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from short trips to traveling the world & living abroad

The Netherlands or, not formally correct but we’ll forgive you, Holland. Most people know about this country because Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination. And although Amsterdam is definitely a superb travel destination and great experience on its own, the Netherlands does have a lot more to offer than coffee shops and the red light district!

Also Read: Visiting Amsterdam? These Are Some Tips From a Local!

I just spent over a month back home in the Netherlands and decided it was about time to share some tips about other places to visit in the Netherlands.

And best of all: The Netherlands is such a small country that all of these places are within a two and a half hour journey from Amsterdam and therefore make for great day trips!

10 Beautiful Dutch Towns Worth Visiting:

1. Giethoorn

places to visit in the Netherlands: Giethoorn

Giethoorn: one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands

This old, traditional town in the province of Overijssel is often called ‘Little Venice‘ or ‘The Venice of the North‘ due to its main form of transportation via canals. Even the postman delivers mail by boat since some of the houses can only be reached via the water!

Giethoorn was founded by a group of roaming people called Flagellants at the end of the 13th century. All sorts of people, including criminals, prostitutes and extremely poor people looking for salvation joined this group. Therefore the Bishop of Utrecht demanded that they settled and gave them the land nowadays known as Giethoorn. The name Giethoorn originates from the large number of goat horns found there, probably caused by a great flood a century earlier that caused the death of these goats.

Nowadays tourists come from all over the world to visit this adorable town, with Chinese tourists being the biggest crowd with over 200,000 visitors per year (bearing in mind that the village itself has only around 2,600 inhabitants). Visiting Giethoorn is like walking through an open-air museum with its canals, roughly 180 bridges, and numerous traditional Dutch farm houses.

But, do check out the surrounding countryside as well! There are some beautiful hiking, biking and, for obvious reasons, boating opportunities in the area and it boasts one of the best National Parks in the Netherlands: the Weerribben-Wieden.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: 
By car: 131km / 1hrs 30min
By train & bus: 2hrs 10min

2. Kinderdijk

visit Kinderdijk: travel tip in the Netherlands

Picture by: Tarod

If you want to see and learn about the essence of the Netherlands, Kinderdijk is the place to be! And it’s definitely one of the more popular places to visit in the Netherlands.

The battle against the water has made the Dutch leading experts in water management. The Kinderdijk windmill system was one of the first technological innovations in the 13th century in this field. The dunes and dykes raised to keep the seawater out also kept the rain- and groundwater in which still meant wet feet! The sluices and later added windmills at Kinderdijk pumped this inland water out into the rivers at low tide so the fertile ground behind the dykes and dunes could be used for settling and agriculture.

Nowadays these 17 windmills along the dyke are a Unesco World Heritage Site and a nice and interesting tourist attraction. You can learn all about the history of the Netherlands and the fight against the water, but also about the windmills themselves and the technology behind them. There are guided tours, boat tours and workshops on how to maintain a windmill.

Fun Fact: the windmills are kept in shape so that they can still function in case of a power outage, as they have done in World War II when the German army confiscated all diesel needed for the pumps.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:
By car: 92km / 1hrs 10min
By train & bus: 1hrs 45min

3. Harlingen

visit Harlingen: travel tip in the Netherlands

Harlingen doesn’t make it onto every list of places to visit in the Netherlands, but that might make it even more worth exploring!

Situated in the Northern province of Friesland, Harlingen has the most important dock in Friesland and is mainly used for trade with Scandinavia, salt extraction, salt transportation, and ferry services to the Dutch islands of Terschelling and Vlieland.

Historically the city has been a steady source of wealth and obtained its city rights as early as 1234, even before Amsterdam! The wealth of the early days is still reflected in the historic buildings along the city canals, the warehouses and parts of the city’s defenses.

As any Dutch city, Harlingen offers a good selection of restaurants, bars, and hotels to make for a great day trip or overnight stay. But, if you want to make your visit to Harlingen even more unique, you can spend the night in the Old Lighthouse! It only accommodates 2 people though.

If you’re planning to visit Harlingen at the end of August you are in luck. One of the bigger festivals, the Harlinger Visserijdagen, takes place at that time and with lots of music, dancing, food and all sorts of other events it is a great festival to witness.

One last tip: the town’s ferry services make combining exploring Harlingen with a visit to the island of Terschelling or Vlieland a great option!

