16 Fun Things to Do in the Netherlands

16 Fun Things to Do in the Netherlands

From learning how beer is brewed to exploring Europe’s largest flower park, the Netherlands has plenty of interesting things for visitors to do.

With its picture-perfect scenery and unique cultural attractions, the Netherlands is the place to head to if you need some time to relax and unwind in Europe. The pace of life just feels more laid-back in this country in general, which is perfect for those seeking time away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Most tourists just head to the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, but there’s so much more to do all over the country. From visiting museums showcasing some of the best art you’ll find in Europe, to unique historical and cultural sites and, of course, sampling world-famous Dutch cheeses, here are 16 fun things to do in the Netherlands:

1. See Rembrandt’s works at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Image credit: Mister No

Over 2.2 million people visit the Rijksmuseum yearly to see works of art by famous Dutch artists, the most famous of them being Rembrandt. This national museum dedicated to art and history also showcases many cultural artefacts that explain more than 800 years of Dutch history. The monumental building is well worth visiting just to marvel at its exterior architecture as well.

Situated at Museumplein (Museum Square), the Rijksmuseum is near the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum, which showcase the works of famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and modern art respectively. The famous ‘I amsterdam’ sign also sits outside the Rijksmuseum, although it is constantly crowded with tourists trying to snap a photo with it.

2. Marvel at the beauty of the Keukenhof Gardens

Every spring, millions of Dutch tulips bloom in the Keukenhof Gardens, transforming the gardens into a spectacular tapestry of colour. Keukenhof Gardens is the largest and arguably the most famous flower park in the world. This stunning point of interest opens its doors for just two months a year, between the end of March and May. Here, you’ll find many stunning gardens featuring tulips planted in intricate patterns and varying colour schemes. Pack a picnic basket and bask in the cool spring air amongst the colourful fields.

If you want to explore the long tulip fields in the surrounding area of Lisse, you can rent bikes from the parking space just outside the park and embark on cycling trails, differentiated by their level of difficulty. Do note that these fields are planted by local farmers for their export businesses, and they may not be open to the public, so don’t trespass!

3. Cycle around the city of Amsterdam

things to do in netherlands

Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North”, and it’s not hard to see why. Its world-famous canal ring area, constructed in the 17th century, features more than 100 kilometres of canals and 1,281 bridges, thrice that of Venice! The canal ring area also features many monumental buildings and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, showing its historic importance.

Many tourists opt for canal cruises, but when in the Netherlands, why not do as the Dutch do and rent a bike to cycle along the canals? It might take a little getting used to, but as the country’s elevation is generally flat and there are dedicated cycling lanes everywhere, it should be an enjoyable experience that you can’t get elsewhere.

4. Learn how beer is brewed at the Heineken Experience

Image credit: Juan Salmoral

The Dutch love their beer, and their beverage of choice is Heineken beer. At the Heineken Experience, a visitor’s centre housed in their former brewery, you can learn more about the beer brewing process, as well as the history of how Heineken was branded and marketed to become the internationally-successful export it is today.

Entrance tickets cost 18 Euros (~S$28) and come with tickets for two beers that you can redeem once you’ve finished the tour at their rooftop bar. There’s nothing better than enjoying an ice-cold beer while looking out over the city of Amsterdam.

5. See the old windmills at Kinderdijk

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Near the village of Kinderdijk in the province of South Holland lies one of the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. With 19 of them in total, these windmills were built between 1738 and 1740 to pump water into a reservoir and keep the polders (low-lying tracts of land) dry. Some of these well-preserved windmills are still functional even until today, and the whole area was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

You can choose to walk or cycle through the route to see all 19 windmills or book a canal tour to see them via the water. Dining options nearby are limited, so pack a picnic lunch and sit by the riverside to enjoy your food. You’ll also see many Dutch families frolicking around when the weather is good, with several seizing the chance to swim in the river. Have a good day out with the family at this quintessentially Dutch attraction!

