15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Netherlands
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The Netherlands is known everywhere as a land of windmills, canals, and tulips, and today's visitors certainly will find these among its many tourist attractions.
But along with the country's many breathtaking gardens and picturesque villages, those sightseeing here will also find the vibrant cities, like Amsterdam, filled with museums showcasing a rich heritage of artists (think Rembrandt and Van Gogh). Other places to visit include numerous medieval castles and cityscapes, along with a 13,800-acre national park, and a tide control system that's been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Given the relatively small size of The Netherlands, all these attractions and fun things to do are within a relatively compact area, and the landscape is quite flat (the highest elevation is barely a thousand feet above sea level).
Consequently, it's extremely easy to do at least a little of your sightseeing the Dutch way: by bicycle. Many of the top travel destinations and major cities in the Netherlands actively encourage the use of pedal-power and provide free bikes to explore the sights. However you choose to see the Netherlands, you're guaranteed a great time in one of the friendliest and most liberal cultures in Europe.
Be sure to plan your travel itinerary with our list of the top tourist attractions in The Netherlands.
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1. Jordaan and Amsterdam's Canals
Canals are as important a part of Amsterdam's cityscape as they are to the city of Venice, and some of the most enduring memories for any visitor are the time spent exploring the city's wonderful waterways.
While many of Amsterdam's best tourist attractions can easily be accessed by boat tour or water taxi - including most of the major museums and art galleries - nothing beats strolling along the smaller, quieter streets that line the waterways.
Particularly charming is the Jordaan, a neighborhood built in the early 1600s to house workers and immigrants drawn here for the city's religious tolerance. Along with its small canal-side houses, look for the neighborhood's many "hofjes," the quaint inner courtyards hidden behind the buildings.
Another photo-worthy neighborhood is the Grachtengordel, with its many small bridges and quaint 17th-century homes. You'll be rewarded as you explore these 400-year-old streets with examples of beautiful architecture, small boutique shops, cafés, and gardens. Be sure to look out for the many houseboats moored along the canals.
Just a 10-minute stroll away is Dam Square, a must-visit when in Amsterdam. In addition to its numerous restaurants, cafés, and shops this vast public square is home to some of the city's most-visited tourist attractions. These include the spectacular Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace); the attractive New Church (Nieuwe Kerk); and the country's most important war memorial, the National Memorial Statue.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Best Areas & Hotels
Think of the Netherlands, and you'll inevitably think of tulips, the country's most popular flower. And one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Netherlands showcases these and other spring bulbs in spectacular abundance. Given its handy location relative to Amsterdam – it's a 45-minute drive away, or just under an hour by public transit – it makes for a fun and easy day trip from the country's largest city.
Keukenhof, otherwise known as the "Garden of Europe," is located on the outskirts of the town of Lisse in what's widely considered the "bulb belt" of the Netherlands. The largest public garden in the world, it boasts more than 70 acres of what was once the former kitchen (or "keuken") garden of a large country estate, Keukenhof displays more than 700 varieties of tulips, which are at their height in April and May.
But thanks to its massive commercial hot houses, the display continues almost year-round. In these, you'll see endless rows of flowering tulips, along with thousands of hyacinths, crocuses, and daffodils.
Address: Stationsweg 166A, 2161 AM Lisse, Netherlands
Official site: www.keukenhof.nl
3. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The spectacular Rijksmuseum - aka the National Museum - in Amsterdam's Museumplein (Museum Square) has been collecting rare art and antiquities since 1809. Not surprisingly, its extensive collection today amounts to nearly seven million works of art, including 5,000 paintings in more than 250 rooms, as well as a vast library with some 35,000 books.
Apart from its unique collection of old masters, this spectacular museum offers an exhaustive account of the development of art and culture in The Netherlands and is especially rich in traditional Dutch handicrafts, medieval sculpture, and modern art. Be prepared to spend the best part of a day – or longer – exploring this museum's endless treasures.
If you've time to squeeze a little more Rembrandt into your Amsterdam travel itinerary, here's a must-visit for you: the Rembrandt House Museum, located in the city's historic Jewish Quarter. Many of his best known works were painted during the 20 years the great artist spent here, with some still recognizable scenes from the neighborhood.
The house remains much as it would have been during Rembrandt's life (guided tours are available). You can enhance your experience by booking a stay close by at Luxury Suites Amsterdam, located just steps away from the museum and one of the best places to stay in Amsterdam for those who enjoy luxury accommodations.
Address: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Official site: www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
4. Historic Binnenhof, The Hague
Known the world over as the location of the International Court of Justice, The Hague (Den Haag) is also the political center of The Netherlands. It's here the country's government does their work, and where you'll find the home of the Dutch Royal Family in Noordeinde Palace.
The Hague also makes for an excellent travel destination for visitors wanting to get a taste of the country's rich history. Whether you're staying here for a few days or visiting as a day trip from Amsterdam, start your exploration in the city's historic Binnenhof district. Literally translated as the "Inner Court," the Binnenhof dates back as far as 1250 CE. It's the oldest part of the city and a delight to explore on foot.
