The Netherlands is known abroad as a land of windmills, canals and tulips, and today's visitors are sure to find these among the many tourist attractions. But in addition to the country's many breathtaking gardens and picturesque villages, those who visit here will also find the bustling capital of Amsterdam, filled with museums with a rich heritage of artists (think Rembrandt and Van Gogh). Other places to visit include the countless medieval castles, picturesque towns and a 13.800 hectare national park. Oh, and we also have a dam system that has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World!
World travelers are usually looking for beautiful places in faraway places, but how well do you really know the Netherlands? Perhaps this is the year in which you will be a tourist in your own little country, a holiday in the Netherlands isn't that crazy after all! And to help you on your way, we have collected some of the best and most beautiful sights of our country in this article.
Table of contents
De Haar Castle | Utrecht
Near the beautiful old city of Utrecht, the fourth largest in the Netherlands, Kasteel De Haar (Kasteel De Haar) is the largest fortress in the country. Built by renowned Dutch architect PJH Cuypers, this spectacular castle required so much land (it sits on a spectacular 250-acre park) that the entire village of Haarzuilens had to be moved to house it. Although the original castle site was established in the 14th century, this newer structure dates back to 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 fairytale looks.
Address: Kasteellaan 1, 3455 RR Utrecht
Wadden Islands | Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling & Ameland
Take a weekend trip to the Wadden Islands. Here you can completely relax and enjoy beautiful nature. Get on the boat, let go of your busy schedule and enjoy a well-deserved mini vacation. Delicious isn't it? As far as I'm concerned, the Wadden Islands are one of the best places for a weekend away in our own country.
There are many fun things to do during a weekend trip to the Wadden Islands. Do you like peace and nature? Then you are completely at the right place here. Beaches and dunes alternate with meadows, forests and picturesque villages. In addition, the Wadden Islands are ideal for cycling and walking. Stroll over the dunes, take a lovely walk on the beach or get on your bike and then have a nice cold drink in one of the attractive villages.
Jordan | Amsterdam
Canals are as important a part of Amsterdam's cityscape as they are for the city Venice† While many of Amsterdam's best tourist attractions are easily accessible by boat trip or water taxi – including most of the major museums and art galleries – nothing beats a stroll through the smaller, quieter streets along the canals.
Particularly charming is the Jordaan, a neighborhood built in the early 1600s to house workers and immigrants drawn here because of the city's religious tolerance. Look for the many courtyards nearby, the quaint courtyards hidden behind the buildings.
Another photo-worthy neighborhood is the Grachtengordel, with its many small bridges and quaint 17th-century houses. You will be rewarded as you explore these 400 year old streets with examples of beautiful architecture, small boutiques, cafes and gardens. Pay special attention to the many houseboats moored along the canals.
Dam Square is just a 10-minute walk away, a must-visit in Amsterdam. As well as numerous restaurants, cafes and shops, this sprawling public square is home to some of the city's most visited tourist attractions, including the spectacular Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace); the atmospheric Nieuwe Kerk (New Church); and the country's most important war memorial, the National Memorial.
Keukenhof | Lise
Think of the Netherlands and you will inevitably think of tulips, the country's most popular flower. And one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Netherlands displays these and other spring bulbs in spectacular abundance.
Keukenhof, also known as the “Garden of Europe”, is located on the edge of the city of Lisse in what is widely regarded as the “bulb belt” of the Netherlands. The largest public garden in the world, encompassing more than 70 hectares of what was once the former kitchen garden (or 'kitchen') of a large estate, Keukenhof displays more than 700 varieties of tulips, which are at their peak in April and May.
Address: Stationsweg 166A, 2161 AM Lisse
Rijksmuseum | Amsterdam
The spectacular Rijksmuseum – also known as the National Museum – on Amsterdam's Museumplein has been collecting rare art and antiquities since 1809. Not surprisingly, the vast collection today includes nearly seven million works of art, including 5.000 paintings in more than 250 rooms, as well as a vast library of some 35.000 books.
Aside from its unique collection of old masters, this spectacular museum provides a comprehensive 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 the endless treasures of this museum.
If you have time to squeeze some more Rembrandt into your Amsterdam itinerary, this is a must-visit for you: the Rembrandthuis Museum, located in the city's historic Jewish quarter. Many of his best-known works were painted in the 20 years the great artist spent here, with some scenes still recognizable from the neighbourhood. The house remains largely as it would have been during Rembrandt's lifetime (guided tours are available).
