17 Unique Things to do in The Netherlands
17 things to do in The Netherlands
The Netherlands has long been a great destination to visit within Europe with Amsterdam being one of the most popular European cities for tourists to visit. There’s nothing like relaxing by the canals of the city and taking in the beautiful scenery, or eating your way around the city with many great food options!
Amsterdam is one of the best cities, and rightly so, but there are also some other great places to visit within the country too and many, many things to do in The Netherlands!
Here’s a list of 17 amazing things to do in the Netherlands, covering Amsterdam and also places within the country you may not have heard of before.
1. Spend a weekend in the Hague
Suggested by Paulina on the Road
One of my favorite things in the Netherlands is its vast beaches. None would think that the Netherlands have so many, gorgeous, almost pristine beaches! Whether you head to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or spend a weekend in the Hague: a beautiful beach is never too far.
Are you looking for a unique way to enjoy the gorgeous coastline of the Netherlands? I strongly recommend staying in a beach hut. They are located at several (city) beaches, but I can mainly recommend the beach huts of Kijkduin beach near the Hague.
Their design is sober white and you can be assured that you’ll be in the first beach line. In the early mornings when you wake up, the beach is totally empty. It truly was a beautiful way of enjoying this natural gem in the Netherlands.
2. Visit the Cube Houses in Rotterdam
Suggested by The Intrepid Guide
Visiting the iconic yellow Cube Houses (Dutch: Kubuswoningen) of Rotterdam is one of the best things to do in Rotterdam and indeed the Netherlands.
In the 1970s, Dutch architect Piet Blom was commissioned by city planners to design these striking and uniquely shaped homes. Even 30 years later they continue to draw the attention of visitors from all over the world.
Each cube is tilted at a 45-degree giving excellent views below and of the surrounding area whilst optimising available space as well as forming part of a pedestrian bridge.
The Cube Houses were designed to resemble an abstract forest. Take a moment to notice the triangular roof of each home which represent a treetop.
Curious to see what it’s like to live inside a Cube House? Well, now you can! Each day one of the residents converts his home into a museum, known as Show Cube Museum (Kijk-Kubus) and for only 3 euros you can take a peek inside and wander around the interior.
The Cube Houses are located in the city centre right next to the Rotterdam Blaak railway station. It’s free to wander around the Cube Houses complex all year round and the museum is open daily from 10:00 -18:00.
3. Gouda cheese market
Suggested By Sarah and Justin from Travel Breathe Repeat
One of the top things the Netherlands is known for, and lives up to, is cheese. Visitors to this small country should definitely make tasting Dutch cheese on their list of things to do in The Netherlands. And if you’re a true cheese lover, you should also consider visiting a cheese market. We highly recommend a trip to the Gouda cheese market to see old fashioned cheese mongering in action. It might be a tad cheesy (pun intended), but it’s also a whole lot of fun.
The Gouda cheese market takes place on Thursday mornings from the beginning of April through the end of August. From 10.00-12.30, you can see actors reenact how cheese was bargained over, bought, and sold. Yes, it’s a reenactment, but it’s still pretty cool to watch. And you can taste real cheese from the region throughout the market as well.
The market itself is free to visit, but you will likely be tempted to buy some lekker cheese from the vendors.
Gouda makes for an easy day trip from Amsterdam, being under an hour. Once you’re done at the cheese market, make sure to wander around the city itself. It’s a beautiful typical Dutch city. In the market square, the old weigh house, now a museum, and the city hall are especially lovely. But be sure to explore the smaller streets and canals nearby.
4. Visit Kinderdijk
Suggested by Globetrove
One of my favourite places in the Netherlands is a small town called Kinderdijk which is located in the south of the country. In fact, it makes a great day trip from most of the main cities in the Netherlands.
When we first visited Kinderdijk we had no idea that it was a UNESCO Heritage site. Luckily for us, the site also has a museum which talks about the history of the area and about the important role that it played in the history of the Netherlands.
Kinderdijk has a network of canals that drains the ground of the water that accumulates with the help of windmills. This makes it a very scenic place to visit. Imagine green fields, gorgeous canals with boats floating past you and windmills in the backdrop. You can even climb up the windmills and take in the scenery from above.
