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I’ve been lucky enough to call the Netherlands my home. Visiting family and friends will ask me what is the one thing that they must do in the Netherlands. That answer isn’t so easy. We’ve came up with 55+ things for you to do in the Netherlands to add to your Dutch bucket list based on our time living in the Netherlands. Not everything will be possible (due to weather) during your trip, but I hope that it inspires you to revisit this beautiful country.
Eat a stroopwafel
Although Gouda is more famous for the cheese, did you know that siroopwafels originate here? (Siroopwafels are even more delicious versions of stroopwafel.) Be sure to stop off for a fresh waffle if you visit Gouda although you’ll find them at the various markets in Amsterdam too.
Visit one of the great museums in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has hundreds of museums, many world-class. It’s hard to go wrong with visiting the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Mauritshuis (in the Hague). If you have more niche interests, you’ll also find museums dedicated to historical figures as well as focused on specific topics (such as bibles, cat art, and pianolas).
Try a Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate
Tony’s Chocolonely is a Dutch chocolate brand that is the first slavery-free chocolate in the world. If you’re into ethical chocolate (or chocolate), be sure to buy one of the iconic orange (caramel sea salt) bars near the check-out at Albert Heijn. They’re simply delicious and my favorite chocolate.
Take a canal cruise in Amsterdam
Taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam is a classic activity that will give you a fantastic view of Amsterdam by water. Although day time is lovely, I find that golden hour and sunset are the best times to take a canal cruise as you can see how the city lights up at night towards the end of cruise. During December and January, you can enjoy the light sculptures along the Amsterdam canals lit up at night by boat.
Pilot a boat or kayak through the canals of any Dutch city
One of the best way to see many Dutch cities is by sea, not by land. An insider tip is to pilot yourself as it’s far more than fun than a cruise. You can rent a boat in Amsterdam and most major cities for an hour or two for a reasonable price (50-100 euros).
(The prices are way cheaper outside of Amsterdam.) If you’re piloting a canal boat, be sure to bring some snacks/drinks to enjoy. Kayaking also gives you a different perspective on the city!
Pepernoten are my favorite Dutch snacks, especially in the holiday season. These tasty miniature cookies are sold by the bag and made with speculaas. This spice is quite similar to all-spice although ti has a strong hint of cinnamon. Stop by Van Delft to buy some interesting flavors!
See at least one windmill
The windmills are the most iconic sights of the Netherlands! Be sure to see at least one windmill while you’re here. You’ll find a number of windmills in Amsterdam although the Zaanse Schans and Kinderdijk windmills outside of Amsterdam are far more famous. In the Hague, we have the Molendriegang (shown above), which you can visit by bike from the Hague.
Try the local liquors
Although jenever is the most famous Dutch liquor, you’ll find several other Dutch liquors that are just as delicious. We love Weduwe Joustra, which is made with the iconic Beerenburg spice mix. Click to read more about the interesting liquors of the Netherlands.
Celebrate King’s Day in the Netherlands
Celebrating the King’s Birthday needs to be on your Dutch Bucket List! This holiday on the 27th of May is when the entire country dons their orange and celebrates. You’ll find lots of streets sales, music, and free events. Simply, it’s a blast to enjoy with the entire country!
Eat a Hollandse nieuwe herring (the Dutch way)
Herring is a very Dutch thing to enjoy! It’s best enjoyed during the summer when it’s Hollandse Nieuwe Haring. (Basically, it’s freshest then.) Even if you’re not a fish lover, you might be surprised by herring. To eat yours, sprinkle some onions on it and left it up to take a bite as shown above. (I find that it’s less messy and just as delicious in pieces.)
Experience the madness of the Red Light District in Amsterdam
I don’t enjoy the Red Light District myself, but I recommend taking a tour with a knowledgeable guide who can explain about the history of prostitution in the Netherlands and what it’s like to work in the brothels. Be careful in this area as pickpockets linger along the cramped streets.
