Rick Steves' Top Destinations When Traveling To The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a small nation, yet it's packed with delights. And if you've spent your whole life in the U.S., where modern architecture dominates the skylines, then you'll immediately notice a stark contrast when you step into practically any Dutch city. The numerous canals and gabled houses transport you back in time, showing you a completely different side of the world, where bicycles populate the streets instead of cars.

If you're interested in taking a trip to this country, then you're in luck. The Netherlands' special characteristics haven't gone unnoticed, especially by European travel expert Rick Steves. Thanks to his extensive experience and passion, he's got some insider tips to help you look beyond typical touristy activities. If you take his advice, then you'll be able to experience true gems that are off the beaten path.

Whether you're booking a weekend getaway or a weeks-long vacation in Europe, don't skip the Netherlands. As you'll see, it's dotted with cities and towns that offer you glimpses into the Dutch lifestyle. Below are travel expert Rick Steves' top destinations you should jot down.


Amsterdam is the first Dutch destination anyone thinks about when you say the words "the Netherlands." It's the capital, after all, and millions of people flock to this city every year. It's true that the allure for many people has to do with the decriminalization of marijuana and the legality of sex work, but if you look beyond that, there's more than meets the eye.

For example, as Rick Steves points out, Amsterdam has retained its Golden Age architecture, so you can see the same sights people did centuries ago when they walked down the same streets. Plus, the best museums in Amsterdam show you beautiful works from artists who are either Dutch or have lived in the Netherlands. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants to get a taste of local food and drinks, as well as WWII walking tours.

While Steves encourages tourists to look beyond Amsterdam, he still thinks it's worth spending a day or two there to get a feel for the Netherlands. Plus, it's a good central base for visiting the other cities on his list. Most are around one hour away by train, so you won't have to go far.


Delft is another city that's retained its Golden Age architecture, and you'll see twin towers at the city gate. This city in North Holland has a white drawbridge across a canal moat, which is a remnant of Delft's old fortified days. Rick Steves describes Delft as "an idyllic mini-Amsterdam...urban Holland with training wheels," and it's true. If you don't want to deal with the large and claustrophobic crowds in Amsterdam but still want a similar atmosphere, then this is the place to go.

If you're a fan of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, then this city will show you where all his inspiration came from. He's buried in the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which is located in Delft's old town. You can visit the church to view his simple marker on the ground.

In addition, this city is what Delftware is named for. This type of pottery has intricate blue designs painted on white earthenware and is inspired by Chinese porcelain. If you're interested in learning more and want to pick up some souvenirs, then you can tour Royal Delft. This 17th-century factory, which is still producing pieces, is also a museum.


Waterland is a region located north of Amsterdam, and it includes the cities of Edam, Volendam, and Marken. As the name suggests, they're all located by the sea, meaning you can get fresh seafood at the harbors. You can make an afternoon trip to all three, as they're only a 30-minute bus ride away from each other, despite being in the countryside. It's the perfect way to spend a day away from the typical tourists in Amsterdam, although Volendam is the most touristy one of all three. There are lots of souvenir shops that Rick Steves says are filled with "Dutch cliches." However, it's still a fun time, so don't discount Volendam.

Those who love cheese will have a blast in Edam, which is the city where the cheese comes from. Grab a free tour booklet from the tourist office, and make sure to stop off at the Edam Museum. You'll learn all about the history of Edam while also seeing firsthand what a 400-year-old canal house is like.

Next, make your way to Marken, which is a village peninsula. It's known for its quaint and traditional wooden houses, which were built high up on hills to prevent flooding when Marken used to be an island. There are fewer than 2,000 inhabitants here, which means it'll definitely give off a charming vibe.


Haarlem is but a 15-minute train ride west of Amsterdam, and the fact that it's a quieter, slower-paced city makes it an excellent and easy getaway. Rick Steves says that the city "[offers] small-town warmth and quick access to nearby Amsterdam." If the name sounds familiar, it's because New York's Harlem draws its name from this Dutch City. In fact, before the English took over and renamed it, New York used to be called New Amsterdam, which is why the neighborhoods within had Dutch names.

It won't be difficult to get around Haarlem, as 10 streets meet at Grote Markt ("Big Market," or the Market Square). Most of the city's activities happen here, and there are many cafes and restaurants to rest and refuel at. While you're here, check out the Grote Kerk (Big Church), which is a large and imposing building that's hard to miss. You'll find the country's largest pipe organ inside, and if you're in Haarlem during the summer, you can catch a free concert, too.

If you have a thirst for knowledge, then there are several museums where you can spend your time. For example, there's the Museum Haarlem (formerly known as Verwey Museum Haarlem), which educates visitors about what Haarlem used to be like, and the Corrie Ten Boom House, which offers you a look at real hiding places used during WWII. In addition, there's the Teylers Museum, a center for contemporary art and science.


