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After over three years of living in the Netherlands, I’ve been asked a lot about how much time to spend in the Netherlands. A lot of people speed through the Netherlands only stopping for one day in Amsterdam, but I’d recommend enjoying at least 7 days in the Netherlands if you have the chance. I’ll be covering the highlights of the Netherlands and tips for getting around the Netherlands in this Dutch itinerary.
I’ve focused this itinerary more on Holland as most of the attractions that people want to see are in this region, however I’ve included a couple off the beaten path Dutch cities that you might want to add onto your itinerary if you have more time and/or you’ve already covered most of the major cities in Holland. This is based on my parents’ trip that I planned for them that they loved!
Many people don’t realize how small the Netherlands is. It’s very easy to take day trips from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, the Hague, and many cities in the Netherlands. To many people here, an hour is a long time to be on the train, so if you’re used to bigger countries, you don’t need to plan much because you can purchase a train ticket on the day of and they don’t sell out.
The tickets bought at the train station machines are not specific to any time, just the date, although I recommend avoiding rush hour. The maximum that you’ll pay is 25 euros each way on the train although in some cases, the regional buses might be cheaper! You can read tips for finding cheap train tickets in the Netherlands here.
Three days in Amsterdam
I generally recommend to have three days in Amsterdam. During this time, be sure to get a taste of Dutch food, wander around Amsterdam’s picturesque canals, glimpse into the sinful side of Amsterdam (if you dare!), explore the cool De Pijp district, and take in some of the incredible art at Amsterdam’s many museums. As someone who lived in Amsterdam for a few years, I can promise that three days is the perfect taste of Amsterdam.
Many Dutchies will say that Amsterdam is not the same as the Netherlands and many joke that it’s the Disneyworld of the Netherlands. Luckily, you are in the right place as I’ve designed an itinerary to show you much more of the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam. My parents followed a very close itinerary and although they loved Amsterdam, they were blown away by the other cities. Click for my itinerary for three days in Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam, I recommend staying at Max Brown, a boutique hotel in Amsterdam. This stunning hotel is made of various canal houses sewn together along one of Amsterdam’s most scenic canals. As soon as you walk by, you’ll understand why this is one of my top picks (as well as one that my friends have loved). For something more budget, the Student Hotel is a great choice for an affordable hotel and StayOkay Vondelpark is a cozy hostel that another friend of mine loved staying in.
It is a lot cheaper to stay outside of Amsterdam, so it might be better to spend three days and two nights in Amsterdam prior to moving with your suitcase to the other cities mentioned here. You’ll save a lot of money and have more time to enjoy these stunning cities without having to worry about heading back early! I include hotel picks for a few of the cities (with more recommendations within the dedicated city guides).
Day trip to Zaans Schaans and Hoorn
A lot of people have heard of Zaans Schaans. You don’t need to go with a tour as there’s a direct bus from Amsterdam Centraal to Zaans Schaans, which is included with an iAmsterdam card.
It’s free to see these iconic Dutch windmills although you will need to pay admission to visit the museum. You won’t need more than two hours here and get here to avoid the crowds! Afterwards, head back to the train station near Zaans Schaans to catch the train to Hoorn.
Hoorn is often overlooked by people who simply don’t know about it. Hoorn is a stunning city along the Zuiderzee that served as a major seaside port for many year. The riches of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) resulted in ridiculously charming architecture, however when the Zuiderzee was cut off from the North Sea, the town lost its significance with trade. Luckily, dairy has become a major industry for the region. It’s perfect for a relaxing day away from the crowds in Amsterdam. If you can go on a market day, I highly recommend it!
Day trip to Haarlem and the tulip fields (April/May only*)
If you’re visiting the Netherlands in time for tulip season, you’re in luck! The best time to visit the Netherlands to see the tulips is mid-April to the end of April. (You might get lucky with seeing the tulip fields in May). Most people head to Keukenhof to see the tulips, however you can also find the fields in Lisse that are free to admire.
You can follow this self-guided walking route that I’ve taken several years in a row to see the Dutch tulips for free! Haarlem is very close by and it’s such a lovely city….
Haarlem is a beautiful Dutch city that is quintessentially Dutch. There’s nothing like sipping on a fresh mint tea as you sit out on Grote Markt admiring the St. Bavokerk. You can also take a relaxing ride along Haarlem’s canals prior to stopping off at Jopen, a brewery within a former church. Click for my guide to Haarlem.
One day in Utrecht
Utrecht is one of those cities that leaves an impression on you. This stunning university city has two story canals that you can stroll upon as well as a stunning church tower (all that’s left of the grand cathedral that once stood there). Utrecht is famous in the Netherlands for its foodie culture and you will not be disappointed after you spend a day exploring this historic Dutch city. Click for my guide to Utrecht and things to do in Utrecht off the beaten path.
