As already mentioned in previous posts, in September 2018, we moved to The Hague. This city is the seat of the Dutch government and yet, most people don't really know about it! It is often overlooked for Amsterdam, as is the case for many other Dutch cities. There is indeed more about the Netherlands than only the weedy cool channel-puzzled Amsterdam: the country has a high number of beautiful places, ranging from major towns to quieter villages. This post is dedicated to travelers who are seeking to discover more in The Netherlands than just Amsterdam and who are looking for less-crowded and off the beaten paths places.
After two years in the country and many visits of friends and members of family, we've had a lot of opportunities to visit a number of places in the region. After comparing these places, here is our pick of the 8 best Dutch cities to visit in The Netherlands.
INTRODUCTION TO THE NETHERLANDS
Netherlands literally means "lower countries" due to the geography of the country and the fact that about 30% of the country actually lies below sea level. The water canals present in the landscape of almost every Dutch town, beyond serving as waterways for the half million boats, also provide the charming and typical image present in the imagination of every traveler.
Being quite compact, The Netherlands has an excellent train system which makes it easy to get a glimpse of the country in just a few days (for more information about train timetables, check the NS website here). Hoping from one city to another has never been that easy! And believe us, no matter which route you take, you will definitely get to see historic towns, quiet countryside, incredible seaside, canals, windmills, tulips, cheeses and a lot more!
This post provides a list of our 8 favorite less-crowded places to visit in The Netherlands which are all located within an hour range to Amsterdam, making those cities ideal places to visit on day trips.
Dating back to Roman times, Leiden is home to the oldest University in the Netherlands with over 400 years of existence. Located at the confluence of the Oude and Nieuwe Rijn rivers (Old and New Rhine) in the South part of the country, Leiden is also the hometown of one of the most illustrious Dutch painters: the globally famous Rembrandt van Rijn. With all its surrounding canals, Flemish architecture and traditional wind mills, Leiden is the perfect day trip destination for travelers seeking the typical Dutch experience without the tourist crowd.
The main highlights of the city include: Leiden castle (Burcht van Leiden) located on a hill, the typical Valk Windmill (Molen de Valk) and the Pieterskwartier with its narrow alleys. This is definitely one of our favorite cities in the area!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 36 minutes |
| Train fare - 9.80 EUR |
| For more information about Leiden, check our post here |
2. THE HAGUE
The Hague (or Den Haag) is a city in the South of the Netherlands (Zuid-Holland) and located near the shore of the North Sea. As mentioned above, it is the seat of the Dutch government and the official residence of the Royal family. Throughout time, the city developed a great importance in diplomatic and judicial matters, being often referred to as the "City of Peace". The city is indeed home to important organisations such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Yet, The Hague has a laid-back vibe and is a very pleasant town to visit. Its ideal location in the country makes The Hague a relaxed sightseeing base for your stay in the Netherlands.
When in The Hague, don't forget to check out the amazing museum of the Mauritshuis, the Parliament (Binnenhof) as well as the majestic Peace Palace. If you have enough time, we highly recommend you to head to the seaside resort of Scheveningen, but more particularly, to the wild park of Westduin Park. You'll for sure have a good time in this cute little big town!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 51 minutes |
| Train fare - 12.50 EUR |
| For more information about The Hague, check our post here |
Just a 15-minute train ride from The Hague is located one of the most charming town of the country: Delft. Home to the world famous wannabe-porcelain blue and white pottery, Delft is a relatively small canal-ringed town with picturesque and traditional Dutch architecture in every street and is a popular day trip destination. During the Dutch Golden Ages, Delft was a trade center that allowed the blooming of a rich artistic movement from which one particular citizen from Delft got famous: Johannes Vermeer, "the Master of Light". His most known piece, "Girl with a Pearl Earring", influences not only painters, but also writers and movie makers.
The main things to see in Delft include: the main square of the city (Markt) with its incredible Renaissance style Town Hall on one side and the massive New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) on the other side. Delft is an incredible little town that will also give you a breathe of fresh air far from the crowds of tourists of Amsterdam. Another favorite for us!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 58 minutes |
| Train fare - 14.10 EUR |
| For more information about Delft, check our post here |
Utrecht is one of our favorite cities in The Netherlands. It is the fourth largest town of the country and is well-known for its universities and its cultural eclecticism. It is one of the oldest city of The Netherlands: it was founded more than 2.000 years ago as a Roman fortress and has been for a long time considered as the religious center of the country. Utrecht has a charming old town which twists its way around the many canals of the city. To sum it up, Utrecht has nothing to envy to its big sister Amsterdam and constitutes an ideal base for your stay in The Netherlands.
