The Netherlands may be a small country, but it has so much to offer visitors. This European country is most known for its capital city, its windmills, and its tulips. While those are all excellent reasons to visit, there’s even more to see. If you only have one week to spend in the Netherlands, here’s how to enjoy as much of its beauty, history, and culture as possible.
As you travel through the Netherlands, you’ll mostly get around by train. The country is relatively small so travel times are short. You’ll start your trip in the capital city, Amsterdam before exploring the other sides of this fascinating country.
Day 1: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the most well-known city in the Netherlands. This unique city has a rich history and culture. Here you’ll find amazing museums along with a vibrant nightlife. The city is also known for its red-light district, but there’s much more to this interesting place. On your first day in the city, you’ll see a few of Amsterdam’s historic and cultural sites.
What to do and see in Amsterdam?
Begin your time in Amsterdam with a trip to one of the most-visited places in the city, the Anne Frank House. This house contains the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years in the 1940s. Today visitors can see portions of the business office as well as the annex. Tickets must be booked in advance online and photography is banned inside to protect the artifacts and preserve the atmosphere.
While the Anne Frank House is an important historical site to visit, it does leave you feeling somber and reflective. When you’re ready for a change of pace, spend some time browsing the antique stores and grabbing a cup of coffee along the 9 Streets.
Then, make your way to the Houseboat Museum. Amsterdam’s canals have over 2000 houseboats, and this museum is the perfect way to learn more about this unique living arrangement.
For more museums, head to Museum Square (Museumplein). Here you’ll find several great museums. For modern and contemporary art, go to the Stedelijk Museum or the Modern Art Museum. The National Museum is a good choice to see artifacts from Dutch history. If you’re a Van Gogh fan, make sure to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
Where to eat in Amsterdam?
For breakfast, try out Winkel 43. This cafe is located near the Anne Frank House and has amazing apple pie. For a high-end dinner in the evening, get reservations to Rijsel. For a more casual, but still delicious experience, try out one of the multiple locations of the Seafood Bar across Amsterdam.
Where to stay in Amsterdam?
- $$$ – Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky
- $$ – Max Brown Museum Square
- $ – The Flying Pig Downtown
Day 2: Amsterdam
Amsterdam has great museums and cultural sites, but the city itself also has an incredibly cool atmosphere. Today, you visit a few of the city’s trendiest areas, do a bit of shopping, enjoy the views, and try out some amazing food.
What to do and see in Amsterdam?
Start the morning off with one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful bookstores, the American Book Center. This family-owned bookstore first opened in 1972 has a great selection of books. Booklovers could easily spend hours in this multi-story shop, and even the more casual reader will enjoy the fun vibes in the store.
Then, head to Dam Square. Here you’ll find the Royal Palace, the New Church, and the National which was constructed in remembrance of the casualties of World War II. The Royal Palace is open for visitors, and you’ll be able to take an audio-guided tour of parts of the palace. The Dutch Royal family still uses the Royal Palace as one of their residences.
You can’t visit Amsterdam without going on a canal cruise. Besides being a lot of fun, it’s also a good way to see the city from a different perspective. Different cruises are available, including romantic dinner cruises, so book the one that best suits your interests. If you buy an I Amsterdam Card, you’ll have access to a free cruise through the card.
During your second day in Amsterdam, you’ll also want to visit NDSM, an industrial shipyard that’s now a vibrant, trendy neighborhood. Take the ferry from Amsterdam Centraal to Amsterdam-Noord and then to NDSM-Yard. Here you’ll find cool street art, vintage markets, and trendy cafes. Make sure to stop by Pllek, a fun restaurant and bar facing the river. It’s one of the coolest places to hang out by the water and enjoy the sights.
Where to eat in Amsterdam?
