INSPIRING TOUR OF 7 DUTCH CITIES (OTHER THAN AMSTERDAM)
When people think of visiting the Netherlands, Amsterdam is the city that often first comes to mind. But while Amsterdam is definitely a fantastic place to visit with lots to do and see, it is only one of several cities and towns in this small yet culturally rich country that offers travelers a chance to broaden their horizons. Because the Netherlands is a relatively compact country, you can easily explore many of its attractions in about a week. For your convenience and pleasure, we have provided you with a selection of the 7 best cities to visit in the Netherlands (besides Amsterdam), ordered from nearest to farthest from the country's capital. Each can be reached with an Amsterdam rental car in less than 2 hours; some are even under an hour's drive from the city.
You can pick and choose which you would like to visit during your stay in Amsterdam, or make a road trip and stay in each for a night. We have great rates on one-way car rentals in Amsterdam so our customers can see more during their time abroad. If you like, you can even make one of these cities your home base as you explore the country. Read on to learn more about each of these unique and fascinating cities!
The closest city to Amsterdam on our list at only 13 miles' distance, Haarlem offers travelers the feel of staying in Amsterdam without the crowd and bustle. To reach Haarlem from Amsterdam, take the N200 west out of the city.
Like Amsterdam, Haarlem has a tortuous canal system that gives travelers a unique way to explore the city. You can view the local art displayed throughout the city from the comfort of a canal boat as you lazily make your way past the intermingled medieval and modern buildings throughout the city. Night tours by candlelight are also available for those who want to see a different side of Haarlem.
While in Haarlem, be sure to visit the Town Hall, which was built in the 14th century and still serves as the seat of local government. Inside this beautiful building, travelers can view many pieces of art and historical objects that show the country's storied past. Another notable historical site in Haarlem is the Cathedral of St. Bavo. This late 19th to the early 20th-century cathedral stands imposingly at the center of the city and serves as the main place of worship for Roman Catholics in Haarlem today.
The Frans Hals Museum is also worth a visit. Here travelers can view the art of Jan van Goyen, whose landscape paintings were known and imitated throughout the country in the 17th century. Many of his scenes come from areas nearby that you can visit. Particularly beautiful are his paintings that depict the flowers that have made the Netherlands so famous.
Up next is the city of Utrecht. This old city (dating back to the time of the Romans) is only 27 miles from Amsterdam, so travelers can be sure that they are close enough for an easy drive to the capital city, yet far enough away to avoid other tourists. To reach Utrecht from Amsterdam, take the A2 and exit onto the N230 toward Utrecht.
For a long time now, Utrecht has been considered the religious center of the Netherlands. St. Catherine's Convent, originally built in the 16th century as a monastic building for the Order of the Knights of St. John, is noteworthy for many reasons. Named after St. Catherine of Alexandria, the rooms of the convent have served as military accommodations, a place for student club gatherings, a school gymnasium, and even a teaching hospital, the first of its kind in Utrecht. Today, the convent houses the Museum Catharijneconvent, where visitors can come and view historical artifacts and art pieces from the medieval period to the 21st century.
Utrecht is second only to Amsterdam in terms of cultural value. There are numerous theatres and music halls throughout the city that give visitors a chance to see some of the country's best performers put on plays and shows. Architecturally, Utrecht has a rich mixture of the old and the new. While buildings are known to date back to the Middle Ages, many modern styles can also be seen throughout the city. Of particular importance for the modern end is the Rietveld Schröder House, which was designed by the famed Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, who built the house in 1924. Amazing to behold both inside and out, this architectural anomaly features a changeable interior space with movable walls and room dividers. Some rooms can also be converted from indoor areas to outdoor spaces. Other sites of interest lie outside the city, including several castles and natural landmarks.
About the same distance from the capital of the Netherlands as Utrecht, Leiden is situated almost 27 miles to the southwest of Amsterdam. This small city still has much of its 17th-century architecture, its town center having fewer buildings from the 1600s than only Amsterdam. You can get to Leiden by driving on the A4 and following signs to the city.
The Valk Windmill Museum is worth a visit if you would like to learn a bit more about the history of these Dutch industrial innovations. The city is also home to the country's oldest university, the University of Leiden, which counts among its alumni Albert Einstein, John Quincy Adams, and René Descartes. Because of the university population, the nightlife in Leiden has a bit more to offer travelers, almost rivaling that of Amsterdam.
The Botanical Gardens at Leiden put the city on the map as one of the main stops along the Bloemen Route, Holland's premier travel route along the vast fields of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils that are planted annually and bloom every spring, peaking around the months of April and May. The garden began as the private garden of Carolus Clusius - one of the most renowned botanists of the 16th century - who brought with him to the city tulip bulbs, which remain a commonplace today (though the variety of color that they offered sight-seers then as well as today is anything but common). Travelers interested in American history will find the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum a fascinating diversion. Here visitors can learn a bit more about the heritage of some of America's first settlers.
