You’d be hard-pressed to find a destination in the Netherlands that isn’t picturesque. (It’s no surprise that the Dutch produced so many excellent painters—they had excellent inspiration.) While many visitors flock to Amsterdam, which certainly has its fair share of picturesque streets, canals, flower markets, and cobblestoned squares, there are many more towns and cities outside the capital city that have just as much charm (if not more) with way smaller crowds.
You’ve probably seen this storybook-esque town pop up on your Facebook news feed more than once. Giethoorn has canals like Amsterdam, but they’re of a totally different sort. While Amsterdam’s canals are busy waterways interlacing the bustling city streets, Giethoorn’s canals are a lot less trafficked, as they wind through residential neighborhoods with picturesque houses and lush greenery.
Located just an hour outside of Amsterdam by train, this historic little city, colloquially called Den Bosch, was home to one of the most famous Dutch painters of all time—Hieronymous Bosch. Many historic buildings have been preserved here, including St. John's Cathedral, which was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries. Be sure to try the city’s signature “Bossche bol” pastry.
Starting in the 16th century, Delft became a major center for pottery known for its ceramics designed in the style of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. Appropriate called Delftware, the works were highly popular in Europe. Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is buried here at the Oude Kerk.
Naarden is home to one of the most well-preserved star forts in the world, scenically surrounded by a moat. The 15th-century Grote Kerk, the central building within the bastion, is one of the oldest churches in the country, making it a must-see in the city. Though there’s plenty of history to be found within the walls, the city has kept up with modernity, offering plenty of dining and shopping along its streets.
Yes—this is the home of the delicious cheese you’re thinking of. While the cheese dates back to 1184 (its earliest known mention), the city itself was established in 1272. You can still visit the cheese market every Thursday in Gouda’s town square, which is also home to its iconic city hall. During Christmas, the hall is lit with 1,500 candles—another product that Gouda is famous for.
Leiden, known as the City of Discoveries, played a major role in scientific and cultural developments throughout its long history, particularly within the fields of medicine, weaving, and painting. (Rembrandt was born here.) Its major college, Leiden University, is the oldest in the Netherlands, founded in 1575.
The municipality of Waterland includes three charming towns—Edam, Marken, and Volendam. You’re perhaps familiar with Edam’s famous goat cheese, which is sold in a market there on Wednesday mornings. Marken is a former fishing village lined with picturesque wooden houses. Volendam is perhaps the most touristy of the trio, with residents dressing in traditional costume for photographs.
Another university town, Maastricht is famous for being the site of the formation of the European Union, which was established through the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. It’s also one of the oldest towns in Netherlands, being continually inhabited since the Roman Empire. As such, you can see ruins from many historical periods.
The namesake of Cape Horn in South America, Hoorn was founded in 716, and served as a major trade city for centuries. (It was a base port for the Dutch East India Trading Company.) Though the city has grown significantly over the years, visit the old city center to see quaint streets, historic buildings, and a pretty harbor.
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