As a Dutch resident, I love exploring the Netherlands, but writing about the Grote Markt in a town can get a bit tiresome. For a while, I’ve been pursuing some really off the beaten path places in the Netherlands and these are my favorite quirky places in the Netherlands to add to your Dutch bucket list if you’re someone who loves the strange, the adventurous, the macabre, the magical, and the weird. They’re spread throughout the country.
There are so many beautiful canals that you can see. In search of the weird, wonderful, and macabre in the Netherlands, I’ve visited some quirky and fascinating places in the Netherlands. I’ll be adding to this list as I find new off the beaten path places to visit in the Netherlands in the coming year.
Off the beaten path Netherlands places included in this article
- Witches’ Weighing House
- Nederlands Kremlin
- Zaandam Hotel
- Teylers Museum
- Medical museums
- The Sweat Room
- The Dead House
- Celestial Vault
- Goudsmid Bert van Wijk
- Book Mountain
- Trampoline Place Hague
- Austerlitz, De Pyramide
- Delta Works
- Crane hotels
- Theo Jansen’s animals
- Eisinga Planetarium
- Plompe Toren
- Carnaval in the South
- Churches turned Bookstores
- Christmas markets in a cave
- Three Country Maze
- Blood House
Witches’ Weighing House
Oudewater is a scenic town in the Utrecht region with a dark secret. This town like many towns in the Netherlands has a weighing house for witches, which is now a museum. Supposedly, people in the past could determine if people were witches using various methods, including weighing witches to see if they were light enough to “fly.”
The Heksenweeg tried to make an honest show of the weighing to determine that someone is a reasonable weight for their frame, which was actually recognized by Charles V as a fair scale. This resulted in this weighing house issuing weigh certificates stating that you’re a reasonable weight for your size, which you can still receive today. Read more about visiting this witch museum!
The Netherlands Kremlin is one of my favorite quirky places in the Netherlands. This sculpture garden is the result of 20+ years worth of love, sweat, and various building supplies. Its creator worked as a blacksmith and was inspired by mythology as well as Russian architecture. It’s absolutely amazing and worth the trip to this sculpture garden, which can be hard to reach.
The Funeral Museum
The Netherlands Funeral Museum Tot Zover is a quirky museum in the outskirts of Amsterdam. Here, you can learn about international burial rites, funeral processes, and cremation throughout history.
We think of science as linear, but in the past, people knew substantially less about historical periods. This museum in Haarlem is an interesting museum as it’s one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands.
Pieces here are displayed according to historical notions of science where you can see ancient coral displayed next to dinosaurs. It’s fascinating to see how far science has come and the building itself is absolutely stunning inside.
One of the most iconic sights of the Netherlands
The Kattenkabinet is a quirky museum in Amsterdam. This museum is dedicated to cat art and not surprising, it has friendly cats who often say hello. You’ll see art by Picasso, Rembrandt, and other famous artists. It’s definitely worth the stop if you’re a cat lover visiting Amsterdam.
Inntel Hotel Amsterdam Zaandam
Just outside of Amsterdam, you’ll find the Inntel Hotel in Zaandam. This hotel is an interesting piece of architecture as the exterior appears to be composed of 70 traditional Zaanse houses in green. You’ll pass it on the train as you head towards Zaanse Schans!
Water towers repurposed
All throughout the Netherlands, you’ll find buildings repurposed for interesting reasons. Two of my favorite water towers in the Netherlands are in Utrecht and Dordrecht. In Utrecht, just a little away from the train station, you’ll find a water tower that dates back to 1896 that now holds a restaurant with great views over Utrecht. Just be warned that it’s a favorite of locals, so reserve early!
In Dordrecht, you’re able to actually stay in a former water tower. Villa Augustus is one of the most unique hotels in Dordrecht and it also has an amazing view over the city. The garden is quite famous within the city for those looking for a little urban greenery.
The Sweat Room
Leiden University has long been the favorite university of royals, including the current Dutch King. Ass you wait for the results of your exams to determine whether you passed, you’re let into the Sweat Room. Thousands of students have scribbled their names along these walls although you’ll also find the names of honorary doctorates, such as Nelson Mandela. It’s typically closed to the public, but you might get lucky during graduation weekend!
The Netherlands has long been the domain of many famous scientists, which account for why you’ll find quite a few medical museums in the Netherlands. The most famous is
Twice a year, you can visit the Anatomical Museum in Leiden. This
Efteling is the quintessential Dutch amusement park,
The Dead House
Within the Hague, you’ll find the Dead House. As it used to be much harder to determine if people were really dead, this house built in 1830 was used for death-weathers to double check that the deceased
Goudsmid Bert van Wijk
I stumbled upon this little shop when I was in Middelburg. Its owner Bert is a prankster and a collector of Zeeuwse
A bit outside of Rotterdam, you’ll find a mountain made of books in Spijkenisse. The literacy rate in this area is fairly low, so they decided to build a beautiful library to serve as a community center. Stichting Openbare Bibliotheek Spijkenisse is shaped like a mountain and you’ll have to see it to believe it. Just a warning: it’s a pain to get to without a car.
ter Muiden / Abandoned Asylum nearby
Just outside of the Hague, you’ll find one of the most interesting free art exhibitions in the Netherlands. The Celestial Vault was inspired by the Druidic stone altars by James Turrell. The idea is that visitors will lay down on the stone bench to see the sky appearing as a curved dome.
What a museum. The
I am obsessed with the squid swimming shoes still. It’s one of those places that make you laugh and ponder at humanity’s struggles, but you’re too busy having fun to obsess over which items are legitimate and which aren’t. We were told that a gentleman never tells when we asked. A task for next visit.
