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Top 10 cities to see in the Netherlands

Amsterdam

Top 10 cities to see in the Netherlands

Famous for the web of canals which connect its four corners, the Netherlands is the perfect place to enjoy a river cruise. While here, you’ll be able to experience first-hand the country’s spectacular countryside, which is curiously flat and dotted with iconic Dutch windmills.

Alongside Britain, the Netherlands established itself as one of the world’s superpowers due to the supremacy of its naval fleet, which facilitated trade with the East Indies and allowed the country to prosper. Its former wealth now shines through in its magnificent architecture, and here you’ll find some of the most breath-taking cities the world has to offer. Over the centuries, the Netherlands has also been home to some of Europe’s most influential and revered artists, and the country’s museums and galleries are some of the world’s best. Here are our picks of the top cities to visit on a trip to the Netherlands.


Amsterdam

Renowned for its beautiful 17th-century architecture, as well as the canals which run through its cobbled streets, the picturesque Dutch capital of Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular short-break destinations.

Though it’s hard to imagine today, Amsterdam is built on swampland which was artificially drained during the Dutch Golden Age at end of the 16th century. This was done to expand the city, which was prospering as an international hub of trade at the time. One of the wealthiest cities in the world during the 17th century, Amsterdam became a centre of humanist culture, and this mindset lives on to this day in the inhabitants’ laidback nature and liberal politics.

A visit to this beautiful city will reveal some of Europe’s most stunning architecture, a thriving nightlife, and some of the finest art the world has to offer. The three biggest attractions in the city are the Rijksmuseum, which is home to the finest collection of Dutch art in the world by masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer; the Anne Frank Huis, which has been preserved in the state which it was found after the war, complete with posters of movie stars and the Frank children’s height measurements on the wall; and the Van Gogh Museum, a must-see for anyone with an interest in the arts, as it not only features several of the artist’s most famous paintings, but also a collection of his private sketchbooks and diaries.

Soak up the history, culture, and stunning architecture of Amsterdam on our Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, Spring Gardens in Holland and Belgium, and The Delights of Amsterdam and the Dutch Bulbfields cruises.


Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands. Due to its position on the North Sea at the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas and its colossal port, which is the largest in Europe, it is known as the ‘Gateway to Europe’.

Rotterdam was all but destroyed during WWII, when it suffered severe bombing at the hands of the Luftwaffe as part of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. Since the war, the city has been rebuilt with the future in mind rather than the past, and visiting Rotterdam today is almost like stepping into an open-air museum of modern and post-modern architecture. The city was voted 2015 European City of the Year by the Academy of Urbanism, and is a must-see for anyone with an interest in architecture, featuring buildings designed by renowned architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Piet Blom, Ben van Berkel. The city is famous for its skyscrapers, which are an uncommon sight in the incredibly flat and windy Netherlands.

While here, make sure to check out the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, one of Europe’s finest galleries with a permanent collection which spans several centuries of Dutch and European art. Another must-see for art fans is the Witte de With, which is known worldwide as a launch pad for up-and-coming talent in the world of contemporary art.

See Rotterdam on our New Year cruise to Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp, Christmas cruise to Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent cruise, and Captain’s Choice cruise.


Dordecht

Dordrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. At the end of the middle ages, it was one of the country’s most important trade cities, and its beautiful centre stands as testament to its history as a wealthy trade route.

Today, Dordrecht is a quaint city well worth an overnight stay. Its main attractions include the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-Kerk ('Our Dear Lady Church'), which was built between 1285 and 1470 and features a 65m high tower containing 67 bells. Make sure to also check out the Voorstraat, the longest shopping street in the Netherlands at 1,200m; and the Kyck over den Dyck, the last surviving windmill in Dordrecht which was built in 1612 to produce the malt used by the city’s brewers.

From Dordrecht, it’s just a short trip to Kinderdijk, which has been named a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The site features 19 fully functioning windmills which were constructed in 1740 to drain the swampland for urban expansion. A trip here will allow you to experience a piece of Dutch history first-hand.