Spend a day cycling around a Dutch city
One of the best way to see any Dutch city is by bike! I recently experienced Utrecht by bike and it was amazing how much more of the city I saw while cycling. Be warned that biking in the Netherlands is intense, but if you dare to try out biking in the Netherlands, read these tips for biking in Amsterdam and consider renting a bike to see the countryside around Amsterdam rather than the city center.
Step into a hofje
Hofjes are historic courtyards where people in need were historically housed. These buildings, often dating back to the 1600s, can be found across many Dutch cities. Most are still used as housing, so you must be considerate. Click to find hofjes in Amsterdam to visit.
Learn at least a few words in Dutch…
and master the pronunciation of “Schiphol”
Dutch is close to English, but it’s not easy. Learning the hard g took me years, so I don’t expect you to nail the pronunciation. Although people speak impeccable English, I recommend learning a few Dutch words at minimum.
- Thank you: Dankjewel (Dank-you-well)
- One beer: Een biertje (Ain (as in pain) beer-tch-je)
- Bye: Doei! (Do-ee!)
- Hello: Hallo
- Sorry: Sorry
- Later: Tot ziens.
Step into a “coffee shop”
Well, we had to mention it although we’re not smokers ourselves. A lot of people are fascinated with marijuana culture in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, I’d say that it’s at its peak with nice lounges where you can relax, however in other parts of the Netherlands, this kind of party culture is not as well tolerated. It’s hard to miss the smell. You can take a tour of the coffee shops in Amsterdam if you’re curious!
Climb one of the desanctified churches
The best way to see the Netherlands is to climb one of the many former church towers across the Netherlands. Due to a less religious population and the reformation, many churches are historical monuments that the public can visit for a few euros. My favorite clock towers include Dordrecht and Amersfoort!
Stay on a houseboat
One of the most unique kinds of accommodation you’ll find in the Netherlands is on a houseboat! You’ll find several bed and breakfasts in Amsterdam where you can get a taste of life at sea (or just along the canals).
Celebrate Carnaval in the South
Although not as well known as their Brazilian and German counterparts, the Netherlands has Carnaval! It’s mostly celebrated in the “Southern” parts of the country close to Lent. People dress up and the cities are transformed, even with the names changed. It’s a lot of fun if you’re lucky to visit in time!
Step into one of the beautiful bookstore cathedrals
All across the Netherlands are churches that have been converted into all kinds of things. You’ll find apartment buildings, office buildings, and bookstores. My favorite two bookstore cathedrals sit in Maastricht and Zwolle.
Try Dutch cheese at a cheese shop
Regardless of whether you make it to the cheese markets, Dutch cheese shops are great to experience. Skip the touristic ones and step into one if you pass it as you are walking around one of the neighborhoods of Amsterdam (or another city).
You’ll be astounded by how many varieties there are and tastings are 100% fine. I personally prefer jong belegen, which is a softer farmer’s cheese. Of course, you’ll need to also try Gouda, Edam, and Leide kaas. You can get your cheese wrapped to ensure it keeps!
Visit a cheese market
For a long time, I never visited a farmer’s market as I thought it was too touristy. I finally caved and visited the Woerden cheese market, where you can see real buyers and sellers bargain. It’s not as kitchy as Alkmaar or Gouda where it’s a show, but I promise that it’s worth the visit.
Have a Heineken….and try a locally produced craft beer.
Although Heineken is famous and you should see how much better Heineken tastes here compared to other countries, there’s a lot of great craft beer here. Be sure to visit one of the craft breweries in Amsterdam or just seek out a great craft beer bar elsewhere (like in the Hague). Jopen is one of my local favorites!
Spend an afternoon sitting out on a city square relaxing with a coffee or tea
One of the most Dutch things to do on a nice day is to sit outside at a lovely cafe with a coffee on a nice day. Be warned: everyone else might have the same idea when it’s sunny. In many cities, the chairs at cafes face the city center, so you can people watch without judgement. Perfect for a lazy day relaxing after sightseeing!
