Best things to do in Netherlands
Find out more about those top places in Netherlands
Sandwiched between the Netherlands political capital The Hague and the futuristic city of Rotterdam, the small city of Delft is often overshadowed by its larger neighbors. Despite this, Delft is one of the Netherlands most picture-perfect cities with canal-lined streets and a center that mixes medieval architecture with the glories of the Dutch golden age. The highlight of Delft is undoubtedly its spectacular center dominated by regal merchants’ houses with iconic stepped roofs, gilded governmental buildings and medieval churches, which are often set at gravity defying angles due to centuries of subsidence. While the historic center of Delft is enchanting, so too is the Vermeer Centrum which celebrates the life and works of the city’s most famous son, Johannes Vermeer.
Johannes Vermeer, one of the Dutch Golden Age’s greatest artists, lived in Delft all his life until his death in 1675. While none of Vermeer’s original works remain in the town, the Vermeer Centrum uniquely focuses on reconstructing the great artist’s life: various films show what life would have been like in 17th century Delft; interactive exhibits showcase early modern painting techniques; and the occasional skillful reproduction of his work pepper the walls.
In the 19th century Delft was famed for one thing: pottery. At the age-old Royal Delft factory you can immerse yourself in the town’s rich history of craft by seeing how intricate Delftware was painted and watching how the process has been adapted in modern times. For pottery enthusiasts, guided tours are available.
Delft’s Nieuwe Kerk is not very new at all – in fact, it was built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The church is one of the Netherlands most historic, as it is the final resting place for nearly every member of the House of Orange – including William of Orange who famously invaded the British Isles in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution. What is more, make sure to climb the Gothic spire as on clear days you can see all the way to the futuristic skyline of Rotterdam.
The Netherlands answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa can be found at Delft’s Oude Kerk. Built during the 1200s, the old church’s spire leans more than 2 meters out from its original vertical position due to its canal-side position. Once inside, make sure to have a look at the grandiose tomb of Vermeer.
For those interested in Delft’s links with the House of Orange the Museum Prinsenhof is a must-see attraction. The museum is housed the former convent in which William of Orange was assassinated in 1584 and has a plethora of artifacts that recall the dynasty’s rich history. To get the best experience, knowledgeable tour guides are on offer.
Today the metropolis of Rotterdam and the historic town of Delft merge into one of the Netherlands largest urban conurbations and a day tour of the futuristic former is one of the country’s most thrilling experiences. Completely destroyed during World War Two, the Rotterdam that emerged from the rubble is one of glassy skyscrapers, avant-garde architecture (look out for the mind-boggling Cube Houses), and high-class art, which is best seen at Witte de With Center for Art.
Delft’s main square, known as Markt, is one of the Netherlands most charming. For the best experience, take a walking tour of its historic sights, including the Renaissance Stadhuis, and feast of the fresh produce on offer at the farmer’s market that descends on the square most weekdays.
Barely fifteen minutes by train outside Amsterdam, the small city of Haarlem feels like a different world. Beyond the buzz of the Netherlands capital, Haarlem is a classic sleepy Dutch city with cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, stepped roofs and medieval windmills, which punctuate the skyline. Following Haarlem’s conversion to Protestantism in the 16th century, the city enjoyed a golden age of art and commerce, which is displayed for all to see at the Frans Hals Museum. While the quaint city center is enchanting, just beyond Haarlem’s city limits is the expansive Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, which boasts some of Europe’s largest sand dunes. The national park is crisscrossed by cycle pathways and pony trekking trails making it an exhilarating day trip for people of all ages.
For anyone interested in the art of the Dutch Golden Age, a visit to Haarlem’s Frans Hals Museum is a highlight of the Netherlands. Housed in a former poorhouse where the artist Frans Hals spent his final years, the museum has an astonishing collection of works by Hals and other Haarlem based artists, which were produced during the Netherlands gilded 17th century.
Less than 5 kilometers west of Haarlem lies one of the Netherlands hidden gems: stretching along the North Sea coast are a series of towering dunes that have been formed by the tides and the winds over the past millennia. For the best experience, take a cycling tour of this unique landscape to see Scottish Highland cattle, wild horses and learn about the area’s wartime history.
One of the Netherlands finest churches, the Grote Kerk van Saint Bavo is simply a joy to explore. Housing a treasure trove of Renaissance art works, alongside the world’s largest 18th century Müller organ, and topped by a precipitous Gothic spire, the church has a plethora of attractions. If you are interested in its rich history, including a connection with a young Mozart, guided tours are available.