If you have time to walk around the area, you should. One thing that we wished we could have done was take a picnic basket and enjoy it in the fields. If you don’t then there is a restaurant that you can catch a bite to eat at. Whatever you choose to do, you are bound to have a great time.
5. Visit the Keukenhof Gardens
By Bridget at The Flashpacker
Two words sum up the Keukenhof Gardens: blooming wonderful.
The greatest flower show on earth is an easy day trip from Amsterdam, Leiden or Haarlem and is one of the best things to do in The Netherlands. Open for just eight weeks every year, Keukenhof is a showcase for the prolific Dutch cut-flower industry.
Located in Lisse, in the heart of the country’s flower bulb region, approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted every year over its 32 hectares. Its flower beds are mesmerising; sweet-smelling hyacinths tumbling through woodland, multi-coloured tulips forming intricate patterns.
Flower growers and flower arrangers showcase their craft in the Keukenhof’s pavilions with their inventive displays. Take the opportunity to get a flavour of the adjacent tulip fields by taking a short canal cruise.
In 2020, the Keukenhof Gardens are open from 21 March to 10 May. As it can be extremely busy, get there early or visit towards the end of the day.
It costs €18 to visit the Keukenhof Gardens (€8 for those aged between 4 and 11; children under 4 free). Consider buying a Combi-ticket, which includes transport from nearby cities, including Amsterdam and Leiden. Not only is this the cheapest way to travel, but it is also convenient and removes the need to join the long queue for tickets on arrival. From €25 per adult.
6. Hang out in De Pijp
Suggested by As the Bird Flies Blog
De Pijp is one of Amsterdam’s most popular neighbourhoods with both locals and visitors, and for good reason. It’s packed full with eateries, bars and cafes, next to a wide range of pretty boutiques and it’s also home to Albert Cuyp market, Amsterdam’s most famous and the country’s oldest daily market.
Not so long ago De Pijp was a run-down and neglected neighbourhood that had once been home to a number of migrant communities, many of which gave the area its former name of the Latin Quarter. Over the last decade or so this central Amsterdam neighbourhood has experienced a considerable amount of regeneration and gentrification making it now one of the most popular places to live as well as visit.
I lived in De Pijp for just over five years and my favourite things to do were grab brunch at Little Collins, Gs or Mr Stacks (which has the best pancakes in Amsterdam!), then wander along the market before grabbing a coffee in Scandinavian Embassy to fuel some shopping in the boutiques on Gerard Doustraat.
Walking distance from Museumplein where the city’s most famous museums Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are to be found, you can easily visit De Pijp for a bite to eat after hitting up a museum or two, and it’s also home to the popular attraction Heineken Experience.
If the weather is good, think about having a picnic in Sarphatipark, although that will mean maybe missing out on one of the area’s restaurants which cater for all diets and preferences from vegan to meat-lovers, health food fans and junk food fanatics.
7. Visit Groningen
Suggested by Greedy Gourmet
During my travels through the Netherlands, I’ve stumbled upon a lively city – Groningen. There, one of the top things to do is to eat seafood! Due to the fact that Groningen is known to have some of the freshest fish in the country (you can witness this at the local Fishmarket), for now, Groningen holds my record of eating the best seafood dish ever. Hence, not only is Groningen a beautiful city to visit, it’s also memorable for foodies who love seafood.
Once you are there, in order to sample this amazing seafood, you should visit T’ Kleine Oestertje and make sure to order the seafood platter – simply amazing and totally fresh seafood. Also, you should visit Brussels Lof and order the grilled turbot. I guarantee you that you’ll have a hard place finding better seafood dishes on the Continent.
Next, on top of eating seafood, you should also sample the famous mustard soup and try some of the local beers. The city has approximately 80 breweries. Here are some you should try: Ostrich, ‘t Haantje, the Golden Oliphant, Waldeck and Barbarossa. After visiting these, you’ll feel like a real connoisseur.
The cost of visiting is expensive as Groningen is a student city. The fact that there is the University of Groningen, the city is always dynamic and lively. Above all, you’ll always find a great deal when it comes to drinks and food. Therefore, you can keep the cost of visiting relatively low.
