From fairytale-like hamlets and medieval cities to tulip fields and beyond, we explore the most beautiful places to visit in the Netherlands.
As cool and cosmopolitan as Amsterdam is, there’s far more to the Netherlands than its famous capital. While the country may be small, there is certainly no shortage of beautiful places to visit for the day. From beautiful national parks teeming with wildlife to medieval cities steeped in history, there’s something to satisfy all tastes. So if you fancy escaping the capital, here are some of the best places to visit in the Netherlands.
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Often dubbed the ‘Dutch Venice’ the charming hamlet of Giethoorn looks like something straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Located in the province of Overijssel, just 75 miles from Amsterdam, the dreamlike village is famous for its beautiful thatched farmhouses, tranquil waterways, and arched wooden bridges. The setting is made all the more whimsical by the fact that you can only explore it by boat, bike, or foot. Surrounded by luscious greenery and free from traffic, Giethoorn is the ideal spot to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy relaxing in the heart of nature.
The village also boasts a handful of modest museums to pique various interests. You can marvel at the vast collection of cars and motorcycles at Histomobil or discover a treasure trove of gemstones at the Museum de Oude Aarde. If you want to see what a typical Giethoorn farmhouse looked like a century ago, you can at the Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus. You also have your pick of charming canalside cafés and restaurants where you can dine in tranquility. And if you fancy delving even further into the countryside, the nearby De Weerribben-Wieden National Park is abundant in wildlife. Needless to say, Giethoorn is one of the most picture-perfect places to visit in the Netherlands.
Alkmaar Cheese Market
The Netherlands is famous for its dreamy cheeses. And what better place to sample them than in the country’s oldest and biggest cheese market. Just 40km northwest of Amsterdam, the picturesque city of Alkmaar comes alive every Friday morning with its popular cheese market. Hundreds of visitors gather in the Waagplein square to enjoy the colorful demonstrations featuring vendors wearing traditional Dutch costumes. Here, you can watch cheese carriers transport up to 160kg of cheese across the square on barrows while cheese girls mingle with customers. You can also sample and buy every kind of cheese under the sun at the market.
This prominent Alkmaar tradition dates all the way back to 1593. Even today, it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Therefore, if you’re looking to experience an authentic part of Dutch culture and tradition, this is one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands. But the medieval city isn’t only worth visiting for its famous dairy. Indeed, there are many historic monuments, museums, and shopping streets to explore. The numerous cafés and terraces also provide the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee while lapping up the buzzing atmosphere.
The traditional Dutch fishing village of Volendam remains one of the most popular places to visit in the Netherlands – and for good reason. Located on Lake Markermeer, just 20km northeast of Amsterdam, the charming harbor settlement offers great insight into the Dutch fishing trade. Every day, hundreds of tourists descend on the village to admire the colorful wooden fishermen’s houses and old ships in the harbor. The vast selection of seafood vendors also makes Volendam the perfect place to try raw herring (Hollandse Nieuwe haring).
This slippery Dutch delicacy is somewhat of an institution in the Netherlands and definitely worth trying – if only once! With its labyrinth of lanes, numerous souvenir shops, and handful of quaint museums, Volendam is best explored by foot. The Wooden Shoe Factory and Cheese Factory Volendam are particularly fun highlights. But if you want to take your Dutch experience one step further, you can at Foto de Boer. Here, you can have your own portrait photo taken wearing traditional Volendam clothing. And if want more adventure, you can also hop in a boat and visit the nearby island of Marken.
Also known as the ‘The Garden of Europe’, Keukenhof is one of the largest flower gardens in the world and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Netherlands. More than seven million tulip bulbs spring to life each March, bringing an ocean of color to the town of Lisse where Keukenhof lies. Although famous for its tulips, the magnificent garden is also home to numerous other flowers including daffodils, lilies, roses, and carnations. Needless to say, the scent arising from this sprawling 32-hectare landscape is beyond heavenly.
Keukenhof is open to the public all year round and attracts a whopping 26,000 visitors a day in peak season. This makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands. With this in mind, you might want to arrive early to make a headstart on the 1.5km-long trail that weaves around the garden. Along the way, you can admire the beautiful ponds, pavilions, windmills, and sculptures that feature within the floral landscape. With plenty of things to entertain kids, Keukenhof is also popular with families looking for a leisurely day out. The Miffy-themed play area, children’s farm, and maze make it an ideal family outing.
