10 Best Places to Visit in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is unique in Europe because so much of the land you see today was once ocean. The process of building the land up from the sea has given the Netherlands its most iconic feature: the windmill. Windmills, created to pump water out of areas retained by dikes, are today one of the most popular places to visit in Holland.
The Netherlands are full of iconic sites, with vast fields of brilliant tulips, canals that replace city streets, and dikes that today provide cycling paths. These are all attractions that tourists find fascinating in this little country. This unique landscape has created an equally distinct culture, one that the Dutch are proud to share with visitors at their many museums and historic towns.
Plan your trip with our list of the best places to visit in the Netherlands.
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1. Amsterdam's Museums
Amsterdam is known for many things, but its museums are among the top attractions in the Netherlands, and with good reason.
Arts and antiquities aficionados will appreciate the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), home to a massive collection that occupies over 250 rooms. Collections include a library, sculptures, paintings, and a variety of cultural artifacts. Art lovers will also want to visit the Rembrandt House Museum, located in the artist's former home, as well as the remarkable Van Gogh Museum.
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the Anne Frank House, the actual home where Anne hid from Nazis during the occupation. Visitors can see the home as it was while she wrote her diary and learn about Amsterdam's Jewish refugees. Tourists can learn even more at The Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum), which explores the attempts to resist Nazi occupation. The Jewish Historical Museum is also in Amsterdam, with many religious artifacts on display.
Among Amsterdam's other top history museums is the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvaartmuseum) and the Amsterdam Museum, which explores the city's role within its own country and internationally throughout history. The NEMO Science Museum is an excellent place for families to explore, as is the Museum of the Tropics (Tropenmuseum).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Vincent Van Gogh's Old Haunts
Begin your pilgrimage in Zundert, just 15 kilometers south of Breda, in the village where Vincent Van Gogh was born. Although his family's original home no longer stands, its garden remains, and the Vincent Van Gogh House Museum now occupies the spot. There is a statue of the artist in front of the Old Dutch Reformed Church where his father once preached. There are numerous other statues throughout the country, including the town of Etten-Leur where his career as an artist officially began.
Just eight kilometers from Eindhoven is the village Nuenen, also known as Van Gogh Village. The artist lived here in a pastor's house from 1883 to 1885, and tourists can explore his former home, which has been lovingly restored. A self-guided tour visits nearly two dozen locations in the village that are connected to his time here.
After exploring the artist's old haunts, be sure to visit Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, home to hundreds of paintings, drawings, and etchings, as well as letters between the artist and his loved ones. Among the museum's most famous works is the impressionist Vase with Sunflowers and his realistic The Potato Eaters. True aficionados will most appreciate the immersive multimedia "Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience," which tells the story of both his life and his work.
Tourists will find informational kiosks with audio presentations at many of these locations and others associated with Van Gogh, so keep an eye out for them in your travels.
3. Dutch Windmills
Near Rotterdam, beside the River Noord, sits the village of Kinderdijk, one of the most photographed places in the Netherlands. Here, visitors will find the country's largest collection of historic windmills, a total of 19, which were built between 1722 and 1761.
Unlike many other surviving windmills that were built to process grain and other materials, these were made as part of a water management system to keep the village from flooding. Each is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and tourists can watch the huge sails spin on special "Mill Days."
Sitting atop a hill in Leiden is an imposing seven-story windmill that was originally used as a flour mill. This picturesque landmark was built in 1743 and is now home to the Windmill Museum (Molen de Valk). The museum includes the miller's quarters and the tools he once used, and tourists can learn about how the mill was operated and maintained. The museum also provides an in-depth look at the history and significance of windmills in the Netherlands.
Tourists will find more windmills in excellent condition in Zaanse, a photogenic medieval village that is easily reached in a day trip from Amsterdam. Its most famous windmill is The Cat (De Kat), built in 1646 to process dyes; it is the only of its kind still in operation. While in Zaanse, be sure to visit some of its unique museums, including a bakery museum (Gecroonde Duyvelzater), the Zaan Time Museum, and the local heritage museum (Zaans Museum), among others.
Tourists who find themselves in Delft will want to take a moment to see the Rose Windmill (Delft Windmill de Roos), a beautifully preserved corn mill that was built in 1679.
4. Traditional Fishing Villages of the Zuiderzee Inlet
The medieval fishing village of Enkhuizen sits on the shores of Ijsselmeer (Lake Ijssel), a lake that occupies the center section of the inlet. The town is home to picturesque waterside homes, two 15th-century churches, and the old fortifications.
The open-air Zuiderzee Museum is the top tourist attraction and sits at the harbor. The museum explores the area's prominence as a fishing port and center of maritime trade, and visitors can see examples of traditional boats and equipment. The museum is also home to many restored buildings, a number of which date back to the 1600s.
Located about 20 kilometers from Amsterdam on the shores of the Markermeer is Volendam, another superb example of a traditional fishing village. This photogenic town offers brightly colored row houses, the small but informative Volendams Museum, and historic ships in the harbor.
Nearby, the smaller but lovely village of Marken sits on a peninsula, offering an even more authentic experience. Both of these villages can easily be visited in a day trip from Amsterdam.
5. Tulip Fields of Flevoland Province
The majority of the Netherlands' tulips are grown in the Flevoland Province, and mid-April through May is the best time of year to catch them in full bloom. Commercial flower-producing fields can be found along the northwestern coast of the Netherlands, occupying the swath of land between Alkmaar and The Hague.
