When you think of the best cities in Netherlands, the first image that probably comes to mind is Amsterdam. But, what about all the remaining 287 cities and towns? And no, Amsterdam isn’t representative of the entire country.
There are tons of lesser-known places like Delft or Haarlem, which are worthy of adding into the Netherlands bucket list. And these cities, with many others, have just as much to offer as the larger ones! From countryside farmhouses to ancient castle ruins – the Netherlands has many exciting destinations.
Each city is extremely unique, as they have different cultures, cuisines, and personal histories. Read below for travel tips throughout the beautiful country as well as our absolute favorite cities (big and small).
Best Cities in Netherlands: A Tale of canals, windmills & more!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The official name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands and comprises Aruba, Curacao, St Maarten, and of course (European) Netherlands.
Although the Netherlands only covers 16 000 square miles, it’s still able to maintain 12 diverse provinces. It’s even the world’s 4th-most densely populated country! So, you’ll never be short of new cultural, architectural, and social experiences here.
Small-Group Tours – Best cities to visit in Netherlands
Before we share the list of cities in the Netherlands, here is a quick note about small group tours. We enjoy local tours, as it enhances our cultural experience and learning. And if you are traveling by yourself or if you wish to experience the Tulips festival or something local, then consider booking a small group tour.
Small group tours are for 10-15 participants, and they do take good care of you – from transportation to guided sightseeing. Free time to explore on your own is also possible. Many 7-8 day tours in the Netherlands average $1000 USD (not including flights), but it includes sightseeing, accommodation, and some meals.
- Tulips Tour – Amsterdam to Amsterdam: This is a small group tour (14 participants), starting and ending in Amsterdam. The best part about this tour is that you can explore on a bike! Find out more about this tour!
- Best of Netherlands city tours: This is a tour of the best cities in the Netherlands. Although not a small group tour, this one is offered by Trafalgar/Cosmos, who is a well-known name in escorted tours. We took a tour with them years ago, and we were quite happy with their service. As the mode of transportation is bus/coach, these packaged tours are best for budget travelers. Read about the Netherlands City tour here.
Amsterdam – the most recognizable city in Netherlands
The unrivaled capital city with a glorious reputation – Amsterdam is the city on everyone’s bucket list. It’s one of the continent’s most touristy cities, and understandably so. It combines a progressive and innovative spirit with medieval architecture.
And the reason you always think of Amsterdam is that it’s all over social media with its innovative creations. It has a picturesque setting, as well as ‘insta-famous’ museums and foodie, havens. On our 2-day Amsterdam trip, we made sure to include eating the famous fries (from Manneken Pis) – the perfect bite while sitting along the canals.
And speaking of, Amsterdam actually has more canals than Venice. This is pretty visible since the canals make up one-quarter of the city’s area. The canals offer a retreat from the bustling city and each one is prettier than the next!
The city also has a rich history that you should explore. We suggest visiting the Rijksmuseum and The Anne Frank House. Book from Amsterdam: World War II and Anne Frank Tour
Utrecht – Cozy cafe culture, and the 4th largest city in the Netherlands
If you admire Amsterdam but aren’t a fan of the masses of tourists, then you’ll absolutely love Utrecht. It also features clusters of canals along with brick-facade buildings just as Amsterdam does, but with a more Dutch ambiance.
It’s the country’s 4th-largest city and is actually one of the oldest cities too. A testament to this is the striking St. Martin’s Cathedral. It has existed since the late 16th century and dominates the city’s skyline with its Dom Tower.
We’ve also noticed an increase in other modern highrise buildings in the city’s skyline. And that’s what we loved about Utrecht – it’s multi-faceted in terms of architecture.
Its population is made up of a mixed demographic as it is home to many students, both local and international. Although it’s one of the closest cities near Amsterdam (25 minutes by train), the two cities have totally different atmospheres.
Utrecht is much more laidback and boasts a cozy cafe culture. And we have to admit, there are some really impressive ones here. Some top picks include Karibu and Broei.
Delft – another canal city in the Netherlands, with a piece of royalty and heritage
This is yet another brimming canal city in the Netherlands but is situated in the south of the country. Delft isn’t just any city, it actually holds strong historical and landmark value for Dutch heritage. That’s because it is the burial grounds of the Royal Family.
You’ll find extravagant, medieval architecture here with high-reaching spires. One of the most exquisite buildings in the city is undoubtedly the Gothic New Church. This is the largest of the city and actually where the tombs of the Royal Family are stored.
Delft is situated between The Hague and Rotterdam and offers visitors a very quaint Dutch experience. You’ll find striking churches, cobblestoned alleyways and medieval structures that have been maintained until today. The city center is a car-free zone so you can really enjoy a peaceful walk around the historic buildings.