When you think of the Netherlands, you probably conjure up images of windmills scattered across vast fields of green. Well, that’s exactly what you can expect to see when you visit the village of Kinderdijk (which literally translates as ‘children dike’). Every year, thousands of tourists flock to this iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site to see the country’s famous cluster of 18th-century windmills dotted along the Lek and Noord rivers. Amazingly, these are still fully functioning today. In fact, Kinderdijk is one of the only places in the Netherlands where you can actually see how the country’s water management system works.
From April to October, you can take a peek inside several of the windmills and learn about how they operate from a guide. And if you visit in winter, make sure to bring your ice skates as the frozen canals become a huge natural ice rink. Kinderdijk is only accessible by bike or foot and is, therefore, one of the most popular cycling routes in the Netherlands. To make a day of it, you can combine your visit with a Waterbus ride and explore the Biesbosch nature reserve where you may even spot some beavers.
The Wadden Islands
If you really want to escape city life and experience the most beautiful natural landscapes the Netherlands has to offer, a trip to the Wadden Islands won’t fail to deliver. Lying between Den Helder in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark, these five stunning islands sit in the shallow waters of the Wadden Sea, among around fifty islands and islets. Each island is easily accessible by ferry and has its own distinct character. The largest of the five is Texel, which attracts hoards of holidaymakers owing to its stunning 30 km long sandy beach. During the summer months, this becomes a hotspot for surfing and other watersports. The island is also home to the fantastic Ecomare seal sanctuary. Here, animal lovers can watch abandoned pups being nursed and learn about the island’s protected wildlife.
Texel’s seven villages are also worth exploring for their unique character and charm. The scenic island of Ameland, meanwhile, features a beautiful sand dune landscape making it ideal for hiking, cycling, and enjoying the great outdoors. And if you love wildlife, you will no doubt enjoy spotting the huge colonies of birds in the Boschplaat nature reserve on Terschelling. The smaller of the Wadden Islands, Schiermonnikoog is also home to an abundance of wildlife nestled among its protected forest, dunes, polders, salt marshes, and small lakes. But if you want to encounter complete remoteness, Vlieland is dubbed the ‘Sahara of the north’ owing to its vast, sweeping dune landscape and lack of cars.
The Hoge Veluwe National Park
Covering 5,400 hectares of rolling sand dunes, dense woodlands, and vast peat bogs, the Hoge Veluwe National Park is one of the largest nature reserves in the Netherlands. It is also one of the most varied, and home to several rare Red List species. These include the Wheatear, the Wryneck, and the Moor Frog. You might also spot wild boar, red deer, and some 500 different species of plants in this vast landscape. With 1,700 free white bikes on offer for everyone to use throughout the park, this is ideal for cycling.
And with 41km of paths to explore, there is plenty to see along the way. Highlights include the Kröller-Müller Museum where you will find the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world; this includes almost 90 of his paintings and more than 180 of his drawings. The world’s first underground museum, Museonder, is also worth a visit to discover everything that lives and lived beneath the surface. The exhibition even takes you on a journey to the center of the earth. The Kröller-Müller Museum is also home to a beautiful sculpture garden that features outstanding works of art. Essentially, the park is the perfect blend of art, sport, and nature.
Only a stone’s throw from Amsterdam, the charming city of Haarlem is cherished for its beautiful historic city center and numerous museums, restaurants, and shops. From hidden courtyards from bygone times to trendy concept stores, the idyllic Dutch city is the perfect blend of old and new. As you stroll along the cobbled streets and observe the ornate 17th-century architecture, it’s easy to imagine Haarlem as it was in the Dutch Golden Age. Back then, it was a thriving commercial center, an inspiration for artists, and the tulip capital. It was also a huge producer of beer and you can sample local brews at the quirky Jopenkerk; a famous brewery in a church.
One of the best ways to experience the city is by sipping on a drink at one of the many terraces in the Grote Markt; especially when the church bells ring. If you enjoy shopping, you will love browsing the gorgeous boutiques on the Gouden Straatjes (Golden Streets). And if you appreciate museums, the Frans Hals Museum houses famous 17th-century Frans Hals paintings. The Teylers Museum, meanwhile, delves into the worlds of art, natural history, and science. You can also peek inside the stunning St. Bavo Church in the center and the charming Adriaan windmill on the Spaarne river. And if hunger strikes, you have an overwhelming number of restaurants to choose from. From swanky Michelin-starred restaurants to cozy brasseries, Haarlem is well-deserving of its title as the 2019 gastronomical capital of the Netherlands. Just a half-hour cycle from the beach, Haarlem really does have everything you could possibly want.
Located in South Holland, Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and the largest port in Europe. Many consider it to be Amsterdam’s greatest rival, boasting a bustling nightlife scene, cutting-edge architecture, and a jam-packed calendar of events. Its large student population also contributes to its vibrant atmosphere and the plethora of bars and clubs on offer. The city also hosts a wide variety of festivals throughout the year; these include the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam Unlimited, World Port Busker Festival, and VKV City Racing Rotterdam. The Eurovision Song Contest was also due to join the impressive line-up in 2021 but was unfortunately canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Much of Rotterdam was destroyed in WWII. However, this helped to pave the way for some of the best-known and boldest modern architecture in Europe. Notable buildings include the highly-Instagrammable Cube Houses designed by Piet Blom, the soaring Erasmus Bridge (nicknamed ‘The Swan’), and the Kunsthal Museum, designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas. The curvaceous Market Hall (Markthal) is also a stunning sight to behold. This is largely owing to its 11,000-square-meter mural ceiling under which 100 fresh produce sellers, 15 food shops, and 8 restaurants sit. You could easily while away a whole day browsing this colossal indoor market.
Dubbed ‘The judicial capital of the world’, The Hague (or Den Haag) is the seat of the Dutch government and home to the Dutch Royal family. This makes it one of the most important cities in the Netherlands. Unlike Amsterdam and Rotterdam, however, it has an air of elegance that attracts a somewhat more refined crowd. This is largely due to its many beautiful palaces, fine art museums, and luxury shops. The city also boasts several spacious historic squares including the Plein and Grote Markt. These provide great spots to lap up the relaxed atmosphere of the city with a refreshing drink in hand.
During your visit, you can take a tour of Het Binnenhof, the famous complex of governmental buildings. And if you appreciate art, you can view the world’s largest Mondrian collection in the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Meanwhile, the Mauritshuis museum houses an impressive selection of Golden Age masterpieces; including Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. And if you have kids (or you’re a big kid yourself) the nearby miniature world of Madurodam is always fun.
The charming city of Delft is not only world-famous for its hand-painted blue and white pottery (Delftware). It was also the hometown of one of the greatest painters of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, Johannes Vermeer. Located in the province of South Holland, between Rotterdam and The Hague, the idyllic city is typical of the Netherlands. A network of picturesque canals forms a ring around the medieval center. Here, you will find numerous cozy cafés, terraces, old churches, and a bustling market.
Every Thursday, more than 150 stalls come together between City Hall and the Nieuwe Kerk. They sell everything from fresh fruit and veg to clothing and electronic gadgets. Delft also boasts several beautiful parks and gardens which add to its relaxed atmosphere and romantic vibe. You can easily spend a weekend here wandering around the center, exploring the market stalls, and visiting the Prinsenhof Museum. The latter was once the residence of William of Orange and the place of his assassination. The Renaissance-style City Hall and the Oud and Nieuwe Kerk are also worth a visit. On a clear day, you can even see Rotterdam and The Hague from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk.
Located in the southeastern part of the Netherlands, Maastricht might appear ‘less Dutch’ than other cities in the country. Set either side of the Meuse river, the city boasts French-influenced architecture, Spanish and Roman ruins, and an international atmosphere. This is perhaps due to its close proximity to Belgium and Germany. Furthermore, it is surrounded by hills, adding to its atypical Dutch appearance. That said, old churches, romantic cobblestone streets, and quaint squares lined with cafés and restaurants fill its historic center. Maastricht is also famous for its world-class Michelin-starred restaurants, so make sure you arrive hungry – and bring your credit card.
There are also a handful of interesting museums to explore in the city. These include the Natural History Museum and Maastricht Underground. The latter consists of a huge network of tunnels and caves that lie beneath the surface. The Vrijthof is one of the most important squares in the city and regularly hosts public events. One of these is the huge annual carnival celebration, which takes place before Lent. All week long, the whole city dresses up and parties around the center. So, if you want to experience the real Maastricht spirit, this is the best time to visit.