Rising above the Haarlem skyline is the De Adriaan Windmill, one of the finest examples of windmill architecture in the Netherlands. Today the windmill houses a museum exploring their role in Dutch history while you can also take guided tours of its inner-workings.
The Corrie ten Boom House, better known as ‘the hiding place’, is Haarlem’s best and most harrowing World War Two-era attraction. Belonging to the Boom family, the house was used to hide Jews and Dutch resistance fighters from Nazi occupiers during World War Two in a series of secret rooms. The house can be explored as part of a guided tour that reveals its hidden secrets and what life was like under German rule.
The Haarlemmerhout is the Netherlands oldest park. Dating from the 16th century, the park is today immaculately landscapes with a collection of beech, chestnut, oak, linden and maple trees lining its many pathways and lakes. What is more, during the summer months Haarlem’s main park transforms into the city’s living room with a host of world-class art exhibitions, concerts and theater performances taking place.
Much like its larger neighbor Amsterdam, Haarlem’s streetscape is defined by the constant presence of canals. To see the city from the water, take a romantic boat tour that will take you past all the main attractions including the De Adriaan Windmill and the Grote Kerk van Saint Bavo.
On Saturdays Haarlem comes alive thanks to the always-thrilling Grote Markt, where you can buy just about anything. Traders selling fresh fruit, fine cheeses and iconic Dutch snacks, such as stroopwafle, sit side by side with stalls flogging antiques, vintage clothing and vinyl records.
Alongside Venice and Paris, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most iconic cities. While the elegant canal side districts of Jordaan and Centrum have for decades been one of Europe’s most visited destinations, the Dutch capital’s lesser-known districts have plenty of hidden gems to reward intrepid visitors. Across the river from Amsterdam’s charming center is Amsterdam-Noord, which has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s coolest and most innovative neighborhoods. The EYE Film Institute, housed in a space-age iceberg, provides a mesmerizing tour of Dutch cinema while former industrial estates house organic restaurants, microbreweries and techno clubs that are the envy of Berlin. Further south, the formerly rundown neighborhood of De Pijp hosts an eclectic range of flea markets, North African and Indonesian restaurants and a relaxed bohemian pace of life. With the resurgence of long-neglected neighborhoods, Amsterdam is thriving making now the best time to visit.
With over 1.5 kilometers of galleries and 7500 art works displayed, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is one of the world’s largest and finest museums. Most people come for the local heroes with Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh all prominently displayed but are also enchanted by the spectacular array of Delftware, Oriental art and spectacular sculpture gardens. In short, you simply have to visit the Rijksmuseum when in the Dutch capital.
With more than 1 million visitors per year to the Anne Frank House, the popularity of Anne Frank’s harrowing yet optimistic writing is not subsiding any time soon. Tour slots must be booked in advance and once inside the small home you can look into her perfectly preserved bedroom and explore the famed secret annex where the Frank family hid until their arrest and murder by the Nazis.
Immortalized through his whimsical and phantasmagorical artworks, such as The Starry Night (1889) and Sunflowers (1889), Van Gogh is the Netherlands most famed son. At Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum you can explore these works and more with the exhibition detailing his life and work from tentative beginnings to his creative breakthrough towards the end of his tortured life.
Canals are everywhere in Amsterdam so why not hop on a traditional Dutch canal boat and set sail on the city’s Canal Belt. On these tours, which can be organized at day or at night for a romantic evening adventure, you will cruise past some of the city’s iconic attractions including the bohemian district of Jordaan.
Alongside London’s Hyde Park and Berlin’s Tiergarten, Amsterdam’s Vondelpark is one of Europe’s greatest green spaces. A private park until as late as the mid-1950s, today it is where Amsterdammers come to unwind and you can explore its winding pathways, fountain peppered ponds and boisterous beer gardens freely. The park is best seen in the summer when sometimes it seems as if the whole city is there having fun.
Across the water from Amsterdam’s historic center lies one of Europe’s hidden gems – Noord. Fast becoming one of the continent’s coolest hangouts, this formerly industrial district has more than its fair share of attractions with daily tours encompassing the futuristic EYE Film Institute, the artistic community of NDSM-Werf and the sky-high viewing platform atop the ADAM Tower. Once you have explored, sit back and enjoy the atmosphere in one of the area’s microbreweries.
Tour one of the world’s best loved breweries at the Heineken Experience. On guided tours of the vast 19th century factory complex you will learn about the history of the company, how they produce their award-winning drink and get to sample various Heineken brews at a tasting.
Originally opened as a city hall in 1655, the gilded building was transformed into the Royal Palace during the 1800s. It was designed to showcase the great wealth the Netherlands had gathered from their worldwide empire and this is still displayed today with a dazzling array of gold chandeliers, frescoed ceilings and art from East Asia.
Best known today as the seat of the International Court of Justice, there is a lot more to The Hague than bureaucrats and business. While the city lacks the grandeur of Amsterdam’s canals, the stately homes that line The Hague’s canals exude a peculiarly English sense of stern simplicity. Despite this, The Hague is one of the Netherlands hidden gems, as it offers a dazzling array of world-class museums and an exuberant nightlife scene trumped only by Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Mauritshuis houses a spectacular collection with works from Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer. What is more, the charming streets of The Hague’s old town are lined with everything from pavement cafés and Michelin starred restaurants to clubs pumping out some of Europe’s best techno music.
The former home of the sugar baron Johan Maurits is now the world-famous Mauritshuis Museum. Housing a breathtaking collection of Dutch and Flemish art, the museum’s highlights include Vermeer’s iconic Girl with a Pear Earring (1665) and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (1632). For the best experience, take a guided tour of this treasure trove of Golden Age art.
Housed in what was once the Dutch royal family’s grandiose palace, Escher in Het Palais is a renowned exhibition on the famed graphic artist M.C. Escher. Featuring original woodcutting, lithograph prints, paintings and personal items, including one-of-a-kind photographs and letters, the exhibition is one of the Netherlands finest.
The Hague is undoubtedly best known as the home of the United Nation’s International Court of Justice and at the Peace Palace, known in Dutch as the Vredespaleis, you can get a sense of the institution’s weighty history. Tours are by appointment only and highlight the history of the Peace Palace building alongside landmark cases prosecuted in the Court of Justice.
One of the world’s most unusual work of art is housed in the unforgettable Panorama Mesdag. Surrounding a Victorian bandstand is the 14 meters high and 120 meters in circumference painting by Willem Mesdag, known as Panorama (1881). Encompassing fishing villages, the great expanses of the North Sea and vast sand dunes, the painting is a highlight of any trip to The Hague.
Likely the most historic location in the Netherlands, the 13th century Binnenhof is home to both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Dutch government. Guided tours of the complex are organized solely by ProDemos and take you on a tour through its rich history.
For visitors who want to see all the Netherlands attractions but do not have the time, head to the Madurodam where the entire country is displayed, albeit in miniature form. In the outdoor museum you can marvel at the dykes of the Delta, the futuristic skyline of über-cool Rotterdam and vast tulip fields all on a scale of 1:25.
Housed in a breathtaking art deco building, the Geemeentemuseum is one of the Netherlands premier venues for modern art. Best known for its remarkable De Stijl exhibition, which contains a number of excellent works by Mondrian, the museum also has a rotating collection that showcases works by Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Picasso and others.
In the 13th century, a Dutch landowner gifted an obscure religious sect an infertile and waterlogged tract of land between Amsterdam and Groningen. Such are the suitably mystical origins of the magical village of Giethoorn, which today is more water than land. While canals famously define Dutch cities, the medieval settlers in Giethoorn took things one step further deciding to entirely replace roads with picturesque waterways. The village is one of Europe’s most charming with humpbacked bridges crossing emerald green canals and thatched cottages dotted across a miniature archipelago of landscaped islands. While Giethoorn can get inundated with day-trippers from the Dutch capital, the village’s quieter northern end provides respite from the crowds and remains a true hidden gem.
More than anywhere else in the Netherlands, the quaint town of Giethoorn is defined by its relationship with water. Indeed, with just canals – there are no streets at all – the best way to get around is via picturesque cruises that glide past perfectly restored farmhouses, humpbacked bridges and the Enclosing Dyke, the Netherlands largest. Tours leave throughout the day for this enchanting experience.
To better understand how the otherworldly town of Giethoorn came to be, head to the town museum. Guides in period costumes, often performing traditional tasks such as thatching or candle making, will take you round the open-air museum, which contains well-preserved windmills and barns that show what life in Giethoorn was like centuries ago.
Giethoorn lies at the center of the Weerribben-Wieden National Park – Northwestern Europe’s largest freshwater wetland. With some of Europe’s most enchanting cycle paths, the park is best explored by pedal power with many of the trails passing by century old peat bogs, bio-diverse reed beds and lush forests. What is more, the park is a mecca for birdwatchers.
For any petrol heads the Histomobil is a must visit attraction. With a vast collection of vintage cars, motorcycles and carriages, the museum is a real treasure trove that will fascinate any visitor. It is also worth a visit for the ironic fact that a road free town is home to the Netherlands premier auto-museum.
Opening its doors in 1969, Giethoorn’s Museum De Oude Aarde has been wowing visitors ever since with its impressive collection of precious stones and fossils that come from all over the Netherlands.