Holland: The best things to do and places to visit
Bustling cities, wonderful landscapes, age-old traditions, momentous art, a rich history… Holland has all that to offer and more. It’s a great place to visit year-round, and a trip to the country can include everything from exciting city trips to mediaeval castles to countryside bike tours.
- Find out more about the best places to see in Holland.
- Visit the Netherlands’ rich natural landscapes and coastlines.
- Learn about Holland’s history through architecture and museums.
The best things to do in the Netherlands
Holland is a great place to visit year-round, and a trip to the country can include everything from exciting city trips and visits to mediaeval castles to bike tours through the countryside. There are so many things to see and do!
The best city trips in the Netherlands
With its glut of historic, walkable and, not least, beautiful cities, Holland is great for a city trip – or two, as many of the highlights are close enough together to allow for seeing several cities in a weekend. Amsterdam is the obvious choice, and of course there are Rotterdam and Den Haag, as well. But aside from the major cities in Holland, have you considered Haarlem? With its mediaeval landmarks and architecture, great museums and beautiful historic centre, it’s a perfect destination for a day or weekend trip. It’s also renowned for its shopping options, being filled to the brim with independent shops and quirky-cool boutiques.
And then there’s Leiden: Holland’s traditional university town boasts a city centre full of historic buildings and bustling waterways, which host an amazing parade of boats every summer. Leiden is also known as the town in which Rembrandt van Rijn was born. And being a university town means being a student town, and that means plenty of cafés, bars and patios to while away the days.
Groningen is the northernmost city on this list. It’s a lively city that offers plenty of cultural events, for instance the performing arts festival Noorderzon and Eurosonic/Noorderslag, a true pop music highlight. There are countless great shops and excellent restaurants, particularly in the pretty historic centre, and the city’s many students ensure it never gets boring.
Canal-side city life
Finally, centuries-old Utrecht is the lively heart of Holland, built around a cathedral whose famous spire, the Dom Tower, is the city’s main landmark. It was built in 1321/’82, is 112 metres high, and its thirteen bells weigh between 880 and 18,000 pounds. Utrecht is also famous for its beautiful canals and their extraordinary wharf cellars, which house cafés and terraces right by the water.
Holland’s best landmarks and must-sees
Outside of its lovely cities, the Netherlands has plenty of landmarks and other touristic highlights to offer as well. There are striking castles, prehistoric monuments, countless important museums and, yes, windmills, too. In the beautiful wetlands around Dordrecht, find the windmills of Kinderdijk – 19 beautiful specimens, built around the 1740s, stand here as part of a larger water management system to prevent floods. Facing each other, they form an iconic Dutch scene. In 1997, they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Two of them can be visited.
World Heritage Sites
Kinderdijk isn’t the only UNESCO World Heritage site that Holland has to offer by far. The polder areas of Beemster and De Schermer are the country’s oldest examples of land reclamation – a masterpiece from the 17th century. Visitors can go on bike tours past grand country estates and pleasant, authentic villages. The Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht, designed in 1924 by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, is another World Heritage site. It’s considered the architectural masterpiece of the modern art movement De Stijl.
From the Stone Age to modern times
Another architecture highlight is The Hague’s impressive Peace Palace (Vredespaleis), home to the International Court of Justice. It was built in the early 20th century and incorporates many different architectural elements and influences. Move back in time – quite a bit, actually – and you will find the Hunebedden tombs of Drenthe. Built in the Stone Age, around 5000 years ago, they are enormous stone structures weighing up to 40 tons each. Members of the Funnel Beaker culture built these gigantic structures to bury their dead, and 54 of the graves have survived – a remarkable sight.
The best places to enjoy nature in the Netherlands
Holland has glorious landscapes and areas of natural beauty to offer, from heath and forests to seaside idylls. The Wadden Sea is a coastal area between Den Helder in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark. It is such a special natural spectacle that the entire Wadden Sea was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. It’s a very young landscape that came into being ‘only’ 7,000 years ago. The Wadden Sea is a world with two faces: the shallow seabed is flooded twice daily with the tides. One moment everything is under water and the next you can walk on the seabed. Because high tide brings in North Sea water, which leaves plenty of sediment and plankton on the sand, and because the shallow water warms up quickly in the summer allowing for rapid growth of algae and seaweed, the Wadden Sea is teeming with life. Countless fish, birds and seals enjoy the rich habitat.
By the sea in Holland
There is plenty more beach life to be had in the Netherlands. The Dutch coast is well known for its splendid beaches and offers unlimited opportunities for water sport fanatics, nature lovers and sunbathers. In addition to the Wadden Islands, there is the coastline of the provinces of North-Holland and South-Holland, which includes beach towns such as Zandvoort, Bloemendaal and Scheveningen, as well as Zeeland.
