When most people think of the Netherlands, they think of Amsterdam with its famous red lights and “coffee” shops. (And probably tulips, too.) But there is much more to the country than those three things. The Netherlands is a country filled with historic brick filled and cobblestone lane cities, an interconnected canals, beautiful and vast farmland, iconic windmills, and even some pleasant beaches. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world. Most travelers come to the Netherlands and only party in Amsterdam for a few days, but by doing so, they miss much of what the country has to offer. Spend time exploring get out of the cities and you’ll discover the country that keeps me coming back every year. I highly recommend heading north (especially in April or May when the tulips are in bloom) and also visiting Utrecht to see the country without the crowds!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in The Netherlands
1. Visit Amsterdam
2. Explore Rotterdam
3. Take a canal tour
5. Explore The Hague
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Wander historic Haarlem
Take a stroll through the old, upper-class homes of the rich and famous and visit the old homes of the merchant class that helped build the city. This city is a short bike or train ride from Amsterdam. There’s not much to do here but the town center has a good market, the central church is phenomenal and awe-inspiring, and it’s a low-key alternative to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.
2. Celebrate King’s Day
Every year on April 27th (April 26th if the 27th is a Sunday), the Dutch used to celebrate the birthday of their queen Juliana. However, in 2013, Queen Beatrix passed the throne to her son, Willem Alexander and Queen’s Day became King’s Day. It’s a national holiday filled with outdoor concerts, lots of orange (the national color), lots of drinking, and insane celebrations on the canals. It is one of the wildest national holidays I’ve ever celebrated.
3. Visit Edam
A picture-perfect town with windmills, farmland, and quaint houses where the famous Dutch cheese gets its name from. It’s one of the more quintessential Dutch towns. Basically, come here to eat and be as Dutch as possible!
4. Head to the Keukenhof
The Keukenhof is the largest flower garden in the world, with 32 hectares’ worth of spectacular floral displays. The garden is open between March and May of each year when the tulips are in season. When you picture Holland, you picture flowers and there is no better place to see them than here.
5. Bike through Hoge Veluwe National Park
Hoge Veluwe National Park is the largest national reserve in the Netherlands. It is home not only for drift-sands, wild deer, and other animals but also to the Kröller-Müller Museum, the repository of Helene Kröller-Müller’s art collection. You can rent white bicycles in three designated regions and hope you will never get lost in the sea of green.
6. Kick back in Maastricht
One of the southernmost towns in the Netherlands, this city is famous for having the country’s only “mountain.” It’s really more of a hill though and doesn’t take long to climb. But this hardly visited city is a great place to see Dutch life away from hoards of tourists who frequent the rest of the country.
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 country is covered in over 20,000km of paths, dedicated to the 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.
8. Visit Delft
This is a fascinating little town, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. There are a few interesting sights here, including the Municipal Museum het Prinsenhof, Nieuwe Kerk, De Zeven Zonden, and of course, the trademark blue and white pottery. The town lies between The Hague and Rotterdam.
9. Visit the Van Gogh Museum
Open since 1973, this museum is host to over 500 original works by Vincent Van Gogh, in addition to several works by some of his contemporaries and beloved friends. The exhibits chronicle his life span, showing the progress and development of his work, alongside Gaugain, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec. The museum is open daily from 9am-5pm with extended hours on Fridays (until 10pm). Admission is 17 EUR. Note: Pre-book tickets online to avoid massive queues when you arrive.
10. Visit “Venice of the North”
Slow-paced Giethoorn 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’ bigger cities. Rent a small boat and spend the day floating by charming cottages.
11. See life in historic Netherland
At The Netherlands Open Air Museum, Themapark Archeon, and Zaanse Schans, you can see what life like in the low countries a few hundred years ago. With antique windmills, houses, farms, and shops, you can feel a part of Holland of old.
12. Try a multi-day bike tour
If you’re going to bike somewhere, the Netherlands is it! But maybe a few hours or a day on your own isn’t enough. With tons of bike companies, you have your pick of planned itineraries that’ll take you to any region of the country. Whether it’s self-guided or with a host, you can find an amazing bike tour in the Netherlands.
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 EUR. Restaurant meals average around 15-25 EUR for a main dish with a drink. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 40-50 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods. Fast food like Febo, cheap Dutch food, is around 5-10 EUR.
Transportation – Inter-city train tickets around Holland are cheap and cost between 12-30 EUR, though for super short distances they can be as little as 5 EUR. Amsterdam to Rotterdam is 26 EUR and takes 40 minutes and Amsterdam to The Hague is 7 EUR and takes 50 minutes. Since the country is so flat, biking is the main form of transportation around cities (and for some people between cities). You can rent bikes starting around 10 EUR per day (but most places require a deposit that is returned to you when you return the bike). Intra-city trains, trams, and buses are about 3 EUR for a one-way trip. Taxis are super expensive and should be avoided at all costs.
Activities – Entrance into museums cost about 20 EUR while churches are free to enter. Hiring your own boat for a canal tour is about 24 EUR. A harbor tour in Rotterdam costs 12 EUR.
Suggested daily budget
45-60 EUR / $46-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Avoid spending on the green – Many people go to Amsterdam to visit the coffee shops. If you choose to do this, don’t think you have to buy “stuff” in each shop. Places will let you smoke as long as you buy a drink or food.
- Get the Museumkaart (Museum Card) – Good for one month for non-residents, this card gets you into museums in Amsterdam and beyond for only 60 EUR. With the Museum Card, you get access to 32 museums in Amsterdam and more than 400 throughout the Netherlands. It’s also good for repeat visits as well! If you’re visiting multiple cities in the country, this is a must!
- Bike – Biking is the cheapest form of transportation. You can rent a bike for only a few dollars a day. However, Dutch cities are also very small and easily walkable.
- Attend a free festival – During the summer, everyone goes outside. Check local city boards for a list of free concerts, festivals, shows, and markets. Once the weather gets warm, the social calendar fills up.
- Use Couchsurfing – It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Cook – Dutch food isn’t going to win any awards. Try a few places and local dishes but cook often (or at least make lots of sandwiches) as your daily costs can shoot through the roof if you eat out a lot. Head to the supermarket, get some food, and save money! You’re not missing out on anything. (Sorry, my Dutch friends!)
GO DEEPER: Nomadic Matt’s In-Depth Budget Guide to Amsterdam!
For more in-depth information and tips, check out my detail digital guide to Amsterdam. This guide is written for budget travelers like yourself – people who want to be more than tourists – and cuts out the fluff found in other guides while getting straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money. In this book, you’ll get all the above information plus detailed suggested itineraries and budgets, more ways to save money, more on and off the beaten path things to see and do, and all my favorite non-touristy restaurants, markets, hostels, bars, and more!! You’ll be able to save it to your phone, Kindle, or iPad and have it with you whenever you are. Just click here to learn more and get started.
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