See the tulips in the fields
Who doesn’t love the tulips? Although most people head to Keukenhof, you can see the Dutch tulip fields without the crowds! I go almost every year and it’s 100% free to walk along the many fields in bloom. I love the streaked tulips, shown above.
Browse the stalls at a street market
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new place is to explore the street markets. You’ll find several great street markets in the Netherlands, notably the Albert Cuypmarkt in Amsterdam. They’re fun to browse, so don’t come hungry!
Try one of the Trappist beers from one of the Trappist monasteries in the Netherlands
Some of the best beers in the world come from Trappist breweries. Luckily, there are two trappist orders in the Netherlands. If you can’t visit the breweries, at least consider trying one of these beers if you see them: La Trappe (The Onze Lieve Vrouw of Koningshoeven Abbey) and Zundert. La Trappe is commonly found at Dutch bars!
Try Surinamese food
A lot of people know very little about Dutch history. The Dutch traded New York for Suriname, a now independent country in South America. In Suriname, you’ll find a unique mix of Indonesian, Indian, African, and Chinese cultures, which resulted in some delicious foods. Be sure to try a Surinamese dish while you’re visiting the Netherlands. (Click for more information about what to order!)
Drink a fresh mint tea
Mint tea in the Netherlands isn’t what you think! I absolutely love the Dutch take on mint tea, which is something that you need to experience in the Netherlands! Instead of tea packets, they put the entire mint leaf in. It results in a strong brew that is fresh and refreshing, even in hot weather.
Eat Dutch apple pie
Although people say that things can be American as apple pie, the Dutch have their own unique spin on it. The crust as well as the top is done differently, but its still absolutely delicious. Be sure to stop at Winkel43 in the Jordaan to try the best apple pie in Amsterdam.
Transport yourself to one of the “Venices” of the Netherlands: Giethoorn or Dordrecht
Giethoorn is often called the Venice of the Netherlands, but I think that Dordrecht is a much fairer comparison. Giethoorn is an adorable small town with not that many inhabitants and cute boats that were historically used instead of roads. It’s one of the most visited places in the Netherlands at this point.
I encourage you to check out Dordrecht (shown above), which has a history much more similar to Venice. Boats used to take merchants to/from the city, which is on an island. You’ll find countless beautiful canals, many gorgeous warehouses, and no crowds for now.
Try Indonesian food / rijsttafel
Due to the Dutch colonization Indonesia, you can find a lot of Indonesian food in the Netherlands. (A significant number of people of Indonesian descent live in the Netherlands today.) Be sure to stop by a toko to try authentic Indonesian specialities.
Otherwise, step into a formal restaurant to experience rijsttafel. This legacy of colonialism was invented when the Dutch asked Indonesians to present the best dishes, but they were told that every island had their own best dish. This resulted in many small plates intended for sharing.
Learn about Jewish history in the Netherlands
The Jewish community has been quite key in Dutch history as traders and the tolerance of other religions resulted in a large Jewish community in Amsterdam. You can learn more about this history at the Jewish historical museum in Amsterdam.
You can also learn a bit about the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi occupation at the Anne Frank House or one of the concentration camps in the Netherlands (Kamp Westerbork or Kamp Amersfoort).
Experience the “gezelligheid” of a brown bar
In Dutch, there’s a word called gezelligheid. It is fairly similar to hygge, however it can describe the atmosphere of a cafe of a bar. It’s comfy, cozy, and somewhere where you just feel at home.
A brown bar is a historic bar typically covered in brown wood where you can experience this feeling. People tend to be friendly and maybe you’ll understand why I prefer a brown bar over a hyper modern bar!
Eat a bitter ball
A bitter ball is an iconic Dutch food. This beef fried ball is typically eaten while having drinks out at a bar and served with mustard. Don’t worry vegans: it’s becoming easier to find vegan bitterballen in the Netherlands! Trust me, it still counts.