Exploring nature in Holland
De Hoge Veluwe National Park is one of the largest continuous nature reserves in Holland. 5,400 hectares, or 13,343 acres, of forest, heath, meres, sand drifts and ponds are there for the visitor to hike or cycle through – 1,800 of the famous free white bicycles are available for use on 40 km of bike paths. The rich wildlife includes wild hogs, red deer, roe deer and mouflons. De Hoge Veluwe is also home to the renowned Kröller-Müller Museum, with a beautiful, extensive sculpture garden and the largest private Van Gogh collection in the world.
The best museums in Holland
Speaking of museums: the Netherlands has a lot of great ones. For more works by Van Gogh, there is, of course, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, dedicated to one of Holland’s most famous sons and featuring 200 of his paintings, including masterpieces like The Sunflowers and The Potato Eaters, plus 500 drawings and 750 written documents. The museum also runs an extensive programme of inspired temporary exhibitions.
The best museums to see the Old Masters
Then there’s that other great painter from Holland, Rembrandt, some of whose most famous works are exhibited at the Rijksmuseum. Holland’s principal national museum illustrates the art and history of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the present. Its collection includes world-famous works such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Vermeer’s Milkmaid. But you don’t have to be in Amsterdam to see great art. Take the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam: founded in 1849, the museum takes the visitor on a journey through Western art history, from the world of the Old Masters all the way to Abstract Expressionism. Its collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Rothko and many others. More Old Masters are on view at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, which boasts a collection that includes highlights by Frans Hals, Vermeer – including the much-loved Girl with the Pearl Earring –, Breughel and Rubens.
Museum highlights throughout the Netherlands
In Utrecht, the Centraal Museum is the oldest municipal museum in the Netherlands. This is where you will find the world’s biggest collection of designs by Gerrit Rietveld, plus there’s paintings by Old Masters such as the Utrecht Caravaggists and illustrations by Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy. In the south of the Netherlands, the Noordbrabants Museum showcases art, history and culture of the southern Brabant region and exhibits paintings by Van Gogh, who lived in Brabant, as well as an impressive collection of works from 1500 to 1800, including paintings by Pieter Brueghel, Van Thulden and Bosschaert. Up north, the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden showcases the very best of Frisian art and culture, housed in a bold contemporary building. Another regional highlight is the Zeeuws Museum. Located in a beautiful old abbey in the town centre of Middelburg, it focuses on the history of Zeeland with exhibits including historic wall tapestries and beautiful regional costumes. And those who really want to dive into authentic Dutch tradition must not miss the Zuiderzeemuseum Enkhuizen, an open-air museum located in more than 130 authentic houses, shops and workshops that shows the history and culture, traditional crafts and communities of the region.
Holland’s best churches and cathedrals
There are numerous remarkable historic churches and cathedrals in the Netherlands, and they’re built in a huge variety of styles. Two of the most impressive examples are The New and Old Churches of Delft. Delft’s inner city is dominated by these two big churches. The Oude Kerk or Old Church is famous for its leaning tower and beautiful stained-glass windows, and the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church for its rich history and connection to the Dutch Royal Family. In Maastricht, find the Basilica of St. Servatius. It was built over two centuries – the nave in the first half of the 11th century, the transept in the second half, and the choir and westwork in the 12th century – and displays a breath-taking mix of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles. Lastly, the cruciform Gothic St Bavokerk is Haarlem’s main landmark. Also called the Grote Kerk or ‘Big Church’, it’s first mentioned in records in 1245. Even today, the church is Haarlem’s tallest building.
The best castles in Holland
A country with a rich history, the Netherlands is home to many historic castles and gorgeous country estates. In particular the lush countryside of Gelderland is dotted with turrets and towers. The lavish interiors of these homes – many of which house private art collections, rare antique furniture and in some instances, national museums – are just as impressive. A particular joy is the turreted Castle Ammersoyen, which takes visitors back in time to the 14th century. Mediaeval armour, weaponry and other artefacts are on display in the building’s various rooms and attics. The richly decorated period rooms of the 12th-century Castle Doorwerth are similarly impressive, and special exhibitions offer details of the castle’s history, forestry and hunting. And Castles Cannenburch and Rosendael invite visitors to uncover 200 years of history through their majestically decorated rooms and artefacts.
When to visit Holland
The Netherlands is great to visit throughout the year, with every season bringing its own particular charm. In spring, the tulip fields are blooming – visiting Keukenhof is a must. In summer, enjoy sea, sand and sun at one of the endless beaches along the Dutch coast. Autumn is a great time for a city trip or to discover one of the Holland’s beautiful nature parks. And in winter, drink plenty of hot chocolate and visit the Christmas markets – and don’t forget to go ice-skating.