Optional day trip: Cheese market in Woerden (summer only*) and Gouda
If you’re looking for a Dutch cheese market, I highly recommend the one in Woerden. It’s considerably less touristy than the one in Gouda as well as Alkmaar.
What I love about this market is that real trades occur, so you can watch the handclap method go on as the buyers and sellers bargain for the price. They also provide free cheese samples. It’s absolutely free, so if you’re visiting in summer, head to the Woerden Cheese Market. On the way back, the train will pass through Gouda, which I recommend combining with Woerden.
Although the Gouda cheese market occurs on a different day than the Woerden cheese market, Gouda is a very charming and beautiful city. It is where stroopwafels are said to be invented, so you must try a fresh one while in Gouda.
For history geeks, the city hall is considered one of the most beautiful ones in the Netherlands. You’ll find lots of charming little streets and alleyways all throughout the city. Click for my tips for visiting Gouda!
One day in the Hague
The Hague is now my home. Although it has this reputation for being boring, a lot of people are blown away by the unique architecture (a blend of styles with a lot of Art Deco), the stunning canals, and the diversity of the city. Here, you’ll find the Mauritshuis, where you can view the Girl with the Pearl Earring and other Dutch masterpieces, as well as Escher in Het Paleis.
Be sure to explore Denneweg, one of the most stunning canals in the city, and consider heading to the beach in Scheveningen on a nice day. (Yes, there’s a beach nearby!)
You can read my guide for a day trip to the Hague here! I also have guides on where to eat in the Hague, where to drink in the Hague , and secret places in the Hague to visit.
Hotel prices in the Hague are incredibly reasonable and I’d recommend making it your base in Holland. At the Student Hotel, you can pay as little as 50 euros for a clean, modern room with quite a few amenities. La Paulowna Boutique Hotel is my recommendation for those looking for a boutique hotel with a special touch. You’ll also have views of the Peace Palace (shown above!).
Optional: One day in Delft
Delft is where the famous delftware is actually made, however there’s much more to this charming university city than pottery. As Delft is quite compact, you can spend even a few hours walking along its scenic canals, stopping for a coffee at its many modern cafes, and touring its two churches. The city is far from stuck in time and you’ll most likely be as taken with Delft as I have been. Click for my self-guided walking tour to Delft.
One day in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is completely different than the rest of the Netherlands. The city was almost entirely destroyed in World War II, so the city was rebuilt. Rather than rebuilding in the previous style, Rotterdam modernized with innovative skyscrapers and experimental architecture. If you’re looking for something different than the historic cities, you’ll find Rotterdam to be the epitome of cool with many districts full of great food and shops (including one actually called the Cool District). Click to read my guide to Rotterdam.
Optional: One day in Dordrecht
If you’re looking for something quite different, Dordrecht is a really beautiful Dutch city that isn’t known to many foreign tourists. It has a stunning historic center and it’s called the Venice of Holland. I have to agree with this assessment as it’s easy to imagine the posts picking up people at the various docks throughout the city center. Click to read about Dordrecht.
Note: If you only have a week in the Netherlands, you might want to limit your time to Holland. However, if you’re continuing down to Belgium or Germany, I’d encourage you to see Brabant and Limburg. These two provinces are often overlooked by first time visitors to the Netherlands and they really offer a great opportunity to learn about Dutch culture!
One day in Den Bosch
Many people haven’t heard of Den Bosch. This stunning city with a well-preserved medieval center was the home to the famous Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Throughout the city, you’ll find stunning canals where traders used to transport their goods on. Taking a tour of the Binnendieze is one of the most unique tours that I’ve ever taken and going underneath the buildings was so cool.
Beyond the beautiful architecture, delicious desserts, and its stunning cathedral, Den Bosch is a very alive city with many adorable independent shops and great food. Hotels are quite affordable in Den Bosch, which makes it a great stop-off prior to heading down to Limburg. I was here for one day and it left me wanting a lot more. Click to read your perfect day trip guide to Den Bosch.
Optional: One day in Efteling from Den Bosch
Many people outside of the Netherlands have not heard of Efteling. This Dutch amusement park has their own distinct universe as well as style of animation is older than Disney. I consider Efteling on par with Disney although the tickets are a fraction of the cost. (I’d recommend staying in Den Bosch as it’s quite closeby!)
Coming here will make you feel like a kid again, so if you’re looking for a fun day out after exploring numerous Dutch cities, consider taking a little break exploring Efteling. You can read tips for visiting Efteling here.
One day in Maastricht
Maastricht is one the gems of the Netherlands, however most people don’t know about it and end up skipping Maastricht. However, my parents considered Maastricht to be their favorite city in the Netherlands, even after several trips to the Netherlands. You can click to read my guide to Maastricht.
You might be wondering what is so special about Maastricht? The historic city center has a mix of architecture styles, several medieval churches that have been converted into bookstores and hotels, and a rich food culture. It’s also the perfect jumping off point to head towards Germany as Aachen, Germany is only one hour by bus—and Liege, Belgium is another hour away by train.