Located in Northwestern Europe, with much of its territory below sea level, it’s no wonder everyone talks about the Netherlands as a land of wonderful canals. But that’s just one of this country’s many appeals. Scattered throughout, you will also find picturesque windmills, colorful flower fields, idyllic villages, and vibrant cities rich in art, culture, and history.
Here are 15 of the best places to see in the Netherlands, from charming cheese markets to beautiful parks to ever seductive Amsterdam:
A picturesque cluster of canals over the Amstel River, in the province of North Holland, Amsterdam is the largest and most alluring city in the Netherlands. Vibrant, cosmopolitan, and steeped in culture, it greets visitors with fabulous museums, exciting nightlife, and a decidedly unique café scene.
For a complete experience in the Dutch capital, don’t miss the illustrious Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, or Anne Frank House. Also, make sure you fill out your itinerary with long strolls around Grachtengordel – the central area where the city’s main canals, bridges, and quaint 17th-century canal houses reside; and a foray into the controversial Red Light District – once famous for cannabis coffee shops and neon-lit brothel windows, now brimming with art studios and cool hipster hangouts.
The Hoge Veluwe National Park
Covering an area of 5,400 hectares in the province of Gelderland, Hoge Veluwe National Park is one of the largest and most varied nature reserves in the Netherlands. Home to interesting wildlife and geographical formations ranging from rolling sand dunes to dense woodlands, the park is a wonderful example of what can happen when sport, art, and culture meet unspoiled nature.
Major attractions in the Hoge Veluwe National Park include the Kröller-Müller Museum, which is home to the world’s largest private Van Gogh collection; The Museonder (Underground Museum) – one of the finest sculpture gardens in Europe; and the stunning Jachthuis Sint Hubertus Hunting Lodge.
To explore all these, take advantage of the 1,700 white bikes free for everyone to use throughout the park.
One of the country’s greatest attractions, the Keukenhof Gardens, often referred to as “The Garden of Europe“, is the second-largest flower garden in the world after Dubai Miracle Garden, and a place anyone should visit while in the Netherlands. Located in the Bulb region, between Amsterdam and The Hague, Keukenhof, with its more than seven million bulbs planted each autumn, is a magnificent spectacle of colors and scents.
In addition to admiring the gorgeous floral landscape, visitors can also enjoy various flower shows, markets, and parades held here throughout the year; take a memorable flight, bike tour, or boat trip around the bulb fields; or have lunch in one of the onsite restaurants.
The best time of the year to visit the Keukenhof Gardens is during spring, when the fields are in full bloom and can be admired in their entire splendor.
Amsterdam’s greatest rival, Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest and busiest ports. Located in Western Netherlands, in the province of South Holland, the city stands out for its gorgeous waterside setting, cutting-edge architecture, and high commercial importance.
Nevertheless, its lively nightlife, jam-packed cultural calendar, and young university vibe make Rotterdam one of the most dynamic and livable cities in Europe.
There are many sayings reflecting the perpetual rivalry between the Netherlands’ finest cities, but this is probably the most popular: “Amsterdam has it, but Rotterdam doesn’t need it”.
Delft is a charming typical Dutch city located in the province of South Holland, between Rotterdam and The Hague.
World-famous for its blue and white pottery (Delftware) and for being the hometown of Vermeer – the painter who gave birth to the Girl With a Pearl Earring, Delft is bursting with things to see and do, from lovely bars and cafés to quaint churches, interesting museums, and beautiful historical buildings lining pretty canals and wonderful parks.
Delft’s real charm, however, lies in the relaxed atmosphere, which together with its gloriously preserved medieval old center and idyllic canals, makes for an unforgettable romantic getaway.
The capital of the Limburg province, Maastricht lies in the southeastern part of the Netherlands, very close to both Belgium and Germany.
Once a Roman settlement, this attractive multicultural city has mastered the art of combining the old with the new. Expect rich culture and history, leafy parks, interesting museums, and a storybook medieval old town of quaint plazas and romantic cobblestone streets lined with restaurants and cafés.
The Old Windmills of Kinderdijk
There are many things that make the Netherlands the unique place that it is, but nothing complements better the traditional Dutch landscape than its picturesque windmills. The country is full of them, but the UNESCO-protected 19 old windmills of Kinderdijk are, no doubt, one of the most famous sights in the Netherlands.
Designed in 1740 to drain the Alblasserwaard polders and to prevent flooding, the windmills were perfectly preserved ever since. Nowadays, tourists from all over the world come to admire this idiosyncratic scenery and learn about the brilliant Dutch water management. Moreover, from April to the end of October, one of these ancient generators is open to the public in order to be explored and admired.