Our advice to visit Utrecht is to get lost in its many streets, stroll along the canals (why not even go on a canal cruise?!), stop to cute little bars and cafés (make sure to not miss the unique Belgisch Biercafé Olivier which is nested in an old church) and eat some delicious Dutch treats in the many eating options the city offers. Don't forget to visit the Domkerk Cathedral and its Pandhof Garden. You'll realize that the city does not have that many sights to visit but it is the ambiance that makes Utrecht such an awesome place to visit... this will make you want to come back!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 26 minutes |
| Train fare - 8.10 EUR |
Not far from Utrecht is located the medieval town of Amersfoort. It is a picturesque canal city that has a lot of buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. Amersfoort's history started in the Mesolithic ages - remains of hunter camps dating back to 1000 BC were found - but it is during the Middle Ages that the city started to form: fortifications were built around the canals in order to protect the town from invaders. As of today, you can still see one of the most beautiful medieval gates of the country: the Koppelpoort. This iconic medieval building was built between 1380 and 1425 and is a combination of land and water gates. Amersfoort is also known as the birthplace of Piet Mondriaan, a famous Dutch painter, still regarded today as one of the greatest artist of the 20th century.
When visiting Amersfoort, make sure to first head to the iconic Koppelpoort and then start heading towards the medieval center of the city. Get lost in its many alleyways, including the famous Muurhuizen. Don't forget to check out the Tower of our Lady (One Lieve Vrouwetoren) which is very impressive. You'll for sure have a pleasant time discovering Amersfoort!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 35 minutes |
| Train fare - 9.20 EUR |
Located only 17 kilometers from Amsterdam, the former traditional fishing village of Marken is a must-see! During the 13th century, this place used to be an island in the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) but when the Southern Sea was closed off, it became a peninsula in the Markermeer lake. Today, Marken is a very quiet place, close to Amsterdam but far from its crowds. This island town is part of the municipality of Waterland which also comprises the cute village of Volendam. It is the ideal place to get a glimpse of what old Holland looked like with its old wooden green houses and its peaceful countryside.
When visiting Marken, we advise you to wander in the main fishing village before heading to the beautiful lighthouse and walk around the entire former island. Marken is definitely one of our favorite day trip destinations from Amsterdam!
| Distance from Amsterdam by bus - 28 minutes |
| Bus fare - 5 EUR |
Busier than Marken, Volendam is another traditional and picturesque fishing village which, unlike Marken, became a very touristic destination. During the 20th century, the village used to be a retreat for artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. Today, Volendam makes for a great day trip for tourists based in Amsterdam. It is one of the main touristic attraction in The Netherlands, thus, the fishing village can quickly become too crowded with big tour groups. If so, we'd suggest that you take a boat trip to the quieter fishing village of Marken and spend the rest of your day there.
When in Volendam, visit the harbor before strolling around the quieter part of town. The city has a lot of cheese stores/museums in which you can taste pieces of Edam or Gouda cheeses and is also home to the stroopwafel museum (Woltje's Backerij). Although Volendam may be quite busy, it remains a nice place to visit!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 25 minutes |
| Bus fare - 5 EUR |
Time for some cheese! Gouda (pronounced "how-dah" in Dutch) is famous throughout the world for its cow-milk-based yellow cheese that was named after the city. This iconic cheese has been sold for centuries on the market square (Markt). The city is also known for its traditional stroopwafel. In addition, in Gouda, you'll be able to see incredible buildings, including the gothic Town Hall which dates back to the 15th century and is the oldest town halls in the Netherlands.
The famous cheese market still takes place today and is held every Thursday mornings from April to August, so make sure you go and visit Gouda on a Thursday. Also, don't forget to check the Town Hall and its unique carillon clock with mechanical puppets (it rings 2 minutes after every hour and half hour) as well as the Sint Janskerk. And most of all, do not leave without tasting a delicious piece of Gouda cheese and a delicious stroopwafel!
| Distance from Amsterdam by train - 51 minutes |
| Train fare - 12.30 EUR |
To sum it up, this beautiful country has much more to offer than just the busy Amsterdam. And we hope that, with all the information we provided above, you'll consider visiting one or more of these places when visiting The Netherlands.
And now it's your turn to let us know what your favorite Dutch towns are. Have you already visited the Netherlands? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.
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