It’s also home to the last remaining Royal Delft Factory, where the world-renowned blue and white pottery is made. You can buy tickets for the Delft blue Factory and Museum here.
Volendam – A city of lovely promenades and colorful houses in the Netherlands
Volendam is another one of the cities near Amsterdam that could be done as a day trip. There’s actually a direct bus from Amsterdam Central Station that takes just under 30 minutes. It’s a lakeside fishing town with a harbor and a maze of colorful houses.
It’s got a lovely promenade walk along Lake IJsselmeer, the country’s largest lake (it spans 425 miles squared). It also feeds into the North Sea, so the fishing trade is flourishing in this village. There’s a more religious and Catholic community that lives here, in comparison to Amsterdam.
Volendam is also infamous for its fun and entertaining photo opportunities at Foto de Boer. Here, you’ll be styled by professionals and fitted into Dutch outfits that were worn centuries ago. You’ll wear items such as Klompen, which are the wooden clog shoes that the Dutch used to wear in the medieval era.
This experience is both entertaining and informative, and it’s great for those who still love playing dress-up. Purchase your ticket for the Volendam photo opportunity in traditional Dutch costumes.
Maastricht – of history, Roman Ruins in the Netherlands
Geographically, we’re quite fascinated by Maastricht’s positioning in the country. Take a moment to scope a map of the Netherlands cities – you’ll notice how removed it is from the rest of the country, plus it’s extremely close to Belgium.
Maastricht is located in the province of Limburg – one of the lesser-visited provinces in the country. But Maastricht’s positioning actually led it to be part of Spain from the late 16th to mid-17th centuries. And it was even under French ruling three different times! This ended in the early 19th century.
So, it’s safe to say that there are many international influences here. And this is noticeable in the different accents you’ll hear in Limburg in comparison to the rest of the country. But other than accents, Limburg has its own cuisine that you just have to try when visiting Maastricht. We recommend the Cherry Pie which is locally known as the Limburgse Kersenvlaai.
Another really cool activity to do in Maastricht is exploring the Caves of St. Pieter. These were established as far back as the Roman era and consist of more than 20 000 tunnels.
The Hague (Den Haag) – the well known UN city in the Netherlands
The Hague is a coastal city on the banks of the North Sea. It’s one of the only major cities that boasts more than 6 miles of shoreline, so you can have the perfect beach retreat here. The white-sand beaches in Scheveningen are a must-see.
It serves an important political function for the country because it’s the government’s operating city. It’s also one of the most international places in the Netherlands, with many overseas companies and over 100 embassies located here. The United Nations International Court of Justice is located here.
What’s interesting is that the city dates as far back as the 1200s, when it actually began as a royal hunting residence. Fast forward 400 years and the Spaniards settled here, too. And you can imagine with such an eventful history, that there are countless museums and historical landmarks. And you’re right.
The marvelous and very impressive Binnenhof complex is a landmark that will undoubtedly catch your eye. This is where the Dutch parliament is located and is the world’s longest-running parliamentary building. Book a spot on The Hague Walking Tour to see this and more attractions.
Groningen – A city in Northern Netherlands with a picturesque town center
Groningen is in Northern Netherlands and has a medieval, picturesque town square. Here, you’ll find a Gothic Church that is adorned with an ancient clocktower. But, this isn’t the only tower you’ll be wanting to visit in Groningen.
Did you know that this city in the Netherlands is only 15 minutes away from Europe’s most leaning tower? And we don’t mean the Tower of Pisa, contrary to popular belief. That’s because Dutch experts have now claimed that the St. Walfridus Church’s tower, for its height, leans more.
Groningen has a huge student presence, so you’ll find it has an energetic and youthful atmosphere. Find out more cool facts about Groningen on a private tour with a local.
Haarlem – a place for retail therapy – shopping in the Netherlands
Haarlem has some of the best shopping opportunities in the country as well as cute cafes and hidden bars. A top-pick is De DAKKAS. It’s a sort-of hidden rooftop bar that sometimes has live music performances. But you didn’t hear this from us.
If you find yourself looking for places to visit in the Netherlands in May, then you need to diarize the 5th. This is a historically important day for the entire country as it marks the day the Netherlands was liberated and freed from WWII in 1945. In celebration of this, many local Dutch DJs (some of the best in the world) play at a huge festival here. And, it’s free!
Nijmegen – One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands
We’ve been mentioning how in some cities you’ll find some of the earliest structures in the country. But, the oldest city of significance today is Nijmegen. This is a really enjoyable and exciting place to visit.
It emerged as the largest Roman military camp in the 1st century due to its positioning on the Waal River. So you can expect to find the ancient ruins here that have been well-preserved. You can experience Roman traditions as they have been passed down the generations.
