Don't get us wrong, we love Amsterdam. It's one of our favorite spots along Europe's well-trodden, must-hit list of cities. According to Mastercard's annual Global Destination Cities Index, Amsterdam is the 13th most-visited city in Europe by international overnight tourists, but don't be fooled into thinking it's the only city worth a visit in the Netherlands. While Amsterdam may hold the crown, it's busy, commercialized, and very touristy, so taking a day trip or even dedicating a full few days in other parts of the country will help give you a different perspective on the nation. We've rounded up a few Amsterdam alternatives (or additions!) to consider when visiting the Netherlands. At these destinations, you can explore everything from ancient and futuristic architecture and underground tunnel systems to medieval-style beers and, of course, cheese.
Rotterdam is the Netherlands’ second-largest city and flaunts a young, hip, and contemporary vibe thanks to its high student population. Mostly leveled by bombs during WWII, the city has rebuilt itself with an eye toward the artistic. Rotterdam’s futuristic and innovative architecture practically functions as an open-air museum and is one of the city’s biggest draws. There are over 160 nationalities living in the city and visitors can expect a wide variety of cuisines, fantastic art and nightlife options, and a generally progressive vibe energizing the air.
Rotterdam Hotel Pick:
North Holland‘s Edam rose to popularity as a top 17th-century whaling port and place where sailors would stock up on the town’s famous red-waxed cheese wheels as they passed through. Today, it’s a scenic gem that is often overlooked outside of its annual cheese festival. Visitors who opt for a stop here are rewarded with camera-ready views and a quiet and quaint vibe. The best way to explore Edam is by simply walking around the cobblestone streets, gorgeous canals, and historic shipping warehouses. Don’t miss the year-round Wednesday morning market or the 400-year-old canal house — complete with a floating floor for changing tides — at the Edams Museum.
Back in the mid-1400s, Teylingen Castle used Keukenhof Gardens as a foraging spot for its vegetables and fruit. Four hundred years later, it was redesigned in a traditional English style by the same father-son landscape architecture team that designed Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. Today, it’s known as the Garden of Europe and holds fast as one of the largest gardens in the world. It has more than seven million bulbs in bloom, with 800 varieties of tulips. The garden, which is situated in Lisse, is only open eight weeks a year, from mid-March to mid-May, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Haarlem is a small city with a lot of heart and history. While it’s compact enough to see in one day, if you give yourself more time, you’ll be able to truly soak in all of its charm. In its medieval heyday, Haarlem was the second-largest city in Holland, even over Amsterdam. Visitors will find beautiful historic architecture, picturesque canal cruises, and a repurposed church that serves Jopen beer, a beer created with medieval techniques. It’s also home to a fantastic Saturday market, the gorgeous 15th-century Grote Kerk cathedral, superb shopping in de Gouden Straatjes (streets of gold) shopping district, and the Corrie ten Boom House where you can catch a glimpse of the 1940s family home that was used to help conceal Jewish families during WWII.
Haarlem Hotel Pick:
Maastricht is the Netherland’s southernmost city and its oldest (though some folks may engage in a spirited debate on the latter). It’s a great spot for anyone who loves walking through history. The architecture here spans through time, from Roman ruins to Gothic churches to modernistic designs. In fact, this metropolitan city has had so much outside influence over its lifetime that it’s sometimes hard to remember that you are still in the Netherlands. Expect cosmopolitan cuisine from all over, students scattered about the streets, and a buzz in the air. For a real treat, head underground and wander through St. Peter’s caves, a network of thousands of tunnels dug out of the limestone. The caves date back to Roman times when they were used to help excavate the limestone, and were repurposed to house the entire city, if needed, during WWII.
Maastricht Hotel Pick:
For a truly memorable experience, we suggest Giethoorn. Nicknamed the Dutch Venice, Giethoorn is mostly comprised of canals. There are very few cars here and several of the thatched cottage-style houses can only be reached by boat or canoe. This quiet and serene spot is an excellent place to escape the bustle of the city and recharge. In the spring, the idyllic landscape mainly consists of bright green mossy patches of grass, trees, ducks, small wooden bridges, and flowers. During the winter, the canals freeze over, welcoming ice-skaters.
If cute and quaint is what you’re after, a visit to Delft is a must. Its main attractions are the romantic canal-lined streets and the classic blue-and-white Dutch ceramics that were first crafted here in the 17th century to mirror the famous Chinese porcelain. While you’re here, get in your exercise with a historic walking tour, climb the 367 steps up the slim New Church, and peruse the Museum Prinsenhof Delft, a building that was was once home to William of Orange. For a different perspective of the city and its canals, visitors can rent pedal boats or hop aboard a canal cruise during warmer months.
If you’re looking for the party, head to Utrecht, the country’s largest university town. While still relatively missed by tourists, this eccentric city is gaining popularity. It was even dubbed one of the happiest places in the world by BBC Travel in 2013 and snagged the number six spot on Lonely Planet‘s top ten list of the world’s most unsung places. The city is split into two sections. Its preserved historic medieval town center has bumpy cobblestone streets and is both bisected and surrounded by a beautiful sunken canal. Plus, there’s a plethora of entertainment options here, from underground venues and beer houses to museums and architecture.
Utrecht Hotel Pick:
For a glimpse at the Netherlands’ buttoned-up and stately side, opt for a trip to The Hague. Home to the royal family, several businesses, and the seat of government, The Hague is the global organization mecca of the Netherlands. Thanks to the amount of global business done here and the placement of the Netherlands’ embassies, this place is also home to a significant number of expats. Visitors can expect an upright vibe and city filled with well-planned green spaces, a globalized culinary scene, and outstanding museums. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the lazy beach resort area of Scheveningen where things are a little looser and you can even find a few festivals on the calendar.
The Hague Hotel Pick:
You’ll Also Like:
- Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam
- The 13 Most Artsy Rooms in Amsterdam
- 8 Awesome Canalside Hotels in Amsterdam
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