If you love Golden Age towns, then you're in luck. Hoorn is yet another "merchant's town" from this era, per Rick Steves, but with a twist: it's had a relatively new transformation. You'll find it on the IJsselmeer, which is a lake, and it'll take around 30 minutes by train to get to Hoorn from Amsterdam. This makes it ideal for a day trip if you want to head up north.

"All buildings have been restored and many have been given a new function," according to In Hoorn. As a result, you'll still observe typical Dutch architecture, but with a much newer appearance. In addition, things may not be as they appear. For instance, you'll see restaurants in old cheese warehouses, which adds a delightful and authentic touch to modern.

To really experience the city's history, you should look outside of the city center. More specifically, stroll down to the harbor, where you'll view the Hoofdtoren, the main tower of Hoorn. It was constructed in 1532, though it no longer served its original purpose by 1614. Other historical things you'll notice include ships and houses.


By train, Enkhuizen is an hour north of Amsterdam, so you'll want to leave early to see the sights. It's extremely rich in historic buildings with 366 monuments, to be exact. Whether you walk through the city on your own or book a tour, you'll feel as if you're living and breathing the Golden Age. If you decide to do a self-guided tour through Enkhuizen, then make sure to stop by the VVV Enkhuizen. Here, you can pick up free booklets to soak in the facts of the city and gain a newfound appreciation for it.

The highlight of Enkhuizen is its open-air museum, the Zuiderzeemuseum, the outdoor portion of which is temporarily closed until March 29, 2024. Here, you can learn about lost Zuiderzee culture. The outdoor museum spans 140 historic buildings, allowing you to wander around and experience life as it was centuries ago. According to Rick Steves, "You'll meet people who do a convincing job of role-playing non-nonsense 1905 villagers." And in the indoor museum, you can view old but gorgeous boats, as well as other related collections.


Rick Steves calls Alkmaar "Holland's tasty cheese capital," so cheese lovers can't go wrong here. There's a large cheese market open every Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in Waagplein, from late March until late September. During July and August, the market is also open from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. In addition, there's a children's cheese market for kids ages 6 through 12 during these months.

In Alkmaar's main square, you'll see countless cheese wheels spread out in neat rows. There are also cheese carriers who go around with traditional barrows, bringing the cheese to the Waaggebouw, where the wheels are weighed. After that, the cheese is sold to traders. You can take plenty of pictures and videos of this spectacle and even get a selfie with the cheese girls, who educate visitors about the cheese market.

Like many other Dutch cities, Alkmaar still has its Golden Age feel, meaning that an amble down Old Town is very cozy. You can stop off at various museums as well, such as the Stedelijk Museum, where you can discover more about the city's history. Considering that it's only a 30-minute train ride north from Amsterdam, Alkmaar is a worthy city to visit, especially if you'd like a taste of authentic Dutch cheese.


Zaandijk is another city that's a half-hour train ride from Amsterdam, making it a fantastic destination for a day trip when combined with the others on this list. Admittedly, it can be touristy at times, but Zaandijk is rural enough for it not to feel stifling. Plus, it's open-air museum, Zaanse Schans, "puts Dutch culture...on a lazy Susan," says Rick Steves. So if you want a quick run-through of Dutchness, this is where you should be.

In the past, this area fulfilled a lot of the world's industrial needs. The many houses of Zaanse Schans showcase craftsmen who demonstrate their skills in things like barrel making and sail cloth manufacturing. Do note that most houses charge admission, so you'll have to pick the ones you go into wisely. To save money, you can get the Zaanse Schans Card, which, according to the site, gives you access to "several museums, two windmills, and crafts" for €29.50 (€20 for children).


Southeast of Amsterdam is Utrecht, which takes half an hour to reach by train. Many visitors consider it a smaller version of Amsterdam, like Delft, so it's one more place to add to the list if you want to avoid huge crowds. It's still very lively though, as it's not only a medieval city but also home to Utrecht University. Plus, it's the fourth-largest city in The Netherlands.

Spend the day walking around town, but put aside some time for the museums here. Rick Steves claims that Utrecht has the "best railway museum," and while that may sound strange or even dull, The Railway Museum isn't at all. According to its site, there's a "real-life station, a theatre, exciting attractions, and a variety of temporary exhibitions and events." If that's still not your cup of tea, then tour the Nijntje Museum, especially if you're with your kids. You probably better know the museum's central focus as Miffy, and did you know she was Dutch, not Japanese?

If you enjoyed a canal tour during your time in Amsterdam, then you're sure to like one in Utrecht too. You'll sail through the wide canals and get a different perspective on the beautiful old buildings. Those who feel adventurous can also go stand-up paddleboarding or canoeing.