See Dordrecht on our Captain’s Choice, Amsterdam, bulbfields, and waterways of Holland, and Amsterdam and bulbfields spectacular cruises, and enjoy an optional excursion to Kinderdjik on our Spring Gardens in Holland and Belgium and Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent cruises.


Delft

Delft, with its idyllic medieval centre, is a hugely popular day-trip destination for tourists and Dutch natives alike. A trip here will reveal the canal-lined, cobbled streets and the elegant architecture of the Dutch Golden Age on a much more intimate scale than you’ll find in the Netherland’s larger cities. Unspoiled by modern developments, taking a trip to Delft is like stepping back in time.

Delft has two big claims to fame, firstly as the birthplace and permanent residence of one of Europe’s greatest ever artists, Johannes Vermeer. The much-loved artist is honoured today with the Vermeer Centrum Delft, a museum dedicated to his life and works which features a replica of his studio.

The city is also known for Delftware, the distinctive blue-and-white pottery which was duplicated from Chinese porcelain in the 17th century. The Dutch replicas made a design which only affordable to the upper classes available to all, taking Europe by storm. During Delftware’s heyday, there were 32 earthenware factories located in the city — Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles is the only one that remains. It’s now open to the public, and a visit will reveal how the famous pottery was made.

Enjoy a trip to Delft on our Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent, Christmas markets extravaganza, and Captain’s Choice cruises.


Volendam

Volendam, which was originally constructed as the harbour for nearby Edam, is known as ‘the pearl of the Zuiderzee’. When a new harbour was built closer to the city of Edam, Volendam ceased to be used as a point of trade and became the sleepy fishing village which it remains to this day.

The quaint fishing town is untouched by modern developments, and some of the inhabitants can still be seen wearing klederdracht, the traditional garb of the region, alongside wooden clogs. In the early 20th century, the village became a popular resort for artists, such as Picasso and Renoir, due to it seemingly being untouched by time.

If you visit Volendam as part of our Dutch towns and the Spring Gardens of Keukenhof cruise, you’ll be able to join our optional excursion to the magnificent Keukenhof gardens, known as ‘the garden of Europe’, where you’ll find over seven million bulbs creating a spectacular carpet of colour. These gardens aren’t to be missed if you’re in the Netherlands during spring, and they attract over a million visitors a year.


Arnhem

Arnhem is most famous as the location of one of the most pivotal battles of the Second World War. In September 1944, the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade attempted to secure the bridge and all but guarantee the allied advance in to Germany. However, the Nazi defence prevailed, capturing the allied forces and delaying the invasion until the following spring. The bridge was renamed the John Frost bridge in honour of the commander of the British unit, and is now a must-see for WWII history buffs. Those interested should also check out the Oosterbeek War Cemetery, which contains the graves of most of those killed during the Battle of Arnhem. The excellent Arnhem War Musuem is also well worth a visit.

Other attractions in Arnhem include the enormous Netherlands Open-Air Museum, which gives visitors a glimpse into the Netherland’s past with fully functioning recreations such as a windmill, a brewery and a printer alongside traditional shops and volunteers in traditional clothing. All of the exhibitions are interactive, making this the perfect place to visit with kids.

In the centre of Arnhem, you’ll find Park Sonsbeek, where you can step away from the hustle and bustle of the cafés and shops into the idyllic greenery that features rolling hills, streams, and waterfalls. There’s plenty of space to set up a picnic blanket and enjoy the sun, as well as several hiking trails to explore if you were looking for something more active.

Enjoy a trip to Arnhem on our Dutch towns and the Spring Gardens of Keukenhof, Best of the Rhine and Moselle, and Captain’s Choice cruises.


Kampen

Kampen has one of the best-preserved old town centres in the whole of the Netherlands. It includes the remains of the ancient city wall, several churches, and the three bridges over the IJssel which connect Kampen with neighbouring IJsselmuiden and Kampereiland. On the outskirts of the city is d'Olde Zwarver (the Old Vagabond), a windmill dating from 1842.

