The Netherlands might be a small country and most travelers have hardly heard of it – and only know its capital Amsterdam, thinking it is a country – but there are many great things to do in the Netherlands. If you’d like to skip the touristy sights and enjoy the country like locals do, these are the more off the beaten track things to do, according to locals.
Go on a road trip for a day
The Netherlands is easy to explore by public transport, as it’s very well affordable and brings you pretty much anywhere. The country is small enough as well and distances between destinations are short. But if you want to fully enjoy a specific area or see more of the Dutch countryside, go on a road trip for a day!
There are many great one-day road trips in the Netherlands focusing on specific areas and showing you the main highlights there. The Lek-and-Linge-tour close to Rotterdam will bring you to the Dutch countryside with authentic windmills, cute villages and old river fortresses. The Hunebed Highway in Drenthe is a great way to see the prehistoric dolmen (‘hunebed’ in Dutch), believed to be old grave monuments and located in the beautiful Drenthe nature.
Explore the historic cities beyond Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the most-visited destination in the Netherlands. As it has charming canals with historic buildings, monumental sights, famous attractions and world-class museums, you should definitely visit Amsterdam at least once in your life. But Amsterdam was actually built in a style ubiquitous for those days, resulting in much more Amsterdam-like historic cities around the country with similar historic brick houses and picturesque canals.
Leiden is one example of such a destination. The city is not far from Amsterdam and has a canal surrounding its historic city center. Locals love to go out on the water with their small boats on warm summer days. The city is packed with beautiful monuments, old churches and historic buildings. It is like an open-air museum. And just like its famous big brother Amsterdam, Leiden is packed with world-class museums as well. The National Museum of Antiquities has a collection of Egyptian mummies, the Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, Corpus is an enormous human-like structure explaining the human body and Naturalis has one of the largest dinosaur skeletons in the world.
Other beautiful historic cities worth a visit, are Utrecht, Haarlem, The Hague, Breda, Delft, Alkmaar and Gouda. The last two – Alkmaar and Gouda – are famous for their cheese markets. You might know about Gouda cheese, as you can buy it all over the world. During the summer, old cheese markets are still organized as an attraction for visitors.
Visit the famous tulip fields in spring for free
The Netherlands is famous for its colorful tulip fields in spring. Did you know tulips don’t originate from the Netherlands? It is the country known for its crazy tulip fever during the Dutch Golden Age, when tulip bulbs could be worth more than the monumental canal houses. The tulip culture is still living strong in the Netherlands, with many tulip farms all around the country.
Most tourists visiting the country in spring, book an expensive tour to Keukenhof. This flower park focusing on tulips has the most incredible flower fields in the country. Tickets are quite expensive though, and tours even more. And you can actually enjoy the Dutch tulips for free as well!
During tulip season – April and May – the tulip farms all over the country are blooming with the iconic colorful flowers. If you know where to find them, you can head over and see them for free. A great area to do so, is Goeree Overflakkee just south of Rotterdam. You can rent a bike in one of the small villages, like Middelharnis, and bike yourself around the fields. Beware that these fields are owned by actual farmers though, which is their source of income, so be respectful of their property and don’t touch their tulips.
Explore the Veluwe nature reserve
The Veluwe is one of the most popular nature reserves in the country. It has several national parks, but the National Park Hoge Veluwe is the best-known. This national park has beautiful hiking and biking opportunities. You can use one of the white bikes in the park for free to get around. It is not just to see all of the national park, but also to bike to the Kröller-Müller Museum. The museum is the result of a private collection of the wealthy and extravagant Kröller-Müller couple who were big fans of modern art. The museum has the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world. The couple also built a stunning mansion in the park, now also open for visitors.
But the Veluwe area has more to offer than the national park. The cities of Arnhem and Apeldoorn and charming village of Zutphen are worth a visit, and so are the many castles in the area. Castle Rosendael is one of the best-preserved castle museums in the area. And one of the Dutch royal palaces is located at the Veluwe: Palace Het Loo, close to Apeldoorn. It was in use as a royal residence until 1975 and is now a museum open to visitors.
Enjoy the modern architecture of Rotterdam
Rotterdam is very different than any other city in the country. It’s one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, so it can easily entertain you for days.
Rotterdam is known for its award-winning architecture, so you should definitely make sure to see at least some of the famous buildings. The central station, the Markthal – also a great place to get some food –, the Erasmus Bridge, the yellow Cube Houses and Rotterdam Building are the best-known.
Rotterdam actually used to be like the other historic cities around the country, but was heavily damaged in the Second World War. There are still some historic buildings like Hotel New York, the City Hall and the White House.
And did you know you can even stay in some of those famous buildings? Hotel New York is still a hotel like it used to be, and there is a hostel in one of the largest Cube Houses. You’ll find the most unique places to stay in Rotterdam.
Rotterdam also has the best street art in the country. You can easily look up a map online to find the best outdoor artworks, but it would actually be hard to miss them when walking around the city. The best are close to the Witte de With street, also one of the best areas to go in the evening for restaurants and bars.
By Maartje & Sebastiaan – The Orange Backpack