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Top 11 Cities in the Netherlands – A Local’s Guide
Are you looking for the best cities in the Netherlands to visit? Then I’ve got you covered!
The Netherlands is a great country to visit, and it is so much more than just Amsterdam.
A long history in maritime trade has influenced many Netherlands cities. You can see it in the architecture, but also in the beautiful rivers and canals flowing through the city centers.
When traveling from abroad, it can be hard to choose which Dutch cities are nice to visit. I moved to the Netherlands three years ago, and have seen my fair share of places. To make the choice a bit easier for you, I have created this guide to the Netherlands’ best cities, so you can find the perfect one for your visit!
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Amsterdam is one of the most famous cities in the Netherlands, and for good reason.
The beautiful buildings alongside the canals are gorgeous and definitely worth an Instagram picture.
The city is perfect for boat rides or just strolling alongside the canals. The Dutch architecture in Amsterdam is quite unique. Amsterdam feels like you’re stepping back in time when the big houses on the river were still used as warehouses for trade. You can see little hooks at the top of every building, that were used to transport goods up and down.
Amsterdam is also a great place for art enthusiasts. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum are must-visits but make sure to book your tickets far in advance.
My favorite Amsterdam museum is the Anne Frank House. It offers a really great and insightful experience, though it can be a bit hard to see.
From sweet stroopwafels to Vlaamse friet (french fries) Amsterdam has amazing food. Sadly, some of the coffee shops sell a lot more than just coffee, which taints the vibe of the city a bit.
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2. The Hague
The Hague is my personal favorite city in the Netherlands. Mainly because the Hague is not as touristy as Amsterdam.
But the city has its own cool vibe. The Hague is the political heart of the Netherlands, so you’ll find lots of government buildings, the royal residence of Huis ten Bosch Palace, and the International Court of Justice at the aptly named Peace Palace.
You must visit the Mauritshuis Museum and see the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring masterpiece by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated around 1665.
A big reason why The Hague is a great Dutch city is because it is located on the beach. The beach in Scheveningen is amazing, with a huge pier and a fun Ferris wheel.
The Hague is a nice, clean, and orderly city that you can easily walk around in. The history and culture represented in The Hague also make it worth a visit.
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Rotterdam is another great city in the Netherlands, but it is a bit different than Amsterdam and The Hague.
In the Second World War, Rotterdam was bombed heavily. So many parts of the city are relatively new and fancy. It is all modern glass buildings, instead of old warehouses.
The Cube Houses and the Erasmus Bridge are my favorite spots in Rotterdam. The Markthal is another great spot to check out, it is an insanely cool street food market in a tunnel.
Rotterdam is also famous for its port. You can tour it and see big cruise ships and heavy container vessels come in and out.
Rotterdam has a reputation for being more dangerous than other Dutch cities, so keep that in mind while visiting.
Groningen is a university city, so it’s got lots of younger people and great energy. It is a bit off-the-beaten-track but worth a visit nonetheless.
The Martini Tower is the city’s biggest landmark. You can climb it for awesome views and then visit the Groninger Museum, one of the best modern art museums in the Netherlands.
The city center is packed with cute cafés and bars. You can enjoy some wine and cheese tasting while you are in Groningen. The inner city is great for people-watching or just hanging out.
Groningen is not too big, so it is very walkable. You can head over to the Stadspark and spend a lovely afternoon there.
The city is a lot less touristy than other Dutch cities, so it is definitely a great place to visit for a more authentic feel.
Also in the north of the Netherlands, you can find another great city to visit, Leeuwarden.
Leeuwarden is the capital city of Friesland, and it is quite unique. Leeuwarden is a smaller, more authentic version of Amsterdam.
Beautiful canals, impressive parks, and lots of museums, restaurants, and cafés make Leeuwarden so special. The Friesmuseum and the Prinsentuin are my favorite spots in the city. And a visit to the leaning tower of Leeuwarden, the Oldehove, is also mandatory.
It is not very touristy, which makes it a great spot for people who want to visit a typical Dutch city without all the visitors of Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Since Leeuwarden is a bit outside the metropolitan area, make sure to plan for a weekend trip to fully enjoy the city. You can even take a ferry to the nearby island of Ameland and enjoy endless white-sandy beaches.