Eat fries with mayo or “frites oorlog” if you dare
In the Netherlands, mayo is the norm. I used to be firmly anti-mayo, but I’ve come around and I love it with my fries. Note: you usually need to pay a little extra for condiments. For something more adventurous, try frites oorlog, which means “war fries.” This is frites with peanut sauce, mayo, and onions on top.
Spend a day relaxing in the park (in good weather)
In good weather, everyone and their mother is out in the parks relaxing with friends (or sitting out at a nice cafe). Take a note from the Dutch and DIY your own picnic in the park. There’s nothing like relaxing in Vondelpark although you’ll find many other beautiful parks all across the Netherlands.
Go ice skating!
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to ice skate along the canals. (This has rarely happened in the past few years, however you might get lucky!) That said, ice skating is a very popular Dutch sport and you’ll find outdoor ice skating rinks all over the country in winter. One scenic rink is in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Bike or drive across the Afsluitdijk
The Afsluitdijk is one of the craziest feats of construction attempted. This is the world’s largest dike and it effectively closed off much of the Netherlands from the North Sea.
Can you imagine stopping a sea? Now, it’s a road in the North of the country, so be sure to drive or bike over it if you can! There’s a small cafe in the middle with information about its construction.
Be in two or three countries at once!
There are two really interesting border points in the Netherlands. To stand in three countries at once, you can go to Vaalserberg. There’s also a labyrinth where you can see this.
A more interesting example is Baarle-Hertog, a town that is split between the Netherlands and Belgium. Depending on where the door is, it helps you decide which country the house is located in.
See the heather of Texel or de Veluwe
Two of the most iconic natural landscapes of the Netherlands are Texel and De Veluwe. These two national parks are full of colorful heather, which blooms in summer and fall. There’s nothing like seeing fields of blooming purple flowers as far as your eyes can see!
Wadelopen is a very niche activity. This activity means that you actually walk across the Wadden Sea! You cannot do this on your own as the timing is important to ensure that the sea is low enough to make this possible and there are some safety precautions, but it is a very Dutch activity for those looking to get off the beaten path and into nature.
Explore the swamps of de Biesbosch or Weerribben
The Netherland is a swampy country naturally. It is amazing to see how successful the Dutch have ben despite the obstacles that the water has brought. It’s very rare to see the Dutch landscape be left untouched, which is why I believe that visiting national parks are important.
The Weerribben gives you a glimpse into the landscape that early inhabitants of the Netherlands had to deal with while the Biesbosch is a swamp that is the result of a catastrophic flood.
Spot a wild seal in the Wadden Sea
Another whaaat? Wild seals live in the Netherlands. If you’re lucky enough to spot one along the shores of the North Sea, be sure respect its space. Seals are curious, but they can be aggressive up close. You can see wild seals out in the North Sea by taking eco-tours from close to Groningen. Better yet, you can help rehabilitated wild seals be released back into the wild.
Experience a Dutch Christmas market
The Netherlands has some really lovely Christmas markets in December. Most major cities have some events although the most famous Dutch Christmas markets are located in Dordrecht, Maastricht, Valkenburg, the Hague, and Leiden. There’s nothing like browsing for gifts under twinkling lights while enjoying a hot chocolate!
Go to the beach
Did you realize that there were beaches in the Netherlands!? A lot of people don’t. Although the weather is often too cold to enjoy a swim in the water, you can still enjoy the relaxed atmosphere at many of the beach resorts in the Netherlands, enjoy a drink indoors with a view, or take a stroll along the boardwalk. I’m partial to Kijkduin and Scheveningen.
Did you know that you could surf in the Netherlands!? The currents from the North Sea make it possible to surf almost year round (with a dry suit). One of the most popular spots is in Scheveningen, the beach near the The Hague!
