Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve mentioned before, I love Amsterdam.
I really love Amsterdam. I’d spend a lot more time there if I could.
But it’s definitely not my favourite place in the Netherlands. In fact, it doesn’t even come close to being my favourite place in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is choking under the tourism it gets now, which is one of those double edged swords I suppose. Can’t live with tourists, can’t live without them.
And while I would never recommend that anyone misses out Amsterdam entirely if they’ve never been to the Netherlands before, I think there are so many other cities and towns in that wonderful little country that tourists miss out. It’s even more of a shame because transport links in the Netherlands are so awesome you can get between the cities, especially if they’re in Holland, so easily. They really do put our transport in the UK to shame. It’s one of the reasons I’m really glad I chose to live in the Netherlands when I studied abroad.
So here are a few other cities in the Netherlands I think everyone should consider if they’re planning to head to the Netherlands any time soon.
I wrote about reasons to love Leiden a little while ago and I stand by everything I said in that post. Leiden is pretty close to Schipol airport, only half an hour away from Amsterdam and easy to see in a day. It has everything you’d want from a Dutch city – from canals to windmills to pancake houses and bicycles. The cities location also makes it an incredible base to see the tulip fields in Lisse, the Keukenhof and to head out to the sweet Dutch coastal towns of Katerwijk and Noordwijk.
Delft is a pretty small town just over an hour away from Amsterdam. It’s an incredible photogenic town, with its small canal ways and cobbled streets. You can see why the town inspired the likes of Vermeer. It has one of the most incredible town halls in the main square, built in impressive Dutch Renaissance style. One of the main draws of Delft is the blue Delftware pottery, which you will spot everywhere in the town – from the tourist shops to glued on to the side of lampposts and parking meters.
I personally have two overriding memories of visit Delft. The first was seeing a pig on a lead being taken for a walk outside a supermarket. The Dutch friend I was with just shrugged as if this was a completely normal occurrence in Delft. The second was seeing a supermarket entirely staffed by men. I know it’s a daft memory to have, but apparently, the town’s demographics swing heavily to the male side because of the technical university there.
Utrecht is another pretty Dutch canal side city, only this one has a slightly more Belgian feel to it. The canals are lower here than they are in Amsterdam, which means there are also a lot of canal side bars hidden in the wharf cellars below street level which were once all used for storage. It also makes it a perfect place to relax on a boat trip.
Utrecht is also home to the Dom tower, the Netherlands’ tallest bell tower. The 14th-century cathedral took nearly 300 years to complete. You can get amazing views of the square below, as well as the rooftops in Utrecht. On a clear day, if you’re lucky, you can sometimes even spot Amsterdam in the distance.
If you can face a mini bike ride out of town, you can spot the De Haar Castle, which looks like something out of Disneyland.
If you needed any more of a reason to visit Utrecht, the city also houses the Miffy museum.
The Hague is one of the bigger cities in the Netherlands and it has a much more “cosmopolitan” vibe to it than places like Delft or Leiden. Despite this, it has none of the crowds that Amsterdam has. The whole city screams money too, thanks to the number of Shell workers who live in the city. It’s where you’ll find the Dutch Parliament and most of the government departments. Several important organisations are inside The Hague’s Peace Palace, including the International Court of Justice. You can take guided tours through the buildings on special weekends throughout the year. There are a number of interesting museums in the city too including the Escher Museum and the Madurodam.
The Hague is another city that gives you great access to the Dutch coast, including the big resort of Scheveningen. Scheveningen slightly reminds me of a British coastal town with its pier and fish and chip shops. It can be quite an odd experience going there but realising you’re still in Holland.
Rotterdam is not a city to visit if you’re after some traditional Dutch architecture. A bit like Birmingham is not the city to visit if you’re after some traditional English architecture. Rotterdam was bombed to shit during the Second World War and lost many of its traditional buildings. Instead, Rotterdam has been filled with some experimental styles of architecture, including these houses which hurt my eyes to look at. The slightly newer buildings also give way to a range of views. You can get the best view of the city from the Euromast observation tower, which also includes panoramic views across the harbour.
Rotterdam also some serious eating and drinking spots. These guys know how to do a brunch. Not only that, but you’ll find the Dutch version of Borough market on the site of an old warehouse – the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam. There’s also Markthal, which has nearly 100 food stalls, surrounded by art by local artists.
But if you’re still after some stereotypical Dutch-ness, you can grab a bike and head out to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World HEritage site comprising 18 massive windmills which were built in the 17th century to help prevent flooding.
In the middle of Haarlem is a massive square known as the Grote Markt and it really is one of the prettiest town squares in Holland. The square becomes even more buzzy and alive on a Saturday when a street market takes place. The Grote Kerk, Haarlem’s imposing cathedral can also be found in the square. Although, it would be hard to miss. You can see it from miles around.
Visit the Frans Hals museum too to see some great examples of Dutch golden age art.
You can also visit the house of Connie ten Boom. During World War 2, her family provided a hiding place for Jewish people and members of the resistance on the Barteljorisstraat. The family was eventually betrayed, with only Connie surviving the concentration camps. Her house is now a museum, the majority of which recreates how it would have looked in the 1940s and can see where Jewish people would have been hidden away.