When most people think of traveling the Netherlands, they think of Amsterdam, with its semi-sleazy Red Light District, charming canals, historic windmills, and laid-back “coffee” shops where you can smoke pot.
But there is much more to the country than its largest city.
The Netherlands is a country filled with centuries-old brick homes, an interconnected system of canals (you can travel most of the country via the water), expansive farmland, and even some really nice beaches. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world. The people are wonderful, there are tons of small towns to explore, and its small size means it’s easy to visit in a short time.
Most travelers come here just to see Amsterdam for a few days before moving on. Don’t do that. Spend time exploring outside of Amsterdam and you’ll discover the country that keeps me coming back every year.
Whether you are backpacking the Netherlands or just traveling on a budget, this Netherlands travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, and ensure you make the most out of your time here.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Netherlands
1. Visit Amsterdam
2. Explore Rotterdam
3. Take a canal tour
4. Tour Leiden
5. Wander The Hague
Other Things to See and Do in the Netherlands
1. Day trip to historic Haarlem
Haarlem, located just 30km from Amsterdam, was a cultural and economic hub during the Dutch Golden Age (1588-1672). Wander the city and take in the historic homes of the merchant class who brought the city to prominence. There’s not a ton to do here but the town center has a good market, a towering Gothic, and it’s a low-key alternative to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. It makes a nice escape for an afternoon.
2. Celebrate King’s Day (Koningsdag)
Every year on April 27th (April 26th if the 27th is a Sunday), the Dutch celebrate the birthday of their King, Willem-Alexander for Koningsdag. For 33 years, they celebrated Queen Beatrix on April 30th as part of Queen’s Day, however, in 2013 she passed the throne to her son so the holiday changed dates, and Queen’s Day became King’s Day. It’s a national holiday filled with outdoor concerts, lots of orange (the national color), plenty of drinking, and insane celebrations on the canals. It is one of the wildest national holidays I’ve ever celebrated.
3. Visit Edam
Edam is a popular cheese from the Netherlands. It’s also a town 21km north of Amsterdam. Edam is a picture-perfect Dutch town with iconic windmills, rolling farmland, and quaint houses. It’s one of the more quintessential Dutch towns. You can explore the 18th-century cheese warehouses, go on a boat tour, or just come here to eat cheese and be as Dutch as possible!
4. Head to the Keukenhof
The Keukenhof is the largest flower garden in the world, boasting 79 acres of spectacular floral displays. Located between Amsterdam and The Hague, the garden is open between March and May of each year when the tulips are in season. More than 7 million bulbs are planted annually and the garden has around 800 different types of tulips. When you picture Holland, you picture flowers and there is no better place to see them than here! Admission is 18.50 EUR.
5. Bike through Hoge Veluwe National Park
Hoge Veluwe National Park is the largest national reserve in the Netherlands. Covering some 55 square kilometers, the park is composed of sand dunes and woodlands and is home to deer, wild sheep, foxes, badgers, boars, and more. You can rent bicycles to explore for 5 EUR. Don’t miss the Kröller-Müller Museum while you’re here. It has works by artists like van Gogh, Picasso, Rodin, and other masters. Admission to the park is 11.50 EUR.
6. Relax in Maastricht
One of the southernmost towns in the Netherlands, this city is famous for having the country’s only “mountain.” At 322 meters high, Vaalserberg is really more of a hill though, and doesn’t take long to climb. But this often-overlooked city is a great place to experience Dutch life away from the hordes of tourists who frequent Amsterdam.
7. Go cycling
As one of the most popular activities throughout the country, you would almost feel out of place not on a bike. The Netherlands is covered in over 20,000km of paths, dedicated to two-wheeled transportation. Hoge Veluwe National Park is a particularly beautiful place to ride, but the entire landscape of the country is quite scenic as well. Other popular places to cycle are the Dunes of Texel National Park, Kinderdijk (to see the windmills), and Lauwersmeer National Park. Bike rentals cost around 10-12 EUR per day.
8. Tour Delft
This is a fascinating little town, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. The town is known for its blue pottery (Delftware), but has a handful of other worthwhile sights to see too, including a Gothic church in the old town with a leaning tower (the foundation developed problems during construction so the tower leans 2 meters); the Oostpoort, a city gate from 1400 that remains from the original city wall; and the stout City Hall building, part of which dates to the 17th century. The town lies just 20 minutes from The Hague and Rotterdam so you can visit as a day trip from either.
9. Admire van Gogh’s work
Open since 1973, this museum in Amsterdam is host to over 500 original works by Vincent van Gogh, in addition to works by some of his contemporaries and friends. The exhibits chronicle his life, showing the progress and development of his work, alongside Gaugain, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Van Gogh didn’t earn fame in his lifetime and was actually constantly struggling with poverty, making his accomplishments all the more impressive and inspiring. Admission is19 EUR. Note: Pre-book tickets online to avoid massive queues when you arrive.
10. Visit “Venice of the North”
Slow-paced Giethoorn, located 120km east of Amsterdam, is a charming place with lots of picturesque canals. With no cars allowed in the city center, this peaceful town is a good change of pace from the busyness of the Netherlands’ larger cities. Rent a small boat and spend the day floating by charming cottages and enjoying the slower pace of life.
