Study reveals most popular Dutch towns and cities according to locals

According to a recent study by Dutch brand consultancy firm Hendrik Beerda, many residents are displeased with the quality of life in big Dutch cities.

Making cities "marketable"

The study, titled Steden en Streken (or Cities and Regions) is based on survey data from 12.750 Dutch respondents. It is designed to inform marketing strategies for cities, municipalities and provinces looking to attract tourists and new residents.

Marketing a region successfully not only involves increasing its fame, but also managing its reputation and creating ways for people to feel a bond with it.

Steden en Streken investigates regions of the country according to how successfully these criteria, referred to collectively as "market strength", are being met according to residents of those regions. Other criteria are grouped into categories like tourism, tourism potential, and growth expectations.

The results: small cities on top

Hendrik Beerda’s list of the top 10 Dutch cities based on market strength might seem eclectic. With the exception of Utrecht, where residents beam with pride over their city, none of the Netherlands’ "big four" cities make the list.

The company observes that big city dwellers are more likely to be critical of where they live than residents of smaller towns.

Maastricht residents most positive

Despite its relatively high crime rate, Maastricht is the Dutch city most beloved by its residents. At least one reason for its top marks is historical city centre, a major source of local pride. Maastricht’s population also speaks highly of the city’s natural environment and the many recreational activities available.

Not too big

In general, explains Hendrik Beerda, smaller cities and towns, such as Den Bosch and Groningen, do well. But simply being small is not enough - residents feel a stronger bond with areas that have young (student) populations, many cultural and recreational opportunities, and historic centres.

The big four: mixed results

Residents of Amsterdam love their city’s ancient, monumental architecture - along with that of Delft and Maastricht, Amsterdam’s architecture rates highest in the report. But serious concerns about congestion, overcrowding and housing availability dampen residents’ enthusiasm. Amsterdam comes in at 11th place overall.

Rotterdam places 17th due to its residents' complaints of unsafe living conditions and poor ambiance.

In Utrecht, ranked fifth, residents feel a strong bond with their city. They view it as a worthy tourist destination and approve of current advertising campaigns aimed at bringing in more visitors.

Residents of The Hague (22nd) give their city low scores on every front, taking particular issue with the attitude and behaviour of the local population.

And despite the proximity of beaches, Hagenaars are generally displeased with the quality of recreation in their city.

The top 10 in "market strength"

Rank City Score
1 Maastricht 100
2 's-Hertogenbosch 98
3 Groningen 96
4 Leeuwarden 96
5 Utrecht 95
6 Leiden 94
7 Breda 94
8 Delft 94
9 Haarlem 93
10 Nijmegen 93

Learning from the small cities

Hendrik Beerda himself takes the results as an indication that cities are spending too much money and focusing too heavily on attracting tourists, when they should really be busy improving the factors which make life rewarding for both visitors and residents.

"Throwing money at bringing in more visitors - and creating more overcrowding - can work against the big cities," he says.

Residents expect culture and leisure

Aside from issues like crowding and congestion, Hendrik Beerda’s study highlights the strong influence a healthy cultural and recreational programme has on residents’ estimation of their cities and regions.

According to Beerda, municipalities need to be in touch with their residents’ interests and wishes, no matter the size of their populations.

In this sense, though regional marketers across the Netherlands tend to emulate the tourist-attracting strategies of their colleagues in the big cities, the dynamic should flow the other way as well - big cities can learn from smaller ones.

Emily McCallum


Emily McCallum

Emily grew up in a small coastal town in western Canada and moved to Utrecht in 2014, after completing her studies in Vancouver and Germany. So far, she has been...

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