After living here for a few years we know from our experience there are lots of things to see and do in the Netherlands. Whether you are visiting for a weekend or a week, as a family, as a couple or as a solo traveller, in spring or autumn, you will always find something to see and do in this country known for its cheese, tulips, wooden shoes, canals, famous Dutch artists and windmills (and yes, for its weed shops and red light district too).
Below is the list of must see and do in the Netherlands along with our photos to inspire you to visit this country. Don’t limit yourself by visiting Amsterdam only. Taste some cheese in Alkmaar, admire ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in one of the Hague museums, go to Utrecht to see the biggest castle in the Netherlands, try on a wooden shoes in Zaanse Schans, bike through the tulips fields in Flevoland, see a crocodile mummy in Leiden’s museum of antiques, take a boat tour to see windmills of Kinderdijk or take a train to see cube houses of Rotterdam – there are so many ways to spend your time in the Netherlands.
Note: You can click on small pictures in the post to enlarge them.
When you think of the Netherlands, one of the top things that comes to mind is cheese. There is a reason for that. Netherlands is one of the top world exporters of cheese and some of the well-known types of cheese, such as Gouda and Edam, originated from the Netherlands.
Visit one of the cheese markets in Alkmaar, Gouda or Edam, go to a cheese museum in Amsterdam or Alkmaar, or simply pop into one of the many cheese stores in the Netherlands – there are many ways to enjoy this cheese country.
One of the first things you notice in any Dutch city is the amount of canals everywhere. Historically they were used for transport and drainage. Today you can take a canal boat tour in many Dutch cities (especially popular in Amsterdam), enjoy a lunch or dinner on Oudegracht in Utrecht – one of the oldest canals in the country, or simply admire one of the many city views with canals surrounded by old houses and green trees.
There are many medieval castles to visit in the Netherlands. Some of them are older, some restored or rebuilt, and many of them are open to the public and have museums inside. Depending on which part of the Netherlands you are travelling to, pick a castle to include into your visit. Go to Muiderslot castle and gardens not far from Amsterdam, or to Hoensbroek Castle near Maastricht, or to the restored 11th century fortress and castle Heeswijk Castle between Eindhoven and Hertogenbosch, or to our favourite Castle De Haar in Utrecht.
Beautifully odd architecture
I haven’t seen in any other country so many modern buildings with unusual, weird, odd and beautiful architecture as in the Netherlands. Cube houses and Market Hall in Rotterdam, beautiful colorful houses in Zaandam, residential sphere houses in Den Bosch, and many more numerous houses with modern, odd and bold architecture.
The Netherlands is widely known as the most cyclists-friendly country, and there are more bicycles per individual in this country than in any other country in the world. You can get virtually anywhere by bike with so many dedicated paths and lanes for bicycles in the country.
Did you know, Utrecht has the biggest bicycle parking in the world? Bicycle parking garage at Utrecht Central can store more than ten thousand bicycles!
It’s simply not possible to visit the Netherlands without seeing a windmill or two. I remember when we moved to the Netherlands and were driving from Amsterdam airport to our new home in Utrecht, first things we saw on our way were the large flat green fields separated by the canals and few windmills seen from the motorway.
Of course we have seen many more windmills since then as there are hundreds of them in the country (and that first impression of the green flat country with windmills will forever stay in my mind). Historically, windmills in the Netherlands were used not only to ground grains to a flour as many would think, but also for draining land, for pumping water from lower to higher lands, for wood sawing and other. Many windmills are still operational (often run by volunteers) and many of them are open to the public for guided tours.
Clogs (or klompen – Dutch wooden shoes)
Klompen, better known as Clogs, are traditional Dutch wooden shoes made completely from wood. Don’t think it’s only sold as souvenirs nowadays. Some Dutch still wear them when doing farming or gardening.
Tip: if buying clogs for yourself or as a gift, don’t forget they’re supposed to be worn on thick socks.
Besides seeing or buying clogs in a souvenir shop you can visit one of the workshops (for example, in Zaanse Schans) to learn and see how these shoes are made.
Houseboats (houses on water)
It’s not only Venice where you can see houses on water. There are plenty of those in the Netherlands too. With many canals and bodies of water in Dutch cities and villages you will find buildings on water and also, so called, houseboats – floating houses. You can even rent one for your stay in the Netherlands.
Dutch were always a maritime nation, dominating the shipbuilding industry in Europe in the 17th century, being the home country of famous explorers (such as Abel Tasman) and the world known trading company The Dutch East India Company.
Visit a maritime museum in Amsterdam or in Rotterdam, climb on the replica of the Dutch East India Company ship ‘Amsterdam’ or on the replica of the flagship of the Dutch East India Company – Batavia – located in Lelystad.
