Note: This article is a guest post by Ask the Dutch Guy.
The Netherlands is one of the most fascinating countries in Europe. It is famous for its canals, museums, windmills, tulip blooms, wooden clogs, beer, historic cities, and friendly people. Several of its towns, villages, and landmarks are postcard-worthy and Instagrammable.
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The Netherlands is relatively small. Its three most popular cities are the eclectic capital city of Amsterdam, lively Rotterdam, and historic The Hague, but there are definitely more spots to explore. When it comes to absorbing local beauty and travelling back in time to understand a foreign land, the Netherlands takes tourism to another level.
When visiting, prepare to do lots of different activities – hiking, strolling, cycling, sightseeing, picture-taking, boating, sailing, dining, relaxing, and shopping – in a wide variety of places. To be more specific, here are the Top 10 must-see places in the Netherlands:
1. Romantic Amsterdam canals
The capital city is always the first stop, and its canals are always the most popular attractions. The pretty waterways are so romantic. Similar to many other cities that sit over water such as Venice, Amsterdam has a vibrant canal system that never fails to draw in both local and international tourists.
You can explore pretty much all the major city hot spots, including Amsterdam’s infamous “Red Light” district, by taking a boat tour or a water taxi along the city’s idyllic water routes.
Another way to enjoy the canals is simply strolling along their banks and discovering the many shops and restaurants nearby.
2. More canals in Giethoorn, only quieter
While the capital city is always hectic and dynamic, the tiny village of Giethoorn promises a blissful boat ride along canals that pass through historic Dutch farms, thatched-roofed cottages, and lovely wooden arch bridges. It’s a vision of how the Dutch used to live long ago.
Giethoorn is located in the Dutch province of Overijssel, about two hours away from Amsterdam by train and bus. It is popular for not allowing cars to enter the village and maintaining the peace and quiet.
Locals and tourists make their way to the stores, shops, and other establishments on a canoe or “whisper” boat. It is definitely a unique and different style of living in this quaint historic village.
Rachel’s Ruminations has lots more articles on the Netherlands!
3. Charming Zaanse Schans
Like Giethoorn, Zaanse Schans lets you travel back in time, particularly to the 17th and 18th centuries. Situated around 15 kilometers to the north of Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is a neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam. It was built and styled like an open-air museum. You can walk around to see a traditional Dutch village and experience how craftsmen would have worked back then.
Walk by some windmills, a sawmill, oil mill, shipyard, grocery store, pewter factory, and some really distinctive green wooden houses that are a perfect backdrop for your selfie.
The Zaans Museum displays regional costumes, model windmills and interactive exhibits on chocolate-making. Several artisan workshops demonstrate how wooden clogs are carved, how barrels are made, and pewters cast.
4. In the springtime: Keukenhof
When visiting in spring, immerse yourself in seven million tulips in full bloom in Keukenhof Gardens, the largest and most famous flower park in the world. Located in Lisse, not far from Amsterdam, Keukenhof is composed of four pavilions spread over 70 acres. They hold an exquisite collection of tulips as well as roses, daffodils, hyacinths, orchids, carnations, irises, lilies, and many others.
Also referred to as the “Garden of Europe,” there is no other park like this in the world, which explains why it attracts over a million visitors every year, even though Keukenhof only opens from mid-March to mid-May when the tulips are in bloom. Tulips are the signature flowers of the Netherlands.
5. The serenity of De Weerribben-Wieden National Park
De Weerribben-Wieden National Park is the largest bog in northwest Europe. While the Netherlands is home to several nature reserves, this one is known for its mystery and serenity.
While here, you can experience amazing wildlife, make your way along several lakes, ponds, swamps, and a wide meadow of flowers, and once again enjoy a peaceful boat ride on the park’s canals. De Weerribben-Wieden National Park is popular amongst hikers, campers, and nature lovers.
“This park is one of the best kept secrets in Holland, certainly when a village like Giethoorn is a part of it,” according to an online visitor review. “Plenty of nature, plenty of lovely villages, plenty of places to eat and plenty of places to stay whatever fancies you the most. You could easily spend three or four days in this park and still haven’t seen it all.”
6. The Van Gogh Museum
From the beauty of nature to beauty created by a renowned master, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam does not disappoint.
Van Gogh is one of the greatest artists to have ever lived. It’s not a surprise that the Van Gogh Museum is regularly voted as one of the best art museums in the world. About 1.5 million visitors make their way here each year, and you should definitely check this out when in Amsterdam.
The Van Gogh Museum boasts of having the most extensive collection of Van Gogh pieces in the world – 200 beautiful paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters.
Make sure to reserve your ticket ahead of time or you might not be allowed in.
7. Have you heard of Nijmegen?
This is considered by many to be one of Holland’s hidden gems. Nijmegen is home to the Renaissance-style Burchtstraat city hall, Sint-Jacobskapel chapel, and the Tower of Belvédère, which were all built in the 15th-17th century.
Not many foreign tourists come here, but those who do will enjoy shopping on Lange Hezelstraat, the oldest shopping street in the Netherlands.
Nijmegen is also home to Museum Het Valkhof, which features modern art, old masters and Roman antiquities, and the De Ooijpolder nature reserve, situated just outside the city to the east. Here, visitors can find idyllic villages, typical Dutch farms, wide meadows of lovely flowers, and hiking trails.
8. The magnificent windmills of Kinderdijk
The Netherlands is known for its ancient windmills and you can find them at Kinderdijk. Located on the River Noord between Rotterdam and Dordrecht, Kinderdijk is home to 19 magnificent windmills constructed by hand from 1722 to 1761.
Local residents built these impressive structures with 92-foot sails to drain the fenlands and transfer water to a higher basin that flowed into a river. The result is an extensive irrigation system that still stands after hundreds of years.
The windmills of Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and very popular in the country and all over Europe. The best months to visit are from April to October when the sails of the windmills are spinning. Book your ticket ahead!
9. Historic Valkenburg
Valkenburg in the beautiful Geul Valley is another town that is teeming with historic and bucket-list-worthy sites. It is home to the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands, which dates from the 12th century, on top of Castle Rock. Nearby is St. Nicolaaskerk Basilica, a 14th-century cathedral.
Other reasons to come here are the ancient ruins, caves, and the Christmas Market, which opens from November to December.
10. All of the Netherlands in Madurodam
Finally, if you haven’t got the time to see all of the Netherlands, come to Madurodam in The Hague and settle for a mini version of the country on a 1:25 scale. It’s uncanny and quite amazing. You’ll feel like a giant towering over the country’s top destinations, including the windmills, canals, main landmarks, and even bridges. You’ll also see the harbor, a railway system and an airport. Buy your tickets ahead!
(Last edited July 3, 2023)
Are there other locations you would add to this list of must-see places in the Netherlands? Add a comment below!