Kinderdijk sits in the province of South Holland, about 15 km east of Rotterdam, and can be easily reached by car, train, bus, and even by boat during the tourist season.
Located about 20 km west of Amsterdam, on the banks of the River Spaarne, Haarlem is the capital of North Holland and the city with the highest concentration of museums in the Netherlands.
Gravitating around a delightful market square (Grote Markt), where many of the city’s landmarks are located, Haarlem is a great place to visit, whether you’re interested in culture, history, shopping, or just want to soak up the enchanting laid-back Dutch feel while lingering over a beer in one of its many sidewalk cafés.
Dubbed “The judicial capital of the world“, The Hague is one of the largest and most important cities in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Airy and sophisticated, this cosmopolitan metropolis in the west of the country seduces visitors with outstanding architecture, lovely squares, and fine art museums, but also with its golden beaches, posh neighborhoods, shiny skyscrapers, and excellent shopping.
Highlights include Madurodam – the miniature city located in Scheveningen; the Prison Gate Museum (Gevangenpoort); the beautiful beach resort of Scheveningen; the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis; and Binnenhof – The Hague’s famous and imposing complex of governmental buildings.
Alkmaar Cheese Market
Held each year in the Waagplein square in Alkmaar, this cheese market is one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands. Due to its long history that dates back to 1593, it’s no wonder the market has become a prominent tradition in the area, and a noticeable part of the Dutch culture.
Usually, the Alkmaar cheese market season kicks off on the first Friday of April and lasts until the first Friday of September. The fares, spectacles, and demonstrations are taking place each Friday from 10 AM until 12.30 PM.
Combining charming medieval décors with wonderful displays of world-class Dutch cheese and vendors wearing traditional costumes, a trip here is like an authentic journey through the Dutch culture and traditions.
Alkmaar can be found in the province of North Holland, 40 km north-west of Amsterdam.
Established in 1952, in the little town of Kaatsheuvel, Southern Netherlands, Efteling is among the oldest theme parks in the world and the largest attraction of its kind in the country.
About twice as large as California’s famous Disneyland, the park is divided into four different realms – each with its own theme, and has lots of attractions to entertain the entire family, from wide-open green spaces, concerts, and theatrical performances to bars, restaurants, and even a four-star hotel.
The New Dutch Water Line
The Dutch have always been famous for their fierce fight against the country’s greatest enemy – water. A great testament to that is the New Dutch Water Line, a colossal 135-kilometer-long fortification of over 45 strongholds, surrounding the cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht.
The breathtaking landscapes here – peppered with adorable villages, beautiful lakes and rivers, museums, and castles – are a joy to explore, whether by foot, boat, or bicycle.
Home to millions of migratory birds, all types of fish species, and seals colonies, Waddenzee is the most peculiar and important nature reserve in the Netherlands, as well as one of the world’s largest wetlands ecosystems.
Located in the province of Groningen, on the Dutch coast, this one-of-a-kind natural habitat spans an area of almost 2,500 square km, which twice a day keeps its moist land appearance, and twice a day becomes one with the sea.
A storybook come to life, Giethoorn lures visitors with its dreamlike tranquility, idyllic waterways, and pretty thatched-roof farmhouses shrouded in greenery. Located in the northeastern Dutch province of Overijssel, about 75 miles from Amsterdam, the village is a cluster of small peat islands, with over 55 miles of canals, hundreds of wooden foot arch bridges, and no car streets.
Although its fairytale-like appearance is reason enough to visit, Giethoorn also hosts a handful of interesting museums, as well as charming canalside restaurants, quirky shops, and picturesque cycling routes. For nature lovers, the nearby De Weerribben-Wieden National Park is a treasure trove of wetlands, reed beds, and wildlife.
Aptly nicknamed the “Dutch Venice”, this charming hamlet can only be explored by boat, bike, or on foot.
Part living fortress, part open-air museum, the tiny fortified village of Bourtange in the Westerwolde region is one of the most unique places in the Netherlands. Built in 1593, during the Dutch Revolt against Spain, the star-shaped fort near the border with Germany is an outstanding example of 16th-century military architecture, with cobbled medieval lanes, quaint brick houses, and restored military barracks, all enclosed within thick defensive walls and marshy moats.
A well-preserved synagogue, a couple of museums dedicated to the area’s history, and a smattering of seasonal events (including a Christmas Market) count among its attractions, but the real pleasure of a trip here lies in a simple walk around its delightful streets lined with small craft shops, or maybe a stroll along its walls at sunset, topped off with a drink in the tree-shaded central plaza.