8 special spots in the Netherlands you may not have heard of
We’re all aware of the many tourist spots of the Netherlands; Amsterdam being the main city that everyone goes to visit, filled with historic sites and museums, and more recently, Rotterdam for its stunning modern architecture.
When you’ve been there and done that, and you’re now a resident with a few more weekends to fill up, you may want to venture out a little further.
Getting around the Netherlands
First things first; if you don’t have a car, or you’d just rather enjoy the scenic train journey, then the NS has some great offers available on their English website, Discover Holland. They have various deals, which often include a meal or beverage option.
Our favourite deal, however, can be found at your local Albert Heijn. Every so often, the supermarket offers a weekend away train deal for around 15 euros. It gives you unlimited access across the entire country for the weekend of your choice within the valid ticket dates.
It’s well worth it, especially if you’re keen to go and visit some of the smaller, less known areas of the Netherlands on the same day.
8 less known places to visit in the Netherlands
Here are eight of our favourite towns around the Netherlands that are less struck by the tourist fever:
Brielle is a charming little seaside town situated about 35 km from Rotterdam. It’s a historic place, best known for the Capture of Brielle by the Watergeuzen (Dutch rebels) on the April 1, 1572 during the Eighty Years War, which led to the massive Dutch uprising against the Spanish.
If you like monuments, then this place is for you. Brielle has the highest per capita count of monuments in the entire country and what’s brilliant about it is that most of these have managed to be maintained in their original state with over 400 of them having made it onto the National Heritage list.
It’s definitely a prime location for all you drone lovers because the aerial views of this town’s star-shaped structure deriving from an old 1713 fort are simply breath-taking. It has nine bastions and five ravelins that can be seen clearly from the air, and numerous gates are still in their original form.
You can visit a mid-18th-century porter’s house as well as a 1704 brick gate called Langepoort and a replica of the official 19th-century mill situated on the fort’s walls called ‘t Vliegend Hert.
If you haven’t got a drone, you can get a great view climbing the steps of the Grote Sint-Catharijnekerk, a church where William of Orange married his third wife in 1575.
Brielle’s library is also worth a visit. Called Arsenaal, which was originally the town’s weapon depot built in 1708 and later used as a military base in 1922.
To get an overview of the town’s history, it’s worth visiting the old City Hall which is now a historic museum called Den Briel, or if you know Dutch, there is a City Walking Tour app available for your smartphone.
Like Brielle, Naarden is also a star fort with restored walls and a moat, situated just a stone-throw away from Amsterdam. Although it had its own municipality for most of its existence, it became part of a new one with Muiden and Bussem called Gooise Meren in 2016.
There is a lot to see in this old town including the Nederlands Vestinmuseum (Fortress Museum), the bi-annual Naarden Photo Festival and on Good Friday the town celebrates with a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in the Grote Kerk (Great Church), which dates back to the 15th century.
It is one of the oldest churches in the Netherlands having survived the Spanish invasion and the burning down of the town. The church has numerous wooden vaults that were hidden for many years until its recent restoration, which can now all be seen by the public during the numerous events that it hosts including music nights and the photo festival.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also the Spaanse Huis (Spanish House), which was originally also a church until it became a home to migrants before Spanish troops conducted a massacre of the inhabitants who gathered there to hear a peace proposal.
The city hall established in 1615, which once served a French garrison as a bakery became the Comenius museum from 1967 until 1992, and is now known as the Weegschaal Museum.
The internationally renowned Ketel One is often referred to by the word “schiedam” by many French and English. So if gin is your thing, you should pay the National Jenever Museum a visit.
It was during the Golden Age in the 18th century when the French had put a standstill on their drink imports that Schiedam flourished with dozens of distilleries that exported gin internationally and gave the city its nickname "Black Nazareth".
Furthermore, Schiedam is home to the five tallest windmills in the world because they needed to be seen above the warehouses. These are called De Noord (The North), Walvisch (Whale), Drie Koornbloemen (Three Corn Flowers), Nieuwe Palmboom (New Palm Tree) and Vijheid (Freedom).
The city was also known for its most famous Dutch saints such as Saint Lidwina, whose relics can be found at Liduina Basilica. During the 15th century, the city flourished as a place of pilgrimage for those devoted to her.
It was also Lidwina that ordered the building of the castle known today as Huis te Riviere or Slot Mathenesse (Castle Mathenesse). Remnants of the castle can still be seen today in Schiedam near the city hall.
Schiedam also became known for fishing herring, a favourite of the Dutch today, as it was also a large shipbuilding city during the 19th and 20th centuries. Schiedam was established originally as part of Rotterdam in 1309 after the river Schie was dammed to protect is from the North Sea seawater.
This stunning city is part of West-Frisia in North Holland. Enkhuizen is a picturesque harbour town similar to Hoorn and Amsterdam in many ways in that it was known to assist in overseas trade during the times of the East India Company.
It was one of the largest marinas in the Netherlands, particularly during the 17th century when it was at the peak of its power, yet it soon lost the competition to Amsterdam.
It is currently home to the Zuiderzeemuseum, where you can find out all about Enkhuizen’s history. It is also worth visiting the city’s oldest building, the Drommedaris from 1540. But perhaps the most exciting are the boat trips available to the port of Medemblik.
