a megalithic tomb, built in the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC). Dolmens were typically covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow.
The ‘hunebedden’ are an emblem of the province of Drenthe. They were created by peasant tribes 5000 years ago. 54 of these graves have stood the test of time. Each passage grave is a tomb made from enormous, solid stones. The stones were left behind after the penultimate ice age and weigh up to 40 tons each (source).
Leiden and the Dutch Golden Age
Located only a 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam, Leiden is a quaint college town rich in Dutch history. The city of Leiden is specifically known for being Rembrandt van Rijn’s birthplace, the place of Pilgrim settlement prior to sailing to the Americas as well as the battleground for sieges and attacks throughout history.
One of these important sieges is the Dutch revolt against the Spanish in the 1570s which is now celebrated as the most important holidays in Leiden. Every year in the month of October, the city comes out to party to celebrate the victory against the Spanish.
Leiden is also home to a surprisingly large number (and variety) of museums. Interested in the history of other countries? Be sure to check out the National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden). The museum has a huge collection of antiquities from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome. The Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, and the Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) are also amazing museums to visit.
If you’re a fan of Rembrandt van Rijn, check out his memorial at Rembrandtpark. There is a statue of him as well as a mural commemorating his life. The park also has a great view of Molen de Put, one of the famous windmills in the city. Molen de Valk is also another visit-worthy spot, you’ll learn so much about how windmills work inside this museum!
Leiden is a unique city that’s definitely worth a day trip from Amsterdam. Or better yet, take a weekend trip to Leiden to experience more of the city.
Alternatively if you have only a short time to explore, book a private two hour tour to make the most of your time.
By Constance – The Adventures of Panda Bear
If you happen to be in the country in the beginning of October, check out the ‘Leids ontzet’ festival. This is an annual festival held on 3rd October or on 4 October if it falls on a Sunday. This is also an excellent time to taste a typical Dutch food: raw herring.
Hoorn is another beautiful medieval city that you should visit in The Netherlands. It is located on the edges of one of the biggest lakes of The Netherlands, the Markermeer and is a typical fishing town in the province of Noord-Holland. One great thing about visiting Hoorn is its location.
Not only is Hoorn only a 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam, but it’s completely surrounded by the countryside. As well as the fact that not many tourists are visiting Hoorn, while there are plenty of things to see. Think of visiting the cheese market of Hoorn during summer, or the Westfries Museum where you can discover the good and bad parts of the VOC and the Golden Age for The Netherlands and the colonies.
And when you’re done with exploring Hoorn for one full day, it’s easy to sit back and relax with a drink at one of the many terraces. Enjoy the atmosphere and watch the sunset in the Markermeer to finish a special day in one of the many beautiful cities in The Netherlands.
For a fun way to see the area book ride on a vintage steam train and a ride on an old steam ship to travel from Enkhuizen to Hoorn, or vice versa.
Manon – Visiting The Dutch Countryside
Alkmaar cheese market
Alkmaar is in the province of North Holland- only about 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. It is most famous for its Cheese Market where they show you how cheese used to be traded many years ago.
It all started in 1365 and the tradition of cheese, and the cheese market in Alkmaar, continues to delight visitors today. Tradition is everything here! There are many roles within a cheese market and each person is incredibly important. The most fun thing to do is to watch the men run back and forth with the special carriers filled with cheese and witness boats full of cheese go down the canal. Don’t forget to pop into a cheese shop and taste some for yourself. If you want to take some back to your home country, just be sure to let them know so it can be packaged properly.
Alkmaar is a city perfect for strolling. Take in all the Dutch architecture possible as you cross bridges and meander through the small streets while keeping out of the way of cars and bikes. If you are so inclined, this is a great place for a little boat tour as well. It’s so nice to get a different perspective of any city and Alkmaar is no different.
To book a tour through Alkmaar and the cheese market, click here.
By Jessica Cutrufello – A Wanderlust For Life
Frau Antje is a ‘typical’ Dutch girl used in the advertising of cheese (and other dairy products). She is dressed in custom-made regional attire, which is created to resemble a traditional look. Frau Antje was ‘born’ in 1959 (source Wikipedia). Since this year (2019) she is accompanied by ‘Herr Hans’, a boy serving cheese.
The job of cheese carrier is still a man’s job, as the cheeses weigh up to 150 kilos.
The Hanseatic League
Strung along the river IJssel you will find the medieval cities of: Hasselt, Kampen, Zwolle, Hattem, Deventer, Zutphen, Elburg, Harderwijk and Doesburg.
¨The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe. Hanse, later spelled as Hansa, was the Old High German word for a convoy, and this word was applied to bands of merchants traveling between the Hanseatic cities – whether by land or by sea¨ (source Wikipedia).
Explore the area by boat or ‘go Dutch’ and cycle the route.
Thanks to Adri Hulshoff for the suggestion.
Time travel to the Zaanse Schans
Within one hour time travel to a 16th century European countryside by taking bus no. 391 from the Amsterdam central station. Wooden windmills dotted along the Zaans river, green paddy fields and colorful wooden houses – that’s Zaanse Schans for you.
Zaanse Schans is an anchor-point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. It is the birthplace of some of the greatest Dutch entrepreneurial ventures of 16th and 17th century. This period is referred to as the Golden era of Zaanse Schans, as it became one of the biggest production and trading hubs of the planet. Its advanced production technology with windmills at its centre and the trade route through the Zaans river brought prosperity to Zaanse Schans.
In the Zaans museum, you will be taken on a virtual tour of life in the countryside over centuries, how the windmills came into being and became an integral part of the “Zaans identity”. The audio visual entertainment, the paintings and artefacts along with the workshops for cookie and chocolate making makes it one of the best museums I have ever visited.
But even if you skip it, you can still spend the day basking in the natural beauty and watching birds and cattle in the field. You can also take a tour inside one of the functioning wooden windmills, climb up the stairs to the top to get panoramic views of the place or hire a boat to sail on the river. Make sure to include this day trip in your Amsterdam itinerary.
To book a tour to the Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam, check here for rates and availbility.
By Sinjana Ghosh – Backpack & Explore
Is there more?
What do you think? Has this blog covered the most important places?
I know missing Valkenburg, Maastricht, Haarlem, Giethoorn are missing for sure. Will try to update these in the next couple of weeks.
Did I miss more?
Please let me know, either by mail, in a reaction below or via social media.