Road trips are fun when they’re spontaneous, but it’s a good idea to know some of the best places to stop along the way so you don’t miss out. So here are the top cities for a Netherlands Road Trip you’ll want to include in your plans.
Most people who board a plane to the Netherlands have their eyes firmly set on the beautiful city of Amsterdam, and I don’t blame them. There’s no denying it’s one of Europe’s top cities with all of its culture and nightlife but, outside of The Dam, there are many other cities in the Netherlands with lots to offer. The best thing is, they’re all just a short drive away…
From historic cities with Roman Ruins to ‘the happiest place in the world’, the Netherlands has a wide range of places to visit when driving across the country. You’ll find Delft’s compact pedestrian zone, ultra-modern and quirky Rotterdam, and the split-level canals of Utrecht – a city that offers terrace restaurants at water level and shopping lanes above!
There’s so much to see, which is why knowing the top cities for a Netherlands road trip makes sure you plan accordingly. Here’s my pick of the most unmissable cities to stop at, which collectively give you a great taste of the diverse Netherlands.
9 unmissable cities for your Netherlands road trip
From fairytale villages to port cities and historic market towns, here are the best places to stop at on a road trip across the Netherlands.
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1. The Hague
The Hague is widely recognised as the political capital of the Netherlands and is where the Dutch royalty and government reside. It’s full of museums and abundant shopping options in The Hague, generally coming across at a chic and sophisticated city.
The Hague has a population of over half a million, making it the third-largest city in the Netherlands, following Amsterdam and Rotterdam. But unlike many other touristy spots, The Hague feels more like a functioning, living city that happens to also be a magnet for visitors due to its cultural and governmental significance. This is why it’s one of the top cities for a Netherlands road trip, as it’s a nice window into what the Netherlands is really like.
Check out my list of some of the great things to do on a weekend in The Hague, to give you more of an idea of what to expect.
Haarlem is around 12 miles from Amsterdam, but is much less visited in comparison. However, it still has the same iconic canals, cobbled streets and cultural things to do as the capital. It’s also home to the country’s oldest museum and its newest hofjes (courtyards), as well as an endless option of bars and restaurants.
There are some great activities to do in Haarlem. I definitely recommend visiting the Teylers Museum and the Grote Market!
Delft is described as a picturesque town, boasting beautiful canals and cobblestone streets. It’s only 10 minutes away from The Hague, so you might choose to spend time in just one of these top cities for a Netherlands road trip if you’re trying to cover more distance each day. However, Delft and The Hague are quite different and both worth exploring if you have time.
Historically, Delft is significant as the birthplace of the renowned painter Johannes Vermeer and the origin of the famous blue and white porcelain that once found its way to Tsarist Russia. These are great ideas for souvenirs from your road trip, or you can find more ideas in my blog on what to buy in Amsterdam.
The city has lots of Dutch Renaissance architecture. Additionally, one of its iconic structures, the Nieuwe Kerk tower, is great for panoramic views. You can even see The Hague from up there. Other places to visit in Delft include its famous tilted church and the authentic 16th-century fish market.
This southern port city is like Amsterdam’s rowdier, more liberal, little sister. It’s the second-biggest city after Amsterdam, has the same pretty canals and even its own red light district. But, Rotterdam had most of its buildings wiped out during World War Two. In the years it was rebuilt, it took on a more modern and carefree vibe.
Now, there’s no end to the quirky buildings and fascinating monuments – even just wandering around the city is like paying a visit to an art museum. I do recommend visits to the Wereldmuseum and Nederlands Fotomuseum though.
Hundreds of students call Rotterdam home and make up the 160 nationalities living here. That means there’s diversity when it comes to food choices, something I love. It also means there’s really fun places to go out in the evenings and at night.
Head to De Witte Aap Bar here was once named the world’s best so pop along for live music and effortlessly cool vibes.
If you’re a history buff, Maastricht is for you. Some even say it’s the oldest town in the country, although a few Dutch locals might debate you on that. But what you will find here is Roman ruins, medieval monuments and Gothic churches.
Maastricht is close to Belgium, part of the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, a bustling international metropolis that boasts a population of approximately 3.9 million and encompasses notable German and Belgian cities such as Aachen, Liège, and Hasselt. You’ll no doubt feel the influence of these other European countries here, which is why it’s one of the top cities for a Netherlands road trip.
Some of the best things to do in Maastricht include going underground to the caves of St Peter, where labourers worked away and soldiers hid during the city’s sieges. Make sure to also check out the Basilica of Saint Servatius and the Bonnefantenmuseum.
Utrecht is one of the quirky ones. Just 40 minutes south of Amsterdam, it’s often called the heart of Holland yet doesn’t actually see that many tourists. It is home to the Netherlands’ biggest university though which means you’re never stuck for nightlife.