The best time to visit in either during the summer or spring, where you can enjoy your food outside.
If you are a seafood lover and you are interested to learn more about Groningen, check out my article on the 10 foodie things to do in Groningen on my food and travel blog here.
8. Visit a Canal House
Suggested by The Adventures of Panda Bear
Canal houses are some of the most unique features and sights in Amsterdam, lending for beautiful photos and an architectural delight. But to visit a canal house is an even more special treat.
During the Dutch Golden Age, in the 17th century, canal homes were often owned by wealthy merchants. In short, these were not “common” dwellings and it is always interesting to get a glimpse into their lives. One of the most unique canal house museums is Museum Van Loon.
Museum Van Loon was once the home of its namesake, the Van Loon family. The former owner, Willem Van Loon was the co-founder of the Dutch East Indies Company. Though he built the house, the home was also once the dwelling of Ferdinand Bol, one of Rembrandt van Rijn’s most famous students. On your visit inside the home, you’ll find many paintings by Bol.
Be sure to check out garden behind the house! Aside from the beautiful garden, you will also find the coach house where the Van Loon family once kept their horses and carriages. Today, the coach house is used for special exhibits.
Seeing the inside of a canal house is the best way to spend a few days in Amsterdam.
9. Hiking the Three Countries Point
Suggested by Eric from Ontario Away
If you want to climb to the highest point in the Netherlands and stand in three countries at once, then you have to visit the “Drielandenpunt”. It’s usually no secret that the Netherlands is flat – in fact, some of the country is below sea level! That’s why it’s neat to think about climbing a “mountain” in the very south of the country.
The point is located close to the small border town of Vaals (about 30 minutes from Maastricht) and includes a scenic hike up through wooden trails. You can even stop at a cafe, restaurant, or climbing tower on the way.
Hike a bit further and the trails open up to all the attractions around the point on Vaalserberg hill. You’ll see a height marker – marking the highest point in the Netherlands – and then another small concrete marker nearby with three flags flying. This is where the borders of the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium meet. It’s always a popular photo to spread out across all three countries.
While you’re there, you can also visit the outdoor beer gardens or pay to go up another climbing tower for amazing views of the region. If you are travelling with kids, there is a giant maze – called the “Labyrinth Drielandenpunt” which can take some time to navigate your way through!
While you can make the trip in any season, the fall is lovely because the crowds are smaller and the changing leaves make for a beautiful experience. It’s free to visit the area – but you’d pay for any food, tower/labyrinth admissions, etc. You can also drive up there and pay for parking – this is a popular option if you’re travelling with a car!
10. Canals of Amsterdam
Suggested by Trijit Mallick from BudgetTravelBuff
Your Netherlands travel will be incomplete without visiting Amsterdam’s famous canals which are also placed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Amsterdam has a total of 165 canals with a length of 50 km which were built in between the 16th and 17th centuries.
There are four main canals in Amsterdam: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht and you shouldn’t miss any of these three canals.
The typical one-hour canal boat tour costs around 20 euros but if you are a budget traveler you can explore the canal area by walking which is completely free. There is also an option for pedal boats from Stromma which are mainly popular among adventure seekers and fun-lovers.
The canal cruise will offer you a glimpse of Amsterdam city in the most comfortable way possible. The best time for canal cruising is on a sunny day or in the evening, be it Summer or Winter. A perfect way to experience canals like a local is to stay one night in a houseboat. Houseboats in Amsterdam are fully equipped with bedroom, kitchen, washroom and other basic facilities.
If you are with your partner then enjoy a romantic dinner in a restaurant that has an outer seating area. Loetjee Centraal and Grand Cafe 1884 are really good restaurants with yummy foods and charming ambience.
11. Picnic at De Burcht van Leiden
Suggested by The Nomadic Vegan
To join in on a true local experience where you are likely to be the only foreign tourist, do as the citizens of Leiden do and climb up to De Burcht for a picnic. The name “De Burcht van Leiden” translates as “the Fort of Leiden”, which is a pretty accurate description of the fortified castle.
Built in the 12th-century, this castle is one of the oldest in the country and sits on top of an artificial hill created for defensive purposes. At just nine meters, it’s not an especially high hill. This is the Netherlands, after all.
