Tulips, windmills, and Rembrandts. Welcome to the Netherlands! These are the typical things people think of when hearing the name of the Netherlands or Holland (as popularly known by some people). Though in my previous blog, I mentioned that the Netherlands is the country and Holland is the region. I considered the Netherlands as my home in the last twelve years, especially after getting a Dutch citizenship three years ago. Roaming around and discovering the country is quite easy. There is an easy access to public transports such as trains, busses, and trams. If you want to travel by car, the roads are well-connected and quite in good condition (in fact even better than other Southern European countries). Depending on which city or municipality you want to hop in, it can take a couple of minutes up to 3-4 hours to go to the Northern most Groningen or Southernmost Maastricht. The more you stay and discover the Netherlands, the more you’ll see the various faces of this country beyond tulips, windmills, and Rembrandts. In this blog, I will provide a list of my top 20 favorite places to visit in the Netherlands and why these are unique in their own ways.
My top 20 places to visit in the Netherlands
A heathland, with dry, low vegetation and very sandy soil in the Netherlands? Yes, this is the ambiance of Drenthe, which differentiates it from the rest of the places in the Netherlands. Drenthe is one of the oldest places in the Netherlands, which has been inhabited since the prehistoric times. Some of the oldest artifacts in the world that existed thousands of years before Christ can be found here. One of the famous artifacts in Drenthe is the Hunebbeden, which are 5000 years old “passage graves” and megaliths structure comparable to the Stonehenge in England and dolmens and menhirs in France. Try to visit the Hunebed center in Drenthe and feel how nice to travel back in time and how people lived in the past. When in Drenthe, you can also visit the Emmen zoo, which is very close to Germany and a popular outdoor attraction for family.
Rotterdam is one of the four biggest randstad (ring city) of the Netherlands. It is home to the busiest and biggest ports in the world – the Rotterdam Port. Every day, thousands of freight cargoes are being unloaded in the port coming from different cities worldwide, while others are being loaded ready to be delivered to Asia, Europe, Latin America. Aside from this, you can find in Rotterdam the famous Erasmus University Rotterdam. Yes, the name comes from the famous Dutch humanist Erasmus, who is considered as the greatest scholar of the Northern renaissance. Many international scholars worldwide study in this university. In addition, you can also find lots of modern architectures and arts in Rotterdam. Have you seen cube houses with peculiar designs? You can also find the Euromast, which is 85-meter-high tower houses with two restaurants and offer superb city views. You will also not run out of museums to visit when in Rotterdam. There you can find Maritime museum, Natural History museum, World museum, Photo museum, to name a few. If you are interested with the lists of museums to visit in Rotterdam, check this link from Trip Advisor.
Leiden is a city of rich cultural heritage, arts, and sciences. In fact, the Golden Age of the Dutch have emerged in Leiden. The University of Leiden, which is considered as one of the oldest universities in Europe, is situated in this city. Leiden is the birthplace of famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. It has also been an inspiration to some of the Dutch masters such as Frans van Mieris, Jan Steen, and Jan Lievens. This city also offers many museums, such as the National Museum of Antiquities, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave (anatomical theater), Museum Volkenkunde (National Ethnographic Museum), and Naturalis Biodiversity Center (history miuseum). During spring, combining a visit to The Keukenhof in Lisse, which will be discussed next, is very handy.
4. Lisse The Netherlands
Lisse is a small town in the province of South Holland. This place is very popular during spring because of Keukenhof, the largest and most famous flower and tulips garden in the world. Keukenhof is very popular to many internationals and is just around 20-25 minutes away from Leiden. If you ever come to the Netherlands in spring, spend a day in Keukenhof. Literally, every corner is worth a photo moment.
The beautiful sand dunes, mouthwatering seafoods, and tranquil view of North Sea combined with rich maritime history is a picture of Zeeland. This Dutch maritime province is the origin of the name of the country New Zealand after the country was discovered by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman. When in Zeeland, there are many beautiful places to visit. Here you can find Zierekzee, a popular port city that has around 500 monuments making it a real monument city! This city has many terraces, where you can enjoy the view of its beautiful port. There is also the Oosterschelde, which is the biggest national park of the Netherlands. You can find in Oosterschelde different floras and faunas and can enjoy biking around the sand dunes. It is also possible to go by ferry from Oosterschelde going to Westerschelde, which is already close to the border of Brugge, Belgium and the Netherlands. Of course, there is also the Burgh-Haamstede which is situated in the west coast of Zeeland and boasts a beautiful nature area, beaches, and sand dunes. What’s very nice in going to Zeeland, it is not so busy as compared to other beaches of the Netherlands. If you want specific information about Zeeland, you can check my blog Zeeland: Where land touches seas.
