10 Places to Visit in the Netherlands (That Aren’t Amsterdam) – Taste Travel Guide
The Netherlands is a small country, but its cities and towns are picture-postcard pretty, and so crammed with green spaces, historic buildings, art, heritage and the quaintest bars you’ve ever been in that it’s ridiculous just to visit Amsterdam and nothing else. So for a change, we are leaving Amsterdam aside, and paying closer attention to the likes of Haarlem, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Huesden, Leiden and a few more. Take your pick – it’s a win-win for everyone.
Why you need to visit: Haarlem (population of about 160,000) is equal in size to Dublin, but there the similarity ends. Its proximity to Amsterdam (about 20 km, with no shortage of public transport to-and-fro) makes the city a perfect place for either a day trip or a weekend stay. It is also one of those archetypal picture-postcard cities, with an Old Town centre full of cobbled lanes, historic churches, canals and intimate, cute-as-a-button bars.
Top visitor tip: Visit the Grote Market (located at the Bavo Cathedral) for food, drink, second-hand clothes and every accessory you can think of. Mondays and Saturdays, 9am-4pm.
Why you need to visit: Situated about 30 minutes from Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam has its own identity as a small city (population of about ????). Acutely tuned into a broader (and some would say hipper) cultural remit than its bigger cousin, visitors can expect visual art, street art, architecture and design so cutting-edge it’ll open the skin on your fingertips if you touch it.
Top visitor tip: Because the city was carpet-bombed during the Second World War, Rotterdam is, structurally, as contemporary a city as you’ll ever see in Europe. A perfect example of this is the Markthallen, a food hall like you have never experienced before.
Why you need to visit: After Amsterdam and Rotterdam, The Hague is the Netherlands’ largest city (population of about 500,000). Despite the city’s international reputation as a centre of politics and justice, there is much to engage the visitor: green spaces, gorgeous parks (including the Rosarium, aka the Park of Roses), and the Haagse Bos, an ancient forest that stretches into the centre of the city.
Top visitor tip: The Hague is the only large city in the Netherlands with beachfront directly on the North Sea coast, so if you’re planning to visit close to or during the summer, get to KIjkduin and/or Scheveningen, two beach towns about 20 minutes away by tram from the city centre.
Why you need to visit: Located equidistant between Rotterdam and The Hague, Delft (population of around 100,000) is much more than about having a globally admired pottery industry. The Old Town centre is as historic as you can imagine, while the prettiness of the place only consolidates its standing as one of the Netherlands finest.
Top visitor tip: If you think the canals of Amsterdam are pretty, just wait until you catch an eyeful of the ones in Delft. The small city has a network of them that makes walking through the Old Town centre a real pleasure. Beyond quaint.
Why you need to visit: This vivid university city (population of over 350,000) is one of the Netherlands’ oldest municipal centres, and was once the country’s spiritual focus. Ringed by loops of exceptionally beautiful tree-ornamented canals (which are lit up come dusk), the small Old Town area is full of former warehouses that have been converted into quite remarkable venues (bars, cafés, clubs, restaurants).
Top visitor tip: Some of the medieval mansions and city castles are now boutique hotels, so if can your bank balance can stretch to it why not check in and soak up historic atmosphere with contemporary trappings?
Why you need to visit: There’s a touch of time travel involved when you visit Huesden, a town (population of about 45,000) that developed around one of Northwest Europe’s oldest water castles. The fortified town went through a complete rebuilding project over 40 years ago, the result of which (in 1980) won Huesden the Urbes Nostrae, Europe’s most prestigious award for urban restoration plans.
Top visitor tip: Really, it’s simply to soak up Huesden’s ancient streets and slender alleyways. Virtually every corner you turn, there are wonderfully preserved buildings, medieval façades with the most incredible stonework and – lest we forget – all-round views of the commanding fortifications.
Why you need to visit: Since the 16th century, Leiden (population of about 125,000) has been one of Europe’s most renowned scientific centres. Because of this, it is known as the ‘City of Discoveries’. Equally, art and culture have played important roles in its history (Rembrandt was born and educated here), but even for those with little interest in either science or art will find much to love in Leiden, not least scenic canals and parks, and accompanying cafés, bars, restaurants and shops.
Top visitor tip: You won’t go hungry in Leiden, especially if you venture along Botermarkt Street, along which you will discover many distinctive canal side restaurants.
Why you need to visit: It is said that Maastricht (population of about 120,000) is the oldest city in the Netherlands, and while another town might dispute that (hello, Nijmegen) there’s no denying that its buildings, cathedrals and a splendid cobblestoned town centre are some of the treason why it is such a popular tourist destination. The city is also rightly renowned for its cuisine and multicultural ambience.
Top visitor tip: Visual art lovers will want to spend some time in Bonnefantenmuseum, which houses one of the Netherlands’ most admired collections of Old Masters and contemporary works.
Why you need to visit: Perfect for a weekend, this university city (population of 170,000) shares/debates with Maastricht the title of ‘oldest city in the Netherlands’, so you can expect history to seep from the walls and streets as naturally as the air you breathe. Nijmegen’s trim mediaeval centre belies its status as a groovy urban place with craft coffee shops sitting beside bars and cafés so old it’s a wonder they’re still standing!
Top visitor tip: It’s a bit random and a bit odd, but the National Fietsmuseum Velorama (www.velorama.nl) houses the most amazing collection (over 250 examples) of bikes and various other similar muscle-powered modes of transport.
Why you need to visit: Located close to Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague, Gouda is a small city (population of over 70,000) whose visitor and tourism numbers revolve around the cheese industry. There is, also, the country’s usual array of historic buildings, gorgeous cafés, and ancient yet delightful bars.
Top visitor tip: Well, it has to be the quite unique Kaaswaag, Holland’s cheese museum. If cheese isn’t your thing, then a visit to St John Church is a mist: it is the longest church in the Netherlands, famous for its stained glass windows, which are the most significant in the country. Is that, er, Goudanuff for you?
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA