Most Netherlands itineraries begin and end in Amsterdam, leaving no time to explore the Dutch charm that exists beyond the tourist-trodden capital.
Home to traditional windmills, fields of multi-colored tulips and cobble-stone streets that part for canals, The Netherlands holds a great deal of history, culture and beauty for such a small country.
Here are the cities worth venturing outside of Amsterdam for.
Like its cousin Amsterdam, Utrecht is a city of canals, sidewalk cafes and fairy tale-like architecture – minus the hordes of tourists. A short 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam central (and with hotels costing a fraction of the price) Utrecht is worthy of a stopover.
Most residents living here are students of the University – which attracts the Dutch from all over the country and foreigners who are doing their semester abroad. The crowd ensures a bustling nightlife, which is often overshadowed by Amsterdam. From lively clubs and bars to cosy pubs, Utrecht has something to entertain everyone.
For the best perspective of the city, take a canal boat cruise, where you’ll also see the wharf cellars – a unique feature of Utrecht’s canals. Used mostly as bars and cafes, these cellars occupy the space underneath houses, and really come to life during spring and summer (between April and September).
The most southern city in The Netherlands, Maastricht is a scenic 2.5-hour train ride from Amsterdam, which means it’s a perfect stopover if you’re continuing on to Belgium.
Strolling through the historic inner city, you’ll be greeted by medieval architecture, a lively atmosphere and a strong sense of multiculturalism – given its close proximity to Belgium and Germany.
If you find yourself visiting in February, be sure to check out Carnival for one of the biggest and most festive parties in The Netherlands. During this week-long festival, Maastricht attracts Dutchies and tourists alike to dress up and celebrate with a massive street party.
Known as the government city, but remembered for its many monuments and historic districts, The Hague is popular amongst the Dutch thanks to its closeness to the sea.
During the summer months (July–September) Scheveningen beach is an ideal escape from the city. The promenade cafes become hot-spots for sun-seekers searching for a cocktail after a day of relaxing.
During winter, some cafes close, but those that are open will provide blankets and a warm fire, changing the menu from cocktails to apple tart.
If you find yourself here on New Year’s Day, don’t miss the Dutch tradition of Nieuwjaarsduik. This New Year’s dive involves thousands of shivering Dutchies stripping down, donning orange beanies and running into the freezing North Sea to start the new year off fresh.
The Hague is also home to Madurodam, a miniaturised, 1:25 scale version of The Netherlands. Complete with replicas of Amsterdam, Rotterdam harbor, tulips and windmills, this miniature park is a major tourist attraction.
Holland’s second largest city and only a 35-minute train trip from Amsterdam, Rotterdam is an up and coming, exhilarating city that’s well worth a visit.
Completely destroyed in WWII (due to being home of Europe’s busiest port) the city was rebuilt from scratch and took on a whole new life. So although you won’t see the traditional Amsterdam houses here, you will experience an open-air gallery of innovative, futuristic and inspiring architecture.
Check out the impressive Markthal for the ultimate foodie experience, the unusual-but-still-inhabited cube houses, and the dramatic Erasmus bridge, that has been nicknamed the swan for its unique man-made beauty.
This lively city located in the North of Holland is filled to the brim with historic architecture, great shopping districts and excellent restaurants. The city’s prominent student population ensures a lively atmosphere and a bustling nightlife to balance the myriad of museums.
Visit the Grote Markt to climb the Martinitoren for great views over-looking the city, or visit one of the outdoor cafes on Vrijthof Square to quench your thirst and soak it all in.
Technically a village, but too picturesque not to mention, Giethoorn is home to countless winding canals and small cobble-stone bridges. Plus, this serene village is completely car-free!
Explore every corner of Giethoorn by boat or navigate your way around by bike, passing thatched-roof houses and taking in the greenery. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s plenty of canal-side restaurants to fill your belly. You’re definitely not in Amsterdam anymore.
If you find yourself visiting during winter (December–January) join in with the locals skating along the frozen canals.
Stereotypes aside, The Netherlands isn’t all smoke and red lights. Our local insider, Nicola, lets us in on what to keep in mind.
Most people in The Netherlands own a bicycle (or two) because it's a pretty easy way to get around this generally flat country.