Boasting some of Europe’s most stylish and cosmopolitan cities, along with many fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Netherlands is a very popular choice for people planning an unforgettable holiday with lots of things to see and do.
I lived one year in the Netherlads and I had the chance to discover lots of incredible places that make the perfect day trip for any traveler. Due to its long tradition of architectural innovation and artistic prowess, the main sights in the Netherlands are easily accessible no matter where you’re staying, thanks to the country’s excellent, well-maintained road network.
1. How to get around the Netherlands
One of the best ways to get around at your own pace is by car. Car rental is relatively cheap in the Netherlands and it’s the most comfortable option. I recommend Auto Europe – a company that’s been offering great prices and the best service since 1954.
With over 24,000 conveniently located pick-up points in more than 180 different countries (including the Netherlands), Auto Europe works very closely with all the world’s most renowned suppliers to guarantee its many customers around the globe the widest selection of vehicles at the cheapest rates.
Although the Netherlands is best visited by car, you have to be careful of trams and cyclists (who very often have right of way) when exploring larger towns and cities, because these are the preferred modes of transport for many of the local residents!
2. Amsterdam and day trips from Amsterdam
Hugely popular and a major draw for most visitors to the Netherlands, Amsterdam is the number one destination for the majority of tourists throughout the year. Many of its attractions are truly iconic (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, House of Anne Frank, etc) and its night-life, of course, is absolutely legendary.
With that said, the city is also the perfect base from where to explore the other parts of the country. Haarlem is a charming town conveniently situated close to some of the best beaches on the North Sea coast. Leiden is a prosperous place with an old university located about an hour’s drive south-west of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is also within close distance to many of the Netherlands’ most impressive bulb fields which come to life in spring when tulips of every conceivable colour burst into bloom. The most famous place to see the tulips is Keukenhof, an impressive garden whit millions of flowers.
Driving north from the city brings you to Den Helder, a bright airy town that lies at the northernmost point of the North Holland peninsula. Here you can hire a bicycle and enjoy an exhilarating ride along the dikes before dining el fresco on some of the freshest fish and seafood in the Netherlands.
En route to Den Helder, another popular stop is a visit to the bustling cheese market in Alkmaar. Held at the Waagplein, this very traditional market has been taking place from April until September for over four hundred years!
3. Rotterdam and day trips from Rotterdam
Occupying a strategic position in the south-western part of the country, at a point where the Rhine meets the North Sea, Rotterdam (the country’s second largest city) offers visitors a different type of vacaton experience.
The first thing to admire here is the old port area which is a vibrant tourism hub and has been tastefully restored to reflect its importance over the centuries. Rotterdam also boasts a wide variety of top attractions, including the pyramid-shaped Gemeente Bibliotheek (Public Library), Piet Blom’s Kijk-Kubus (Cube Houses) and the 600-foot-high Euromast from where visitors can enjoy the most breathtaking city views of the city.
But like Amsterdam, many of Rotterdam’s virtues lie in the city’s outer regions and are best reached by car. Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site features a series of beautifully preserved windmills (nineteen in total) dating from the mid-18 th century.
Besides all the natural beauty and pristine countryside that can be enjoyed around Rotterdam, the city is also perfectly placed for a short drive to The Hague, the country’s political capital and home to many magnificent buildings, including the Binnenhof – seat of the Dutch parliament.
Equally appealing and situated close to Rotterdam is the town of Delft, arguably the prettiest place in the whole of the Netherlands. Famous for its striking blue and white coloured pottery, Delft is also the resting place of William of Orange who bravely commanded the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish in the 16 th century.
4. Utrecht and day trips from Utrecht
The ancient city of Utrecht (the fourth-largest in the Netherlands after Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague) has a history stretching all the way back to Roman times. A thriving religious centre in the Middle Ages, many of its old monasteries and churches remain intact, including Utrecht’s stunning cathedral (known locally as the Domkerk) which was founded in the 13 th century.
The city is also bursting with cultural places in the form of several first-rate museums, such as the Museum Catharijneconvent (notable for its medieval art), Centraal Museum and the unmissable Nederlands Spoorweg-museum housed in a restored 19 th -century railway station.
There are also many places to see near Utrecht, like De Haar Castle (set in a sprawling park and gardens), the fascinating Waterline Museum and Utrechtse Heuvelrug, a spectacular national park covering more than 10,000 hectares.
Visitors to this lesser-known part of the country can certainly enjoy a very different kind of travelling experience, in a region located much further away from the North Sea that offers tourists quick access to the nation’s hinterland.
With low prices for car hire in the Netherlands, there’s nothing better than the thrill of a relaxing drive through the bulb fields and verdant landscapes of Utrecht’s environs, one of the most strikingly beautiful parts of western Europe.
5. Groningen and day trips from Groningen
For a real taste of the north, why not take a trip to Groningen, one of the country’s largest cities and a place with a style and grace of its own. Located in the heart of one of the most authentic and unspoilt parts of the Netherlands, Groningen is yet another Dutch city notable for its excellent museums.
Don’t miss the Groninger Museum (housed in a wonderful building designed by Alessandro Mendini) and the Northern Nautical Museum, aka Noordelijk Scheepsvaartmuseum, where visitors can step back in time and immerse themselves in the country’s shipping history. This charming city has rows of friendly, family-run boutiques standing side-by-side with high quality eateries and local pubs selling some of the tastiest craft beer in the country.
Another highlight for visitors spending time in this scenic part of the Netherlands is the chance to visit Lauwersmeer National Park, a vast area of picturesque countryside integrated within the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area. Besides appreciating the park’s rare flora and fauna, locals and tourists alike flock here in summer to take advantage of the many sports and recreational activities on offer, including sailing, canoeing, surfing, kite-surfing and swimming.
6. The South – another incredible places in the Netherlands
Often overlooked but definitely well worth considering on your next trip to the Netherlands, Maastricht (on the country’s southern tip) is the ultimate day-trip destination for people staying in Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam.
An interesting fact for many visitors is the city’s unique geographical position with its limits sharing an international border with Belgium. Germany, likewise, lies just a few miles away, meaning that it’s perfectly possible to visit three countries in a single day!
Despite all its ancient history stretching back to Paleolithic times, modern Maastricht is a bustling cultural hub blessed with some of the best museums in the whole of the country, such as the Bonnefanten (where visitors can see world-class modern art) and the city’s superb Natural History Museum, which is housed in a former monastery.
Maastricht’s star attraction, however, is the stunning Illusions Museum (Museum van Illusies) which offers people of all ages an intriguing visual, sensory and educational experience through a vast assortment of holograms, puzzles, games and the amazing Vortex Tunnel. Don’t miss!
The Netherlands is an incredible country with lots of beautiful sights and cities to visit. I hope you enjoyed this idea of day trips. May the travel bug bite you!