When travellers visit the Netherlands, more often than not, their first port of call is Amsterdam. A lot of these visitors, sadly, don’t go much further than that, and end up missing out on a wealth of history, landscapes, experiences and, of course, some of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands besides the capital.
With this in mind, I wanted to put together a post that shows everyone that there is a lot more to this fascinating country than Amsterdam. So I’ve asked a bunch of expert travel bloggers to let me know what they thought the top cities in the Netherlands were and here is the result. This selection has certainly made me want to start planning my next visit to the Netherlands!
If looking for some beautiful cities you should visit in the Netherlands, then Haarlem should definitely be on your list. Located only 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam, you can visit it on a day trip or spend a few more days there.
Haarlem is a charming Dutch town, where you can feel the history on every corner. Its main square, Groote Markt, is home to some beautiful old buildings. The most interesting are Saint Bavo Church, City Hall (that’s where the tourist office is) and the Vleeshal. If you’d like to learn more about the city’s history during the visit, be sure to visit a small Archaeological Museum located in the basement of the Vleeshal.
If you’d like to visit more museums during your stay, be sure to go to Teylers, the oldest museum in the Netherlands. Another good option is the Frans Hals Museum, dedicated to the former citizen of Haarlem, and one of the most famous Dutch painters from the 17th century.
Voted as the best Dutch shopping city a few times already, you’ll find many small shops while wandering around its old city centre. With so many lovely restaurants, you won’t stay hungry either.
Haarlem is located just next to the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. So, another nice idea could be to walk a section of the Dutch National Coast path, which goes through the park, or take a walk there through the dunes and spend a day at the beach during your trip to Haarlem.
Utrecht is a city that will capture your imagination. It’s full of old world charm but it has a modern soul, which makes it one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands. You will find enough things to do to visit Utrecht on a day trip and even to keep you here for a few days.
The first thing I’d recommend doing in Utrecht is to wander around and get lost in the cobblestone streets and along the canals. The city is full of really interesting architecture, cute houses and lovely shops you won’t be able to resist going into. One of my favourite places to stop by is Waffel, where you can try the traditional stroopwafel with your favourite toppings.
The canal network is lined up with typical Dutch canal houses, and a great way to enjoy the unique waterways is by taking a canal boat tour. The canal boats are covered, so you can do this whatever the weather. If you are feeling more adventurous and energetic, you can also hire a pedal boat.
Don’t miss out on the best view of the city from the top of Dom Tower, the Netherland’s tallest bell tower. It’s 465 steps to the top, but the views are so worth it!
In the evening, head to one of the repurposed canal cellars for dinner and drinks by the water. A great place to try is The Rum Club is a tropical restaurant with a tiki cocktail bar that will have you ‘liming’ Dutch-style.
Utrecht is one of the top European cities to visit in spring, but it really is perfect all year round.
The Hague may be more widely known as a political hub to people unfamiliar with the Dutch city. It not only holds the seat of the Dutch Parliament at Binnenhof, but it is also where you will find the International Criminal Court and the U.N.’s International Court of Justice.
Noordeinde Palace, a 16th Century palace positioned within the heart of the city, is the Dutch King’s workplace. Therefore, a trip to The Hague may be your best bet to mingle with royalty!
But, seriousness aside, it is not The Hague’s political dealings which made me fall in love with the city. The Hague is much more than a place for politics, as I found out.
The city of justice is also a city of peace with one of the top places to visit in The Netherlands, The Peace Palace, visible atop many of the streets in The Hague. The Peace Palace contains contributions from various countries in the world, even down to its stained glass windows.
In addition, the city has world cuisines on offer to tantalise the taste buds and, you will find an array of Asian fusion dishes in Chinatown.
The Hague is home to some of The Netherlands’ most celebrated galleries. The Mauritshuis Museum holds works from Dutch artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, with pieces from the Dutch Golden Age holding a place of pride within the gallery.
