There are two certainties in life: the sun rises in the East and tourists visiting the Netherlands never see more than Amsterdam. For some reason all tourists just stick to touristy Amsterdam, and usually just the very center of the city. While Amsterdam is definitely a beautiful city – I’ve lived there and still enjoy going there – there is alot more to the Netherlands. Unfortunately 99% of the people visiting the country don’t seem to be aware of that. It’s a shame, since the country is small and you can reach most places by public transport within an hour.
Utrecht: little amsterdam, without the tourists
My personal favourite (and home town) is Utrecht. Situated in the center of the country, it is often called ‘little Amsterdam’, although the true Utrechters will hate that nickname. Utrecht has been voted ‘the prettiest canal city in Europe‘ multiple times, even by The Guardian. That’s right, not Amsterdam, Venice or St. Petersburg, but Utrecht! The city of Utrecht revolves around the pride of the city: the Dom tower. This 800-years old church tower rises up 112 meters in the absolute center of the city and is higher than any other building in Utrecht.
The old town is surrounded by the Singel canal, but in Utrecht it’s all about the Old Canal (Oude Gracht). The Oude Gracht can be seen as the aorta of the city, lined by shops, bars and restaurants. Utrecht is known for its wharfs lining the entire Oude Gracht. In the old cellars you can have a meal or party until the sun rises. I have brought lots of tourists to Utrecht and the majority of them actually liked Utrecht better than Amsterdam, so it is safe to say you should give it a try. Utrecht can be reached by taking a train from Amsterdam, which brings you to the city center in less than 30 minutes (I know what you are thinking, but never say Amsterdam and Utrecht are basically the same city!). Trains leave every 15 minutes, seven days a week and cost € 15,- for a round trip.
Oh Dom tower, why you so pretty?
rotterdam: the odd one out
Rotterdam is nothing like any other city in the Netherlands. The second city of the country, it is known for its sky scrapers and magnificent architecture, as well as its urban culture. At the start of World War 2, nazi Germany bombed the city down to the ground, which has resulted in a modern city center that would resemble an American, Canadian or Australian city more closely rather than an old Dutch city.
”Lonely Planet placed Rotterdam on the fifth place of best cities to visit in 2016 (!),,
Rotterdam is a city you have to get used to. It is modern, urban and full of culture. Unlike cities such as Amsterdam and Utrecht, it is a city you have to get to know in order to appreciate it. Once you are used to it however, you will enjoy its rich urban culture to the fullest. Lonely Planet placed Rotterdam on the fifth place of best cities to visit in 2016 (!). That pretty much says it all. While you’re there, make sure you take a stroll across the imposing Erasmus bridge and visit the recently-opened Markthal (market hall) with it’s sublime ceiling. From Amsterdam, you can take a 1-hour train to Rotterdam which costs you € 30,20 for a round trip. The train leaves every 15 minutes.
The hague: seat of the government
Behind Amsterdam and Rotterdam, The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag) is the third city of the country and also the seat of the national government. Together with Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, The Hague forms the Randstad, a big metropolitan area where the majority of the Dutch population lives. The Hague is a mixture of old architecture and modern skyscrapers. Tourists often tell me they can ‘feel’ the city has the government seated and has more of a corporate touch to it.
”You may also enjoy visiting Madurodam, a miniature city based on actual buildings you can find all over the country,,
Still, the city has a lot to offer for travellers. The government itself is seated in a big complex which looks more like a castle than a place from which the country is run. Right next to the goverment building, you can find the Mauritshuis, an important museum for Dutch art with The Girl With A Pearl Earring by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer as its most important art piece. You may also enjoy visiting Madurodam, a miniature city based on actual buildings you can find all over the country. If you want to have a relaxing day, visit the Haagse Bos, a forest area situated in the center of the city. While you’re there, look out for the King, who has one of his residences here.
the country side of the netherlands
I’m gonna be honest here, we don’t really boast any impressive nature here in the Netherlands, at least, that’s how I think about it. The country is extremely flat. Only in the far south east tail of the country you will find some hills, but I would not recommend travelling there to see them, because even those are not that impressive. To give you an idea: our highest ‘mountain’ is 322 meters high, followed by two that are just above 300 meters high. All these massive mountains are located in the south east Limburg province (which people jokingly don’t even consider part of the Netherlands).
That said, the country side can still bring a nice touch to your visit. If you want to see a stereotypical windmill-filled Dutch country side, make sure you visit either de Zaansche Schans (25 minutes from Amsterdam by train) or Kinderdijk (UNESCO World Heritage, right next to Rotterdam and slightly harder to reach by public transport). Alternatively, you can rent a bike and ride it to the former island of Marken. This old town has a traditional old Dutch atmosphere to it and brings serene quietness on top of that, which can be nice coming from crowded Amsterdam. From Marken, you can take a ferry to Volendam, an (in)famous old fisher’s village which is touristy, but does give you a good idea of old, country side Netherlands.
As a Dutch person, I could go on and on. Nice cities I left out for this post are Alkmaar, Leiden, Delft and Gouda (you know, the cheese) for example. All of these places are worth the visit. If you want to travel a bit longer, Groningen in the North and Maastricht in the far South are also worth the trip. Wherever you decide to go, don’t just stick to Amsterdam. There is so much more to see!