As someone who is Dutch and lives in the UK, I always get asked about Amsterdam. Usually when explaining I am from The Netherlands, people always assume I mean Amsterdam and forget there is more to the country. It comes to no surprise that the capital is always busy (maybe even overcrowded), and that the government has started an active scheme to spread out tourism. This is great, but do most even know what other places our little country has to offer? Let’s take a look at the top 5 places to visit!
Note: All these places are easily accessible from Amsterdam, as this is where the main airport is and in case you want to visit any of them as part of your trip that includes Amsterdam. Use the Dutch train company (NS.nl) or Trainline to book tickets.
Utrecht – for a less touristy version of Amsterdam
Utrecht is practically located in the middle of the country, so an ideal base if you’re travelling around. The city is often compared to Amsterdam and it is easy to see why. Lots of bridges, cute houses by the canals and a fantastic café culture. Utrecht is however much more laid back than Amsterdam. You will only find handful of tourist shops, and you won’t see as many tourists per square meter as you do in the capital!
It is not fair to simply compare Utrecht to Amsterdam though, as it has so much to offer in its own right. The Domkerk is undergoing a big renovation at the moment, but it is still open for visitors and worth a trip to the top. Utrecht also has a fantastic shopping scene, with more independent shops than I can count. I am always surprised by how fashionable people look (and I lived in London!). When you see the clothing shops you understand that there is no excuse to dress poorly in this city!
What I think really needs to be celebrated about Utrecht is its’ friendliness and café culture. As soon as one ray of sunshine is out, or even when it is cloudy, Dutch people run to the terraces for a drink and some bitterballen (you can’t miss these). The staff in restaurants and café’s are always surprisingly nice and hospitable, which is amazing considering how busy they are. It is my boyfriend’s favourite place in the Netherlands due to this, as people are always genuinely friendly when he tries to speak Dutch.
How to get there: Utrecht Centraal Station is your best stop if you want to explore the city centre. Located next to/adjacent to the station is a massive shopping centre and just outside that is the old city centre! I love it when a city is compact.
– Utrecht Centraal is just under half an hour on the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station and run every ~10 minutes.
– Trains from Utrecht Centraal to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport will take you about 35 minutes and run every ~15 minutes.
Den Haag – for the political capital of the country
Den Haag, or The Hague, is ever popular with those who love politics. This gorgeous city is the political capital of the Netherlands, as it is the seat of our government. If you are familiar with your Dutch politicians (don’t worry, even I am not!) you will have to get used to seeing them cycle and walk around the cobbled streets! The ‘Binnenhof’ is where the government meets, almost like the Houses of Parliaments for the Netherlands. It is among the oldest parliament buildings in the world that is still being used.
Den Haag has more features that are historic. There are lots of museums in the city that are very much worth a visit. The Mauritshuis is wonderful if you are into 17th century paintings, the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. If you fancy having your mind boggled, visit the M.C. Esher museum. This imaginative artist created prints that are mathematically inspired and seem to have impossible constructions.
If you are not into history or politics, I promise you will still enjoy Den Haag. Like most Dutch places, it has a fantastic café culture. You will enjoy sitting on Het Plein (the square) with a cold beer and just watching people. Den Haag has great shopping opportunities and features the Haagse Market, a big market with more than 500 stalls open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
How to get there: Get off at Den Haag Centraal for the city centre. From there it is a ten minute walk to the Binnenhof, it’s a nice walk to get introduced to the city.
– Amsterdam Centraal has trains leaving to Den Haag Centraal every 10 minutes or less, sometimes you might need to change at other stations so be aware of this before you board. You’ll be there in just under an hour.
– From Amsterdam Schiphol you can get lots of different trains to Den Haag Centraal. Take an ‘intercity’ and you will be there in under half an hour, or board a ‘sprinter’ that takes ~50 minutes.
Scheveningen – for some fresh air
Visited the above busy cities and need a breather? No worries, The Netherlands has got it all. Scheveningen is basically part of Den Haag city, so you can visit both easily! Sadly the Dutch weather is often comparable to British weather: a bit cloudy and meh. Luckily the Dutch love some fresh air and don’t let a windy day keep them from visiting the beach, so there is always a bit of bustle. Don’t be surprised if you find windsurfers in the water outside of the summer season!