For brunch, make your way to Blue Amsterdam. This cafe is located on the 3rd floor of Kalverpassage, a shopping center. The food is good, and the panoramic views over Amsterdam are even better. While in NDSM, stop at Cafe De Ceuvel. You’ll find all kinds of fusion cuisine options. You might even be able to snag a seat at one of the tables on a houseboat.
Day 3: Amsterdam
Today, you’ll have two options. If you’re in Amsterdam during flower season, take a bus to Keukenhof Gardens to see the tulips in bloom. It’s absolutely worth the day trip to see between March to May. If you’re in Amsterdam during the rest of the year, you’ll spend your third day in the city exploring a few more of Amsterdam’s unique sites.
What to do and see in Amsterdam?
If you’re not able to go to Keukenhof Gardens, start your day off with the next best thing–a visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt). Here you’ll find rows of flower shops floating along the canal. The shops sell flowers alongside souvenirs. You can also buy tulip bulbs to bring home. Just make sure you get ones with certificates that will allow them to pass customs in your home country.
Afterward, head to Amsterdam’s De Pijp neighborhood. This neighborhood is filled with fun cafes, restaurants, and shops. Visit Albert Cuypmarkt, a 300-stall open-air market to find everything from tasty treats to cool clothing. The shopping in the neighborhood is excellent, so stop anywhere that catches your eye.
Spend your afternoon relaxing in Vondelpark, one of the best places for walking and people-watching. If you’re a beer lover, you might decide to spend your afternoon at the Heineken Experience instead. This brewery has been operating in Amsterdam for over 150 years, and you can visit to learn about the brand’s history and even get a lesson on how to correctly taste beer.
In the evening, enjoy a bit of Amsterdam’s nightlife. While you can head to the Red Light District, you’ll find that most of the bars there cater mainly to tourists. For a more local experience head to Leidseplein where you’ll find more local clubs like Melkweg, Paradiso, and Chupitos. You can do a Leidseplein pub crawl if you want to visit as many bars as possible.
Need more ideas for Amsterdam? See our guide for 10 things to do in Amsterdam.
Where to eat in Amsterdam?
For brunch, head to Little Collins in De Pijp. This Aussie restaurant is incredibly popular, but it’s worth the wait. You could also try out CF Coconuts and Coffee, which is housed in a renovated art deco theater. For lunch, get a delicious, flavorful salad from SLA or get the best hummus you’ve ever had at Sir Hummus.
Day 4: Haarlem
Travel time: 20 minutes by train
Haarlem is sometimes called mini Amsterdam, but it’s entirely worth visiting. You’ll find old cobbled streets, historic sites, impressive museums, and welcoming bars. This charming Dutch city has significantly fewer tourists and is a nice change of pace after being in such a busy city. While you could take a day trip to Haarlem from Amsterdam because it’s so close, staying overnight will allow you to enjoy your time more.
What to do and see in Haarlem?
When it comes to sightseeing, you have a lot of options in Haarlem. You can visit St. Bavo Church which was built in the 1200s. Here you’ll be able to see the grand organ that both Handel and Mozart played during the 1700s. You should also visit the Corrie Ten Boom House. The owners used this house to hide people from the Nazis during World War II and were able to help around 800 people. Reserve a spot online for the guided tour.
Another must-visit place is the Teylers Museum. The museum houses art by greats like Michelangelo and Rembrandt. It’s also the oldest museum in the Netherlands. Make sure to visit Grote Markt in the heart of the city. You’ll find all kinds of cafes and souvenir shops. There are also festivals and concerts held here throughout the year.
You should also try out some beer while in Haarlem. Jopen Brewery is one of the best places to try out a variety of beers. If you’re there on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday make a reservation for High Beer which is like High Tea except with beer. You’ll get to taste three different glasses paired with 6 small appetizers.
Where to eat in Haarlem?