Once you’ve browsed the many shops and museums exploring the culture in The Hague, why not reward yourself with a relaxing beach day at Scheveningen, the city’s beach area located 15 minutes from the centre. You won’t regret it!
Gouda is a beautiful, typically Dutch city and one of the most beautiful places in the Netherlands. It’s an easy day trip from Amsterdam, being under an hour away by train. Plus, it’s relatively small and walkable.
Gouda’s main sights are in its main market square. They include the Town Hall, one of the most beautiful town hall buildings we’ve seen in this country with stand-out red and white shutters. There’s also the Goudse Waag, a traditional weigh house, which now houses a museum and the Gouda TI.
From April to August, this is also where the Gouda Cheese Market is held. It’s a must-do (and eat!) for cheese enthusiasts.
Right behind the market square is the especially impressive Sint-Janskerk. It was built in the Gothic style and is the longest church in the country! It also has a renowned collection of beautiful stained glass windows, known as the Gouda Glass.
And of course, Gouda also has some incredibly picturesque canals. You are in the Netherlands after all! So make sure to explore beyond the main square and enjoy them on a wander through the city’s streets.
It may be a compact city but Groningen really packs a punch. With its traditional canals and warehouses, and its large student population, this vibrant city offers culture, history and a nightlife to be experienced, making it one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands.
Groningen is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands, and despite it being in the somewhat remote north of the country, it is very easy to get to. Particularly if you are travelling around the Netherlands by train. Groningen train station, Hoofdstation Groningen, is one of the most impressive in the country, and it looks like it’s been taken out of a Harry Potter movie.
The city itself is very easy to explore on foot. Start off at the Hoofdstation Groningen, the grand train station and walk across to the Groningen Museum, an architectural masterpiece designed by a team led by famous Italian designer Alessandro Mendini.
Head to Vismarkt, the heart of the city, where you’ll find historic buildings, shops, bars and cafes around the local market. For breathtaking views of the city, climb to the top of the highest building in Groningen, the Martinitoren, a tower with more than 500 years of history.
For more spectacular views of the city, the Forum, an imposing new building, has the highest terrace in Groningen with a rooftop cinema, perfect for sunset. And if you want to experience the famed nightlife of the city, head to The Stockroom, a 1920s-style speakeasy halfway down Oosterstraat.
Delft is a lovely small city of about 100,000 people that sits snugly between Rotterdam and the Hague. It has a long history as a trading center, as one of the Dutch East India Company offices was located here.
The city center is small and easy to explore on foot. Or you can rent a bike to do as the locals do and cycle around. Delft also has many canals, and the canal taxi boat is a great way to see the town if your feet get tired.
Two of its most famous landmarks are the Old Church and the New Church. “New” is a relative term here, as the church was built in 1496! It has the second-highest church tower in the country, after the Dom in Utrecht. It’s definitely worth paying the extra 3 euros to climb to the top for impressive views.
The Old Church is more accurately named, as it is in fact the oldest church in Delft and was built in 1246. A number of famous Dutch people are buried here, including the great painter Johannes Vermeer, who lived in Delft his entire life. Fans of Vermeer’s work will not want to miss the Vermeer Centrum, where you can see reproductions of all 37 of his works as well as his painting studio.
Apart from being the birthplace of Vermeer, Delft is probably most famous for its blue and white ceramics. In the mid-18th century, there were no fewer than 32 ceramics factories in the town. Nowadays, only one is left, the Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles. It’s open to the public for visits and also holds workshops.
Alkmaar is a small but beautiful city in The Netherlands that is great to visit for those who love cheese. It is home to one of the surviving cheese markets in The Netherlands that take place every Friday from March through September.
Nowadays it is a historical recreation meant to preserve this piece of Dutch culture, and it attracts a big crowd. The weighing house where merchants sold their cheese houses a fantastic Cheese Museum nowadays.
Another part of the city worth exploring is its intricate network of canals which is best appreciated as part of a boat tour. The architecture dates back to the middle ages and the fresh perspective from the water really plunges you into the past.
