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5x the best city trip alternatives to Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famous for its canals and Old Masters, great shopping, lazing about in city parks, and excellent nightlife. But did you know there are excellent alternative destinations in the Netherlands for all of those things? Visit one of the countless charming cities, each with its own attractions. We offer 5x the best alternatives to Amsterdam, from fantastic canals to trendy spots.

  • Discover other cities with beautiful canals and a historic inner city.
  • Shop ’til you drop with these trendy shopping tips throughout the Netherlands.
  • Meet party people at these hotspots outside Amsterdam.

1. Alternative cities with beautiful canals

One of the best ways to see the Netherlands is from the water, cruising along the country’s iconic canals and taking in picturesque views along the way. Amsterdam’s world-famous Canal Ring is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but many other Dutch cities and towns have their own eye-catching waterways that can be viewed or sailed along without the crowds sometimes found in Amsterdam. The Oudegracht in Utrecht, for example, is a two-kilometre-long tree-lined stretch that once served as a working wharf. With many former cellars converted into restaurants and cafes, finding the perfect pitstop is a doddle. Along the way, take in the beautiful façades of historic canal houses.

In Leiden, two tributaries of the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) run through the city and meet in the centre of town. Along with numerous small canals and quays bordered with trees, Leiden’s beautiful bridges, canal-side gardens and parks are always enchanting.

Haarlem’s magnificent medieval charm comes to the fore on its wonderful waterways and lively squares; go on a special voyage that includes afternoon tea, take a romantic candlelight cruise or sail along the River Spaarne to explore areas further afield – you could visit nearby Spaarndam or the Mooie Nel and Molenplas lakes.

2. Alternative cities with Old Masters

Amsterdam boasts the Rembrandthuis, where this famous painter had his workshop and experienced his heyday. However, the historic city of Leiden is at least as interesting. This is where Rembrandt was born and raised and where he started working as a painter. Other Old Masters also resided and worked in Leiden, including Jan Steen, Gerard Dou and Jan van Goyen. Stroll through 17th-century Leiden and admire famous masterpieces at Museum De Lakenhal. You can find masterpieces by Rembrandt in different collections, including at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Rivalling the famous art collections found in Amsterdam, The Hague is home to many renowned museums, from the Mauritshuis to the Berlage-designed Kunstmuseum, as well as specialist museums for photography, communication and sculpture. Housed within them you’ll find a range of world-leading art, including Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ and major works by Mondrian.

A little further south you’ll find divine Delft, a city with gorgeous canals and easily explored on foot. Delft was home to Vermeer, and the Vermeer Centre shows reproductions of all the works by this ‘master of light’.

Continuing south, in Dordrecht, the Dordrechts Museum presents an exhibition on art and Calvinism from the 17th to the early 20th century, which includes work by Rembrandt, Ferdinand Bol, Van Gogh, Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

3. Alternative cities for great shopping

Holland is a Mecca for those who enjoy a bit of retail therapy. Amsterdam’s city centre has it all, from luxury department stores and big fashion brands to the dazzling array of independent shops in the Nine Streets, but you can also find a wealth of unique shopping experiences throughout the country. For example, Maastricht has gorgeous, character-filled high-end shopping streets with everything from fashion to antiques and art, plus an array of cafés, bars and restaurants. In ’s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch), it’s all about concept stores and beautiful boutiques in the historic city centre – though we certainly recommend mixing style and elegance with a messy Bossche Bol. Is nabbing a bargain more your style? Fashionistas on a budget are covered with a number of outlet shopping experiences. You’ll find some 250 international fashion brands at Batavia Stad, a spectacular shopping experience at Lelystad, while at Roermond’s Design Outlet there are more than 100 stores offering big discounts.

4. Alternative cities with a vibrant nightlife

You’ve hit the canals, museums and shops, now it’s time to kick back and head out into the night. Rotterdam offers a lot of options, from bustling Witte de Withstraat to exclusive rooftop bars and underground clubs. Up north in Groningen, things are just as diverse, but with the energy that only a student town can give. This is the place for all-nighters, for example in the many bars and clubs around Grote Markt and Poelestraat. Both Rotterdam and Groningen also host a vibrant range of cultural festivals throughout the year – for example, the Rotterdam Unlimited Summer Carnival rivals Pride Amsterdam in size, colour and atmosphere, while the annual Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen is one of the most important live music events in Europe, comparable in scale to Amsterdam Dance Event.

5. Alternative cities for a perfect city trip

Historic cities with idyllic canals and shopping streets full of terraces and restaurants, with several museums and a vibrant nightlife. Discover the best city trip alternatives to Amsterdam and let one of these cities surprise you.

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