There is no shortage of amazing restaurants in Haarlem. Near Grote Markt, try out Fortuyn where you’ll find delicious burgers and sandwiches. Another good option in the area is Restaurant Zini, a cozy spot serving French-Italian cuisine. For a meal with a view, head to De DAKKAS. This restaurant is a greenhouse located on the roof of a parking garage. Its menu is made up of organic, seasonal dishes.
Where to stay in Haarlem?
- $$$ – Cavallaro Hotel
- $$ – Carlton Square Hotel
- $ – the niu Dairy
Day 5: Den Haag
Travel time: 40 minutes by train
The Netherlands’ third-largest city is the country’s political center, but that doesn’t mean Den Haag is boring. The city has a rich cultural scene combined with a rising culinary scene. Den Haag has a beautiful location near the North Sea coastline.
What to do and see in Den Haag?
Den Haag is the headquarters of the Dutch government and the home of the royal family. Make your way to the Binnehof complex, which was originally a Gothic castle and today houses the chambers of Parliament. Then, stop by the official Dutch Residence at Palace Noordeinde. While you can’t go inside the palace, you can visit the garden that’s open to the public.
For those interested in art, Den Haag has incredible museums. The Escher Museum, located in a former palace, is dedicated to a Dutch artist best known for his illustrations. The Kunstmuseum is perfect for fans of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian as well as other modern artists including Degas, Monet, and Picasso. The Mauritshuis houses the famous work “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer as well as other works by Dutch and Flemish artists.
While in Den Haag, take the tram to Scheveningen to enjoy the coast. Visit the aquarium and have a meal in one of the restaurants or bars lining the beach.
Where to eat in Den Haag?
Enjoy an elegant French meal at the Walter Benedict. While the brasserie is upscale, the atmosphere is welcoming and friendly. Another upscale option is The Penthouse. Enjoy a 5-course dinner while watching the sunset over the sea. If you decide to eat in Scheveningen, try out Encore by Simonis. Here you’ll get Asian-inspired cuisine made from fresh fish, meat, and vegetables.
Where to stay in Den Haag?
- $$$ – The Collector Hotel
- $$ – Mercure Hotel Den Haag
- $ – Park Hotel Den Haag
Day 6: Gouda and Utrecht
Travel time: 30 minutes by train from Den Haag to Gouda, 40 minutes by train from Gouda to Utrecht
Today you’ll be visiting two of the Netherlands’ smaller cities. Gouda is best known for its namesake cheese, and Utrecht is a beautiful historic city with lovely canals. You’ll head to Gouda first to spend half the day. Then, make your way to Utrecht in the afternoon.
What to do and see in Gouda and Utrecht?
One of the biggest must-dos in Gouda is to sample a bit of the famous cheese. On Thursday afternoons during the summer, you can visit the cheese market called as Kass en Ambachtenmarkt. You should also stop by the ‘t Kaaswinkeltje store to buy some of the blended Gouda cheese. Besides cheese, the city also exports siroowafels, a sweet cookie with syrup filling, so make sure to try one of those too.
To learn more about this city’s interesting history, go to the City Hall, which has been turned into a museum. If you have time, visit the Red Lion Windmill. This structure dates back to 1727, and you can get flour ground by the mill at the neighboring shop.
In Utrecht, one of the best things to do is walk along the Oudegracht canal. The old wharves and warehouses lining the canal have been converted into busy cafes and restaurants. It’s one of the most pleasant ways to spend a couple of hours. Another popular attraction is Dom Tower, the Netherlands’ tallest church tower. At the top, you can see all of Utrecht and even spot Amsterdam in the distance.
If you have time, you can visit one of Utrecht’s many other attractions. De Haar Castle, Museum Speelklok, DOMunder, and Centraal Museum are all worth visiting. For those who enjoy shopping, Hoog Catharijne, a large indoor shopping mall with around 100 shops, is also a good option.
Where to eat in Gouda and Utrecht?
For lunch in a gorgeous building, try out De Lichtfabriek in Gouda. The lunch menu has lots of healthy dishes. For a quick coffee or tea to go, head to TOFF.