Alkmaar’s cozy city center is filled with small boutiques and artisan shops that will convince you to stay a while and experience the measured Dutch lifestyle. Other highlights include the beer museum and the Grote Kerk which is Alkmaar’s church.
The city is only 40 minutes away from Amsterdam by train which makes it a perfect candidate for a day trip.
Rotterdam is not what comes to mind when you think of traditional Dutch cities, but if you like modern architecture, it is one of the top places to visit in the Netherlands.
The city was pretty much razed to the ground in WWII, so it became a blank canvas for imaginative architects, giving it a chance to reinvent itself. And reinvent itself it did! With large open spaces and edgy buildings and structures, Rotterdam breaks all the rules that most traditional Dutch cities follow.
Saying this, there is still a small area that reminds us of what the city used to look like before the war. Delfshaven is a quaint neighbourhood with traditional red brick houses and warehouses along the canal, like many Ducht cities. It’s a real contrast from the rest of the city.
Rotterdam has also become a bit of a foodie destination, with food halls such as the spectacular Markthal in the centre, and the trendy Fenix Food Factory, located within an old port warehouse in Katendrecht.
Of course, one of the main draws to the city is its architecture. If you travel by train, you will arrive at Centraal Station, a masterpiece of sustainable engineering. Another must visit which you must not miss is the famous Cube Houses, where there is not a single upright wall. You can visit the interior of one of them and you can even sleep in one of the Cube Houses too.
You could easily visit Rotterdam in one day, but I would recommend spending more time, so you can enjoy some of its nightlife and take in the vibrant soul of this reborn city.
Just a short 2.5-hour train ride from Amsterdam, you can find the beautiful city of Maastricht. Initially, we weren’t planning on stopping here, but our friends from Leiden highly recommended it, and we’re so glad we listened. Although it’s a small town, there’s a bunch of fun things to do here, just enough for 2 full days of exploring.
Highly walkable, Maastricht was like Amsterdam‘s less hectic, cuter sister. There are still tons of people biking around, but you don’t feel like your life is constantly in danger! The streets are lined with old historic houses. The weekly markets around the city do not disappoint, and the locals are some of the friendliest we’ve met.
The sights in the city are quite easy to get to. In fact, we walked around everywhere because the city was so beautiful and we wanted to get a real sense of life in Maastricht. The best things to do here are to visit Fort St. Pieter and the underground caves, the Basilica of Saint Servatius, and wander in Waldeckpark or walk around the old city walls.
Our favorite thing to do was checking out the coolest bookstore, the Boekhandel Dominicanen. It’s an old church turned bookshop, with vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows… basically, the perfect place to spend hours browsing through books.
We loved our time in Maastricht. It quickly became one of our favorite cities to visit in the Netherlands. We’d love to go back and visit it again.
For an often overlooked destination that is an easy day trip from either Amsterdam or Rotterdam, visit Leiden, Rembrandt’s birthplace, and one of the most beautiful cities in The Netherlands.
Leiden has all the charm of Amsterdam but nothing approaching its crowds. Picture-perfect canals lace through its 17thCentury historic centre with its monumental buildings and world class museums.
As home to one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands, expect a lively student vibe and ivy-clad university buildings. Its student population helps to keep things real and affordable, with a good selection of bars and restaurants for a city of its size.
Leiden oozes history. Fleeing religious persecution in England, the Pilgrim Fathers settled in Leiden in the area around St. Peter’s Church. Today, you can visit the American Pilgrim Museum to find out more about the lifestyle of a 17th Century Leiden inhabitant.
If you want to learn more about a working windmill, you can visit Leiden’s Windmill Museum. If gardens are more of your thing, Leiden is home to one the oldest botanical gardens in the world, Hortus Botanicus Leiden.
For a museum that punches way above its weight, visit the excellent Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, which is a celebration of world cultures. Finally, whilst you are in Leiden why not visit the greatest flower show on earth? The Keukenhof Gardens and the Dutch tulip fields are an easy day trip from the city.