Experience the beautiful lights in Amsterdam or Eindhoven
Through December and January, Amsterdam is lit up thanks to the Amsterdam Light Festival. This stunning art festival showcases beautiful light sculptures lit up along the canals at night. You can enjoy them by boat or on foot as you walk down the canals.
The other famous light festival is in Eindhoven, which showcases cutting edge sculptures and light-related art. If you love design, be sure to visit in November. (Check the dates.)
See one of the “caves” of the Netherlands
Technically, there aren’t any caves in the Netherlands. Within the south of the Netherlands, you’ll find mines that date back to Roman times where the rock used to build the cities was cut.
These endless tunnels are often referred to as caves, however they’re man-made. The history is fascinating! You can notably visit the caves in Maastricht or the “cave” in Valkenburg where the Gemeentegrot Christmas market is held.
See the magical world of Efteling
Efteling is a Dutch theme park that predates Disney. This unique theme park has its own cast of characters, style of illustration, and fantastic rides.
Whether you’re a child or an adult, you’ll be delighted by Efteling (which is surprisingly affordable!). It’s possible with a day trip from Amsterdam although I’d recommend staying overnight nearby.)
Experience the charming medieval city centers of the Netherlands
Something that I love about the Netherlands is how many historic monuments you’ll find and how different buildings have been repurposed over time. It’s strange seeing medieval gates being used as jewellery shops, but why waste a perfectly good building?
You’ll find many very old cities in the Netherlands, notably Maastricht and Nijmegen. That said, you’ll find medieval remnants in many other cities. (I especially love the medieval city gate in Amersfoort and the medieval towers in Zwolle (shown above).
Eat a bossche bol
A bossche bol is the iconic food of Den Bosch. This charming city in Brabant is full of medieval treasures, however one of the highlights of this city is trying out its iconic dessert (that you can find elsewhere in the Netherlands). This dessert is made with chocolate and whipped cream.
Take a boat underground Den Bosch
Underneath Den Bosch, you’ll find the Binnendieze. These small canals are the last remnants of the ancient rivers underneath the city that were used in medieval times for trade.
Some tunnels are wide and stunning while others are narrow and cramped. It’s said that Jheronimus Bosch was inspired by one of these narrow canals. Today, you can take a historical canal cruise underneath.
Experience the quiet and charm of small town Netherlands and the Dutch countyside
I love taking a long bike ride through the Dutch countryside! You’ll pass countless fields filled with sheep and cows. (Befriend one if you’re lucky!)
As you cycle around, you’ll pass through adorable small hamlets where you can get a taste of life in a dorpje. Even within Amsterdam, you can experience this within the outer limits of the city!
See a hunebedden
The hunebedden are scattered across Drenthe. These stones (which vary in appearance) were used for burials and they’re older than Stonehenge. You’ll find them randomly scattered across the Dutch countryside in the eastern part of the Netherlands.
Take a train ride through the countryside
I love the Dutch train system and it gives you a chance to appreciate the stunning Dutch countryside. Although the Intercities go quickly between destinations, there’s something so lovely about seeing more cities along the way if you’re taking a slower Sprinter train (if you have the time). Click for tips for buying cheaper train tickets in the Netherlands.
Try Zeeuwse seafood
This Dutch bucket list item is not for vegans, however Zeeland (the province of the Netherlands just above Belgium!) is home to most of the Netherland’s seafood industry. Here, you’ll find sustainably grown black gold (Zeeuwse mussels) and Oosterschelde lobster.
Although you’ll find these locally sourced seafood elsewhere in the Netherlands, I recommend heading to the source (Yerseke) or Zeeland’s stunning capital Middelburg (if you’ll be continuing onto Belgium) to try these delicious Dutch delicacies.
See the King’s palace and the Binnenhof in the Hague
I now live in the Hague. The Hague is the administrative capital of the Netherlands. Not everyone knows that the Netherlands has a royal family and if you simply walk down Noordeinde, you can see the King’s working palace. More impressive is the sprawling Binnenhof complex, which is where Dutch parliament meets. You can walk or bike through. Click for my one day guide to the Hague.
