The Netherlands is a popular tourist destination for Europeans and world-travellers alike, with Amsterdam being its most frequented stop.
It is no wonder that the Dutch capital is the most visited city, as there is something for everyone to experience there. With major historical attractions like the Anne Frank house, master painters showcased in the Van Gogh museum and stunning city architecture with many tree lined canals, Amsterdam is always going to be a popular choice for the cultural traveler. Sports fans can take a tour of Ajax Amsterdam’s stadium, and party-goers will like the many late-night bars and clubs that Amsterdam has to offer.
But have you tried exploring the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam? You may be surprised by what you find. The Netherlands has a bit of a reputation as a country where “anything goes”, which makes Amsterdam a popular destination for stag dos and other group parties. However, Holland is a diverse country with a complex history and has a wide variety of other destinations that are worth a visit. Near Amsterdam you can find an abundance of thing to discover. So, if you fancy exploring the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam, then this guide is for you! We have picked 6 of our favourite Dutch cities which we think are well worth a visit.
Founded nearly 2000 years ago as a Roman fortification, this city in the heart of the country is now mostly known for it’s beautiful canal side restaurants, it’s large shopping center and hosting the largest cathedral of the Netherlands.
Filled with international students, this ancient city has largely a youthful, student vibe due to housing the country’s largest university. This has ensured the city has a very active nightlife with plenty of bars and cafes to enjoy. While during the day you will find many street terraces where you can sit down for a cup of coffee, in between your shopping sessions.
Utrecht emulates several of Amsterdam’s qualities with many flowing canals lined with cafes and hundreds of bikes riding past the gorgeous architecture. This means you can soak in some amazing Dutch sites without being surrounded by hundreds of tourists. It’s surprisingly fun to go through the canals of Utrecht on a pedal boat on a warm summer day.
Holland’s second city was largely damaged in the second world war, as it contains the most important port of Europe. Many cities in Europe tried to restore their city to preserve the ancient feel and history. Instead, Rotterdam decided to redesign itself completely from scratch. The city opened it’s doors to experimental and modern designs which led the city to receive the nickname “The architecture capital” of the Netherlands.
Rotterdam is a prime destination to explore, for its cutting-edge design architecture and extensive shopping areas. The Beurstraverse Mall in Rotterdam is one of the most distinct shopping malls of the country, as it offers subterranean shops which can be accessed from it’s multilevel shopping streets. Holland’s largest China Town also resides in Rotterdam. Some distinct architectural features of Rotterdam are its famous yellow cube houses and the artistic Market Hall, which has its entire ceiling covered with a gigantic decorative artwork of a mindblowing size of two football fields.
Maastricht is one of the oldest Dutch cities. The city can be found almost in the furthest southern tip of the country. It is right on the Belgian and German border, and the vibe is so different to the other Dutch cities, with clear Flemish and French influences. While the northern regions of the Netherlands encourage a sober lifestyle the southern regions pride themselves on living in abundance, with good food, plenty of beer and large classical music concerts.
Originally the city was founded under Caesar as a Roman settlement protecting a bridge over the Meuse river. You can learn about the history of Maastricht by visiting Grotten Zonneberg, which is an extensive network of tunnels carved by the Romans. Or visit the Romanesque Basilica of St. Servatius – one of the oldest churches in Holland. Maastricht is also a popular destination for many patriotic Americans, as it is the home of Margraten US Military Cemetery. Over 8000 American service members who died during the second world war were buried here, so Americans often visit to pay their respects.
The Hague is the home of the Dutch government and International Criminal Court, making it the political capital of the Netherlands and the legal capital of the world. This is a popular spot for those exploring the Netherlands, as you get to have a tour of the Binnenhof, the parliamentary palace. The Hague has a sense of sophistication that is not seen in other Dutch cities.
A must-see is The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer, which can be found at the Royal Picture Gallery, also known as the Mauritshuis Museum. Then, enjoy a picturesque dinner at The Penthouse – a restaurant situated on the 42nd floor of The Hague Tower. You are guaranteed stunning view from the highest restaurant in the Netherlands. If you prefer to have a bird’s eye view over the entire Netherlands, then you can visit the family friendly miniature park Madurodam, where you can find all the architectural highlights of the country.
In the far north of the country you can find Groningen; the city of the St. Martin’s Tower. This city is defined by its bustling student population. Over a quarter of the inhabitants of the city are students, meaning that Groningen has the lowest average age of all the Dutch cities. This is good news for people who enjoy a drink. If you like to party, then Groningen is for you! Expect a booming nightlife and head on down to the Grote Markt and Poelestraat, where the streets are lined with bars and nightclubs. While Amsterdam is known as relatively dangerous to bike in, Groningen on the other hand is known as the most bicycle friendly city of the Netherlands.
If you are willing to go slightly north of Groningen then you will arrive at Pieterburen. A hidden gem for recreational tourists as they can go sailing, mudflat hiking, a local hobby for nature lovers who love to walk through low water over the untamed sea to the Dutch Islands, and you can visit the Seal Rehabilitation Centre, where lost young seals who are found on the Dutch shores get cared for until they are ready to leave into the wilds again. A perfect place to meet your own baby seal.
During warm summer days many tourists love to enjoy a day at the beach. Unbeknownst to many travelers the Netherlands actually offers quite a nice beach to the west of Amsterdam. Zandvoort is the most notable beach place of the country, and when the weather allows it you can find many Dutch and German people spending their sunny days on the Zandvoort beach. It also has plenty of bars where beachgoers can get a fresh drink between their diving and tanning sessions.
When you’re enjoying your vacation in a world city like Amsterdam it’s easy stick within the canal rings, where you will be entertained with great painters, cozy shopping streets and colourful light districts. But if you can spare a day, always remember a short train trip can add a whole new flavour to your vacation.