Millions of tourists come to the Netherlands every year, and most of them limit their visit to Amsterdam and perhaps Keukenhof tulip garden. But there are so many things to see in the Netherlands besides Amsterdam!
I have lived in the Netherlands for three years and travelled a lot around the country during this time. There are so many things to see and experience in the Netherlands. Its cities, numerous museums and galleries, castles, parks, food, architecture, tulips, windmills, canals and boats.
So if you have a few days to spend in the Netherlands, here is the list from a local (well, almost a local) of the best things to see in the Netherlands besides Amsterdam.
Large vibrant cities in the Netherlands
Besides Amsterdam, the Netherlands has other large cities worth visiting such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands. Spend a day walking in the city to see some of the major landmarks such as Market Hall, Cube Houses, Witte Huis, Erasmus bridge, City Hall and others.
Make sure to visit Oude Haven (Old Harbour) with its old basin and restored boats. Get to the viewing platform of Euromast – the tallest building in the Netherlands. Take a boat tour to see the city from the water and to have a look at Europort – the largest seaport in Europe.
Things to see in the Netherlands - the cube houses of Rotterdam
The Hague city is not only the home of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, but also the home of Dutch government and Dutch royal family. When in the Hague, check out the Dutch parliament building complex – Binnenhof – with its inner yard and huge pond in front of the complex.
See paintings by the world famous artists in Mauritshuis museum. Visit Madurodam – a park of miniatures with replicas of Dutch cities and landmarks, outdoor exhibitions and activities for the whole family. Take a tram to Scheveningen – the Hague’s famous beach and promenade with many cafes and restaurants.
Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and famous for its medieval city center, old canals and the tallest church tower in the country – Domtoren. Walk the old streets of Utrecht downtown, stroll along the Oudegracht and dine in one of the many restaurants by the water.
Admire cathedral tower of Domtoren, gothic-style cathedral of Domkerk and cosy old garden of Pandhof. Visit museum Speelklok with its large collection of self-playing musical instruments or Spoorwegmuseum – an awesome railway museum, especially if travelling with children.
Oudegracht (Old Canal) of Utrecht among the places to see in the Netherlands
Oudegracht (Old Canal) of Utrecht
Small cosy towns to visit in the Netherlands
Do not underestimate the smaller cities in the Netherlands. Small Dutch towns have some of the most interesting attractions in the country. Because they are small and compact, it’s easy to visit the smaller towns as a day trip from Amsterdam. Here are some of the small towns in the Netherlands I would recommend visiting.
City of Delft is famous for its Delftware – Delft blue pottery. You can visit a Delftware factory and learn about the history and process of the Delftware production. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries Delft was actually one of the major cities in the Netherlands and the residence of Dutch prince of Orange.
Even though nowadays the city is small, it is still rich on Dutch history and has many historical monuments and museums worth visiting. Delft was also a home to the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ are just a few of his works that you might know).
Though Maastricht is about 2 hours away from all the major cities of the Netherlands (which is considered far in this small country), I would still recommend visiting it. Maastricht is well known in Europe as the birthplace of the European Union and ‘euro’ currency.
In the Netherlands it’s known as one of the oldest cities and places to go for great food and restaurants. You will find here the oldest bridge and the oldest city gate in the Netherlands. An iconic bookshop – Dominicanenkerk – located in the historical building of the 13th century church. Historical squares with many fine cafes and restaurants. These are just some of the things to see in Maastricht.
Haarlem is a city located 15 minutes away from Amsterdam. It’s small and cosy and full of charm. Walk to Grote Markt – central city square and admire the gothic-style Cathedral of St. Bavo. Visit some of Haarlem’s Hofjes – small enclosed courtyard gardens with nice green spaces. Explore narrow streets of Haarlem’s old town. Check out Windmill De Adriaan – a museum located in the 18th-century windmill.
Leiden is a small Dutch town located between Amsterdam and The Hague. If you like visiting museums Leiden is a must see when travelling in the Netherlands.
Visit the National Museum of Ethnology with exhibitions from around the world.
National Museum of Antiquities – an archaeology museum with beautiful collections of Egyptian, Greek & Roman artefacts.
Naturalis Biodiversity Center – a natural history museum with one of the largest natural history collections in the world.
After visiting a museum, head to Beestenmarkt square to enjoy some food in one of the cafes or to take a boat tour through the canals of Leiden.
Cheese markets in the Netherlands
One of the things the Netherlands is most famous for is cheese. World known types of cheese – Gouda and Edam – originate from the Netherlands.
So, where else if not in this country to experience cheese markets, shops and cheese-related events?