The Hague, only 37 miles from Amsterdam, serves as the official seat of government for the Netherlands, making it one of the country's most politically important cities. You can arrive at The Hague by taking the A4 from Amsterdam.
With a history that stretches back to about 1230, The Hague has quite a lot for travelers to see and do when they visit. Since the Second World War, The Hague has grown to become an international city, home to the United Nations and other world organizations. Because the history and bustling atmosphere of the city can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, visitors should consider taking one of the many guided tours available in the city. You are sure to see The Hague differently with a knowledgeable guide at your disposal.
The Binnenhof at the center of the city is a sight you won't want to miss. Here resides the Ridderzaal, or Great Hall, which, over the centuries, has served a surprising variety of purposes. Since the 13th century, it has been used as a manorial hall, a hospital ward, and, more recently, a public records office, to name just a few examples. Its impressive Gothic spires, vaulted ceiling, and pointed arches are sure to please as well as provide ample opportunities for photographic evidence of your trip. The Hofvijver, or Court Pond, provides the center around which the city has grown since its inception all those centuries ago. Travelers can take a walk along its banks and see the various water birds that hunt and nest in the pond's shallow blue waters.
Many museums can be perused in the city, as well, though the premier museum is the Mauritshuis Museum, where visitors can view some of the best works of Rembrandt and Hans Holbein, among other artists. If you have time, make sure to check out Madurodam, a 1:25 scale replica of The Hague. It's a fun place to visit that can take an entire day in itself to fully appreciate.
Just south of The Hague and 39 miles from Amsterdam, Delft is another historically and culturally rich city from which you can base your travels through the countryside of the Netherlands. Take the A4 to go to and from Amsterdam.
As a city that grew up around a complex canal system like many Dutch cities, the name Delft -- which derives from the Dutch for "delving" - is a fitting one. Many beautiful medieval buildings survive in Delft: Oude Kerk (the Old Church), Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church), Oostport (the Eastern Gate), and the Prinsenhof (the Princes' Court) are each worth more than just a few moments' visits. Just to the east of Delft, there is also a large nature preserve area, Delftse Hout (Delft Wood), where visitors can go hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. Delftse Hout also sits near a lake where visitors can swim and windsurf.
Gouda, famous today for the cheese named after it, lies 45 miles to the southwest of Amsterdam. Take the A12 via the A2 to reach the city from Amsterdam.
Founded in the Middle Ages by the Van der Goude family, Gouda holds some of the best attractions in the Netherlands. The Old City Hall, or Stadhuis, built in the mid-15th century, is one of the oldest Gothic city halls in the country. Sint Janskerk (Church of St. John) is the longest church in the Netherlands and is famed for its gorgeous stained glass windows, which have been attracting tourists since the 17th century.
The weigh house - Waag in Dutch - was built in 1667 and was used to weigh goods that were being sent to the market (yes, a lot of cheese was weighed here). The cheese museum inside the Waag makes for a memorable afternoon. If you're in town on a Thursday during the summer months, you can even take part in the Kaasmarkt. This cheese market features farmers weighing and selling their products. If you want to take a break from all the excitement and grab a bite to eat, make sure you try a crispy Dutch stroopwafel, a Gouda original that finds its way to us from the 18th century.
One of the oldest, if not the oldest city in the Netherlands, Maastricht has been continually inhabited since the time of the Roman Empire. Though it is the farthest city from Amsterdam on our list, it is still only 130 miles away, about a 2-hour drive without traffic. You can drive to Maastricht by taking the A2 out of Amsterdam.
During the early Middle Ages, Maastricht was a center of trade and commerce for the Carolingian Empire. The Romanesque Basilica of Saint Servatius and the Gothic Sint-Janskerk offer travelers glimpses into two very different periods of the medieval era. Many of the city's medieval fortifications are still standing, including some remnants of the medieval wall, the Helpoort (Hell's Gate), and the Waterpoortje (Little Water Gate), which show the lengths that the people of the Middle Ages had to go to for security and peace of mind.
The Meuse River splits the city in two, giving visitors the opportunity to see the city from the deck of a riverboat. The Binnenstad, an inner-city district, is a great place to peruse shops and dine. Here the Vrijthof - Maastricht's main city square - adds a bustling and cheerful flavor to the surrounding somber architecture. You will never run out of things to do in Maastricht, which, like Amsterdam, is constantly growing to suit its inhabitants' needs.
Whether you're looking for a thriving metropolis, a historical nexus, or a quaint and quiet haven to base your trip to the Netherlands from, one of the cities that we have covered here is sure to meet your needs. Each of these cities is worth a full week of exploration, though because the country is so compact, you can easily visit all 7 and still have a day to spare for a trip to Amsterdam. For this reason, it is best to have your own transportation, because that way you can set your own pace and follow your own schedule, taking spur-of-the-moment detours along the way. Try staying in one of these cities to experience a side of the Netherlands rarely seen by the average tourist.