Many travelers limit their visit to the Netherlands with Amsterdam and perhaps South Holland – popular tulips area during spring season. After living in the Netherlands for 3 years and exploring many parts of this country I can say with confidence that there is much more to see in the Netherlands beyond touristy Amsterdam.
I’m creating a series of short posts on small Dutch towns our family loved when exploring the country. Public transport is very well developed in the Netherlands and any of these towns will make a perfect one day trip from Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht or any other Dutch city (whether it is by train or by car).
So, let’s go and discover 6 Small Dutch towns you must see to enjoy their charming narrow streets, canals surrounded by green trees, weekend markets at town centers, historical buildings, windmills and various museums.
Let’s start with one of the most famous (at least by its name) small town in the Netherlands – Gouda.
Gouda is a town in South Holland’s part of the Netherlands. It’s home to the most popular cheese in the world (Gouda), to the traditional Dutch sirup waffles (Stroopwafels), to the beautiful 15th century church of Sint-Jan famous with its stained glass windows and to one of the oldest Gothic buildings in the Netherlands (Gouda’s Town Hall).
If you visit Gouda between April and August don’t miss Gouda cheese market that takes place every Thursday and showcases the scenes from Dutch cheese trading traditions. You can also experience and learn about Gouda cheese traditions by visiting the cheese museum in the De Goudse Waag – 17th century historical building.
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Leiden is conveniently located between Amsterdam and The Hague and is a home of the country’s oldest university – Leiden University.
Leiden is a very pleasant small city to walk around and enjoy its old architecture, streets and canals. If you are into museums, Leiden is a must visit. There are the National Museum of Ethnology with exhibitions from around the world, National Museum of Antiquities – National archaeology museum with collections of Egyptian, Greek & Roman artefacts, Naturalis Biodiversity Center – a natural history museum, and many-many more.
Not far from Leiden there is European Space Agency’s research and technology center. While you can’t visit the ESA site itself there is the ESA Museum – a very cool place to visit, especially with kids.
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Amersfoort, in my opinion, is one of the underrated Dutch towns. We lived 20 minutes by train from Amersfoort and visited it a few times. It has a well preserved medieval town center with cobbled narrow streets, canals and stone bridges. Really nice and walkable old town with many historical buildings, picturesque medieval gate – Koppelpoort and central square – the Hof. The Hof with its tall 15th century church tower – the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwetoren – has lots of cafes and holds a farmers market on Fridays and Saturdays.
Apart from the few museums in the town itself I would recommend going to the National Military Museum not far from Amersfoort, and of course to the DierenPark Amersfoort – a spacious zoo with hundreds of animals.
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One of the most popular small Dutch towns to visit is Delft. Delft is famous for its Delft blue pottery, for being a home to painter Johannes Vermeer and for being a city of Dutch Royal family.
When in Delft, make sure to visit one of the Delftware factories and learn about the history and process of the delftware production. Don’t miss Het Prinsenhof – a historical residence of Prince Willian of Orange. Nowadays, it hosts a museum where you can learn about the history and development of the Netherlands.
If you are into art or simply want to learn about one of the Netherland’s best known artists – Johannes Vermeer – visit Vermeer Center Delft, next to the central Market square.
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Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. It’s located at the very south of the country on a long strip of land between Belgium and Germany. Maastricht is well known as the birthplace of European Union and euro currency.
In Maastricht you can visit a bookshop located in the historical building of the 13th century church – Dominicanenkerk. Walk on the oldest bridge in the Netherlands – Sint Servaasbrug, and take a look at the oldest city gate in the Netherlands – Helpoort. Have a meal at one of the many cafes and restaurants in Maastricht old town, or dine at the Vrijthof – Maastricht’s town square surrounded by many historical buildings.
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Last but not least in my list of 6 Small Dutch towns you must see is Zaandam. Zaandam is a small town just North of Amsterdam and often mentioned as one of the best one day trips from Amsterdam.
Zaandam is mostly famous for Zaanse Schans – a recreated village with typical Dutch windmills and wooden houses featuring a cheese shop, wooden clogs workshop and other handicraft shops. But don’t go straight to Zaanse Schans when you arrive in Zaandam. Make sure you spent some time in the town center and explore its colorful and quirky houses, try freshly made herring on the central street and visit Tsar Peter house.
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Do you want to know what else you can see in the Netherlands? Read our next post: What to see in the Netherlands