The wider Nijmegen area boasts some impressive natural features like the unique 10-mile N70 Walking Route. It trails through forested hills that could be some of the highest you’ll see in the country.
Giethoorn – a postcard-worthy Dutch village
If you feel like Netherlands cities lack a bit of greenery, Giethoorn will certainly impress you. It’s a postcard-worthy Dutch village that actually has no cars, so it’s extremely peaceful. You’ll either be walking on the many wooden bridges here or cruising on a boat. Your choice.
It still sticks to the waterway tradition, having 4 miles worth of canals. The houses you’ll find here are thatch-roofed, which gives it a rural, remote feel. And we’re sure you’ll appreciate the fresh air and spacious green gardens. This small village transports you right back to nature as you’ll find forests, lakes and other bodies of water here.
We strongly suggest you do the Giethoorn Walking Route, which spans more than 2 miles. It trails passed the farmhouses and waterways that are brimming with boats. It even takes you over several scenic wooden bridges. But, that’s not the only walking you can do here, because you can visit the Netherlands countryside too.
The countryside quite literally borders the village because of the Weerribben-Wieden National Park neighboring it. And this isn’t just any National Park, it’s one of Europe’s largest fens (a type of wetland). Book a Giethoorn Sightseeing Tour from Amsterdam.
Rotterdam – One of the most unique cities in the Netherlands, and a resilient one!
Although we say that every Netherlands city is unique, we think that Rotterdam is the most unique. That’s because it’s the country’s most multicultural city. Rotterdam is and has been the melting pot of many different cultures and nationalities, with more than 170 ethnicities.
As we’ve mentioned, each city in the Netherlands serves a different purpose for the country. But the city that serves a very important function for the entire continent is the port city of Rotterdam. This is the country’s second-largest city as well as the largest and busiest port in Europe.
Rotterdam is often criticized for being too modern and industrial, but we find this to be somewhat untrue. You can still find plenty of traditional Dutch elements throughout the city, like the harbor area of Delfshaven. Here, you’ll find canals and brick-facade buildings, just like other Dutch cities.
But, as modern as Rotterdam feels, its modernity is tied to a sad history of destruction. During the Second World War, almost all of the city center was destroyed. So, be kind – it’s been through the most.
Some highlights of Rotterdam are the Erasmus Bridge (for skyline views of the city) and catching a water taxi to SS Rotterdam (a hotel on a ship with restaurants and terraces). Book a Private Architecture Tour of Rotterdam here.
Leiden – City with the oldest university in the country (and close to the tulip fields)
If you want to find a few of the oldest places in the Netherlands, then a trip to Leiden is necessary. This includes the country’s first theatre (built in the 1700s), the first botanical gardens (opened since the 1500s) and the oldest university in the country (since 1575).
So, we can assure you that Leiden will keep you busy with its fortunes of monuments and attractions. One of the city’s major attractions is the Rhine River, which cuts through the city.
Here, you’ll find important landmarks, such as the Burcht van Leiden which lies on the confluence of the Rhine and the Nieuwe Rijn Rivers. This is a fascinating historical structure that acted as a military base and residence. It dates back as far as the 1100s!
What’s particularly exciting about Leiden is its close and convenient positioning near ‘The Garden of Europe’ – the world-renowned Tulip Fields. Also known as Keukenhof, you’ll only need to drive 25 minutes from Leiden to arrive at the Tulips. Book a tour of the Keukenhof Gardens with skip-the-line tickets and roundtrip transfers from Leiden.
Valkenburg – Visit the only castle built on a hill in the Netherlands
Valkenburg is one of the lesser-known Dutch cities – and this really should be the contrary. But, we’ll leave it to be a hidden gem for you to discover when you’re deciding where to go in the Netherlands. It’s got ruins of an ancient castle, marl caves, and rich history.
The population is under 20 000 people and the city was founded thanks to the development of a railway line at the end of the 19th century. And while the municipality may be fairly new, its castle was built as far back as the 12th century. It’s celebrated for still being preserved today.
And did you know that Valkenburg Castle is the only one in the country that’s built on a hill? Surely you’ve noticed that the country as a whole, as well as almost every city in the Netherlands, is very flat.
In fact, more than half of the country sits below sea level, and the name ‘Netherlands’ translates to ‘low-lying land’. This explains why cycling here is so widespread… there aren’t any steep inclines. But Valkenburg is one of the places where you can escape from the flat landscape in the Netherlands.
Alkmaar – a ‘mini-Amsterdam’, one of the best cities in the Netherlands
In 2018, almost 2 million pounds of cheese were produced in volume by the Netherlands. They seriously love dairy products, from cheese to milk – they indulge in every form. Cheese museums are scattered throughout the country, but the city that has the oldest cheese trade history is Alkmaar.
The city is very close to Amsterdam and is known to be the cheese capital of the Netherlands. And that’s saying a lot, trust us.
