The Netherlands, or Holland, does not tend to be a bucket list destination and yet it’s utterly unique landscape, history, lifestyle and architecture make it one of the most unique and wonderful places in the world.
If you haven’t yet visited the Netherlands, you must. In the Spring, when you fly into Schiphol, Amsterdam’s main airport, the fields below you are painted in blocks of luminous colours as swathes of brightly coloured tulips populate field after field. You will not see anything like this anywhere else in the world. Head to the wonderful gardens of Keukenhof and you can walk among these spectacular fields of tulips.
In the Summer, the Netherlands is all about sitting outside waterside cafes and watching barges and the rest of the world pass by, or cycling through the never-ending sand dunes to miles of empty Atlantic beaches.
In the winter, the thousands of Dutch canals freeze over and locals race between towns on their ice skates. In fact, the Dutch are special in their own right, cycling and skating to work and spending their weekends barging on the canals. Even though this Northern European country can be eye-wateringly cold, the Dutch make the most of their unique outdoors and as a result, this small country is packed with fun stuff to do.
I have picked my favourite Dutch cities below. Visitors flock to Amsterdam; a beautiful city of stunning canals, historic architecture and cheery, open-minded (if a little bonkers) Dutch, usually on their bicycles. But there is so much beyond the borders of this historic city. So in this article I have concentrated on other cities in this unique country that you may not have heard of, but really should visit.
On a visit to Amsterdam you must tour Anne Frank’s House or visit the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum for some of the very best in Dutch artwork. The Jordaan district offers a real taste of local culture, with trendy shops and the Waterlooplein flea market.
The city is also home to exciting festivals and events from fashion shows to flower parades on the canals. We recommend staying at the historic Intercontinental Amsterdam or the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam.
Leiden is a city in the South of The Netherlands located just a 45-minute drive away from Amsterdam (even less if you travel by train). Many canals form a network of waterways in the city, making it an ideal place to visit on foot or by boat. The canals are lined with beautiful 17th-century buildings showcasing classic Dutch stepped-roof style architecture.
The city is home to the country’s oldest university, dating from 1575. The university houses the Hortus botanicus Leiden Botanical Garden, founded in 1590, where the tulip was introduced to Western Europe. A number of museums are within walking distance of each other and they displays works by the Dutch Masters including some by Rembrandt, who was born in Leiden, along with a world-class collection of Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts.
Leiden is one of the most picturesque cities in The Netherlands, it is almost impossible to come away without some good photos. Stay on Wednesdays and Saturdays to enjoy the street markets. Whether you are looking for fish, flowers, cheese or just want to people watch this is a great way to experience Dutch culture.
If you love flowers, just 26 miles to the South of Leiden are the wonderful gardens of Keukenhof with its spectacular fields of tulips. But perhaps the best reason to come to Leiden is to relax in one of the vibrant waterfront cafes with the many students in the town.
The Netherlands’ fourth largest city, Utrecht is incredibly ancient and just 45 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam. It is easy to visit as a day trip from Amsterdam and was originally founded as a Roman fortress almost 2000 years ago! Today it is well-known for its universities and being the religious heart of The Netherlands.
Utrecht’s beautiful Old Town is packed full of antique shops, medieval churches and picturesque canals. Architecture fans (particularly those interested in the Modern Movement) will certainly want to visit the UNESCO Rietveld Schröder House, built in 1924 based on the designs of architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Historic Kasteel De Haar whose interiors and fabulous gardens resemble those at the Palace of Versailles, is located just outside of Utrecht and is worth a visit.
Just 30 minutes from Amsterdam by car and 15 minutes by train, is The Netherland’s lively capital. It offers visitors a historic, less-touristy and less-crowded experience. Many of Haarlem’s most-loved, historic attractions lie within a short walk of its lovely market square; the Grote Markt.
Take a canal boat cruise around Haarlem and visit its 14th-century Town Hall, the magnificent St. Bavo’s Church, and the outstanding art collection inside the Frans Hals Museum.
5. The Hague
The Hague is The Netherland’s third largest city and is around an hour from Amsterdam by car or train. This elegant, cultural city is home to many foreign embassies and international organizations (like the United Nations and the International Court of Justice). Take a guided tours of the beautiful political buildings located inside the Binnenhof complex which will take you to the 13th-century, spectacularly beautiful Ridderzaal (Hall of the Knights).
6 miles south of The Hague is the charming Delft where the beautifully-crafted white and blue Delftware pottery is made. Delft has been producing pottery since the 16th century, and visitors can tour the workshops to watch pieces being produced.
The town is a lovely place to take a stroll and to with out with a coffee or an Amstel beer.
Just under an hour from Amsterdam, is Gouda, known for its delicious, mild cheese. Gouda’s cheese markets have been trading cheese since the Middle Ages,and the city showcases some fantastic gothic architecture. The Stadhuis, the oldest town hall in The Netherlands, dates back to the 15th century.
Visit Gouda on a Thursday morning when the kaasmarkt (cheese market) takes place. This fragrant marketplace sees the local farmers sell their bright orange circular cheeses.
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