Set around a central courtyard, the attractive older buildings here once housed the country's ruling classes and have been remarkably well-preserved. The crown jewel here is the Knights' Hall (Ridderzaal). Built in the 13th-century, this imposing castle-like building with its twin towers is still in use for government events, including the opening of parliament every September. Highlights include the Gothic hall with its stained-glass windows and wood-beamed ceiling.
Address: 2513 AA Den Haag, Netherlands
5. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
The Anne Frank House is a must-see when in Amsterdam. On Prinsengracht, in the home where Anne's family hid for much of WWII (they were Jewish refugees from Frankfurt), is where this remarkable girl wrote her famous diary. Although she died just two months before the war ended, her legacy lives on through her words, which have since been translated into 51 languages.
The back of the fully-restored house where the Frank family had their hiding place has been kept in its original state as much as possible and is a poignant monument to a tragic slice of world history and a brave young woman who continues to inspire people around the globe.
A word of caution: tickets for this must-see attraction do sell out, so be sure to reserve yours online well ahead of time. And if you're visiting in warmer weather – spring and summer are widely considered some of the best times to visit Amsterdam – be sure to allow time to explore the surrounding area with its charming old canals on foot.
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Official site: www.annefrank.org/en
6. Oude Haven, Rotterdam
Located an easy one-hour train ride from Amsterdam, the port city of Rotterdam is well worth visiting for its well-preserved Old Harbour, or Oude Haven. The city has a long and rich maritime history thanks largely to its location on the Nieuwe Maas, an arm of the Rhine river, and its proximity to the English Channel.
Part of Rotterdam's superb Maritime District, Oude Haven is ideal for those who enjoy seeing the sights on foot. The harbor is chock-full of old houseboats and sailing ships, many of them on display at the Maritime Museum Rotterdam.
In addition to the 20 or so historic vessels on display in the water, a variety of indoor displays can also be enjoyed, including a replica of a vessel dating back over 2,000 years.
Address: Leuvehaven 1, 3011 EA Rotterdam, Netherlands
Official site: www.maritiemmuseum.nl/en
7. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
As befits one of the world's greatest artists, the spectacular Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is ranked an impressive #2 in a leading list of the top art museums globally, attracting almost 1.5 million visitors each year.
Home to the world's largest collection of Van Gogh paintings – many donated by the artist's family – this impressive gallery and museum was specially built to showcase the more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters in its vast collection.
Works by his contemporaries are also on display. A highlight is participating in the museum's new "Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience," which offers a fascinating, high-tech, interactive look at the artist's life and times, as well as his best known work.
If the city's excellent museums are your priority, you may in fact want to consider visiting them off season during the quieter, cooler times of year. Given that both these popular attractions are indoors and easy to get to via the city's excellent public transit, it's easy to keep warm, and the city's climate is relatively mild, even in winter.
Address: Museumplein 6, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Official site: www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en
8. The Windmills of Kinderdijk
On the River Noord between Rotterdam and Dordrecht is the famous village of Kinderdijk ("Children's Dike"), which takes its name from an incident during the St. Elizabeth's Day flood of 1421 after a child's cradle had been stranded on the dike.
The big draw these days are the fantastically preserved 18th-century windmills. Now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the 19 Kinderdijk windmills, built between 1722 and 1761, are the largest surviving concentration of windmills in the Netherlands.
Originally used to drain the fenlands, these majestic buildings with their impressive 92-foot sails are open to the public from April to October, including special Mill Days when the sails are set in motion. These picturesque windmills make for a fun excursion for those based in Rotterdam during their Netherlands stay.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rotterdam
9. De Hoge Veluwe National Park
You may be surprised to learn that the Netherlands, a relatively small country, boasts one of the world's most diverse national park programs. The largest is De Hoge Veluwe National Park (Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe), between Arnhem and Apeldoorn, rightly considered one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands for outdoor enthusiasts .
Covering nearly 13,800 acres, this national park is the largest continuous nature reserve in the country, as well as being one of the most popular day trip destinations for locals and visitors alike. Featuring dense woodlands in the north, as well as a fascinating sculpture park, the area was once a country estate and hunting reserve, and to this day is home to many red and roe deer.
The best-preserved part of the park encompasses an area of dramatic dunes interspersed with heath and woodland and interrupted in the south and east by moraines up to 100 meters high. It's also a popular area for bird-watching, as well as hiking and biking (use of bikes is free to visitors).
The highlight of this beautiful park for many - and the reason many people choose to come here - is the outstanding Kröller-Müller Museum (Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller), housing the world's second-largest collection of works by Van Gogh. In addition, the collections include Impressionist and Expressionist paintings by Cézanne, Manet, Monet, and Renoir. Outdoors, one of Europe's largest sculpture gardens shows works by Rodin, Hepworth, Dubuffet, and others.