Amersfoort is a medieval city in the province of Utrecht. This city is in the middle of Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Arnhem. It boasts old and historical architecture built around the canals within the city. The Koppelpoort, which is located very close to the train station, is a symbol of Amersfoort. The Koppelpoort is the only place in the Netherlands that combines both land and water ports. Once you enter the city, you can find shops, museums, and the Onze Lieve Vrouw church in the city.
Nijmegen is known to have the oldest buildings and shopping streets in the Netherlands. This city is very close to Germany and is situated on the Waal river, which flows to the Rhine river. A cruise in the Waal river allows access to the reefs, ports, and beaches. Touring the city of Nijmegen is possible by taking a bus, by bike, using your own car, or simply by walking. The last is highly suggested since it can be very traffic when in Nijmegen. If shopping, you can visit the Grote Markt and the Lange Hazelstraat. It is also possible to visit peaceful nature places, such as the Kronenburgerpark, Valkhof park, and Speeltuin de Leemkuil.
Haarlem is a city close to Schiphol Amsterdam in the east (around 15 minutes’ drive) and to the coastline or beaches such as Zandvoort and Bloemendaal aan Zee to the west (around 20 minutes’ drive). Though I must warn everyone that it is very difficult to park in Haarlem because of many parked cars as well as narrow streets. This city has been branded as the Flemish (Belgian) city of the North. It has beautiful architectures and historical buildings. For a day trip, you can do many free tours within the city. For example, you can visit the St. Bavokerk, which is a Gothic style church dedicated to St. Bavo. Though this church is a protestant and not a Catholic one. There is also the ABC Architechtuurcentrum, which offers exhibitions, lectures, and activities to children related to local architecture. There is also the Corrie ten Boom house, which shows how the Jewisj people hid in this house during the time of the Nazis.
Eindhoven is a city located in the South of the Netherlands bordering Belgium. The architecture in the city combines modern design with old historical places. The Eindhoven University of Technology, which specializes in engineering and sciences, is situated in this area. Therefore, it is quite unique to see some special designs in the city. Outside the city center you can find some camping areas, which are also popularly visited by people who wants to escape hustle of the city. One of the camping places we had is the Oostappen Vakantie Park Brugse Heide. If interested the experiences we had in the Vakantie Park, you may check our blog Vakantie Park Brugse Heide: Last Minute Summer Holidays.
Apeldoorn combines the nature and cultural aspects of the Netherlands. The place is situated along the De Hoge Veluwe National Park, which is 5,500 hectares of forests stretching in various places in the center of the Netherlands. Wildlife watching is part of the daily activities in this national park. In addition, you can go for a cultural visit in the Kroller-Muller museum, which owns the second largest world collections of the paintings of Van Gogh. In addition to the paintings, the museum also exhibits modern designed sculptures outside the museum. Paleis Park Het Loo.
In addition to cultural experiences, Apeldoorn also offers many family activities. It has the Apenheul zoo, Park Berg en Bos, Klimbos, Juliana Toren Amusement park, and Binky Farm.
Middleburg is the capital of Zeeland. I tried to make a separate discussion between Middleburg and Zeeland since it does not justify treating them as one! This historical city has been once the center of trading of the VOC (Dutch East India company). The feeling of the past can still be felt as you walk around the city center of Middleburg and seeing the Gothic townhall, which is one of the finest buildings in the Netherlands. There are various activities to do in Middleburg, such as visiting the Zeeuws museum, visiting the Lange Jan tower, and touring the Gothic town hall.
Roermond is a place that comes from the words Roer, which is a name of the river, and mond, which literally means mouth. This city is situated in the lower part of River roer, which flows to certain areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Designer Outlet Roermond is one of my favorite shopping destination for designer’s brands as there are many outlets store inside its shopping center. What’s nice for a family when visiting Roermond is that there is a playground (for free) and carousel inside the shopping center. Therefore it is possible to combine shopping and day-out with kids. If you happen to walk to the shopping center of Roermond from the train station, you will pass by a beautiful Munsterkerk, which is also worth a visit.