Alkmaar is also said by some to be a ‘mini-Amsterdam’, although a bit more traditionally Dutch. It’s a great city to visit if you want exciting nightlife. And from a wide selection of trendy bars, we’d suggest you visit Mojo’s. The area of Waagplein as well as around the Platte Stenenbrug has some really cool bars, so definitely check them out.
If you’re a dairy-fanatic like the Dutch, then book a small group Alkmaar cheese market and city tour.
Zaanse Schans – of windmills and more cheese – best cities in Netherlands
When we visited the Netherlands, we felt it was very necessary to see the windmills. So, we decided to do a day trip to Zaanse Schans because it’s very close to Amsterdam. But also because Windmills are part of Dutch cultural heritage and act as important symbols for the nation.
And just 10 miles north of Amsterdam lies Zaandam, a village that contains 6 operating windmills, but has a total of 13. They are all lined up along the picturesque Zaan River, and each specializes in different resources.
The windmills aren’t all that will entertain you here, as there are museums, walking and hiking trails, as well as sailing opportunities here. Book the Zaanse Schans Windmills Half-day Tour From Amsterdam Tour here.
How to Travel in the Netherlands Cities
When traveling to the different towns in the Netherlands by train, you’ll have 400 different stations nationally. And thanks to the Netherlands being a small country, the longest travel time you can expect from Amsterdam to the furthest ends of the country is around 2 hours. From Amsterdam to Utrecht is only half an hour!
What’s also really cool about the Dutch public transport is that from Amsterdam Schipol Airport, you can catch a direct train to many of the cities. From our list, you can travel to Maastricht, Nijmegen, Leiden, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague!
If you plan to travel to many cities in the Netherlands, then we’d advise you to invest in a Holland Pass, which grants you access to over 100 attractions across the country. Buy a Holland Pass here (includes skip-the-line tickets).
The Best Netherlands Traveling Options
The public transport in the country is comprehensive, efficient and secure. To travel nationally, you can buy an anonymous OV-Chipkaart which lets you top up as much as you’d like.
You just check it in before you get on the train, and can top up at the NS ticket machines at every station. Please remember that you have to have a minimum of 20 Euros on the card in order to travel nationally.
The Dutch national railway is called Nederlandse Spoorwegen. NS is the biggest train system in the country, but not the only one. In certain parts of the country, you’ll also find Arriva Netherlands’ secondary trains scattered throughout. These are multinational lines that run through 14 countries in Europe.
Through NS, you can also invest in the Holland Travel Ticket, which gives you unlimited access to all public transport mediums for one day only. You just buy one ticket and check it in and out wherever you go. So, now you really have no excuse for not doing a day trip!
But, if you feel like skipping the crowds, Uber operates in the Netherlands too. You should use it instead of taxis, who overcharge tourists. Oh, and don’t forget to cycle and save money while traveling in the cities – you’ll need that cash for the national trains. We suggest you rent a bike from Swapfiets.
Is it “the Netherlands” or “Netherlands” or Holland?
The use of “The Netherlands” or “Netherlands” is a matter of preference. Conventionally, in written English, the use of “The Netherlands” is the correct way to refer to the country.
Officially, Netherlands is called “Kingdom of the Netherlands” (use of “the” in a running text. But the Dutch call it “Nederland “and not “De Nederlanden”. The only two countries in the world with the “the” article in their names are The Gambia and The Bahamas).
Anyhow, we did some research, and it looks like there are no official records to show that “the Netherlands” is correct vs “Netherlands”. Source – JurisInfluence
In terms of usage of the Netherlands or Holland, Holland refers to the two large provinces of the country – Noord-Holland (north) and Zuid-Holland (south). The Netherlands is the name of the country as a whole.
Final Thoughts on Where to Go in the Netherlands
There’s far much more to this multifaceted than just the tourist hub (Amsterdam). And while every city may be unique and different, one characteristic that remains throughout the country is the inclusive atmosphere.
Oh, and that they’re all pretty flat and probably have canals. Except for Valkenburg, which is why we suggested it. But, the world’s 4th-most densely populated country is bustling with unique and diverse cities that await your exploring.
And thanks to the country’s efficient and extensive public transport, you’ll be able to travel swiftly between all these beautiful cities.
Essential Travel Tips for Europe
- Planning your trip to Europe – If this is your first-ever trip to Europe, consider reading our Europe 101 guide.
- Schengen Visa – If you require a visa to travel to Europe, most likely it is the Schengen Visa (for those belonging to the Euro Zone or EU, doesn’t include the UK). Read our guide to applying for Schengen Visa.
- Packing List – Read our in-depth guide to packing for Europe for all seasons and regions.
- Europe Itinerary Samples – Read our itineraries from Europe
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.