The most popular cheese markets in the Netherlands happen between April and September in Alkmaar and Gouda. Visit a cheese market to see people dressed in traditional Dutch clothes, horse-drawn carts loaded with rolls of cheese and the old-fashioned way to bargain cheese price by clapping hands.
If you’re travelling to the Netherlands outside of the season for cheese markets, don’t worry – there are still many ways to experience Dutch cheese making and selling traditions. Visit a cheese museum in Amsterdam, Alkmaar or Gouda. Go to a farmers market – they happen on various days all over the Netherlands and always have cheese stalls with a big selection of Dutch cheese for you to taste and/or buy. Or simply pop into one of the many cheese stores in the country.
Windmills in the Netherlands
Another thing the Netherlands is famous for is its Windmills. There are hundreds of windmills in the Netherlands and you are bound to see at least few of them. Many windmills are still operational, some of them are open to the public and some were converted into museums.
There are several places to see windmills up close in the Netherlands.
A beautiful Dutch village of Zaanse Schans is located only half an hour away from Amsterdam. Zaanse Schans has typical 18th-19th century Dutch wooden houses, workshops and lots of windmills. Most of the windmills in Zaanse Schans are fully operational and open for visitors. There is a windmill for making oil, a wood saw windmill, a windmill to mill flour and spices, and even a windmill for making paint!
Kinderdijk is an iconic Dutch village with 18th-century windmills located not far from Rotterdam. There are 19 windmills in Kinderdijk, and 2 of them have museums inside. You can explore the windmills of Kinderdijk by renting a bike and riding around, or alternatively by taking a boat tour (or a water taxi from Rotterdam).
Windmills in the cities
There are also many windmills in Dutch cities all over the country. Take a free tour of Molen de Ster in Utrecht – a working windmill that is open to the public every Saturday afternoon.
Visit Molen De Put in Leiden and buy flour made right there on the windmill; or also in Leiden visit Molen De Valk – the 18th century windmill that is now a museum.
If you want to see some of the highest windmills in the world then make sure to go to Schiedam near Rotterdam, it has not one but 8 windmills in the city. Visit a windmill-museum Molen de Adriaan in Haarlem to learn about windmills and their history in the Netherlands. These are just some of the windmills in Dutch cities you can visit.
Museums in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has many museums of different kinds. There are art and history museums, science museums, cheese museums, museums in former windmills, tulip museums and many more other museums.
If you are visiting the Netherlands and plan on visiting several museums I would advise buying Dutch Museum Card – it is valid for a year and gives you free access to hundreds of museums across the country. Here are some of the museums in the Netherlands I’d recommend visiting:
Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Mauritshuis and Kröller-Müller museums for the lovers of art.
National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) in Leiden.
NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam and The Railway Museum in Utrecht are a must if you are visiting with children.
Maritime Museum in Rotterdam or Amsterdam to learn about rich Dutch naval history.
Aviodrome (aerospace museum) and Batavialand (shipyard, museum and a replica of one of the Dutch East India Company ships) in Lelystad.
Louwman Museum in The Hague with a large collection of historical cars.
Space Expo – visitor center of the European Space Agency.
Whatever your interests are and whether you are travelling solo, with a group or with children it’s absolutely worth visiting some of the museums the Netherlands has to offer.
Tulip fields in the Netherlands
If you are travelling to the Netherlands in spring make sure to visit tulip fields and gardens. There are many places to see blooming flowers in the Netherlands.
Lisse is the most popular place to see blooming tulips in the Netherlands. There are quite a few fields of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils around Lisse. Best way to experience it is to rent a bike and cycle around to see the flower fields.
Also located at Lisse, the famous Keukenhof is the largest tulip garden in the world. With millions of blooming flowers and hundreds of different types of tulips, it’s no surprise that Keukenhof is so popular with not only tourists but locals too.
The biggest area of the tulip bulbs industry in the Netherlands is Noordoostpolder, the province of Flevoland. You will find many fields with all sorts of tulips over there. Besides the fields you can visit tulip gardens, such as Pegasushof Gardens or Goldhoorn Gardens, or even a tulip picking farm – Hanneke’s Pluktuin.
Another area to visit during the tulip blooming season is North Holland. Area between Alkmaar and Den Helder has hundreds of flower fields, and they are usually less crowded than fields around Lisse. There are tulip fields around Alkmaar, Nieuwe Niedorp, Schagen, Anna Paulowna and Julianadorp. You can also visit Bloemendagen (Flower Days) in Anna Paulowna or tulip picking farm in Julianadorp.
When enjoying tulip fields in the Netherlands, please keep in mind that picking tulips in the fields is not allowed! For that you are more than welcome to visit one of the dedicated tulip picking farms.