Address: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
Anne Frank house | Amsterdam
The Anne Frank House is a must-see in Amsterdam. On Prinsengracht, in the house where Anne's family hid much of the Second World War (they were Jewish refugees from Frankfurt), this remarkable girl wrote her famous diary. Though she died just two months before the end of the war, her legacy lives on through her words, which have since been translated into 51 languages.
The back of the fully restored home where the Frank family hid has been kept in its original condition as much as possible and is a poignant monument to a tragic piece of world history and a brave young woman who continues to inspire people around the globe.
Tip: tickets are almost always sold out, so book your tickets well in advance.
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam
The windmills of Kinderdijk
On the river Noord between Rotterdam and Dordrecht lies the well-known village of Kinderdijk, which takes its name from an incident during the Saint Elizabeth's Flood of 1421 after a children's crib was stranded on the dike.
The big draw today are the fantastically preserved 18th century windmills. The 19 Kinderdijk windmills, built between 1722 and 1761, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and form the largest surviving concentration of windmills in the world. The Netherlands† Originally used to drain the peat bog, these majestic buildings with their impressive 23m high sails are open to the public from April to October, including special Mill Days when the sails are set in motion. For anyone living in the Netherlands, this is a must-see that you cannot skip.
Hoge Veluwe National Park
You may be surprised to learn that the Netherlands, a relatively small country, has one of the world's most diverse national park programs. The largest is National Park De Hoge Veluwe (National Park De Hoge Veluwe), between Arnhem and Apeldoorn. Covering nearly 13.800 hectares, this national park is the largest contiguous nature reserve in the country, as well as one of the most popular excursion destinations for locals and foreign visitors alike.
With thick forests to the north, the area was once an estate and hunting reserve, and to this day is home to many wild horses, red deer and roe deer. The best preserved part of the park encompasses an area of dramatic dunes interspersed with heath and woodland. In the south and east, the landscape is interrupted by moraines up to 100 meters high. It is also a popular area for bird watching, as well as walking and cycling (the use of bicycles is free for visitors).
The IJsselmeer | Zuiderzee
Among the most beautiful villages in the Netherlands are the small hamlets along the IJsselmeer, the freshwater lake that was created by closing the sea entrance to the Zuiderzee. These towns flourished during Amsterdam's Golden Age when they had access to the Atlantic Ocean and prospered as fishing and trading centers, but lost importance as the ports silted up.
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 maritime industry in the open-air Zuiderzee Museum, which preserves the cultural heritage and maritime history of the old Zuiderzee area. Here you can watch craftsmen at work learning ancient maritime skills. In the harbor of Volendam you can see a collection of colorful old wooden boats.
Van Gogh Museum | Amsterdam
As befits one of the world's greatest artists, the spectacular Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is an impressive number 2 in a leading list of the best art museums in the world, with almost 1,5 million visitors a year.
Home to the world's largest collection of Van Gogh paintings – many of which were donated by the artist's family – this impressive gallery and museum was purpose-built to house the more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters in the extensive collection to show.
Works by his contemporaries are also on display. A highlight is taking part 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.
Address: Museumplein 6, Amsterdam
Delta Works | Zealand
Zeeland includes the deltas of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt and includes the numerous islands and peninsulas of the southwestern part of the Netherlands. Much of this area of recently formed land is below sea level and therefore relies on impressive levees and modern techniques to prevent flooding.
As you travel through the area, see evidence of the mega-engineering project known as the Delta Works. These massive structures – essentially hi-tech dams – can control how much water enters the area's main estuaries from the North Sea. Consisting of dams, locks, sluices, levees and storm surge barriers, this awe-inspiring €7 billion project has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
For those looking for a bit of ancient history, the Netherlands is not without its own medieval (and earlier) attractions. Romantic little Valkenburg, in the picturesque Geuldal, has the country's only hilltop castle. A popular holiday resort for a long time, the city's other major attractions are its many caves and spa facilities Thermae 2000.
The area around Valkenburg is wonderful to explore on foot. There are many beautiful walking routes over hills with beautiful views and through lush forests. It is the perfect place for a short holiday in the Netherlands.
Also read: Hiking trails in the area of Valkenburg