Hop on a southbound train for 35 minutes and you'll be in Leiden, a small university city that also hosted English Pilgrims. In 1608, a decent number of the English sought refuge from religious persecution in their own country and made a temporary home in the Netherlands. Eventually, they set sail for North America between 1620 and 1643, and these people are the renowned Pilgrims whom we honor every Thanksgiving. To find out more, visit the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, which is one of the smallest museums in the Netherlands.

As we've previously said, Leiden is a college town, with the oldest university in the nation. Leiden University was founded in 1575 by William of Orange, and according to its site, is "one of the leading international research universities in Europe." So if you or your kids are thinking of getting an education overseas, this is the perfect time to tour the campus and kill two birds with one stone. In addition, the university owns the Hortus Botanicus Leiden, which is the oldest botanical garden in the country (it's been around since 1590), so it's worth a look around.

The Hague and Scheveningen

Just a 15-minute train ride south of Leiden is The Hague, where you'll find the Binnenhof, or the country's parliament building. It's been in use since 1446, and you may catch a glimpse of Dutch politicians leaving an important meeting while you're in town. Plus, since you're in the heart of the city center, it'll be easier to get to all other points of interest in The Hague. Rick Steves describes The Hague as "bigger and less cozy than Delft, Leiden, or Haarlem," but he still feels it's worth spending a few hours here. 

If you're vacationing during the summer, then head over to Scheveningen Beach if you have a few hours to spare. It's one of the most popular beaches in the Netherlands since it's large with a roomy boardwalk. There's also a pier with multiple shops, restaurants, and a place outside to zipline and bungee jump. When you get tired, there are many beach bars where you can rest your weary feet and sip on tasty cocktails.


At this point, you might've realized that many Dutch cities retain an old-timey look. That may be fascinating, but what about modern architecture? If that piques your interest, then you'll want to go to Rotterdam, which is 45 minutes away from Amsterdam by train.

You'll notice a stark difference in building appearances as soon as you pull into the station. This is because most are under 100 years old, after much of the city was destroyed in a German bombing during WWII. If you're feeling homesick, then you should feel right at home in this metropolitan city, as the streets are wide and the buildings are tall. In addition, there are unique points of interest, such as the Erasmus Bridge, the Cube Houses, and the Markthal.

What's also noteworthy is that the Port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe. Take a moment to appreciate how powerful it is, and watch the ships come in and out. Not only do shipping vessels frequent the Port of Rotterdam, but ferries and cruise ships do as well.

Lisse and Aalsmeer

The Netherlands is known for its tulips, so it's no surprise that Rick Steves recommends visiting Keukenhof, the nation's most treasured flower garden that was established in the 15th century. It may take you a little over an hour to get from Amsterdam to the garden's home in Lisse, but it's totally worth it, especially if you're here at the right time. The garden is only open for about two months every year, and you can view beautiful spring flowers, including tulips. Not only can you take a peaceful stroll through the grounds, but you can take a whisper boat and go cycling too.

If you aren't able to go to Keukenhof during its opening times, then travel to Aalsmeer instead. This trip also takes about an hour from Amsterdam, and places you at the world's largest flower auction. Royal FloraHolland is open all year long, with over 30,000 species of flowers and plants. Not only will you gaze upon a rainbow of colors, but you'll also witness the inner workings of an efficient flower market.


History buffs will love Arnhem, as a significant part of WWII happened here. The Germans won the Battle of Arnhem in 1944, and the city was a ghost town for a while. To find out more about this battle, spend some time at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Villa Hartenstein and the Airborne Museum at the Bridge in the city center. Both will give you a newfound appreciation for the sacrifices made during wartime.

Plus, if you liked the open-air museum at Zaandijk, then you'll definitely have a positive experience at the Arnhem Open-Air Folk Museum. Rick Steves says, "You'll enjoy a huge park of windmills, old farmhouses, and other buildings,...traditional crafts in action, and a pleasant education-by-immersion in Dutch culture." It's a great family activity, and you can easily spend a whole day here, making it worth the 1.5-hour train journey from Amsterdam.

As for the city itself, Arnhem is known for its fashion and design scene. Check out the Modekwartier and the 7 Straatjes to get some serious shopping done. You're sure to get some special finds at the unique boutique stores.

Our methodology for picking these destinations

Rick Steves is a renowned travel expert who started "Rick Steves' Europe" in 1976. According to his website, he "brings more than 30,000 people to Europe annually." In addition to being a small business owner, Rick Steves is also a "popular public television host" and "a best-selling guidebook author." We based our list of top destinations in the Netherlands on his website recommendations.