From its Golden Age to the modern era, the Netherlands is a country whose laid-back atmosphere and understated beauty have long made it a rewarding but sometimes overlooked European destination. Amsterdam is often the first and sometimes only stop for visitors, but beyond the picturesque capital lie a host of Dutch delights, from small towns and sprawling beaches to iconic windmills and tulip fields. Trains are very reliable and easy to find in the Netherlands, but this is also a great country for a road trip, with lots to see and do within a few hours’ drive of Amsterdam.
Known for its eponymous and world-famous cheese, Gouda (pronounced “HOW-duh”) is a lively market town in South Holland that rewards gourmands and history buffs alike. Stop by t’ Kaaswinkeltje to pick up one of the many varieties of Gouda, explore the city’s 15th-century architecture, and check out Gouda pottery, a style native to the city known for its Art Deco aesthetic.
Pyramid of Austerlitz
Just outside Utrecht is one of the more bizarre and fascinating relics from the Napoleonic Era in the Netherlands. Gen. Auguste de Marmont, a close confidant of Napoleon’s, was stationed in the area in 1804 and commissioned his troops to construct a pyramid as a way to pass the time while they waited for a British invasion. The 120-foot earthen structure was finished in a remarkable 27 days and later rechristened the Pyramid of Austerlitz to commemorate Napoleon’s 1805 victory. After a tedious restoration process, the monument was reopened in 2008.
Even in the summer, a dip in the North Sea is not for the faint-hearted, but the Dutch coast is a surprisingly charming place to spend a day. Bloemendaal Beach is easily accessible by public transport from Amsterdam or by bike from Haarlem, and is a favorite hangout among locals in the summer. The waterfront is lined with restaurants and bars that stay open well into the night.
The Netherlands is full of towns and villages crisscrossed by canals, but Giethoorn is the only one that is completely car-free. Pedestrian bridges and bike paths weave among the 18th-century farmhouses, but the flat-bottomed punt boats are the more efficient and interesting way to get around. If you visit during the winter, you can join the locals in skating along the frozen canals.
This postcard-perfect city is just 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam, but the change of pace is instantly noticeable. Known as one of the best places in the Netherlands to shop, Haarlem is replete with interesting boutiques and welcoming cafés that line the still largely tourist-free alleyways and quiet canals. Haarlem was incorporated as a city in 1245 and boasts a remarkably well-preserved central market square, anchored by the impressive Saint Bavo Church. Be sure to visit the Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands, with an eclectic collection ranging from Michelangelo’s drawings to curiosity cabinets.
For the rest of the places to go in the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam, including the local staycationers' favorite Wadden Sea Islands, visit Fodor's.