Despite being popular with a younger crowd, it’s managed to hold onto its old warm charm and is the best place to go to discover the authentic Dutch way of life.
Another oldie, there’s lots of medieval walkways and gothic architecture. Lucky for us, it’s built around the Domtoren, the tallest tower in the country, which makes for a useful landmark when you’re busy getting lost.
Another cool feature is the city’s split-level. Most of the old town’s restaurants are located on the same level as the canal, below street level, which is extremely rare.
Utrecht also has nine museums and was once even dubbed the happiest place in the world.
Seriously, who’d want to miss out on visiting the happiest place on earth on a fun road trip!
I’m putting that down to the fact it’s home to the Miffy museum. Creator, Dick Bruna, is from the city and you’ll find a museum and square dedicated to rabbit’s adventures.
They say all good things come in small packages and we’re applying that to Groningen. It only has a population of 200,000 which means it’s certainly not the biggest city in Holland, but it’s up there with the best, ticking the boxes of eco-friendly and a lot of fun.
In Holland a bike is your best friend and Groningen is where that initiative began. This northern city is a health hotspot but also looks after the environment and has even been named as a Fairtrade town. That means you’ll find bicycle speed bumps, organic stores and craft houses. This just adds to the creative vibe which pulls in so many students, that and the city’s 24-hour bars.
8. Den Bosch
Feel free to have a go at saying this one’s actual name, s’Hertogenbosch – even the locals opt for its nickname.
Den Bosch is an old, fortified city holding on to many of its original buildings. The Moriaan is in fact the oldest building in the Netherlands and St John’s Cathedral is said to be amongst the country’s top with its gothic design.
Boasting the best of everything, the city also claims to rival Amsterdam when it comes to the country’s best canals. They’re less commercialised and little more peaceful so you can cruise along them and even glide underneath the buildings in a canal network, known as Binnendieze.
Once you’re back on dry land, try a bossche bol. This is the city’s delicacy and is one for the sweet tooth. A big ball of pastry drizzled in chocolate ball with a cup of coffee is the best.
Ok I know this a village, but it has to make my list of the top cities for a Netherlands road trip because it’s just so unique and beautiful and worth it.
Giethoorn is not too far from Amsterdam, but is much more rural. It’s dubbed the Venice of the North because of its waterways. These are much smaller canals than the likes of Amsterdam, and have traditional thatched-roof, wooden houses on either side. It’s really like stepping into a fairytale village.
It’s important to remember that there aren’t any roads here, so you won’t be able to drive around once in Giethoorn. To get around you can rent a small boat or even just walk around. But this makes it a nice change from being stuck in a car – stretch those legs out!
Of course this one had to make my list of the top cities for a Netherlands road trip – it’d be like the elephant in the room if I didn’t. But while there’s so much more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, it’s still a great city to make any road trip epic.
While here, you can visit all sorts of museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, the red light district and much more. Stroll or cycle along canals, drink Heineken, visit flower markets, and relax in the main squares.
Even if you only have a short amount of time, it’s possible to make the most of Amsterdam in a day. Read my blog on how to have the most fun in 24 hours in Amsterdam.
The best road trips in the Netherlands
Heading out on a road trip across the Netherlands is one of the best ways to get to know the country. You’ll most likely see things you hadn’t imagined or otherwise wouldn’t have if you were flying. It also means you’ll be able to use my list of top cities for a Netherlands road trip to plan where you want to go and what you want to see.
From the iconic canals and museums of Amsterdam to the picturesque towns like Giethoorn and Utrecht, a Netherlands road trip offer such a variety of landscapes and things to see. Each city and route provides different experiences, making sure no two days are alike.
Although this list of the top cities covers a wide range of places to stop when driving across the Netherlands, there are plenty of others to check out too if you have time. Haarlem is another great city that is home to the country’s eldest museum, and cities like Breda, Eindhoven and Alkmaar each have their own appeal.
Quicklist of my top cities for a Netherlands road trip
- The Hague
- Den Bosch
Is the Netherlands good for road trip?
The Netherlands is a great destination for a road trip. The country offers a variety of picturesque routes, including those that pass through flower fields, historic bulb areas, and canals lined with windmills. There’s also medieval market squares, world-famous museums and pretty water villages. The Netherlands is not just about Amsterdam; by taking a road trip, you can discover beautiful cities like Utrecht, Rotterdam, and The Hague
What is the prettiest part of the Netherlands?
This kind of depends on what you think is pretty, but a lot of people find some of the most scenic parts, like tulip fields or windmills in the Dutch countryside the most beautiful. Or you might find cities with canals and waterways running through them the prettiest, such as Amsterdam.
How many days in the Netherlands is enough?
The number of days required for a Netherlands trip depends on what you want to see and how many cities you want to visit (as well as distance). However, you can usually see a lot in a week if you plan well.