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:
By car: 124km / 1hrs 30min
By train: 2hrs 45min

4. Naarden

visit Naarden: travel tip in the Netherlands

Naarden is one of the best preserved fortified cities in Europe and was part of the ‘New Dutch Water Line’; an important defense line for the Dutch.

During the Spanish invasion in 1572 most of the town was burned down and its inhabitants killed. It was after this that the city started to build its fortifications and made it one of the best kept examples of the 17th-century defensive architecture in Europe. The defense works of Naarden consist of 6 bastions, a double wall, and a double moat, all in a star shape.

Another interesting sight in Naarden is the Sint Vitus church, built in the 14th and 15th century. Starting as a Catholic church and becoming Reformist in 1576, it is one of the oldest churches in the Netherlands. To this day the church is mostly known for its day-long performance of the Matheus Passion of John Sebastian Bach on Good Friday.

To enjoy the city just walk along the fortifications or take a boat trip. Naarden also offers a few museums worth visiting, such as the Netherlands Fortress Museum and the Scales Museum (Weegschaal Museum).

Just outside of Naarden you can find the oldest national park of The Netherlands, the Naardermeer which can be visited by boat (only guided tours), by bike and on foot.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:
By car: 35km / 30min
By train & bus: 1hr

5. Volendam

visit Volendam: travel tip in the Netherlands

Picture by: Hullie

This fisherman’s village just 20km from Amsterdam is a very popular destination among tourists because of all the Dutch cliches you can find here. From traditional housing and clothing to wooden shoes and cheese.

However, these cliches actually were, and largely still are a real part of this town. They have been kept for so long due to the fact that Volendam was a secluded, Catholic settlement in a Protestant region.

To enjoy Volendam just wander along the streets and harbor area and grasp the bustling vibe of the town. But, do submerge yourself into the music scene of Volendam as well. Some of the most popular Dutch singers come from Volendam so you might just catch a performance of the next biggest star in the Dutch music charts!

Volendam is by no means a hidden gem, but it definitely is one of the most popular places to visit in the Netherlands.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: 
By car: 42km / 35min
By train & bus: 47mins

6. Gouda

Gouda, one of the best cities in Holland

You probably thought Gouda was just a type of cheese, right? No, Gouda is actually a town in the Netherlands where that type of cheese (and the delicious syrup waffles known as stroopwafels) originally came from. So yes, come to Gouda and finally taste the real thing!

If you are in Gouda in summer some munching on delicious Gouda cheese is mandatory at the Gouda Cheese market held every Thursday morning.

But, there are also several great historic buildings to visit, such as the St. Johns Church (Sint Janskerk), built in 1552 with impressive stained glass windows;  the Old Town Hall (Het Oude Stadhuys), built in 1450 which makes it one of the oldest Dutch city halls; and the Cheese-Weighing House (Goudse Waag), built in 1667 after a cheese tax was introduced and weighing was needed to levy the correct tax amount.

And, when all the cheese-tasting and sightseeing has made you thirsty, it is good to know that Gouda has a long beer brewing tradition dating all the way back to the Middle Ages when beer from Gouda was known as the best beer in Holland.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: 
By car: 50km / 50min
By train: 55mins

7. Groningen

Groningen, one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands

The first major settlement in Groningen has been traced back to the 3rd century AD, making it a truly historical city. The importance of Groningen grew significantly with its membership of the Hanseatic League in the 14th century and the richness of the then regional power can still be admired in the historic buildings in the city center.

As a university city, with the second oldest university in the Netherlands (and the first Dutch female student in 1871), Groningen is the largest city in the Northern part of the country. Because of its vast student population (around 55,000 students) the vibe and atmosphere is young, diverse and fun!

Besides the history that can be found here, there are several museums, a lot of shops, restaurants, bars and all sorts of cultural activities that make a visit worthwhile. When planning a visit to Groningen there are two festivals to take into account which, if you can, you should visit. The first one is the Eurosonic Noorderslag festival in January where hundreds of (upcoming) bands from all over Europe perform over the course of four days. The second one is Noorderzon, a cultural festival in the second half of August which turns the city and especially the Noorderplantsoen area into a surreal and diverse artistic world with performances from around the globe.

