The Netherlands may be known as the country where you can enjoy the tulips (when in season), buy a pair of wooden clogs, and admire a canal or two, but it’s full of surprises. From a desert (known as the Brabant Sahara) and a safari park, to architectural tours and museums steeped in history, these are the best things you can do to make the most of your trip to the Netherlands.
Swing Off the A'DAM Tower
You can spend a whole afternoon at the A'DAM tower, which is a free ferry ride away from Amsterdam's Central Station. Along with a restaurant, hotel, and nightclub there is an observation deck called the A'DAM Lookout with panoramic views of the city. For thrill seekers there is a, now iconic, red swing that sends riders flying off the edge of the building. Just don’t look down.
See the Tulips at Keukenhof
Every March and April, Keukenhof opens its doors to visitors who want to bask in the beauty of over 7 million tulips and other colorful flowers in bloom. If you are in the country during tulip season, then this is not to be missed. You can explore the park on foot or by boat and there is a petting zoo, maze, and playground to keep kids amused. Want to enjoy a quieter experience? Head to Keukenhof Monday to Wednesday, visit before 10:30 a.m., or after 4:30 p.m. to avoid crowds.
Situated off the coast of Durgerdam, north of Amsterdam, is Vuurtoreneiland (Lighthouse island in English). The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can visit all year-round via boat for a five-course meal of local, seasonal food. In the summer, you eat in nature in a bright and airy glasshouse. Come winter, everyone heads to a cozy restaurant with fires and blankets. Before or after the meal, take a walk around the island. To get to there, you'll meet at the Lloyd Hotel promptly at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Be sure to book early as the experience gets booked up, sometimes months in advance.
Visit the Windmills at Zaanse Schans
Want a truly Dutch experience? Head to Zaanse Schans, where you can see the iconic windmills, discover the history of the area at the museum and see how clogs, cheese, chocolate, and more have been made for hundreds of years.
Explore the Canals in Amsterdam
A trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without a trip by boat through the many canals. Avoid the bigger boats and look to the smaller, themed boats that cruise along the waters like the Damrak gin boat or G’s brunch boat. The Flagship, that picks up outside the Anne Frank House offers an hour-long cruise during which the crew share secrets about the city and you have the chance to buy a soft drink, beer, or wine.
If you'd like to drive a boat yourself, consider renting an small, electric Mokumboat for a couple hours. The boats are pretty easy to steer around the canals. When you collect it and pay a deposit, you will be shown how to work it. You'll also get a map to help you navigate the waterways.
Take a Trip to Drunen National Park
The Dunes of Loon in the Drunen National Park, is the Netherland’s very own desert, known as the Brabant Sahara. The 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) of shifting sands are beautiful to explore, whether you travel by foot, bicycle, or try your hand at horse riding. You can also head to the nearby De Brand forest and meadows which are beautiful, especially during the fall.
Tour the Anne Frank House
If you’re interested in the history of World War II and the tragic story of Anne Frank, then it’s worth visiting the Anne Frank House, where the young girl spent two years in hiding with her family. The house at 263 Prinsengracht has an exhibition about the persecution of the Jews during the war, alongside Frank’s original diary. The museum is only accessible with pre-paid tickets that are bought online, be sure to book in advance.
Head to Muiderslot, a Medieval Castle
Muiderslot is arguably one of the most beautiful castles in the Netherlands. Marvel at the medieval armor and 17th-century paintings on display during a guided tour. After the tour, head beyond the moat to explore the gardens, meet a falconer and birds of prey you can get up close to, and have a bite to eat at the cafe. Be sure to check the agenda before you visit as there are often events taking place at the castle.
The Netherlands is known for its cheese, a visit to the historic cheese market in Gouda is a must. Every Thursday morning, from April to August, you’ll find a bustling cheese market where traders and farmers still seal a deal by clapping hands. There are stalls selling other regional produce, and craft stalls pop up from the end of June onwards. In the afternoon, you can take a boat trip through the canals or visit the famous Syrup Waffle Factory for some delicious stroopwafels.
