We’ve all done it, visit a country without really visiting it; a trip to France with only a stop in Paris, never leaving Tokyo on a holiday to Japan, or saying we’ve been to Hawai’i when we never left Honolulu. But what about everything beyond the borders of these capital cities? We all know that to really get a sense of a place – its people, its culture, and what makes it unique – we must venture into the smaller cities, typical towns, and remote villages.
The beautiful, tulip-growing, windmill-dotted, gouda-making country of the Netherlands is no different. Its capital city, Amsterdam, is one of the most popular cities in Europe to visit, and for good reason; with a rich history, picture-perfect canals, iconic houses, and vibrant nightlife, it’s a must-visit destination for many travellers. But after you’ve experienced the joys of biking your way through Amsterdam, we think you should consider heading out of the capital and exploring some of the Netherlands’ most charming towns and cities. Here are some of our favourites.
The largely car-free village of Giethoorn is only fully accessible by boat via canals lined with thatched roof houses. Take a canal cruise or rent a small electric boat from one of the canal-side restaurants, and cruise under some of the town’s 180 bridges, past quaint cottages, and alongside the local postmen, who travel by boat to deliver the mail.
The Hague is the Netherlands’ third largest city, second most popular tourist destination, and home to its royal family and government, as well as international courts and most of the foreign embassies in the country. Take in the arts and check out the Mauritshuis museum, which houses the famed Girl with a Pearl Earring painting, pay a visit to the Peace Palace, where you can find the International Court of Justice, or enjoy the mind-bending fun of M.C. Escher’s optical illusions at the Escher Museum.
Getting to The Hague is easy from both Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Rotterdam-The Hague Airport, or by train to either of the two international train stations. Stayokay’s Den Haag hostel is only a 10 minute walk from the city centre.
Not far from Utrecht is the town of Oudewater, oozing with old-world charm and and home to the world’s most famous witches’ weighhouse. In the 16th century, if you were charged with being a witch, you could go to the Witches’ Weighhouse to prove your innocence. Today, you can still receive a certificate stating that your weight is in proportion to your height – aka, you’re not a witch. Stay in Utrecht for an easy day trip to Oudewater.
A very short distance from Amsterdam and a true delight. Check out the majestic Grote Kerk cathedral, take in the works of famous Dutch artist Frans Hals at the Frans Hals Museum, and delight in the technicolour glory of the springtime blooms, as Haarlem is the Netherlands’ flower capital. Rent a bike from Stayokay Haarlem and pedal just 15 minutes outside of the city to the bulb fields and feast your eyes on the rainbows of tulips, daffodils, and more.