Groningen’s city center isn’t very car-friendly (nor are most other city centers in the Netherlands) so do it the Dutch way: rent a bicycle! You’ll have a lot of fun and will get around the city faster. And, although Groningen has all the facilities and activities you expect to find in a larger city, the laid back mentality of its people make it feel more like visiting a small town.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: 
By car: 193km / 2hrs
By train: 2hrs 9min

8. Utrecht

Utrecht, one of the best cities to visit in the netherlands

When people ask me what the best cities to visit in the Netherlands are, Utrecht always makes my top 3.

Utrecht was the most important city of the Netherlands until the Dutch Golden Age when Amsterdam surpassed it. The founding history of Utrecht might go back as early as in the Stone Age, however, the official founding date is around 50CE when a Roman fortification was built as part of the Northern border of the Roman Empire.

In the 8th century, when Christianity was on the rise in Europe, the fortress of Utrecht was used as a base for the bishops and thus became a very important religious center for the Netherlands. With the Rhine river flowing right by it, trade was an important source of revenue.

Nowadays Utrecht, with a young population, is the fourth largest city in the country. The old city center with its canals and still intact moat is beautiful to stroll through.

The Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands with its 112m meters, was originally part of the St. Martens Church (Sint Maartenkerk) but with the nave collapsing during a storm in 1674 the tower now stands on its own.

There is a rich cultural scene to be discovered in Utrecht with numerous theaters, music halls, museums and of course many restaurants and bars, some of them tucked away in the unique wharf-basement structures along the canals which is an experience not to miss.

Also Read: 5 Things to do in Utrecht When it Rains, Plus Tips for Sunnier Days

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: 
By car: 50km / 40min
By train: 30min

9. Maastricht

visit Maastricht: travel tip in the Netherlands

In the southeast of the Netherlands, where the land is not that flat anymore and where you can see, hear and taste neighboring countries Germany and Belgium, you can find the beautiful ancient city of Maastricht.

With the river the Meuse (Maas) flowing through the city, Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. It has a rich history starting in the Roman Ages, although remnants of as far back as the Neanderthals have been found here.

The city’s prosperity came from trade and industry and it is often referred to as the birthplace of the European Union and the Euro because of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. However, being part of the province of Limburg, Maastricht has a strong local identity and culture, including a distinct language (an official dialect).

The religious importance of the city throughout history can still be seen in the beautiful churches such as the St. Johns Church (Sint Janskerk), Basilica of Saint Servatius (Sint Servaasbasiliek) and the Basilica of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek). Other sights to see are the remnants of the cities fortifications and the Vrijthof, a large square with many bars and restaurants.

But just outside of the city is maybe one of the best known sights to see; the Mount of St. Peter (Sint Pietersberg). Don’t be fooled by the name though. It is only a modest hill of 171m but it is the highest point in the Netherlands. It provides a lovely view and you can also visit the fort St. Peter (Sint Pieter Fort) and the St. Peter caves (Grotten van Sint Pieter).

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:
By car: 220km / 2hrs 30min
By train: 2hrs35min

10. Leiden

Leiden, one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands

Being the birth place of Rembrandt van Rijn, home to the country’s first university and the city where the Dutch constitution was drafted in 1848, there is no doubt that Leiden has been of great importance to Dutch history.

Founded around 860 between the Old and the New Rhine the city has an interesting history full of sacks, sieges, and revolts. The most important one is the one against the Spanish in 1574 which is still celebrated every year on October 3rd.

Leiden has known times of great prosperity with flourishing industries in weaving, textile, book publishing, preservatives and metal which is still reflected in the streets and buildings in the city center.

Leiden is almost like a life-size museum with historic university buildings, traditional windmills, fortifications, and churches all within walking distance from each other.

And, if you get tired of the bustling street life, there are 35 ‘hofjes’ (small, hidden courtyards surrounded by former almshouses) to visit. There are special walking tours guiding you through the most beautiful of these pieces of tranquility in the city.

Distance from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:
By car: 30km / 30min
By train: 16min

Also check out: Leiden in Pictures

Map of these top 10 places to visit in the Netherlands

More travel tips for The Netherlands?

Read The Netherlands Travel Guide. And also check out some of my other articles about The Netherlands:

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10 Towns worth visiting in the Netherlands, besides Amsterdam. #thenetherlands #holland #traveltips #travelguide

The Netherlands: 10 Towns Worth Visiting That Aren't Amsterdam

Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.