Breda is a city in the province of Noord-Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands. It’s located about 100km south of Amsterdam. Breda’s nickname, derived from the city’s anthem, is ‘Pearl of the South’. A nickname that’s well deserved, for the city has a charming historic city center and gorgeous woods nearby.
Breda has a rich history dating back to 1125 AD and has been linked to the House of Nassau and the Dutch Royal family for centuries. As a major fortified city, Breda remained of military importance, even after the city walls were torn down in the late 1800s. Breda Castle has been the home of the Royal Military Academy since 1828.
Breda’s most important landmark is the Grote Kerk or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), which can be found at The Grote Markt, Breda’s central square. The church is free to visit so checking out this gorgeous Brabantine Gothic monument should definitely be on your to-do list. Other major landmarks are the Begijnhof and the Spanjaard’s Gat.
If you love a good party, visit Breda during the carnival when the city transforms into ‘Kielegat’. This major event takes place 40 days before Easter and is generally only celebrated in the southern part of the Netherlands and completely turns the city upside down.
Amersfoort is a wonderful town in the Netherlands, located not far from Amsterdam, only a short train journey that takes about 35 minutes. The city itself is most famous for its water and land gate, known as Koppelpoort, which is an iconic landmark in Amersfoort.
As the city was founded already in 1259, it is full of Dutch history. It even houses an old medieval church, which is actually the tallest church in all of the Netherlands. Furthermore, while strolling around the city, visitors can walk along various canals that ripple through the historic city center.
Amersfoort is well-connected with various cities in the Netherlands and it has been an important railway junction for quite some time. It might not be as famous as The Hague or Delft, but it sure has a lot of characteristic houses and charming pathways. Along the canals, you can find various restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy nice food or have a classic dutch beer.
What’s even better is the fact that Amersfoort is one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands, but it’s not as crowded as other popular day trip destinations. It has a great local feeling to it, although some tourists find their way here as well, of course.
One of the prettiest cities in The Netherlands has to be ’s Hertogenbosch, which is known as Den Bosch. This city in the southern part of the Netherlands about an hour from Amsterdam is the home of the painter Hieronymus Bosch. This beautiful Dutch city is full of picturesque streets that you’ll want to get lost along. Unlike Amsterdam, there are no crowds here.
One of the most enthralling experiences to have in Den Bosch has to be taking a boat ride through the Binnendieze, the ancient canals underneath the city that run on the Binnendieze river. From a boat ride, you can peek into people’s houses and get a sense of what the city once was like. Even if you don’t go for a boat ride, you can still admire the entrance to the Binnendieze along Uilenburg.
One of Den Bosch’s most beautiful attractions has to be its main square, Markt, which is very close to what it was like in medieval times. There’s often a market here and there’s nothing like enjoying a delicious Bossche bol or a local beer with a view of the oldest building in Den Bosch, de Moriaan, which dates back to the 13th century.
And of course, no list of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands would be complete without the inclusion of the most popular one.
With its “café” culture and red-light district, Amsterdam might be thought of as a bit seedy and gritty, but it’s much more than that. It is, in fact, one of the prettiest cities to visit in the Netherlands, if not all of Europe. It looks much as it did in the 1600s during the Dutch Golden Age, with its UNESCO World Heritage listed canals lined with pretty gabled houses, lush green parks, and colourful markets.
The compact Old Centre is home to many of Amsterdam’s attractions and is easily walkable, or bikeable with its plentiful bike lanes. You can wander amongst the canals and beautiful buildings for hours and find many treasures to explore.
Exploring the city by canal cruise may seem a bit “touristy”, but we found them to be a relaxing introduction and orientation to Amsterdam. You’ll enjoy the beautiful architecture, learn a little history of the city, all while gliding along quietly through canals.
There are museums for just about any interest, including the world-famous Rijksmuseum for Dutch Masters, the Netherlands Maritime Museum dedicated to the seafaring history of the country, and the Dutch Resistance Museum focused on the Dutch struggle against the Nazis, as well as many others.