13. The Hague
The Hague is one of the big cities of the Netherlands, in addition to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. Even though it is not the capital of the Netherlands, the seat of the Dutch government and the palace of the King and Queen of the Netherlands is situated in The Hague. There are many things to do The Hague for family. Here you can go to the city center full of shopping brands, restaurants, and unique stores . You can also visit the Madurodam which shows miniature of the various places in The Netherlands. There is also the famous Scheveningen Beach, which is a popular tourist destination for people. If you want a little bit of a relax visit, there are also various parks inside the city of the Hague.
14. Amsterdam city
Amsterdam is the most popular destination for tourists visiting Netherlands. You will find the picturesque views of Amsterdam canals, different museums such as Anne Frank, Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum & Madame Tussauds, and the Red Lights district. However, since it is very populated and a very busy city, on top of being a very expensive city, living and working in Amsterdam is becoming less attractive to both Dutch and internationals. If you are interested further with Amsterdam, check out my blog about Amsterdam Netherlands: Fun facts and experiences.
Ever wonder how it feels to be standing in a place that connects three countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany at the same time? Then you should come to Maastricht! Maastricht is the Southernmost part of the Netherlands and is in the boundary of Belgium and Germany. By the train, it might take around 2.5-3.5 hours to arrive at Maastricht from Amsterdam and by car it takes around 2.5 hours. Compared to other cities of the Netherlands, Maastricht has a different landscape because of some small hills in the region. The various things to do in Maastricht includes visiting the Maastricht underground, Fort Sint Pieter, Sint Jan’s Kerk, Basilica of St. Servatius, and walking along the Sint Servaas bridge.
Valkenburg, or Valkenburg aan de Geul, is considered as the Christmas capital of the Netherlands. This little town is closed to three cities of three countries: Maastricht Netherlands, Aachen Germany, and Leuven Belgium. Valkenburg is quite easy to tour since it is relatively small with some hilly views, which gives you a different feeling of the Netherlands. Valkenburg boasts Roman catacombs, castle ruins, and oldest train stations. It also offers other activities for children such the amusement park de Valkenier, Sprookjesbos (Fairytale forests), and Steenkolenmijn (charcoal museum). For more information about Valkenburg, you can check out my blog Valkenburg: The Christmas city of the Netherlands.
I like to visit Utrecht since it is a city that is not as big and busy as Amsterdam. The nice thing when traveling by train to Utrecht is that there is a shopping center in its central station and nearby the station. Aside from shopping, Utrecht is good place to bring kids to museums. For instance, there is the Nijntje museums and Spoordeelwinkel or train museum. Utrecht also has the picturesque view of canals, the dome, and has the famous university Utrecht.
18. Groningen city
Groningen city is located in the northern most part of the Netherlands. Groningen is known for having a hippie and easy-going culture, nice museums, wide-stretching grass fields and beautiful sky views making the place popular to many landscape painters. There are famous landmarks to see Groningen such as the Martini’s Tower, Groninger museum, and Gold office in the city center. Groningen is also rich in unique, small villages. One of this is the Bourtange, a 17th century fortified village in the Netherlands and which plays an important role during the 80 years Spanish-Dutch war. If interested to know more about Bourtange, you can check out this link to my blog. Groningen is a special place for us since it is the birthplace of my husband and therefore, we get to visit his family often and spends some weekends there. If interested to know more about Groningen, check out my blog about Groningen Netherlands: Five unique impressions.
Arnhem is a city close to the east side of the Netherlands and just 30-minutes drive to Germany. This city is very familiar to me since this is where the university I am teaching is situated plus I use to go to many attractions and shopping in the city. For family with kids, there are many museums and attractions to visit in Arnhem such as the Open Air musem, Water museum, Park Sonsbeek, Airborne Museum, and Burger Zoo. Arnhem is also rich in shopping areas, such as its city center, the IKEA store, shopping center in Presikhaaf and Kronenburg.
Wageningen is a city that is very close to my hear since I have it has became my home for the past 12 years of my life. Wageningen is a small city that features the number one agricultural university in the Netherlands (and also with quite high ranking in the world), the Wageningen University and Research. Wageningen is famous for being a sustainable city and for being home to many internationals. Of course, Wageningen plays a central role for ending the World War II between Germany and the Netherlands. The Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen is an important place for signing the end of World War II. Being situated nearby nature areas such as Belmonte Arboretum, River Rhine, Ouwehands Dierenpark, and De Blauwe Kamer, surely there are many activities to do when in Wageningen. Need more information about Wageningen? Check out my blog: Why Wageningen Netherlands is special?