The places you should be visiting in the Netherlands

The best alternatives to Amsterdam

Alternatives to Amsterdam

Whenever I tell people that I’m from the Netherlands, people often reply by saying that they’ve been to Amsterdam. Which is cool! Amsterdam has a lot to offer: the Anne Frank house, tons of art museums, a rich history, beautiful architecture, and lovely canals. However, it is also so very touristy and busy (not to mention the ever present smell of weed).

Amsterdam is a very popular destination for tourists. Personally though, I am not really a big fan of the city. Which mainly has to do with the characteristics I mentioned before: it’s absolutely packed with tourists and the smell of weed is incredibly hard to evade. A lot of people I talk to commonly mention two things when talking about Amsterdam: the Red Light District and weed. Which is a shame, because that’s not at all what the Netherlands (and our culture) is about. 

The Netherlands has many beautiful cities that have so much to offer. It’s almost a shame to limit your experience in the Netherlands to Amsterdam (and the above mentioned characteristics). Cities and things to do that, in my opinion, you should definitely consider when booking a trip to the Netherlands.


My favourite cities in the Netherlands:

1. Leiden

I might be a little biased here, because I lived and studied in Leiden. But if you want the canals and the beautiful houses along them (also known as ‘herenhuizen’), Leiden is the place for you! It’s much smaller than Amsterdam, and almost has that small town feel to it, in the sense that it makes you feel welcome right away  Map

2. Utrecht

Utrecht is quite similar to Leiden. It has the canals, the beautiful houses, but also the beautiful gothic Dom church, which should be way up on your list to visit! Make a visit to the botanic gardens, visit a museum, or one of the countless art galleries  Map

3. Delft

Another Dutch city that has as much to offer as Amsterdam in terms of canals, ‘herenhuizen’, and art galleries. I haven’t been here as many times as I should, but the times I’ve been I absolutely loved the look and feel of the city Map

4. Maastricht

Another beautiful city, with one of my favourite bookstores in the Netherlands: the Dominicanen bookstore. It’s a bookstore inside a church, and it’s an absolute dream for those who love history and reading (preferably both together at the same time) Map

 Also worth a mention and visit: The Hague, Nijmegen, Den Bosch

 Note: This list is not exhaustive, nor does it mention the more modern/industrial cities, like Rotterdam. I aimed to offer alternatives that are similar to Amsterdam. I personally love Rotterdam and would highly recommend a visit. It has a very industrial and modern look, and doesn’t have a lot of the typical canals and architecture (because the city was bombed during the Second World War). There are some though, if you you know where to look (askt the locals!)

Recommended things to do in Leiden, Utrecht, Delft, and Maastricht:


Close to Leiden there’s this little village called Kinderdijk. You can walk amidst the famous windmills that keep the land dry (as it is all below sea level). It’s rich with history, as it tells the story of the Low Countries, and how its people have worked with windmills to keep the water at bay. 

Museum of Ethnology

Called the museum of ‘Volkenkunde’ in Dutch, this museum is one of my favourites to date. It’s located in Leiden and has a standard exhibition as well as changing themed ones, making it very appealing to come back whenever a new exhibition starts.  

Dominicanen Bookstore

I mentioned it above already, but when in Maastricht you need to visit Dominicanen Bookstore. It is a bookstore in a gorgeous gothic church. For those among you who love history and books, it is an absolute must see!

Maastricht Underground

Maastricht has a very large network of historical caves and tunnels. In the past these tunnels were developed to defend the city and during WWII, they provided shelter from bombing raids. Some go on for kilometers and are most definitely worth a visit!


I’m not religious myself, but I love to visit churches as they show and tell so much about the history of a city. Go visit the Dom church in Utrecht, the ‘Oude’ and ‘Nieuwe’ church in Delft, or the Pieterskerk in Leiden. There’s plenty of them to go around, and all absolutely stunning inside.

Botanical Garden(s)

Leiden and Utrecht have beautiful botanical gardens that you shouldn’t hesitate to check out. I’m not sure about the other cities (if they have them I’ve not visited them myself). If you want to escape the city for a bit, botanical gardens are the place to go.

Disclaimer: I usually only share my own pictures, but since I no longer live in the Netherlands I opted to use photos (from Unsplash) by other talented photographers! Giving credit isn’t required, but I would like to do so anyways: Amsterdam canal photo by Adrien Olichon, Amsterdam bike photo by Tabea Damm, windmill photo by  Jean Carlo Emer, bookshelves photo by Annie Sprat, church photo by Derek Story, museum photo by Nicole Baster, underground cave photo by Luis Vidal, and leaf photo by Daniel von Appen.