It’s located at a strategic spot where two tributaries of the Rhine meet, the Oude Rijn and the Nieuwe Rijn. As the city of Leiden gradually grew up around it, over time the castle lost its military function. It is still cherished by Leiden’s citizens, though, and has become a symbol of the city.
Now converted into a public park, De Burcht is open 24 hours per day and is completely free to access. The main feature left standing today is the circular crenelated wall at the top of the hill.
Among the locals, it’s a popular spot for a picnic, at least in the warmer months. To have the best chance of good weather, you should visit in the summer. If you haven’t brought any travel snacks with you, don’t worry, you can stock up on picnic supplies at the Albert Heijn supermarket near the train station.
12. Visit Delft
Suggested by Glam Granola Travel
The lovely little canal town of Delft is a must-visit spot in the Netherlands. Conveniently, it’s also an easy, quick, and affordable day trip from Amsterdam. Delft stole my heart almost immediately with its peaceful, quiet, and refreshingly local vibes.
Delft is a gorgeous small town just southeast of the Hague. It’s just under an hour and just under 15 euros from Amsterdam by train. The perfect Delft afternoon includes wandering around at your own pace, as it’s extremely walkable, between a few main highlights and tasty local restaurants. As Delft isn’t a big tourist hotspot yet, I was worried I’d stick out like a sore thumb, but nobody paid me any mind. I mingled among the local Dutch families in the main market square, where one can buy flowers, sweets, and other souvenirs under the gaze of a majestic clock tower.
I highly recommend stopping by the terrace at Eetcafé de Ruif for lunch. Their patio is nestled in the picturesque canal; it’s a great spot to just sit in the sun and people-watch over a local beer. After that, grab a cream puff from one of the many bakeries, find a nice bench overlooking the canals, and hang out with the hilariously feisty Dutch ducks.
Delft ended up being one of my favorite small towns in Europe. It’s such a beautiful, relaxing place to spend the afternoon and not be surrounded by herds of tourists. For this reason, you could truly visit year-round and have an equally splendid time. Whether you’re a solo traveler, couple, group, or family, Delft is a picture-perfect hidden gem you’ll 100% fall in love with.
13. Check out Haarlem
Suggested by Sometimes Home
I’ve been to The Netherlands several times. Each time I discover something new to love about the country. On my last trip I grew to appreciate the easily accessible day trips from Amsterdam by bus or train. Haarlem stole my heart as soon as I arrived at the train station then stepped foot into the city. It’s very easy to walk to the main area of Haarlem from their train station. It’s a mid-size city loaded with things to do and picturesque scenes.
I may be biased because it’s the time of year I visited, but June was absolutely breathtaking. Gardens were in full bloom in the midst of summer and the temperature was in the 70s and very pleasant. I loved walking along the water, searching for “hidden gardens” called hofjes, walking around Market Square with its beautiful church and old butchers market building, and taking a long walk to find the Cathedral of St. Bavo, which was worth it! (Not to be confused with St. Bavo Church in Market Square, or Grote Markt, in Dutch.)
Hofjes are beautiful gardens that are essentially the square or rectangular courtyards of surrounding connected apartments. A beautiful space to enjoy a morning or afternoon coffee and read a book! I spent the day walking around, essentially only spending money on lunch. I was able to take advantage of the I amsterdam City Card, which I already had, and visit the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, included with the pass.
14. Discover the magical Boekhandel Dominicanen
Suggested by We Did it Our Way
When walking around Maastricht, you will probably see a bunch of really beautiful old buildings. Just don’t be fooled by the church-like exterior of the Boekhandel Dominicanen! When you walk in, you’ll discover this beautiful bookstore, probably one of the coolest in the world!
From the second we walked into the Boekhandel Dominicanen, we fell in love. The tall vaulted ceilings, the beautifully ornate painted glass windows, the cool vibe, everything about it was so impressive. Just imagine browsing through books in this majestic and regal setting. It’s truly an unreal feeling!
The reason this place looks like a church is simply because back in the 13th-century, it was a Dominican one. Later, in the 18th-century, the ecclesiastical function of the church ended. It quickly turned into stables, then a bike shed, followed by an exhibition space and a party hall.
