If you're anything like us, you regularly find yourself daydreaming about a trip to the Netherlands. Like many European countries, the Netherlands attracts tourists with its rich history and unique architecture, and its medieval ports, reflective canals, and storybook homes feel pulled from a different time and a different way of thought.
And then there's the way the Netherlands still operates by its own exciting rules: There are its famous coffee shops, lively cafés, and an abundance of bicycles. This is a place for culture, but it's also a place to go when you want to have some fun. Before you plan your agenda entirely around Amsterdam, make sure to take a look at our list of 12 lesser-known places to see, too.
Amsterdam needs no introduction: Even if you haven't been to this European capital (yet), you know about its appealing quirks—think historic canals, stunning architecture, an established counterculture, and world-class museums aplenty. And while a boat ride and a visit to the Anne Frank House are likely on any first-timer's agenda, we'd also suggest roaming the city's lesser-known neighborhoods for their quaint shops and quiet restaurants.
Haarlem is often referred to as a haven for artists, and as it's only a 15-minute train ride away from Amsterdam, it's a great place to stay while you're visiting. While you could wander around this city's many exhibits for hours on end, there's another type of beauty to get a glimpse of: Haarlem is set in the Flower Bulb region of the country, and its famous tulip fields are just beyond its narrow streets—definitely get on a bike and go see them.
Springtime is obviously an ideal time to visit the Netherlands since that's when the famous tulips blossom. And if you time it right, a visit to Lisse and Keukenhof, otherwise known as the "Garden of Europe," may be the best part of your trip. Its varying landscapes are set on what was once 15th-century hunting grounds, and they're open from the end of March until middle of May. We think the best time to go is at the end of April—that way you can witness the annual flower parade.
If you haven't already noticed, ceramics have made quite the comeback lately. And there's no better place to revel in finding a beautiful piece of pottery quite like Delft, which is famous for creating stunning blue-and-white breakables of any shape and size. While you're here, be sure to stop at Royal Delft, a shop and museum established in 1653 that's known for its hand-painted collections that are worth shipping home.
While most of us plan trips around stunning locations, many of us would also agree that a certain food is worthy of a day trip: cheese. And lucky for us, Gouda meets both requirements. This city hosts a namesake market on Thursdays between April and August where you can find locals dressed in traditional costumes carrying loads of this golden dairy product on wagons. Gouda also has its share of historic architecture—including its city hall and the Sint Janskerk church—so you'll have much more to do than eat.
What's one architectural sight that's distinctly Dutch? If you guessed "a windmill," then you'd be right. But Kinderdijk doesn't just have one measly windmill to pique your interest. Its collection of 19 structures were built in the 18th century, and their presence gives an undeniable majesty to the warm shades of the surrounding wetlands. Ride a bicycle at this UNESCO World Heritage Site for a perfect Instagram, and make sure to stop by the Museum Mill Nederwaard to see how one works.
Windmills aren't the only fantasy-like features that that Netherlands have to offer. Giethoorn is known for its homes covered in thatched roofs, which line neighborhoods separated on small islands along a maze of quiet canals. See it all for yourself on a walk across its dozens of bridges, or better yet, get to know "the Venice of Holland" by boat.
Although the history of Rotterdam goes all the way back to 1270, there's much about this city that's unmistakably new. For one, it has skyscrapers—a rarity in the Netherlands—as well as an ever-changing cultural scene. That blend of modern attitudes mixes with the rest of Rotterdam's storied maritime past for a setting that's uniquely engaging. Our vote? The Market Hall for food and shopping.
Since there are about 50,000 university students in the city of Groningen, you'd be correct to guess that there's a lot of activity here. Ongoing cultural events and bars are crowded with youth, as are its waterside streets and bike lanes. It's fun to mix in with the coeds while you're here. Spend an afternoon at Grote Markt and visit Three Sisters, a perennial student favorite for all-day food.
Speaking of students, Leiden is home to the Netherlands' oldest university, which has a botanical garden responsible for introducing the tulip to Western Europe. Cool, right? Well, that isn't what this city is most famous for. Leiden is Rembrandt's birthplace, and while his masterpieces are usually found inside Museum de Lakenhal, it's closed until 2019. The good news? You can still discover Rembrandt's old stomping grounds by visiting the Burcht van Leiden and the Zijlpoort gate.
If you're bummed that you went all the way to Rembrandt's birthplace and didn't see his art, head to the Hague to view his most famous pieces at the Mauritshuis. As the Netherlands' center of government and home of the royals, the area is home to plenty of imposing embassies and wide boulevards sure to catch your eye. Once you get your fill of the city's pomp, escape to Scheveningen's sandy beaches and pier for more casual fun.
Even though Breda is considered one of the most buzzed-about locales in the country as of late, many of its buildings have been standing since medieval times. In other words, just riding through its streets—especially through its main square to stare up at Grote Kerk (“Church of Our Lady”)—is a satisfying activity in itself. But we also recommend stopping by the Beer Advertising Museum for its antique enamel signs and posters.
As with other places in the Netherlands, there are plenty of students, bicycles, and canals in Utrecht. But here's what we like about this historic city in particular: Its architecture embraces its past—especially the Gothic-style Dom Tower—but it's also looking toward its future. Be sure to check out the Gerrit Rietveld collection at the Centraal Museum before exploring Utrecht's many quirky cafés.
See? We told you there's so much more to the Netherlands than you thought.