I love Delftware. This typically Dutch pottery is produced in Delft historically. Delft is easily one of the cutest cities in the Netherlands and you can visit a Delftware factory to see the plates made in front of you for free!
If your budget isn’t so high and you’re still hoping to purchase some authentic Delftware, be sure to visit a thrift market like the IJhallen in Amsterdam to browse for vintage Delftware.
See the skyscrapers of Rotterdam
Rotterdam was a classically beautiful Dutch city for many years, but unfortunately, much of the historic city center was destroyed by Nazi bombers in World War II.
As a result, Rotterdam rebuilt itself as a new, modern city. It’s full of innovative architecture, crazy skyscrapers, and cool shops. Click for my one day guide to Rotterdam.
Eat an oliebollen
If you’ll be visiting the Netherlands during winter, you’re in luck! This is one of the best times of the year as there are fewer crowds and you’ll find oliebollen stands around the city.
Oliebollen are traditional Dutch holiday sweets that are fairly similar to a donut in terms of texture as they’re fried. Inside, you’ll find various fillings although raisins are popular. They’re commonly eaten around New Year’s Eve!
Try a drop or anything with anise in it
A lot of desserts and candies in the Netherlands incorporate some anise or licorice into their flavors. Many foreigners aren’t used to these flavors, but you should at least try out some drop candies. (You can find them in the candy aisle at Hema or Albert Heijn.)
Befriend a friendly Dutch cat
The Dutch are cat lovers. All around the Netherlands, especially in summer, you’ll find friendly cats. Don’t worry: most are not strays and they’re mostly neutered/spayed.
It’s actually atypical not to let your cat out in the Netherlands. As a result, you’re likely to make plenty of feline friends while walking around various Dutch cities Click for my cat lover’s guide to Amsterdam.
Take a stadswandeling around a smaller city
One of the most popular activities for families and couples here in the Netherlands is to take a “stadswandeling.” Simply, a stadswandeling is a long walk around a city taking in the history, the sights, and enjoying it. (On my website, I have numerous one day guides to various cities in the Netherlands, so you don’t need to hire a tour guide to explore most Dutch cities independently!)
Visit one of the botanical gardens in Amsterdam or Leiden or Delft
Unlike botanical gardens elsewhere in the world that were simply constructed for beauty, many of the Dutch botanical gardens date back to the medieval period where doctors were trying to find treatments for diseases.
Some of the Dutch botanic gardens are some of the oldest in the world If you’re interested in history and gardening, be sure to visit Hortus botanicus Leiden, which is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands.
Visit a Dutch castle
All across the Netherlands, you’ll find many stunning castles! Many of these castles date back to the medieval period although some (like Kasteel de Haar) have been reconstructed over the years.
Regardless of whether you prefer your castles abandoned, epic, or fairy-tale escape, give yourself a day to visit a castle! You can click for my guide to the best Dutch castles.
Climb the highest freestanding climbing tower in the world
If you love rock climbing, you might be a bit puzzled how one of the flattest countries has such great climbing…. The tallest freestanding climbing tower in the world is called Excalibur. It’s located in Groningen, in the eastern part of the Netherlands. I’ve climbed it myself and it’s absolutely amazing getting to the top!
Get soaked in the rain.
Getting soaked in the rain is a rite of passage here and although it’s probably not something that you want to happen, it will definitely occur! You can check the weather, but it’s highly unpredictable here. Be sure to bring a good raincoat with you. You can click here for my Amsterdam packing list.
Any other things to do in the Netherlands that are on your Dutch bucket list? Let me know!
Looking for more practical tips for traveling in the Netherlands?
- Your perfect Amsterdam itinerary
- The best day trips from Amsterdam
- Secret Amsterdam
- The best neighborhoods to stay in Amsterdam
- Foods that you must try in the Netherlands
- The best of the Netherlands: A complete Netherlands itinerary