6. Hike through the Hoge Veluwe National Park

Image credit: Henk van Dillen

For something a little more off-the-beaten-track, why not visit the Hoge Veluwe National Park? It is the largest natural reserve in the country and is home to an abundance of wildlife including deer, wild boars, and mouflon (wild sheep). Bird-watchers should come during the winter when a variety of birds like marigold finches and titmice congregate in the park.

As with the rest of the Netherlands, the park is relatively flat. You can cycle and hike along its well-maintained trails and explore its diverse scenery, from dense forests to windswept sand dunes. Also, do visit the Kröller-Müller Museum, which houses the private art collection of Anton and Helene Kröller-Müller, the couple who opened the park. The museum includes the second-largest collection paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and also has a sculpture garden where you can appreciate art in a natural surrounding.

7. Revel in the grandeur of the Peace Palace

Located in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands, the Peace Palace currently houses the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial arm of the United Nations. This grand building has a long and storied history: Built in 1913, it has hosted many peace conferences since then and houses the largest collection of books on international law in their library, as well as an academy of international law.

To see the interior of the palace, you have to sign up for a guided tour, which costs 8.50 Euros (~S$13.50). You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but rest assured that you will be blown away by the intricate designs of the rooms and chambers within, which have also seen many renowned diplomats walk through its hallowed corridors.

8. Sample some Dutch street food

Image credits: (top left) Jocelyn & Cathy, (bottom left) Jos @ FPS-Groningen, (bottom right) Glen MacLarty

A common complaint amongst tourists and locals alike is that Dutch food is not very inspiring. However, there are some uniquely Dutch street foods that you can try while in the Netherlands. Bitterballen, frikandel and kroketten are meat-based fried snacks of varying shapes that you can enjoy while drinking an ice-cold beer at Dutch pubs. For the more adventurous foodie, you can try haring, which is brined raw herring served in a bun or eaten straight with chopped onions.

Those with a sweet tooth will rejoice as the Dutch don’t hold back with the desserts. Visit a food market to get a freshly-made stroopwafel, a waffle made with two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel filling, or get the ready-made versions in any supermarket. Another traditional Dutch treat is poffertjes, mini fluffy pancakes served with powdered sugar and butter. Get ready to feast to your heart’s content!

9. Visit the Gouda Cheese Market

things to do in netherlands

Image credit: bertknot

Gouda cheese is famous all over the world and is one of the Netherlands’ most popular exports. Step back in time into the city where it is made, Gouda, and visit the Gouda Cheese Market. The distinctive orange cheese wheels are delivered via horse and cart and stacked on the ground in front of the City Hall by the farmers. Traders will then walk around to look at their wares, choose which cheeses they want and haggle over the price, and finally seal the deal with a theatrical handshake.

The cheese market is held every Thursday morning between April and August, so plan your trip down accordingly! It is a sight steeped in tradition to witness for yourself.

10. Explore the West Frisian Islands

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The Frisian Islands — Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog — are a group of remote islands off the coast in the north of the Netherlands. The inhabitants of these islands speak the unique Frisian language but understand Dutch and English as well. Tourism is the main source of income for the locals on the island. During the summer, many locals from the mainland flock to the islands for a weekend trip to get away from city life.

Visit the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands, the Brandaris Tower, on Terschelling, or see the Texel Dunes National Park on Texel. There are also chartered trips to see seals off the coast. The main mode of transport on the islands is by bike, but be prepared for strong winds! If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, make the West Frisian Islands your next scenic getaway when you come to the Netherlands.

11. Celebrate King’s Day with the locals

things to do in netherlands

Image credit: Paula Abrahao

If you happen to be in the Netherlands on 27 April, you’re in for a treat! Every year, the Dutch break out their orange clothing and celebrate the national holiday of King’s Day, which marks the birth of King Willem-Alexander, the current Dutch monarch. Why orange? It is the colour of the Dutch royal family, who come from the House of Orange-Nassau. Wearing orange has since become a symbol of national pride and unity.

Many festivities happen on King’s Day. The Dutch hold a nationwide flea market called vrijmarkt, as it is the one day of the year the Dutch government permits sales on the street without a permit. Outdoor concerts are held in all major Dutch cities, while the streets and canals of Amsterdam are thronged with locals and tourists alike, who drink and make merry the whole day. Experience an occasion like no other on King’s Day!