Carnaval in the South
One of the most unique and quirky events of the year occurs each spring. All across the Netherlands, you’ll find Carnaval celebrated in the historically Catholic parts of the Netherlands. Each city (generally within Brabant and Limburg) has its own unique traditions, but if you love dressing up in costumes or wearing bird cages with fur coats (Bergen op Zoom), you need to experience Carnival at least once.
The cities will change names, so you won’t return to the same city next time. I visited Breda (
and danced to way too much Brabant polka.
There’s nothing as charming as this giant Santa Claus statue holding a giant dildo in the center of Rotterdam. This statue was once controversial, but the locals have embraced this giant statue as a symbol of Rotterdam.
Austerlitz, De Pyramide
Following the success of the French in Utrecht, a French general decided to build a monument inspired by the pyramid of Giza. This pyramid (of 36 meters) was named a mountain (as the Netherlands doesn’t have mountains) has an obelisk on top. The name was changed to Pyramid Austerliz in 1806 and its remained the same since. This pyramid is a bit hard to get to without a
Leave it to the Dutch to build the world’s tallest freestanding world. Despite being an incredibly flat country, the Netherlands has a lot of climbers. On the outskirts of Groningen, you’ll find the Excalibur climbing wall. This wall is 37 meters high and for adrenaline junkies, it’s hard to find a better challenge. I climbed it myself and it was a blast reaching the top.
The Dutch-Belgian border has some interesting complexes following the Treaty of Maastricht. There are several towns in Belgium that are fully disconnected from Belgium as well as Dutch cities within Belgium. The complexity of this situation allowed the Belgian resistance to protect refugees during World War I.
The most iconic town along the border is Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau, which is part of both countries. The door determines where taxes are paid, however you’ll definitely find some strange quirks on how this town operates. You can stand in both Belgium and the Netherlands at once!
If you told people two centuries ago that it was possible to close off a country from the sea, I’m not sure that they’d believe you. The Afsluitdijk is an impressive piece of engineering built during the Depression era to help prevent deadly floods. In building this road that cuts from West Friesland to Friesland, the North Sea was cut off from the now Markermeer. Halfway down the Afsluitdijk, you’ll find a small cafe documenting its history.
Throughout history, a common enemy shows up in Dutch history. Not the French or the Spanish. More mundane than that. Water. Countless floods have shaped the modern landscape of the Netherlands and this endless fight against the water has made the Dutch into some of the best engineers in the world when it comes to hydraulic engineering.
The most impressive project, besides the Afsluitdijk, is the Delta Works. This massive project was undertaken to protect both South Holland and Zeeland from the sea using a complex mix of levees, dykes, dams, and sluices. You can view quite a few of these as you bike around South Holland or take a road trip in Zeeland! They’re one of the seven wonders of the modern world!
As mentioned previously, things rarely go to waste entirely here. Cranes would typically not be of note,
Theo Jansen’s animals
One of the most beloved artists from the Netherlands is Theo Jansen, who is originally from Scheveningen. After studying physics, he started creating “animals” that move in the wind along the beaches around the world. He calls them “Strandbeest” in Dutch or “beach animal”.
The videos of his work online are captivating and I’m waiting for his next public event to see one in person. You can hopefully get a glimpse of him at work along the beach on weekdays in summer near Kijkduin near De Fuut. Please be respectful!
In Friesland, you’ll find the oldest working planetarium in the world. It was created by a self-taught scientist who worked as a wool carder who was fascinated with astronomy. He built this working model of the universe to convince the people of Friesland that the planets would not collide (as predicted by a Reverend). This beautiful model was built in in his living room and can be visited today in Franeker, Friesland.
Just meters from the sea, you’ll see a church tower that is the last remnants of a town that once was. This church, dating back to 1468, was in a town that was swallowed into the Oosterschelde (where you can now fish Oosterschelde lobster). It’s a strange remnant of the past, but certainly, one for a good existential debate over what we leave behind after our civilization is over. It’s free to visit although you’ll have to pay a toll to get onto the island.
Yerseke is an interesting place in the Netherlands. This once sleepy village was once the hub of conventional farming, but fate changed this town’s destiny. Following a deadly flood that wiped out much of Zeeland, Yerseke finally had a coastline along the newly created Oosterschelde estuary.
Mussels and oysters thrived in the region and soon this region became famous around the world for its seafood. This is one of the best places to try Dutch oysters, mussels, and the rare Oosterschelde lobster while learning about Zeeland’s fascinating history!
At 216 Amstel, you’ll find the Blood House! This building looks conventional, but it’s stained with reddish-brown symbols that are said to be drawn in blood by a former mayor of Amsterdam. You can check the outside for these faded marks…
Churches turned Bookstores
People are becoming less religious in the Netherlands, which has resulted in more churches becoming secular buildings as they’re preserved for prosperity. Notably, there are some stunning former Catholic churches that have been turned into bookstores.
My two favorites are Boekhandel Dominicanen in
Three Country Border
Do you love mazes and borders? One of the more quirky and geeky places to visit in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany is the Three Country Border. Along the Southern border of the Netherlands, you can touch the spot where these three countries meet prior to finding your way through a labyrinth. It’s
Christmas markets in a cave
One of the coolest things in the Netherlands has to the caves in Valkenburg and Maastricht. These caves are actually man-made caves that were used as quarries since Roman times. Today, the caves in both cities have been used throughout history as hiding places during wartime (WWII), a warm place to live during the winter (Valkenburg), and as escape tunnels from the castle (Valkenburg).
During winter, the caves in Valkenburg are transformed into one of the most unique Christmas markets in Europe: a Christmas market held within the caves. It’s truly a sight to see the caves decked out in Christmas trees and lights. I loved sipping on gluhwein in here!