Outside of the old town, the city is filled with colourful murals from the Art Nouveau period. These are in fact advertisements for now-defunct local businesses, and whenever they are discovered underneath old plaster, they are restored to their former glory by the resident artists.

See Kampen and its beautiful old town on our Amsterdam and Bulbfields Spectacular, Delights of Amsterdam and the Dutch Bulbfields, and Dutch Towns and the Spring Gardens of Keukenhof cruises. While there, you can enjoy an optional excursion to Het Loo Palace, the former residence of William III and Mary II of England. A trip here will reveal how the former royal family lived, with its ornate rooms and perfectly manicured gardens. Enjoy the spectacularly decorated rooms of the sprawling palace and, if the weather permits, a leisurely stroll around the magnificent royal gardens.


Nijmegen
 

Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands, having been founded in 5AD as a Roman settlement. Nijmegen is now a university town known for its left-wing politics and its handsome Old Town.

Despite its rich history, Nijmegen has a relatively compact footprint. This is due to the fact that strict town planning regulations were enforced until the late 19th century, when the original town walls were dismantled and, for the first time in 400 years, the city could expand. The expansion was held to strict planning regulations, and the vast suburban belt which surrounds the town includes parks, broad streets, and plenty of space for people to live. This is a stark contrast to the compact and densely populated old town.

Much of the old town was destroyed in WWII, first by allied forces while winning the town back from Nazi control, and then over five months after its liberation by German forces. As a result, the majority of the Old Town has been reconstructed using as many of the original materials as possible. A stroll around its cobbled streets is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, and its chic bars and restaurants provide ample entertainment into the evening.

Visit Nijmegen on our Captain’s Choice and Amsterdam, Bulbfields and Waterways of Holland cruises.


Heusden

The enigmatic city of Heusden is a gem of the southern Netherlands. The town’s medieval fortifications give it a unique star-shaped footprint, and a stroll along these walls is the perfect way to see the picturesque buildings which it was built to protect.

The town itself is almost like an open-air museum, with over 130 listed buildings, including several churches. Make sure to check out the Haven, a small harbour dating from medieval times complete with a Dutch drawbridge and windmill as a backdrop. Discover the history of the town, complete with all of its most significant archaeological findings, at the excellent Museum het Gouverneurshuis.

From Heusden, it’s just a short journey to nearby Den Bosch, the largest walled city in the Netherlands. The locals rarely use the town’s formal name, ’s-Hertogenbosch, which translates to ‘Duke's Forest’. The city saw its heyday in the 16th century, when it was the second-largest city in the Netherlands and the birthplace and home of one of the greatest painters of the northern Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch. Much of the city’s heritage remains intact, as it survived WWII relatively unscathed, making it a beautiful place to visit today.

Enjoy a trip to Heusden as part of our Captain’s Choice cruise, on which you can also enjoy an optional excursion to Den Bosch.


Enkhuizen

In the 17th century, Enkhuizen was one of the wealthiest cities in the Netherlands and rivalled Amsterdam as the country’s foremost port. The power and influence it held then is obvious on any walk around the town, where you’ll see beautiful mansions and churches and intricate architecture alongside the imposing city walls and canal system. Most impressive of all is the vast harbour, which was once a centre of European trade.

While here, make sure to enjoy a trip to the excellent Zuiderzee Museum, which showcases life as it used to be in the city’s 17th-century prime. It comprises both an indoor museum, which includes exhibitions of photography, traditional costume, and the largest collection of wooden ships in the Netherlands. The outdoor museum, which is open from March to October, features authentic buildings from the city’s prime including a church, a mill, a cheese warehouse, traditional shops and housing from the surrounding fishing villages. All of the volunteers dress in the traditional attire of the region and give informative and entertaining demonstrations.

See Enkhuizen in its full beauty on our Dutch towns and the Spring Gardens of Keukenhof cruise.


To see the best the Netherlands has to offer and soak up its rich history and beautiful scenery, join us on one of our Netherlands cruises. If you’d like more information about our European river cruises, contact a member of staff today.


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