12. See the modern architecture in Rotterdam

Rotterdam sticks out amongst the various cities in the Netherlands with its stunning and creative architectural marvels. As the city was almost entirely flattened during World War II, most of its buildings are modern creations, a stark contrast to the old and traditionally-styled buildings in other Dutch cities. The 808 metre-long Erasmus Bridge is the most distinctive landmark in Rotterdam, due to its 139 metre-high pylon, while the Maastoren twin skyscrapers are the tallest buildings in the Netherlands.

However, the US-inspired Witte Huis and Hotel New York, which were built in 1898 and 1917 respectively also serve as a reminder of how Rotterdam used to look like before it was bombed. Old sits among the new in this modern metropolis, and this is one place to visit for all architecture enthusiasts.

13. Visit the ‘Little Venice’ of Giethoorn

things to do in netherlands

Giethoorn is a small village in the province of Overijssel that has earned the nickname ‘Little Venice’, and it’s not hard to see why. This picturesque village features many pretty thatched-roof farmhouses, connected by wooden bridges, and the only mode of transport is via boats along its canals. Even the mailman delivers letters by boat!

There’s also a wide selection of cafes and restaurants in Giethoorn, including De Lindenhof, which has two Michelin stars. Can’t make it to Venice? Make a drive down to this quaint village and take in a spot of punting along its scenic canals!

14. See the medieval Kasteel De Haar

things to do in netherlands

If you’ve ever wanted to see a castle like those in fairy tales or old movies, why not visit Kasteel De Haar (also known as De Haar Castle)? The castle can trace its origins to 1391, but its current incarnation was the result of an 1892 restoration by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers. It is the largest castle in the Netherlands and sits just outside the city of Utrecht.

Designed in a neo-Gothic style, the castle has everything you expect from a traditional castle: imposing towers, pointy turrets, a large moat surrounding it, as well as gates and suspension bridges. Inside, there are many works of art donated by the wealthy Rothschild family, who funded the restoration of the castle. A visit to Kasteel De Haar will make you feel like you’re back in the glory days of early 20th century Europe.

15. (Hopefully don’t) get lost in the Maastricht Underground

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Step into dark caves and passages that were painstakingly hand-carved by miners in the Maastricht Underground. These caves once measured over 230km in length, and around 80km are still accessible today. Miners excavated this tunnel system over the past 1,000 years, and it was used as a refuge during wars and to store national art treasures.

You can take guided tours around the caves, where the guides will be able to tell you more about life in the caves as well as the history of the charcoal images that are inscribed on the walls. As the temperature in the caves drops to around 10°C, don’t forget to bring a warm coat!

16. Get an authentic Dutch experience at Madurodam

Image credit: Photo RNW.org

If you have no time to explore all of the Netherlands’ famous attractions, have no fear! Make a trip down to Madurodam, a miniature park in the Hague exhibiting a range of 1:25 scale model replicas of famous Dutch landmarks like the Rijksmuseum and the windmills at Kinderdijk. The park is also interactive in nature, for example, guests can help to ‘load’ containers onto a cargo ship in the miniature version of the Port of Rotterdam.

Digital screens throughout the park, as well as individual interactive touch screens for each visitor will tell you the stories behind each landmark. Revenue from the park goes to the Madurodam Support Fund Society, which benefits children in need, so why not make a trip down and have a great day out with the family and support a good cause at the same time?

You can travel from city to city in the Netherlands easily using their NS rail network and plan your trips using their website or dedicated app. For planning how to travel within the cities, use the 9292 website or app. Now that you’ve seen what the Netherlands has to offer, pack your bags and get going!

About Author

Isaac Neo
Isaac Neo

Isaac used to love airports, until he went on exchange and experienced one too many delays for his liking. He believes the best part of travelling is experiencing the local food, which explains his expanding waistline. When not at work, he can be found reading, watching football, or browsing the dankest memes.

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