Keukenhof Gardens, located near Leiden, is the most visited destination for flower lovers, with more than seven million blooms each year. This is the world's largest public flower garden, covering more than 70 acres and growing over 700 varieties of tulips. Visitors will also find daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinth among the gardens.
Tourists who aren't visiting the Netherlands in the spring will still have an easy time finding tulips and other flowers thanks to indoor growing, and the collections at Keukenhof can be admired year-round.
6. Historic Haarlem
Located just a short distance from Amsterdam, Haarlem makes an excellent day trip from the city. The historic heart of Haarlem is centered around the Grote Markt, the main market square. The Old City Hall, constructed in the 13th century, is one of the most impressive buildings.
Nearby is the 14th-century Gothic church, St. Bavokerk (Grote Kerk). Both buildings have stunning interiors and feature impressive towers. One of the most famous structures, however, is the Vleeshal (Meat Hall) built in the Northern Renaissance style, now home to part of the Frans Halls Museum.
7. Castles of the Netherlands
One of the Netherlands' most famous castles is De Haar Castle (Kasteel de Haar), built in 1822, near Utrecht. Its fame is not due to its age but its size and grandeur - it's infamous for displacing an entire village to make room for its construction. This fairy-tale castle can be toured, and the 135-acre property holds numerous events throughout the year, including a Christmas festival.
Nearby in Oud-Zuilen, tourists can visit the much older Zuylen Castle, which originated in the 13th century and was rebuilt in 1510.
Breda is home to the UNESCO-listed Kastel von Breda, an impressive palace that has housed aristocracy and royalty since the 12th century. The current structure was built in 1530 as a fortified castle and then expanded over the centuries to its present state. Points of interest include its twin towers named Blokhuis and Spanjaardsgat (Spaniard's Hole), a large library, the palace gardens, and the Royal Military Academy.
One of the Netherlands' oldest remaining castles is Leiden Castle (Burcht van Leiden), built as a fortification in the 11th century. It has been a public park since the 17th century, but visitors can still see one of the original canal moats. Tourists can also walk the same route sentries once patrolled around the walls while enjoying spectacular views over Leiden.
While in the area, visit nearby Duivenvoorde Castle (Kasteel Duivenvoorde), which was built in the 13th century. This grand palace features stunning grounds and numerous exhibits on the history of the property and the family that lived here for centuries.
8. Living History Museums
One of the most popular places to visit is the Netherlands Open Air Museum (Nederlands Openlucht Museum) located just outside the city of Arnhem. This living history museum was established in 1912 to preserve Dutch history and culture, and it includes a variety of traditional homes, workshops, and windmills for guests to tour. Costumed interpreters demonstrate what daily life looked like in centuries past, including the life of fishermen, farmers, and craftsmen.
In addition to centuries-past experiences, a series of "laborer's houses" demonstrate the daily life of the average family during four distinct time periods from 1870 through 1970. In addition to the fully immersive historic village, tourists can also enjoy multi-media exhibits and ride an antique tram. The museum also hosts special events throughout the year.
The Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen is another excellent option, giving tourists the opportunity to fully explore an old fishing village as it would have been in 1905. Highlights include participating in traditional cooking, learning about early fishing methods, and exploring the authentic "homes" of the interpreters.
Another option is the Zaanse Schanse Open-Air Museum, located in Zaandijk, just a short train ride from Amsterdam, particularly convenient for tourists who are short on time.
9. Gothic Churches
The skyline of many Dutch cities is punctuated by the steeples and belfries of churches, and the towers of the Gothic churches are among the most impressive. Breda's Groke Kerk (Great Church) was built in 1290 in the classic Gothic style and contains Late Gothic carved choir stalls. Its most prominent feature is the 97-meter tower, which was finished in 1509; numerous additions built in the following centuries have strong Renaissance influences.
Delft is home to two stunning examples of Gothic churches: Oude Kerk (Old Church) was built in 1250 and features a 75-meter Coastal Gothic tower that was added in 1450. It is best known for its slightly tilted tower and a pyramid-shaped roof cornered by four turrets. Construction on Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) was begun in 1396 and continued through 1486. The church sits overlooking Market Square (Markt), and its 108-meter Gothic tower provides an excellent vantage point for tourists and photographers who can make it up the 376 steps.
An excellent example of Late Gothic architecture is Grote Kerk (St. Bavokerk) in Haarlem, which dates back to the 14th century. In addition to a stunning interior and ornate furnishings, the basilica is home to the Müller Organ. This impressive instrument has 5,000 pipes and has been played by legendary musicians, including Mozart and Handel. Martinikerk (Martin's Church) in Groningen has a Romanesque-Gothic exterior and a vaulted Gothic choir. The tower stands 96 meters above Groningen's Grote Markt (Market Square) and can be climbed for excellent views.
10. Hoge Veluwe National Park
The largest nature park in the Netherlands is the Hoge Veluwe National Park, covering 13,750 acres in the center of the country, just eight kilometers from Arnheim. Originally intended as a hunting park, this privately owned nature reserve is a protected home for a wide variety of animals, including wild boar; deer; birds; and the rare mouflon, a breed of wild sheep.
Visitors can easily explore the park's huge system of trails and paths via foot or bicycle. Park routes are well-marked and offer mostly level terrain for easy passage. The park is also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, which features an art gallery and sculpture park.
Another popular nature reserve is Oostvaardersplassen, an exceptionally photogenic park located about 50 kilometers from Amsterdam. Among the top attractions here are the Konik Horses, a wild breed that originated in Poland and now roam the area. Tourists also come to admire the birds that make the wetland area their home, including egrets, black storks, cormorants, and others.