Address: Houtkampweg 6, Otterlo, Netherlands
10. Cathedral Square, Utrecht
A popular tourist destination for its many fine historic buildings, the Dutch city of Utrecht should definitely be included on your Netherlands travel itinerary.
Start your exploration of this pedestrian-friendly city in Cathedral Square. The Domplein, as it's known locally, is the site of St. Martin's Cathedral, or Dom Church (Domkerk). Although founded in 1254, much of what you see dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.
You'll also want to visit the Domtoren, a surviving stand-alone church tower built in the 1300s that rises high above the surrounding buildings. Be sure to make the climb up to the viewing platforms for its superb views over Utrecht. Although there are 465 steps to climb, the guided tour that comes with the climb is an excellent introduction to the city's rich history.
Address: Achter de Dom 1, 3512 JN Utrecht, Netherlands
Official site: www.domkerk.nl/en/?lang=en
11. The Ijsselmeer (Zuiderzee)
Among the most beautiful villages in the Netherlands are the small hamlets along the Ijsselmeer (Lake Ijssel), the freshwater lake that resulted from the closing of the sea entrance to the Zuider Zee. These towns flourished during Amsterdam's Golden Age, when they had access to the Atlantic and prospered as fishing and trade centers, but lost importance as the harbors silted up.
Today, they're among the most photographed tourist attractions in the country. Time seems to have stood still for the fishing village of Marken and the seaports of Volendam and Enkhuizen, where many of the colorful houses have become museums and shops.
Enkhuizen has preserved many of its buildings and seafaring industries in the open-air Zuiderzee Museum, where the cultural heritage and maritime history of the old Zuiderzee region is preserved. Here, you can see craftsmen at work learning old maritime skills. In Volendam's harbor, you can see a collection of colorful old wooden boats.
Address: Wierdijk 12 - 22, Enkhuizen, Netherlands
Official site: www.zuiderzeemuseum.nl/en/10/home/
12. Delta Works: Zeeland's Spectacular Dikes
Incorporating the deltas of the Rhine, the Maas, and the Schelde Rivers, Zeeland includes the numerous islands and peninsulas of the southwestern section of the Netherlands. Much of this area of recently formed land is below sea level and therefore reliant upon impressive dikes, as well as modern flood prevention techniques.
As you travel the area, you'll see evidence of the mega-engineering project known as the Delta Works. These massive structures – basically hi-tech dams – can control how much water enters the area's key estuaries from the North Sea.
Consisting of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm-surge barriers, this awe-inspiring US$7 billion project has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
13. Historic Valkenburg
For those looking for a little ancient history, the Netherlands is not without its own medieval (and earlier) attractions. Romantic little Valkenburg, in the picturesque Geul Valley, boasts the country's only hilltop castle. Long a popular holiday resort, the town's other big draws are its many caves and the spa facilities at Thermae 2000, one of the largest such establishments in the Netherlands.
In addition to the ruins of the 12th-century castle on Dwingelrots (Castle Rock), there's also the interesting 14th-century St. Nicolaaskerk Basilica. Another highlight is the town's famous Christmas Market (mid-November to December 23rd) held in the Velvet Caves, the maze of old passageways leading to and from the castle.
14. Royal Delft, Delft
Located between the cities of The Hague and Rotterdam (and therefore easy to get to), Delft is known the world over for its famous blue and white porcelain products. Delftware, as it's usually known, has adorned shelves and dining rooms the world over since the 1600s, and remains as popular today as it was back then.
Known in English as Royal Delft, the original manufacturer, Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles N.V., has been around since 1653 and offers a variety of fun experiences for visitors.
In addition to informative tours of the factory, including a chance to see talented artisans hand painting pottery, you can visit the factory's vast collection of Delftware, and even finish up with a posh afternoon tea experience in the on-site tea room.
Address: Rotterdamseweg 196, 2628 AR Delft, Netherlands
Official site: https://museum.royaldelft.com/en/
15. De Haar Castle
Near the lovely old city of Utrecht, the fourth largest in the Netherlands, De Haar Castle (Kasteel De Haar) is the largest fortification in the country.
This spectacular castle, built by the famous Dutch architect PJH Cuypers, required so much land (it sits on a spectacular 250-acre park) that the entire village of Haarzuilens had to be relocated to accommodate it. While the original castle site was established in the 14th century, this newer structure dates from 1892 and is well worth taking the time to explore.
Inside, you'll be rewarded with impressive collections of antiques, furniture, paintings, and tapestries, but it's the gardens that really draw the crowds – along with the castle's fairy-tale looks.
Best Time to Visit the Netherlands
As one of the most visited countries in Europe, the Netherlands can get pretty busy during the peak summer months, especially in July when the schools break up.
The spring shoulder months of April and May are a great time to visit Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands, with many of the country's best parks and gardens bursting into life with an abundance of greenery and flowers (tulips are everywhere in the Netherlands!).