Ah, Amsterdam! The city wrapped in romantic canals and progressive values, where you can spend the day immersed in timeless artworks and maritime history before enjoying one of Europe’s liveliest cities after dark. Everyone wants to visit here once in their lifetime, and that… gets a bit exhausting for the locals. I’m not saying for a moment that you shouldn’t visit Amsterdam. But there’s a lot more to the Netherlands than the city of canals, bicycles, and red lit windows. Here are five other cities worth a stop on Netherlands tours. With the country’s excellent train system, most are within day tripping distance of Amsterdam, but you might want to consider overnighting, at least in one of the larger cities, giving yourself a break from the heady capital and sharing the love on your Netherlands trip.
Germany has Hamburg, France has Marseille, and the Netherlands has Rotterdam. This gritty “second city” is one of Europe’s great ports, and a must-do for urban explorers, foodies, art lovers, and architecture fans. Hop out at Centraal Station and take a few minutes to admire the awesome building itself before exploring the bizarre and beautiful Cube Houses. If you’re interested in Europort itself, take a boat tour to uncover its inner workings, or if you’d rather spend an arty day out, head to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. When it’s time to eat, get grazing under the mind-bending design of the Markthal, or order up an innovative plate of deliciousness at Fenix Food Factory. Devastated by WW2 bombing, Rotterdam has rebuilt itself into one of Europe’s coolest modern cities to visit on Netherlands tours.
Amsterdam may be the capital, but the seat of government in the Netherlands is The Hague. It’s also a great place to see most of the Netherlands at once – at least in miniature – at the Madurodam Model City. Stop by the Binnenhof for a look at the world’s oldest parliament still in use, and get your fill of classical Dutch art, with museums such as the Mauritshuis (home to Vemeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring) and The Mesdag Collection. If your tastes run more modern, don’t miss the Gemeentemuseum, or for a glimpse into the world of an under-sung Dutch master, let Escher in the Palace work its magic on your perception of space. In the summer, The Hague also offers one of the Netherlands’ few urban beaches.
Perfectly positioned between Rotterdam and The Hague, Delft is a university town with two towering artistic legacies. One is for its beautiful blue and white porcelain, which you can find all over the country on Netherlands tours. Take the Royal Deflt Experience through Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles for a closer look at its creation. The other of course is Vemeer, whose story and work is immortalized at the Vermeer Centrum. Think Amsterdam has the monopoly on beautiful canals? A short walk around Delft will change your mind, or you can take a cruise. Check out the city’s last standing windmill, Molen de Roos, and admire the architecture of Delft City Hall. The city offers all that’s great about the Netherlands on a small, pleasantly walkable scale.
A 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem is a good alternative base if you’re looking to avoid sky-high hotel costs and aren’t hung up on being in the capital after dark. It’s comparably beautiful, nowhere near as chaotic, and is a must-visit for admirers of portrait artist Frans Hals. The Corrie Ten Boom House offers a seldom-told story of a family who hid fugitive Jews from the occupying Nazis. Haarlem is also a city that rewards urban wanderers. Whether it’s through the Grote Markt, under the spire of the city hall, or under the arches of Amsterdamse Poort, this is a place to fall in love with Gothic splendour, Netherlands style. If you need some cheering up, a walk through the gardens of the Keukenhof will add an extra splash of colour to your sightseeing day.
Utrecht is a city for history buffs, with roots as an ancient Roman fort. It’s second only to Amsterdam for cultural offerings, largely thanks to its thriving university scene. The Old Town is gorgeous, while the towering 13th century Domkerk oversees it all. Modern architecture fans may want to stop by the Rietveld Schröder House, but most everyone is impressed by the Kasteel De Haar, which has earned comparisons to Versailles with only a fraction of the tourists.
Where Are Those Windmills?
There are many places on Netherlands tours where you can see traditional Dutch windmills, but the most famous ones are at Kinderdijk, just outside of Rotterdam. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this series of 19 windmills dates from the 1700s, and was originally built to keep the low-lying polders dry, though today they are supplemented by modern pumps. You can reach them on a day trip from Amsterdam of course, but a ferry from Rotterdam offers a picturesque way to reach them, with the trip from the city taking less than an hour.
If you want a different perspective on the highlights, consider a cruise over multiple days combining stops around the Netherlands, possibly with additional ports in Belgium and Germany. However you decide to explore, you’ll find plenty to love about the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam.