It goes without saying that, for many countries, the capital city is the star of the show.
But until I moved to the Netherlands, I didn’t realize the extent to which Amsterdam steals the spotlight from everywhere else. The amount of people who assume I live there is kind of staggering. (In case you’re new around here: I definitely don’t.)
Maybe people are genuinely under the impression that, once you’ve ticked off Amsterdam, there’s not much else to see here. After all, the Netherlands is a teeny-tiny country; how much more can there really be?
Well, I asked a few other travelers what they thought about that. Here’s what they told me.
by Jessica from A Wanderlust For Life
One of my favorite options for day trips from Amsterdam is the town of Giethoorn. It’s been called the “Venice of the North,” but really, it’s in a league of its own.
Much of this town is only accessible by boat or walking, so taking a cruise is a must-do. There are a dozen or so options which are pretty similar, so just see what catches your eye when taking a walk. There are also plenty of boats to rent if you want to take your sightseeing into your own hands!
After a boat ride, grabbing a meal canalside is a complete treat, and I highly encourage you to people watch. Giethoorn is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve seen!
Check out Jessica’s link for more on Giethoorn.
NOORDWIJK (ZUID HOLLAND)
by Tatiana from Efzin
Photos by Ana Paula Waaijenberg
Noordwijk is located in South Holland, in an area called the “Dune and Bulb Region.” Noordwijk aan Zee is the coastal area with beaches and sand dunes that are great in the summer (although super touristy and crowded). It’s even more surreal if you visit during the glacial Dutch winter. If you’re lucky, you might see the salty water waves frozen over the sand, creating magical, organic shapes. During springtime, the famous colorful Dutch tulips are everywhere.
Whatever season you visit Noordwijk, there will always be local seafood trucks where you can buy a delicious “broodje haring,” or raw herring sandwich –- the Netherlands’ national dish.
Noordwijk is reachable in about an hour from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or The Hague.
by Karen from Wanderlustingk
Maastricht is my favorite city in the Netherlands. Although it’s a student city, it’s got something to offer everyone. Its architecture is a nod to a European/German influences, and its history is absolutely fascinating.
Maastricht has tons of lovely eateries, interesting regional specialties such as vlaai (cake), historic caves that have been critical in the city’s history, and a beautiful bookstore in an old church. Although it’s three hours from Amsterdam, it’s well worth the train ride for its atmosphere, friendly residents, and beautiful hilly landscape (a rare sight in the Netherlands). Walking through the center of Maastricht is enough to charm any visitor.
Follow Karen’s link for a more in-depth guide to Maastricht.
by Heather from Extra Adventure
Apenheul is a fantastic place for young and old to spend the day. You can observe and learn about all sorts of primates, including gorillas, bonobos, and spider monkeys, as well as other animals. You’ll even get up-close and personal with a few, if you’re lucky. One of the best things about the zoo is that some of the animals — like the lemurs and squirrel monkeys — are free-range and walk around amongst the visitors. Some will even climb onto people and use them like playground equipment!
Apenheul is only an hour away from Amsterdam by train, and definitely well worth a visit.
Check out Heather’s link for more info on the park.
by Jessica Lipowski, author of “Flavors of Life”
Utrecht is one of those places that is love at first sight. The Oudegracht, a picturesque canal, meanders through the city center. A string of cozy cafes and restaurants provide peaceful waterside dining. The terraces are situated below street level, creating an intimate, romantic atmosphere.
Wander the tiny cobblestone streets and explore the variety of shops and dining establishments. Don’t forget to admire the remarkable architecture. The Dom is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands; climb the 465 steps, and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of Utrecht from above. Be sure to check out other attractions while in town, such as the speelklok museum (a collection of musical clocks and organs) and the spoorwegmuseum (the railway museum). Feeling adventurous? Rent a paddleboat for a few hours.
The city is centrally located and easily accessible; Utrecht’s station is one of the main train hubs in the country.
by Anne from Wonderluhst
At first glance, Vlissingen might seem like the typical seaside resort found all over the Netherlands. A broad promenade, remarkable high-rise buildings, and houses built quite close to the beach and the sea.
However, the one thing that makes this city special is that it is the perfect starting point for many activities in the province of Zeeland — from bike rides along endless green fields and seeing some of the most spectacular dams in the world, to relaxing by the beach and enjoying fantastic seafood (definitely try the mussels if they’re in season, they are delicious!).
ROTTERDAM (ZUID HOLLAND)
by Jo from Wander With Jo
The story of Rotterdam — the destruction and reconstruction, along with the subsequent innovation of the locals to reshape their city — makes it a fascinating place to visit. There is so much to explore and so much seems possible there. If you’re wondering if Rotterdam is a must-see, the answer is: absolutely!
Rotterdam also hosts one of the biggest carnivals in the Netherlands: the Zomercarnaval (Summer Carnival), part of the Rotterdam Unlimited festival. The Zomercarnaval is a big street party that draws in thousands of visitors each year.
Click Jo’s link for more on the Zomercarnaval.
Note: All photos belong to writers of each piece, respectively, except where otherwise noted.
Thanks to everyone who contributed!
Do you have any favorite Dutch spots not listed here? I’d love to hear about them. (And don’t worry about defending Amsterdam; for the record, I’m already a fan.)
Interested in more recommendations for the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam? Have a look at this post about my home province of Overijssel.