Take in the Art at Museumplein
The Museumplein in Amsterdam is home to the enormous Rijksmuseum, where you can see works by Rembrandt; the Van Gogh museum, which guides you through his body of work from the earliest to some of his most iconic paintings; and the Steidlijk, a modern design museum with works by Picasso, Chagall and more.
You have to book a slot in advance at the Van Gogh museum, to guarantee entry. Get yourself an I amsterdam City Card (60 euros for 24 hours), and you’ll be able to visit all the museums for free.
Explore the Country by Bike
Whether you’re staying in one of the cities or visiting the countryside, hire a bike and travel like a local. The Netherlands has more bikes than people and it’s one of the safest places in the world to ride a bike, with plenty of dedicated cycle lanes and car drivers that understand the cyclist's point of view. Keep to the right of the cycle lanes or roads and don’t be afraid to use your bell if you need to get pedestrians’ or other cyclists’ attention.
The Fietsersbond website is a good place to start if you want to find a hire bike in the Netherlands.
Feel Like a Giant at Madurodam
Dutch people tend to be quite tall, so if you’re feeling a little small head to Madurodam, a miniature village, where everyone feels like a giant. From canals and windmills to palaces and even the Rijksmuseum, you can explore the Netherlands at a 1:25 scale. The models are exact replicas of the real world counterparts and are even beautifully decorated inside. Madurodam is 45 minutes from Amsterdam, 25 minutes from Rotterdam, and makes for a fun, if slightly bizarre, day out.
Go on Safari near Tilburg
From giraffes and gorillas to lions and elephants, you can see them all on a safari in the Netherlands. Yes, really. At Beekse Bergen, near Tilburg, you can travel around in your car, by boat, bus or take a game drive. There is also a 2.1-mile (3.5-kilometer) walking route. The park is open all year, but April to October is when you will see most animals. If you want to extend your visit in Beekse Bergen, there are lodges and treehouses you can stay in.
Love architecture? The Netherlands has many unusual, modern buildings, and a great way to learn more about them is through an architecture tour. The Architecture Tour company organizes specialized tours led by architects. Rotterdam is an obvious choice, since it’s known for its quirky designs like the striking Cube Houses, but tours are also held in Amsterdam, Ijburg, and the Hague, among others. You can also book a sustainable architecture tour or a Best of Dutch tour.
Drink Beer at the Heineken Brewery
The Netherlands is famous for its beer and it doesn’t get more well known than Heineken. The old brewery, now the Heineken Experience museum, is situated in the center of Amsterdam. Once inside, the ticket price gets you a 90-minute self-guided tour and two Heinekens at the Best ‘Dam Bar. Or you can upgrade to the VIP 2.5-hour tour, where a guide will take you behind the scenes and to a hidden bar where you can enjoy five beers and bar snacks. On top of all that, you get a personalized beer bottle to take home.
Enjoy the Views From Euromast, Rotterdam
From coffee on the ground floor to a 360-degree tour at the top, there is plenty to do at Euromast. The tower was built in the 1960s to celebrate the Floriade, an international flower and garden exhibition, which took place in Rotterdam. The tower was originally 367 feet (112 meters) high but the addition of the Euroscoop—a rotating, glass elevator—means it now stands at 606 feet (185 meters) tall. It’s part of the World Federation of Great Towers (WFGT), which also includes the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building.
The island of Texel is a foodie’s dream. From famous Texel lamb and fresh asparagus to incredible oysters and beer, Texel has natural, sustainable, and very fresh produce. Head to the Michelin-starred Bij Jef for a meal using local ingredients. Pakhuus has a menu built around the fish and shellfish caught in the North and Wadden Sea. After a great meal, head to the Texel Brewery to sample the local beer.
If you love wildlife, you can take a half- or full-day safari tour from Amsterdam north to Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There you can spot grey seals, harbour seals, and many different species of birds. The half-day tour takes 7 hours and makes a stop at the historic village of Medemblik, where you can see the windmill, castle, brewery, and grab a bite to eat. The full-day tour, which is 12 hours long, incorporates a visit to Schiermonnikoog island, plus you get a meal with a catch of the day or organic meat served on board the ship (weather permitting).