It was only in 2006 that it actually became a bookstore. Initially, it was owned by a chain but is now independent. Today, they sell both new and used books, in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. There’s a music department, a café, and it’s still used as an event/exhibition hall sometimes.
Entrance is obviously free, and you can probably expect crowds as more than 700,000 visitors that come to see this beauty each year. Luckily, we were in Maastricht in December and didn’t have to deal with crowds, ever!
15. Take A food tour of Amsterdam
Suggested by Stuart Forster from Go Eat Do
It’s said that way to a man’s heart is through his belly. Based on that, I reckon one of the best ways to see and experience any city has to be a food tour. It’s one of the reasons I call my website Go Eat Do. Many travellers now seek out walking tours that provide an overview of local cuisine when exploring cities. In Amsterdam, I chose to participate in Eating Europe’s Jordaan Food Tour (€79) to combine insights into that district with an introduction to locally sold dishes.
Our guide was a local man who spoke excellent English. Passionate about what he did, he was also knowledgeable about the history of the Jordaan district, which is about a 15-minute walk from Amsterdam’s central railway station. It was once a down-at-heel area in which workers lived. We heard how the quirky local tradition and brutal sport of eel pulling led to a full-scale riot that prompted the deployment on the army back in the 19th century. The Jordaan has evolved from being a district renowned for its rebelliousness into one coveted for its property.
During the tour we tasted traditional Dutch delicacies including sausage, cheese and stroopwafels (a wafer biscuit with a caramel core), plus apple pie and haring (raw herring). Chicken in satay sauce, a dish made popular by Indonesian immigrants, was also on the list of dishes to sample. Conducted at a gentle pace, the tour was inclusive, insightful and interesting. The Jordaan Food Tour is available throughout the year, takes 3.5 hours and begins at 11am from Monday to Saturday.
16. Visit Utrecht
Suggested by The Wayward Walrus
Sometimes overlooked by the more visited cities of Amsterdam or Haarlem, Utrecht is a wonderful escape to the less-touristy side of the Netherlands. Easily seen in a day and only a 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam, Utrecht is perfect for a quick daytrip.
Like its neighboring Dutch cities, Utrecht is a treat just to meander about town, walking through the gorgeous tree-lined streets and serene canals. It’s said that one of the most picturesque canals in all of the Netherlands runs through the city called Oudegracht, or “old canal.”
Another Utrecht favorite is a visit to the Dom Tower, Dom Church and The Pandhof garden, one of the prettiest little hidden gardens between Dom Church and Utrecht University Hall. The garden also offers spectacular views of the church from the inside out. Other visitor must-sees during a day trip include grabbing a drink at the Winkel van sinkel building, Ganzenmarkt Tunnel, roaming the University Corner, or shopping in the Stadhuis Quarter.
17. Visit Mauritshuis in The Hague
Suggested by Roaming Required
The Mauritshuis is a compact, yet the world-renowned collection is situated in the heart of The Hague. This museum is a must-visit for art lovers, second only to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Mauritshuis possesses the largest collection of paintings by Rembrandt in the Netherlands.
The 17th-century building was originally a residence and a hotel. Today it boasts more than 800 works of art, dominated by Dutch artists from the Golden Age. Household names like Rembrandt, Steen, and Vermeer who painted the Girl with a Pearl Earring line the walls at this impressive museum.
The Mauritshuis recently acquired three allegorical paintings by Nicolaes Berchem. The series fell apart at the end of the 19th century but has now been reunited. The paintings show the seasons and were made around 1670 to decorate an Amsterdam canal house. As this is a new addition, be sure to add this to your to-see list in The Mauritshuis!
To make the most of your visit, arrive upon opening, after 3 p.m. and on Thursday evenings when the museum is open later, until 8 pm. The museum is closed on occasion throughout the year (ie Dutch holidays), so be mindful to check ahead of your arrival.
Cost for an adult entry is €15.50, children 18 & under enter for free. Purchase an e-ticket online you don’t have to go to the cash register! Alternatively, get yourself a Museum card which provides free entry to the Mauritshuis and other museums in The Hague.
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