Eindhoven is a Dutch city that has become famous for tech and design with the Philips Innovation Hub located in the heart of BrainPort, the center for technology-enabled innovation in the Netherlands. You can also visit the Philips Museum in the center of Eindhoven which showcases their heritage and early products, including the first lightbulb which was invented here in 1891!
Eindhoven is covered in greens and florals, it seems to be the city’s unofficial motto. From houses covered in plants to cafés with lots of flowers, Eindhoven has got you covered.
One of my favorite things in Eindhoven is the street food. There are many market stalls and other street-food markets, like the Down Town Gourmet Market, that you can visit for both Dutch and international cuisine.
The city is not typically Dutch, there is no quintessential Dutch city center with a river, warehouses, and Dutch gable buildings. But Eindhoven is worth a visit nonetheless.
Not too far from Eindhoven, you can find the city of Maastricht. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands.
The river flowing through the city is called Maas. From the Sint Pietersberg hill, you can have an amazing view of the city and the river.
Maastricht is also not your typical Dutch city. It’s in the south of the country, so the vibe is more Belgian.
The Vrijthof Square is the most popular in the city. There are cute cafés and typical Dutch terraces.
A top attraction in Maastricht is the underground Kazematten tunnels and the Caves of Maastricht. The latter were used to hide valuable paintings and armaments, including 30 tanks, and provided shelter for citizens during WWII.
Among the paintings hidden in the caves during WWII was The Night Watch by the painter, draftsman, and etcher, Rembrandt van Rijn, who is regarded as the greatest artist of the Netherlands (or Holland as it was known then) Golden Age.
Maastricht is famous for shopping with lots of independent boutiques and antique shops. You can find some real treasures to remind you of your Netherlands trip.
One of my favorite cities in the Netherlands is Delft.
Delft is super picturesque and a lot more calm than Amsterdam. The canals that ring the city are framed by typical Dutch warehouses as well.
The architecture in Delft is mostly from the 17th century and the old buildings definitely add to the charm of the city.
Great places to see in Delft are the Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk – the old and new churches. The Nieuwe Kerk even has a tower you can climb for a great view of the city.
Lastly, you need to visit the Royal Delft factory. They make the famous Delftware pottery, which is typically blue and white, with the authentic ceramics being hand painted. Most Dutch families have a piece or two at home.
Alkmaar is one of the best, yet most underrated cities in the Netherlands.
Alkmaar is the capital city of Dutch cheese, with Gouda being its most famous. If you’re there between April and September, you’ve got to check out the Cheese Market on the Waagplein. People wear traditional outfits and celebrate cheese together, which is a real spectacle.
Alkmaar also has these typical Dutch canals lined with historic buildings. The city is great for some Instagram-worthy pictures.
The Stedelijk Museum is a great place to visit if you are interested in some culture and history. They even have some windmill art there.
Besides all the cheese, Alkmaar has some pretty good restaurants you need to try on your visit.
Haarlem is another smaller and cuter version of Amsterdam. It is way less touristy but still loaded with charm.
Haarlem is only a short train ride from Amsterdam, so it’s super easy to get to making it one of the best city day trips from the capital city.
The Grote Markt square is one of the highlights of the town. It is surrounded by historic buildings like the De Grote of St. Bavokerk, a former Catholic cathedral and now a Reformed Protestant church.
The Teylers Museum, the first and oldest museum in the Netherlands, the Frans Hals Museum of Art, and the Corrie ten Boom House, a museum dedicated to The Hiding Place, the subject of a book by Corrie ten Boom, are all interesting to visit as well.
Especially in Spring, Haarlem is a nice place to be. They also celebrate the Tulip Festival each year, in a more relaxed environment than Amsterdam.
Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, is often considered the cozier alternative to Amsterdam.
The city boasts stunning canals and parks, fascinating museums, and remarkable historical buildings and its large student population makes Utrecht a budget-friendly option.
