If the Netherlands had an icon, it would be the windmills. And if windmills had a not-to-be-missed spot, it would be Kinderdijk. Because the country is at or below sea-level, windmills have been a crucial part of water management put in place to prevent flooding. Just a short excursion outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, which means “children’s dike,” is where you’ll find 19 fully functioning and phenomenal windmills. Built in the 18th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are truly something to see. During the winter you can lace up some skates and enjoy the fun on the frozen canals.
It’s unlikely that you need information about Amsterdam’s reputation as a party town, but this large city is deeper than the infamous red light district and liberal cannabis laws. There are 60 miles of canals to explore and over 1500 monumental buildings and bridges. Fantastic museums and endless small eccentricities make Amsterdam a delightful city to discover. You’ll want to include the Rijksmuseum Museum, the Anne Frank House, and the Prinsengracht district for shopping, pub crawling, and coffee drinking. The Canal Ring has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s wonderful to walk or bike around.
Considered to be the religious heart of Holland, Utrecht is an ancient town. Established by the Romans in 48AD, the history of the Middle Age is on full display. The inner canal wharf system, originally designed to keep the Rhine from flooding the city, is a brilliant piece of architecture left over from this period. The most famous landmarks are the 8th century Gothic Dom Tower and the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Martin (13th century). There’s also the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rietveld Schroder House, the Dick Bruna House, and the Miffy Museum. When you want some time out-of-doors, stroll along the Oudegracht Canal and stop in to one of the converted cellar cafes for a coffee long the way.
This is a city with a diverse cultural history, which makes it seem a bit of an outsider in this Dutch country. You’ll see Roman and Spanish ruins as well as French architecture throughout town. There are even hills here! Sitting on both sides of the Meuse River, Maastricht is beautiful and full of historic churches and squares. Popular attractions include het Vrijthof square, the Caves of St Pieter and the Casement, Saint Servatius Church, and Vestigingswerkens. If you feel like splurging, check out any of the five Michelin-starred restaurants or some of the incredible cafes or bars in the town square.
De Hoge Veluwe National Park
Take a spin on one of 1700 free bicycles that the park staff keep on hand and spend a day exploring all of the 41km of paths in De Hoge Veluwe National Park. This national treasure is made up of 5,400 hectares of woods, heath, sand dunes, and peat bogs. This is a great spot for bird watching with Res List species like the Wryneck, the Moor Frog, and the Wheatear that call it home. There’s also unique plant species, red deer, and wild boar. Deep in the heart of De Hoge Veluwve is the Kröller-Müller Museum, with a surprising number of Van Goghs. Nearby are Elburg and Arnhem with medieval buildings and the historical site of the Battle for Arnhem.
Close to the German border, Nijmegen recently celebrated its 2000th anniversary. As one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands it is home to two history museums that highlight Roman artefacts and traditional life. The large student population from the country’s only Catholic university brings energy to the place. Take a walk along the Waalbrug (the bridge that crosses the Waal River) in order to catch an awe-inspiring sunset, complete with boats below. In the centre of Nijmegan is the historical quarter and not far from that you’ll find the National Fietsmuseum Velorama that showcases over 250 bikes. A real peek into the Dutch obsession with two-wheelers.
Just like Amsterdam, Delft is built on a series of canals that were originally designed to defend the city. An entire weekend can easily be spent strolling through the historic quarter and exploring the markets. Johannes Vermeer, who painted The Girl with the Pearl Earring, among many others, called Delft home. You’ll find it to be a progressive town that has worked hard to restore its historical feel. Popular sites include Renaissance styled City Hall, the Prinsenhof Museum (where William of Orange was assassinated), the Vermeer Centrum, and several lovely churches including Nieuwe Kerk and Oud. If you need to pick up gifts to take home, consider the blue, hand-painted earthenware that been fired here since the 17th century.
The Wadden Islands
Off the north coast are five islands collectively known as the Wadden Islands. They’re part of a larger chain of 50 that are dotted along the Wadden Sea between Denmark and the Netherlands. Each is unique and a great place for outdoor adventurers. Bird watchers will want to head straight to Terschelling, beach lovers will want to make Texel their first stop, and for those that want a remote trek through the woods, Vlieland is perfect. A boat will take you to any of the five, but for those that love a challenge you can also try wadlopen (mud-walking) across the seabed during low tide. Only for the truly brave – as some have called it “horizontal alpinism!”
Because it’s easily accessible by rail and car, Gouda is an extremely popular day trip from Amsterdam. Famous for its cheese (yes, THAT Gouda) and stroopwafels (syrup waffles) this is a traditional Dutch town that’s full of charm. Visit St Janskerk with its colourful and incredible stained glass windows, a town hall that dates to the 15th century, and the Waag, an old cheese weighing house built in the 17th century and which is now home to the Kaaswaag, Holland’s cheese museum.
With two colleges, this culturally diverse town is a major destination for those interested in arts, education, and business. The Groningen Museum is one of the most popular in all of the Netherlands but you’ll also find a comics museum, graphic museum, university museum, and a maritime museum. Live entertainment at the cafes, as well as fantastic theatre, round out the cultural aspects of this small but vibrant city. For those interested in Groningen’s nightlife, check out the Vismarkt, The Grote Markt, and the Peperstraat.
This is your typical Dutch province, but with a few twists. Not only do they have their own language here, but the locals are a hardy, self-reliant group – even by Dutch standards. The north end of Friesland morphs into the Waddenzee and the land goes from solid to muddy so the people had to actually build and fortify the land here. It’s incredible to explore and UNESCO designated. Visitors love Leeuwarden and Hindeloopen two charming villages that cater to tourists and have lots of tradition to soak up. Right across the water you’ll find the Wadden Islands