Got lucky with a sunny, warm day? You can’t beat a dip in the North Sea. Have a wander around the Pier or visit one of the many museums in the town. Museum Beelden aan Zee is amazing because it features exclusively contemporary international sculpture. Many of the exhibition rooms have an amazing view over the beach and sea. And when you get hungry after all the exploring you definitely won’t have trouble finding a nice beach club or restaurant in Scheveningen!
How to get there: As mentioned, Scheveningen is part of the city of Den Haag. We recommend getting a train to Den Haag Centraal, and then jump on a tram or bus.
– Departing from Den Haag Centraal: trams 1 or 9 or bus 22 take you to the beach in fifteen minutes, these run every ~10 minutes.
– From Den Haag city centre, buses 21 and 23 go to Scheveningen and depart every ~10 minutes.
Giethoorn – for an idyllic water village
In the unlikely case that you have heard about Giethoorn, I am 100% sure you will have been told it is the ‘Venice of The Netherlands’. Sadly, all I can remember about Venice is the over-crowding of tourists. Although Giethoorn does get very busy in the summer holidays, if you plan your visit off-season it won’t be too busy. The town of Giethoorn is car-free, so most of it is only accessible like in the picture above: by walking along the narrow streets or navigating the the waterways.
I can see you thinking, how will I spend a whole day (or more) in a small village like Giethoorn? But it actually has more to offer than it may seem. You can go on a guided boat cruise, which are wheel- and pushchair accessible, or rent your own small boat if you’re feeling confident. Giethoorn also has a couple of museums, our favourite is ‘t Olde Maat Uus. This museum teaches you about the local history and on most days they have actors dressed up in historical clothing.
Giethoorn is a bit further from Amsterdam so if you do go, I would recommend doing this either in combination with another town/city nearby, or staying somewhere local to make the most of your time. There are some cute and affordable B&Bs and hotels nearby the town centre.
How to get there: As mentioned, Giethoorn is located more towards the North of the Netherlands. The country is very small though, so it will still not take you long to get there! Both from Amsterdam Centraal and Schiphol, board a train to Steenwijk which takes just over an hour. From here you can take multiple buses, the journey time varies per bus but shouldn’t take longer than about ~20 minutes.
Veluwe – for beautiful scenery in a flat landscape
I could talk about the Veluwe all day long. This fantastic national park is technically called the Hoge Veluwe and lies in the east of the country. I am terrible at taking pictures, but if you’re into photography then this is your dream place. There is so much wildlife around the park they have their own so called ‘big four’. These include red deer, wild boars, mouflons, and roe deer. Mouflons are wild sheep with crazy horns and I am always in awe when I see one in the park. There is of course much more wildlife, they even have snakes – so be careful!
The park is so immense, you have to be very confident if you want to see all of it by foot. Luckily the park has white bikes you can use for free, this is a great way to get around. If you have visited other places in the Netherlands and have been a bit scared to try cycling in a busy city, the park is a good space to practice!
Towards the northern part of the park you will find the Kröller-Müller Museum which you can’t skip on your visit. It houses the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). The museum also has works by Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondriaan. If you thought that was impressive enough, the museum is also set in a sculpture garden with more than 160 sculptures. It is one of Europe’s biggest sculpture gardens and a great backdrop to both the park and the museum.
With all this going on you can see that even by bike you will struggle to see everything in one day. There are plenty of nice hotels, b&b’s and campsites around, so I would definitely recommend staying for a night or two. It is such a fantastic places to take a proper breath and of course some beautiful pictures!
How to get there: Okay, I will be honest. De Hoge Veluwe might be a bit more tricky to get to on public transport. I suggest taking a train to Apeldoorn or Ede-Wageningen. From there you can take buses. If you’ve taken the train to Apeldoorn, board bus 108 to Hoenderloo and change there to the 106 to Otterlo. This bus takes you all the way to the middle of the park right by the visitor centre. Travelled to Ede-Wageningen? Jump on the 108 to Hoenderloo and it’s a couple minutes walk from the bus stop. If you are staying locally, I would recommend checking your accommodation page to see what is best.
– From Amsterdam Centraal and Schiphol trains depart every 30 minutes and take an hour and a half to Apeldoorn.
– To Ede-Wageningen from Amsterdam and Centraal Schiphol takes about an hour and minutes on the train, these also depart every 30 minutes.
I hope the above places have given you a bit of an insight in how beautiful The Netherlands is. This tiny country has so much to offer, from hustle and bustle in cities to peaceful national parks. Next time you book your flight to Amsterdam, have a look at some other places you can go in the country!