Climbing the 465 steps of the Dom Tower in the historic old town is a must-do activity, offering a spectacular view from the top, and for a truly unforgettable experience, paddle through the canals in a canoe to marvel at the historical canal houses, vaulted cellars, and charming restaurants, cafés and bars which line the waterways.
The city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, known colloquially as Den Bosch boasts a rich history, with numerous historical buildings and monuments showcasing a diverse range of architectural styles, including Gothic, Romanesque, neo-Gothic, and Dutch Classicism.
Den Bosch has a unique atmosphere, making it a wonderful place to explore, shop and eat.
Highlights are the 17th century city walls, the Gothic St. Janskathedraal, the Stedelijk Museum, which focuses on modern art and design, and the Carnavalsmuseum.
An absolute must is the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, where you will learn everything about the fantastical 16th century artist.
Make sure to try ‘Bossche Bol’, a large pastry ball filled with whipped cream and coated with delicious chocolate. This sweet treat, named after the city, is typically enjoyed with a cup of coffee as a mid-day snack.
What Makes Cities in the Netherlands so Special?
Compared to many other international big cities, Dutch cities have a lot of charm. Smaller, walkable city centers invite tourists to stroll around and enjoy sitting outside on the terraces.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of Dutch cities have a long history of marine trading. This means canals in the city centers and usually a building called De Waag, or weight house. That building used to be the hotspot in every city, where the cheese and other goods were being weighed.
Nowadays they have often been converted into eateries and you will see inviting cafés and bars on market squares and cobbled streets, and canals with tables alongside offering the perfect view.
Most Dutch cities are not filled with skyscrapers, but rather historic architecture in a beautiful setting. Most business districts are far outside the cities, which is why the city centers are so delightful.
Another great feature of Dutch cities is that they are all close to each other. Great public transport connects all cities in the Netherlands, and many of the Netherlands’ cities are a 30 minute train ride apart or less, so you can see more of the Netherlands on your visit!
What is the Best Time to Visit Cities in the Netherlands?
The best time for a city trip in the Netherlands really depends on your preferences and what you expect.
If you love flowers and don’t mind all the crowds, April and May are a great time to visit. Every year at the end of March, the Amsterdam Tulip Festival starts. You can see lovely flower fields, parades, and festivals. It is my favorite time to visit. The weather is unpredictable, so it might also be quite cold, windy, and rainy.
Summer is a great time to visit the Netherlands if you love outdoor activities. Boat rides, beach trips, and open-air festivals are waiting for you. Summer is peak tourist season, so things can get busy. The weather in summer in the Netherlands is usually nice, but it can get quite hot and humid.
Fall is my second favorite time to visit the Netherlands. It is less crowded, and there is still nice weather in September and October. The leaves changing color adds a whole different vibe to the cities. Also, the Dutch colonial-style buildings have a certain charm on gloomy fall days that are perfect for grabbing a pumpkin-spiced latte and cozying up in one of the many cafés.
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Winter has its own magic. Amsterdam’s canals can freeze over, and you might even skate on them as you enjoy the annual Light Festival. Christmas markets pop up in several cities, and they’re just delightful. Sadly, Dutch winters are kind of dreary after Christmas. Think of a lot of fog and rain and cold.
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Conclusion: Best Cities in the Netherlands
In this post, I have told you about my favorite cities in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is a visitor’s favorite and leads the rankings with its many top tourist attractions.
The Hague is just as charming as Amsterdam, but a lot quieter and cleaner. Rotterdam is the modern metropolis of the Netherlands, all glass buildings and skyscrapers.
But also far north you can find amazing cities that are worth visiting, such as Groningen and Leeuwarden.
Delft, Maastricht, and Eindhoven are also great Dutch cities to visit, all of them with their unique charm and features.
One thing most Dutch cities have in common is great restaurants with outdoor seating and a view of beautiful canals and colonial houses.
Lastly, we have discussed the best time to visit the Netherlands. For beautiful flowers and boat rides, you need to visit in spring or summer. This is the busiest season of the year.
Fall and winter have their own charm, and are a lot more quiet.
Whenever you choose to visit the top cities in the Netherlands, I can assure you of a great time.