In Utrecht, you’ll also find lots of great restaurant options. For amazing Indonesian cuisine, BLAUW is the place to go. It’s one of the best places to eat Indonesian cuisine outside of Indonesia. You can’t visit Utrecht without visiting one of the cafes along the canal, so try out Talud9, a buzzing coffee bar/wine bar. Another popular restaurant is Vis en Meer where you can order delicious seafood platters including options like clams, shrimp, salmon, prawns, mussels, and lobster.
Where to stay in Utrecht?
- $$$ – Grand Hotel Karel V
- $$ – Mother Goose Hotel
- $ – BUNK Hotel Utrecht
Day 7: Giethoorn
Travel time: 2.5 hours by train
Girthoorn takes extra time to get to, but it’s worth the trouble to get to this fairytale-like village in National Park Weerribben-Wieden. Most of Giethoorn is accessible by boat, and the village is full of beautiful canals and charming wooden bridges. It’s a wonderful place to spend the remainder of your time in the Netherlands.
What to do and see in Giethoorn?
Girthoorn takes extra time to get to, but it’s worth the trouble to get to this charming village in National Park Weerribben-Wieden. Most of Giethoorn is accessible by boat, and the village is full of beautiful canals and charming wooden bridges. It’s a wonderful place to spend the remainder of your time in the Netherlands.
Giethoorn is called the “Venice of the North” and to properly explore this village, you should absolutely take a canal cruise to admire the peaceful town. Either go on a guided tour or rent your own boat. Since there are more canals than roads in Giethoorn, a boat is the best way to get around. You can also get around on foot or on bike though because the village is small.
You could easily spend the entire day admiring the village’s architecture and exploring the canals. You can also walk or bike through the trails in National Park Weerribben-Wieden.
Besides Giethoorn’s outdoor attractions, the village has a surprising number of museums and galleries. At the De Oude Aarde museum, you’ll find precious stones, minerals, and fossils from across the world. At Museum Giethoorn t’ Olde Maat Uus, you’ll find a living history museum depicting life in a traditional farming village.
Where to eat in Giethoorn?
You might be surprised to learn that there’s a Michelin-star restaurant in such a small town. De Lindenhof is a 2-star Michelin restaurant set in a charming farmhouse. The seafood restaurant specializes in contemporary French and Dutch cuisine.
For a more relaxed meal, you can enjoy lunch or dinner on the terrace at Grand Cafe Fanfare. Another good option is Brasserie de Pergola. If you’re in the mood for Dutch cuisine, this brasserie in the Hotel Pergola has great food and a great atmosphere.
Where to stay in Giethoorn?
- $$$ – Je B&B Giethoorn
- $$ – Hotel de Pergola
- $ – Fletcher Hotel Restaurant De Eese
Useful tips for traveling in the Netherlands:
To make the most of your week in the Netherlands, here are a few helpful things to know.
The best time to visit the Netherlands:
The weather tends to be best during June or in the fall from September to November. However, if you are interested in seeing the Netherlands while the tulips are in bloom, you’ll see the best flower from mid-April until early in May.
What is the currency of the Netherlands?
Like most of the European Union, the Netherlands uses the euro.
Can you drink tap water in the Netherlands?
The tap water in the Netherlands is fine to drink. In fact, in some places in the Netherlands, the tap water is even better quality than bottled water.
The language of the Netherlands:
Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, but French, English, and German are also common. Here are a few words in Dutch that are nice for visitors to know.
Hallo – Hello
Tot ziens – Bye
Dank je wel – Thank you
Is the Netherlands safe?
Overall, the Netherlands is a safe country for visitors. The crime rate is low, and the biggest risk to most visitors is pickpocketing. As always, you should remain aware of your surroundings as a precaution.
Now you’re ready to enjoy your time in the Netherlands! Enjoy your days exploring this unique place!