Visit one of my favourite Dutch cities – The Hague – a city on the North Sea, home of the Dutch government, Dutch royal family palace and many international government organisations. See Binnenhof – Dutch parliament building, admire paintings by world famous artists in Mauritshuis museum, visit Madurodam to see miniature copies of Dutch cities and historical landmarks, have a ride on the ferris wheel on Scheveningen beach or simply walk old streets of the Hague. There are lots of things to see and do in the Hague, see my post on how to Spend a day in The Hague.
Visit another favourite Dutch city of mine – Rotterdam. Second largest city in the Netherlands, largest seaport in Europe and the most modern Dutch city Rotterdam is well worth visiting. Even though most of the city was destroyed in WWII, some historical gems had survived, such as City Hall or Schielandshuis, which now hosts Rotterdam tourist information center. Plus there are many buildings with modern and artistic architecture that you wouldn’t want to miss, such as Cube Houses and Market Hall.
Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and it’s our home city now. Historically, Utrecht was a religious center of the Netherlands and there is a well preserved old town with some historical landmarks worth visiting.
Read this post if you are visiting Utrecht with children – Favourite places to visit in Utrecht with kids.
Small charming towns
Don’t forget about smaller towns in the Netherlands. There are many charming Dutch towns that would make a perfect day trip from Amsterdam or The Hague or from wherever you’re staying.
Zaandam with its bright colorful houses, Amersfoort with its medieval streets and city gates, Zaanse Schans with windmills, Leiden with the oldest university in the country, Delft with its famous blue and white china, Maastricht with well preserved old town, Gouda and its beautiful Sint-Janskerk, Haarlem with its pretty Grote Markt – just to name some of the smaller cities in the Netherlands.
Being the home of such famous artists as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Vincent Van Gogh, the Netherlands obviously has many museums with vast collections of artworks to admire.
Visit Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to see ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt and ‘The Milkmaid’ by Vermeer along with thousands of other art pieces.
Go to Mauritshuis museum in the Hague to admire ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ by Rembrandt, paintings by Rubens, van Dyck and other artists.
See Vincent van Gogh paintings and learn his story in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Tulips in spring
The most beautiful time of the year in Holland is spring with the fields of blooming tulips and other flowers all around. Read my Your guide to tulips season in the Netherlands for the complete guide if you’re going to the Netherlands during the tulip blooming season.
Even if you’re not visiting in Spring to see blooming tulips, there is always a way to see the flowers in the Netherlands – visit a flower trading center, a tulip museum in Amsterdam or Lisse or simply go to one of the flower markets that are very popular in Dutch cities.
Of course there are a lot of museums in the Netherlands to visit. Here is a short list of my personal favourites: Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) in Leiden, NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam (a must visit with kids!), De Haar Castle in Utrecht, National Military Museum in Utrecht, Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, Louwman Museum in The Hague and Space Expo in Noordwijk.
Of course when you travel to a new country you must try its local food. Try traditional Dutch herring (Dutch like it fresh with chopped onions) sold on the markets and street food stalls, or another popular fish food sold on the markets – kibbeling (deep fried fish). Order bitterballen (deep fried mix of mashed potatoes with meat, reachly coated in breadcrumbs), kroketten (similar to bitterballen but in a roll shape) and frikandel (basically, deep fried sausages) in a cafe along with your favourite Dutch beer.
For the dessert try stroopwafels (thin waffles with syrup), pancakes (big thin pancakes with syrup, chocolate, whipped cream or other filling of your choice), oliebollen (deep fried sweet doughnut balls usually sold in winter) or kruidnoten – small spiced cookies traditionally sold from October to early December (we like them so much, that we learned to make them in order to enjoy all year round 🙂 ).
- There is a very extensive Public transport system in the Netherlands. Not only you can use public transport within most of the Dutch cities, but also you can easily travel between cities of the Netherlands by trains. Trains run often and regularly within and between Dutch cities (and to other nearby European countries). See NS Netherlands website for timetables and train travel planner.
- If you are staying for longer and planning to visit many Dutch museums it might be worth buying Dutch Museum Card – it gives you a free entrance to hundreds of museums across the country and it is valid for a year. You can buy Museum Card online at their website (in Dutch) or simply at one of the museums.
- You can rent a bike and do the sightseeing by bike. You can travel virtually anywhere by bike in the Netherlands. Dutch prefer bikes to other means of transport and in places there are less footpaths for pedestrians than bicycle paths and lanes for bikes 🙂 Just open Google Maps and search for ‘bike rent’ near your location.
- Most Dutch can speak English. You don’t need to worry about language – the majority of Dutch people can speak perfect English and most of the tourist attractions have information in both Dutch and English. Though it’s always nice to learn a few basic phrases in Dutch. E.g. “Goedemorgen”/“Goedendag”/”Goedenavond” (Good morning/Good day/Good evening) or “Dank je” (Thank You) or perhaps “Ik hou van Nederland” (I love Netherlands 😉 )