11. Learn about the Netherland’s past
Opened in 1912, the Netherlands Open Air Museum is a sprawling 100-acre space that highlights what life was like in historic Netherlands. You can see traditional cabins and houses, learn about trades and crafts, and discover more about the country’s history from the Middle Ages to the present. The museum is located in Arnhem and is a great place to visit with kids. Admission is 19.50 EUR.
12. Have fun at an amusement park
Efteling, in Kaatsheuvel, is one of the oldest themes parks in the world (it opened in 1952) and is the Netherlands’ biggest amusement park. It has all the usual theme park attractions like rollercoasters, games, and performances and is open year-round (each season has different features like fairy lights and bonfires in the winter, and tulips and Dutch terraces in the spring). Admission is around 40 EUR (prices vary by day and season).
For more information on cities in the country, check out these guides:
The Netherlands Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels typically cost between 15-35 EUR per night for a bed in a dorm with 6-8 beds. The most popular hostels in Amsterdam can be closer to 50 EUR in the summer so avoid visiting in peak season if you’re on a budget (and book early if you do). Private rooms in hostels cost around 50-70 EUR per night for a room that sleeps two. Free Wi-Fi is standard, and many hostels also have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotels with basic amenities such as free Wi-Fi, TV, and AC cost around 55-85 EUR per night. Airbnb is also an option, with private rooms averaging around 50 EUR per night and entire homes (including studio apartments) averaging between 80-90 EUR per night (but again, much higher in Amsterdam).
Food – The Netherlands isn’t famous for its food, but there’s still good stuff to be had. Make sure you try poffertjes (fluffy mini-pancakes served with powdered sugar), gouda and edam cheeses, patat (thick-cut fries with toppings) and stroopwafels (sweet Dutch waffles).
Cheap meals at fast food joints or places like Maoz or Walk to Wok cost around 10-15 EUR. Casual restaurant meals average around 20-30 EUR EUR for a main dish with a drink.
Chinese food costs between 10-15 EUR while a large pizza costs around 13 EUR. Beer costs 5 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is 3.50 EUR. Bottled water is around 1 EUR.
If you cook your meals, expect to pay around 60 EUR per week for groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, seasonal vegetables, rice, and some meat.
Activities – Entrance into museums costs 15-20 EUR. Some churches are free to enter while others cost up to 15 EUR. Hiring your own boat for a canal tour is 20-50 EUR while a harbor tour in Rotterdam costs 15.25 EUR. Bike rentals are usually 10-15 EUR per day.
Backpacking the Netherlands Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking the Netherlands, expect to spend around 60 EUR per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, cooking most of your meals, using local transportation to get around, and doing mostly free activities like walking tours and lounging in the parks.
On a mid-range budget of about 150 EUR, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, enjoy some fast food and other cheap eats, have a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around or rent a bike, and do more paid activities like guided tours and museum visits.
On a “luxury” budget of 280 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car to explore, and do as many paid tours and activities as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
The Netherlands Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
While not the most expensive country in Europe, the Netherlands isn’t super cheap either. Here are some ways to help save money in the Netherlands so you don’t blow your budget:
- Limit your partying – Many people go to Amsterdam to party — and to smoke pot. While the city is cracking down on this, it’s still an unnecessary expense that can add up quickly. Limit your smoking (and limit your expenses in the coffee shops; you don’t need to buy something in every shop).
- Get the Museumkaart (Museum Card) – Good for one month for non-residents, this card gets you into several museums for only 64.90 EUR. You get access to 400 museums throughout the Netherlands and it’s good for repeat visits as well! If you’re visiting multiple cities in the country, this is a must! Compare the price to the museums you want to visit to see if it’s worth it for you.
- Bike everywhere – Biking is the cheapest form of transportation. You can rent a bike for only a few euros a day. While most Dutch cities are easily walkable, cycling is what the locals do. It’s the most bike-friendly country in the world so don’t pass up the chance to explore on two wheels.
- Attend a free festival – During the summer, everyone goes outside. Check local tourism boards for a list of free concerts, festivals, shows, and markets. Once the weather gets warm, the social calendar fills up!
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. It’s a fun cultural exchange platform that will not only save you money but connect you with a local who can share their insider tips. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early (especially in Amsterdam).
- Cook your own food – Dutch food isn’t going to win any culinary awards (sorry, my Dutch friends) so skip the restaurants and cook your own food. It will save you a ton!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in the Netherlands
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in the Netherlands:
How to Get Around the Netherlands
Public Transportation – It’s easy to use public transportation to get around the Netherlands’ cities. One-way fares in major cities start at 4 EUR. All public transportation uses an OV-chipkaart, which you can load with money. You can also get a day travel pass (starting cost is 7-8.50 EUR).
Train – The Netherlands is so small that all major tourist destinations in the country are within a 2.5-hour train journey from Amsterdam. The national rail system is Nederlandse Spoorwegen and their service is clean and efficient. Train travel in the Netherlands is a thing of beauty!
