Places to visit in Netherlands
Discover the many secrets of this gently beautiful country and its masterpieces, canal towns and windmills. Revel in the welcoming yet wry culture at a cafe, then bike past fields of tulips.
Great Dutch artists Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh have spanned the centuries, and touring the Netherlands you’ll see why. Discover clichés such as tulips and windmills, or stroll canals in the midst of 17th-century splendour in beautiful small towns such as Leiden and Delft. Of course, enticing Amsterdam’s phenomenal and diverse nightlife is world-famous, from its throbbing clubs to quaint brown cafes.
The locals live on bicycles and you can too. Almost every train station has a shop to rent a bike you’ll soon be off on the ubiquitous bike paths, wherever your mood takes you.
Finally there’s the Dutch themselves. Warm, friendly and funny, you’ll have a hard time being alone in a cafe as someone will soon strike up a conversation, and usually in English. Revel in Amsterdam, don’t miss exquisite Maastricht or pulsing Rotterdam, and pick a passel of small towns to add contrast. It’s a very big small country.
Best places to visit in Netherlands
Wandering Amsterdam’s Canals
Amsterdam has more canals than Venice, and getting on the water is one of the best ways to feel the pulse of the city. Catch the vibe by sitting canalside and watching boats glide by: myriad cafes seem purpose-built for this sport. Or you could stroll along the canals and check out some of the city’s 3300 houseboats. Better yet, hop on a tour boat and cruise the curved passages. From this angle, you’ll understand why Unesco named the 400-year-old waterways a World Heritage site.
Admiring Dutch Masterpieces
The Netherlands has produced a helluva lot of famous artists. In Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum hangs the world’s largest collection by tortured native son Vincent. Vermeer’s Kitchen Maid, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and other Golden Age masterpieces fill the mighty Rijksmuseum, while the Stedelijk Museum shows Mondrian, de Kooning and other homeboys among its edgy modern stock. Outside the capital, the Frans Hals Museum collects the painter’s works in Haarlem, and the Mauritshuis unfurls a who’s who of Dutch masters in Den Haag.
Day Tripping to Delft
The Netherlands has no shortage of evocative old towns. Haarlem, Leiden and Utrecht are just some of the more well known. With their old canals lined with buildings whose human-scaled architecture is nothing but characterful, these towns bring the beauty of the Golden Age into the modern age. But one old canal town shines above the rest: Delft. Even if you’re not staying here, an afternoon spent along its canals, churches, museums and just sitting in a cafe soaking it all in is essential time spent.
Best Park in the Netherlands
A vast swathe of beautiful land that was once private hunting ground, Hoge Veluwe National Park combines forests, sand dunes, marshes and ponds. It’s a bucolic escape from the densely packed cities and you can easily spend a day here just luxuriating in nature. But wait, there’s more! At the park’s centre, the Kröller-Müller Museum is one of the nation’s best. Its Van Gogh collection rivals that of the namesake museum in Amsterdam, plus there is a stunning sculpture garden.
Revelling in Maastricht
The city where Europe’s common currency began has been a meeting place for centuries. The Romans built underground forts here that you can still explore, and every generation since has left its mark. But 2000 years of history, monuments, ruins, churches and museums aside, where Maastricht really shines is in how it embraces the moment. Few places in the Netherlands have such a densely packed collection of alluring cafes great and small, filled with people enjoying every minute of life along with good food and drink.
Enjoying Cheesy Delights
Whether it is cubed or melted, sliced on a sandwich or shaved onto a salad, you cannot escape Dutch cheese. Names like Gouda and Edam inspire more notions of curdled milk than images of the municipalities that spawned them. And forget the bland stuff you find in the supermarket, Dutch cheese comes in a vast range of styles and flavours. Start with the caraway-seed-infused variety. Next consider one of the aged goudas that is crystallised like a fine parmesan and is best had with a touch of mustard – perhaps from the cheese market in Gouda itself.
Island Charms on Texel
The vast Waddenzee region, where northwest Europe almost imperceptibly melts into the sea, is recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. These tidal mudflats with their hypnotic charm are punctuated by a string of offshore islands. The largest, Texel, offers endless walks on beautiful beaches, almost limitless activities and a stark beauty you can appreciate on land or on a wildlife-spotting boat trip. And when you’re ready for a pause, it has inspired places to stay and some very fine food – you won’t believe the smoked fish.
Savouring Amsterdam’s Brown Cafes
It means convivial but not quite. It also means friendly but still not quite. Snug, cosy and goodhumoured all apply as well. Kind of. Gezelligheid is the uniquely Dutch trait that is best experienced in one of the country’s famous brown cafes. Named for their aged, tobacco-stained walls or just plain oldness, these small bars are filled with good cheer. It takes little time, on even your first visit, to be drawn into the cheery warmth and welcome of their gezelligheid.
Cycling the Countryside
Grab a bike and go. You can rent them anywhere and no nation on earth is better suited for cycling. Not only is it flat but there are thousands of kilometres of bike lanes and paths linking virtually every part of the country, no matter how small. For a classic day trip, head out from Rotterdam to Kinderdijk to see the heritage-listed windmills – kept here in operating condition – then enjoy the scenery from a different angle on the fast ferry back into town.
Rotterdam’s Dramatic New Look
Unlike many European cities that emerged from the ashes of WWII with hastily reconstructed city centres, Rotterdam pursued a different path from the start. Its architecture is striking rather than functional and it has a rarity for Europe: an identifiable skyline. The world’s best architects compete here for commissions that result in artful – often daring – designs. The Erasmusbrug, a birdlike bridge, is a city icon and is surrounded by buildings that are both bold and beautiful to contemplate.
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