Ameland is one of the West Frisian Islands situated on the north coast of the Netherlands and is famous for its sand dunes. With its neighbouring tourist hotspots of Texel or Terschelling, Ameland is sometimes overlooked.
Like most parts of Friesland, Ameland has some spectacular landscapes, nature and wildlife. It has a variety of different plants, large dunes and over 60 different types of birds. It even has its own woods, one of which is called the Nesser Bos.
It became part of the Netherlands in 1816 and unfortunately was occupied by the Germans in 1940, who loved it so much, it took a full month after the defeat for them to leave in June 1945.
The locals are called Amelanders and the island is home to four villages and a small half-village. Historically, it had two more villages called Oerd and Sier, but they were unfortunately flooded and now lie under the sea. The ferries currently connecting Ameland to mainland Friesland were named after them.
Besides visiting the island's beach called Buren, people can visit the Nes, home to the islands only secondary school and ferry services, the smallest village, Ballum, which is also home to Ameland’s airport and the most populated village of Hollum, where one can spot the island’s lighthouse.
Most people travel to Ameland by ferry, but you can also fly there. On a good day, when the tide is low between Friesland and Ameland, you can hike across it, known as mudflat hiking.
This little gem, nicknamed "little Venice", is only accessible by boat through an intricate network of small canals. To get there, you have to take the train to Steenwijk and then a bus for about half an hour.
Giethoorn was a well-kept secret until 1958 when Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra shot his famous comedy, Fanfare, there. Since then, it has become popular with Dutch retirees and most notably, Chinese tourists.
The village has a small population of around 2.600 and over 180 bridges that connect the little islands of houses and museums that make up Giethoorn.
You can go on a boat tour or even rent your own boat to get around. Giethoorn has some impressive museums, which illustrate what life was like living in the town, and many have a spectacular collection of antiques on display.
Giethoorn is also home to a few well-known restaurants including Michelin star De Lindenhof, all with spectacular views of the canals.
Giethoorn is small and therefore may not take up the entire day. If you’re eager to keep exploring you could also visit neighbouring Zuiderzee towns like Vollenhove and Blokzijl, which also house historic buildings, churches and castles amidst their own waterfronts.
Home to many famous painters, including Vermeer, Delft is perhaps already known as a special spot particularly after the Hollywood release of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Still, it’s made it onto our list for many other reasons.
Situated just a scenic hours' cycle north of Rotterdam, Delft is known for its historic town square, Delft Blue pottery, University and stunning canals.
Delft became a town in the 11th century when it was built alongside the canal "Del" and later in the 13th century, established itself as a city. William of Orange had also been a resident in 1572 and during that time, Delft was one of the leading cities in the Netherlands serving as a headquarters for the Eighty Years' War. After the Act of Abjuration in 1581, it became the capital of the newly independent Netherlands.
Immensely rich in history, Delft has an abundance of sights to see including many monumental buildings like the Oude Kerk (Old Church) where numerous famous figures in Dutch history are buried, Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the Dutch Royal Family’s burial grounds sealed with a 5.000kg cover stone, the Prinsenhof (Princes' Court), now a museum, the Oosterpoort (Eastern gate), which is the only original remaining gate of the old city walls, the Vermeer Centre, and the windmill, De Roos.
The city also has Delft Blue pottery factories including De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles or De Delftse Pauw, where you can learn all about how the ceramic pottery derived from Chinese porcelain in the 17th century brought back to the Netherlands via the East India Company.
If you'd rather be immersed in nature, Delft also has its own botanical woodland called Delftse Hout, where people may visit with their bikes, walk around or even take a horse ride tour throughout. If you’re feeling a little more daring, you can even swim or windsurf on the lake or narrow beaches. There are also campgrounds and recreational facilities.
Apeldoorn is a city and municipality in the centre of the Netherlands. It includes villages like Beekbergen, Loenen and Hoenderloo and is home to the Kadaster (Dutch Tax services) and government land registry.
It is perhaps best known however for its palace, Het Loo. The palace was bought as a medieval hunting lodge with its surrounding woods, estates and watercourses under William III and his wife Princess Mary II.
When William became King of England, Scotland and Ireland, the palace underwent an expansion, except Mary never returned to the Netherlands to witness it.
Various royal members often used the palace as a summer home until it was occupied by the Germans during World War II. After the war, Queen Wilhemina returned declaring it her favourite palace. The last to reside in the palace were Princess Margriet and her husband from 1967 to 1975.
It was restored to its original 17th-century state, removing its 19th and 20th-century additions, and opened as a museum in 1984 where visitors can now truly experience what it was like for the Orange-Nassau dynasty who lived in the palace for over 300 years through the furnished rooms and 17th-century baroque gardens.
Visitors to Apeldoorn can also visit the Roman Catholic Mariakerk, a Protestant church that was restored after a fire in 1890, and which is now a national monument.
Apeldoorn is also a family friendly place to visit. It has a zoo called Apenheul with a variety of different apes and monkeys; some of which are even free to roam around. There is also an amusement park called Koningin Juliana Toren.