You can use the official rail site to look up itineraries and ticket prices. Inter-city train tickets around Holland are cheap and cost between 10-20 EUR, though for super short distances they can be as little as 5 EUR. Amsterdam to Rotterdam is 11 EUR and takes 40 minutes while Amsterdam to The Hague is also 11 EUR and takes 50 minutes.
The national rail service also has special tour programs for travelers. This gives you unlimited travel throughout a period of consecutive days (such as 3-8 days of unlimited travel in a 30 day period). There’s also the Benelux Pass, which gives you access to public transportation like trams and buses. Prices begin around 161 EUR and go up to 305 EUR depending on how many days you want.
Bus – Buses are another affordable way to get around the Netherlands, but they aren’t as fast or efficient as the train. Flixbus is the cheapest bus operator. A trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam costs as little as 3 EUR, while Amsterdam to The Hague can be done for just 6 EUR.
Car Rental – Car rentals can be as low as 30 EUR per day, but the bus and train systems in the Netherlands are so excellent and affordable you really don’t even need to bother. If you’re renting a car, you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Ridesharing – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by paying a small fee. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train and perfect for medium and long-distance trips.
Bike rental – The Netherlands is one of the best cycling countries in the world and bike rentals here are cheap. You can rent bikes starting for around 10-15 EUR per day (sometimes less).
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in the Netherlands is very safe, though it’s not super common. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking tips and info.
When to Go to the Netherlands
The Netherlands receives the most tourist traffic from mid-April to mid-October, but the real peak season is July and August. However, the weather is never very extreme, and visiting during the off-season or shoulder season is also worth your time. Prices are also a lot more affordable during the off-season, and if you come between mid-April and mid-May you’ll get to see the incredible tulip fields in bloom. Just bring a rain jacket.
The average daily summer temperature is around 19°C (67°F), but it can get a lot hotter than that during July and August. The average daily temperature in the winter is 2°C (35°F). Still, coming here during the Christmas season is always a good time as the cities light up with markets and festivities.
Since the Netherlands is located below sea level, you can expect to encounter a few days of fog or rain no matter when you visit. The winters can be damp as well. Be sure to pack a warm layer or two and a waterproof jacket if you’re visiting in the shoulder season or the winter.
How to Stay Safe in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are rare, as is petty theft.
There are a few common scams around, however, such as people trying to sell you used public transit tickets or stolen bikes. Avoid interacting with them and you’ll be fine.
If you’re worried about other travel scams, you can read about the most common travel scams to avoid right here.
As in any destination, avoid walking home alone at night while intoxicated and always keep an eye on your drink when out at the bar.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in the Netherlands!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
The Netherlands Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Netherlands. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Eurail – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR. Their buses include Wi-Fi and electrical outlets too.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by paying a small fee. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
The Netherlands Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
The Netherlands Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Dutch Wife, by Ellen Keith
In 1943, Marijke de Graaf is sent from Amsterdam to a concentration camp in Germany with her husband. On arrival, she faces a choice: death, or join the camp’s brothel. It is there she encounters SS officer Karl Müller. Keith’s ability to seamlessly combine different timelines and narratives as well as paint the emotions that come from tough choices is superb (and why this book topped the Canadian best-seller lists when it came out!).
Why the Dutch Are Different, by Ben Coates
Ben Coates got stranded at Schiphol Airport, where he called a Dutch girl he’d met a few months earlier and asked if he could stay over the night. He never left. Fascinated by his adopted home, this is a travel book wrapped in a history book wrapped in a memoir. It’s also a look at modern Dutch culture and society, as well as how it got that way and what the future holds for the country. It’s one of the better books on the Netherlands I’ve read!
Amsterdam, by Russell Shorto
Written by Russell Shorto, one of my favorite writers, this book illuminates life in one of my favorite cities in the world. Shorto moved to Amsterdam with his wife and children (as he did in his book on Manhattan) and has written a phenomenal tale of the city’s history. I’ve read a lot of books about Amsterdam and this book is by far one of the best, providing a wonderful overview of the city and its culture as told through the stories of its famous and not-so-famous residents.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
This is a definite must-read before you come to the Netherlands. Anne Frank’s diary was discovered in the attic where she spent the last years of her life during World War II. When the Nazis invaded the country, Anne was just 13 years old. As a Jewish girl, her life was very much in danger so she and her family fled their home and went into hiding in an old office building. They faced hunger, boredom, and the desperation of living in a confined space — until the horrible end. If you go to Amsterdam, you can visit the annex where she lived.
My ’Dam Life: Three Years in Holland, by Sean Condon
Australian comedian Sean Condon is married and living in the Netherlands…jobless, homeless, and completely careless. In true deprecatory humor, Condon dissects his expat experience of pure laziness and leisure. Condon takes us through a city of cannabis, high culture, canals, bicycles, and international cuisine. It’s a light-hearted read that most expats can relate to!
GO DEEPER: Nomadic Matt’s In-Depth Budget Guide to Amsterdam!
For more in-depth information, check out my guidebook to Amsterdam written for budget travelers like yourself! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on- and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, and non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, plus much more! Click here to learn more and get started.
The Netherlands Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Netherlands and continue planning your trip: