Ahh, Netherlands. If it wasn’t so dang expensive, I could stay here forever. The summers in the Netherlands are unbeatable. Grab a beer or a bottle of wine, hit the park with some friends, and just sit back and enjoy the endless sunshine. The Netherlands is a favorite of mine in Europe, ever since I first visited Amsterdam as a drunk study-abroad kid when I was 20. Over the course of my travels, I’ve probably befriended more Dutch people than any another nationality. Needless to say, the Netherlands is an essential stop whenever I make it to Europe.
While Amsterdam gets all the glory and attention from travelers, the Netherlands has many places that shouldn’t be overlooked. Having made Dutch friends from every part of the country, I’ve visited quite a few places, both amazing and forgettable. The Netherlands is an easy country to get around in, with train travel being ubiquitous and reliable all throughout the country.
Most likely, you’ll be starting off in Amsterdam, so let’s kick off the itinerary in this city of sin. Keep in mind that this is a fast-paced itinerary, but you’ll want to squeeze as much as you can into a week.
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Amsterdam: 3 Days
As far as travel destinations go, Amsterdam is still the top dog in the Netherlands. It’s a well-deserved distinction, as this city is impossible to get bored in. My first time to Amsterdam, I was a pretty hardcore tourist. I paddle-boated my way through a canal, roamed through Anne Frank’s house, visited coffee shops, and even caught an international football match at the big stadium. The Red Light District was a frequent stop for me, and I honestly couldn’t tell you much that happened once the 3 euro bottles of wine from Albert Heijn started flowing.
My second time to Amsterdam was a lot more chill. Having an additional seven years of travel experience under my belt, I was a lot more seasoned and a lot more laid-back. I figured out the public transportation system with ease, mostly avoided the over-crowded touristic center, and only went to the Red Light District for late night fries with curry sauce. I hung out with my friends at a number of parks, which I found to be pretty much one of the only social activities that Dutch people partake in. You’re either having a chill beer at the park or doing hardcore drugs at a techno festival. That’s my idea of balance, so I resonate deeply with the Dutch.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that Amsterdam is a city for everyone. Whether you want to be a tourist exploring the city at a chaotic pace, or looking for something a little more laid-back, Amsterdam is the city for you. It’s such a big, spread out city that it’s easy to find quieter, more local pockets if you aren’t into the tourist crowds. The city’s super well-connected so you’re never too far from a tram or bus stop.
I’d recommend spending at least three days in Amsterdam, especially if it’s your first time.
Hostel Recommendations for Amsterdam
St. Christopher’s Inn: I’ve stayed at many St. Christopher’s across Europe and it’s always a reliable hostel for a great social scene.
The Bulldog: Probably one of the most recognizable brands out of Amsterdam, is now also a backpacker hostel in the heart of the Red Light District! Come to party.
ClinkNOORD: Modern, trendy hostel to the north of the city. Good balance between chill and social vibes.
Flying Pig Hostel Downtown: A big-time party hostel with a great location and pretty much great everything else.
From Amsterdam, it’s easy to get to anywhere within the country. I’d recommend heading to the vibrant coastal city of Den-Haag.
The Hague (Den Haag): 1 Day
I went to The Hague for a Latin and Caribbean music festival. I had literally been away from Latin America for a grand total of four days, but I was itching to shake my hips. The actual city of Den Haag was kind of an afterthought at first, but I quickly fell in love with the city. It’s a very multicultural city. The fact that I was visiting with a friend I had met in Istanbul made it quite fitting that there was such a big Turkish influence in the city.
The Hague is a beautiful city with a fraction of the tourists you’ll find in Amsterdam. The city center is beautiful and historic. You’ll still find canals lined with bikes and flowers, but with a noticeable absence of selfie sticks and humans. Of course, another main attraction of The Hague is it’s long strip of beach. It even has a ferris wheel on the pier! I mean, it’s basically Santa Monica Pier. Well, as close as you could ask for in the Netherlands.
You don’t really go to Holland for the beaches, but it’s nice to know the option is there if you need it. I’d recommend spending a day exploring Den Haag, which is enough to see the attractions in the city center, as well as a quick trip to the beach for sunset and drinks.
The next morning, I’d recommend heading to the small, nearby town of Delft.
Day Trip to Delft
Close to Den Haag, you’ll find the beautiful and historic city of Delft. It’s quick and easy to get to, and won’t take up more than a couple hours to explore the city’s main attractions. Delft is known for its canals, cobblestone streets, and traditional Dutch architecture. Churches, museums, market squares, you know the drill. After exploring the charming city center, you can head straight to my favorite city in the Netherlands.
Utrecht: 2 Days
So apparently, Utrecht was recently named the most romantic city in Europe, beating out perennial contenders like Paris and Venice. I consider that a win for the underdogs. Not necessarily because the city of Utrecht itself isn’t deserving, but the name is just… not as romantic-sounding as Paris or Venice, ya feel?
I went to Utrecht to visit two of my favorite friends who I’d spent the holidays with on a backpacking trip in South America one year. Christmas in Sucre, New Year’s in La Paz, and a flurry of misadventures through Bolivia and Peru solidified our friendship. I mean, friends who survive the Amazon Rainforest together are pretty much friends for life. But, I digress! I went to Utrecht to visit them, and lo and behold, our grandiose reunion plans were to go to the park. Ladies and gentlemen, the Dutch.
We roamed through Utrecht as the sun kept the skies lit up well past 10 PM. It’s a beautiful mix of modern and historic, with stunning alleyways and canals lining the city center. Modern architecture contrasts it the further you head out, with the area right next to Utrecht Central Station looking like something from the future. For a city that’s 900 years old, Utrecht is looking pretty bangin’.
If I had more time and money to spend in the Netherlands, I could have seen myself staying in Utrecht for a long, long time.
Hostel Recommendations for Utrecht:
Bunk Hostel: Pod style beds for more privacy, but more expensive.
Stayokay Utrecht Centrum: Perfect location but can be really loud at night since it’s right in the center
Hostel Strowis: Beautiful, historic, and centrally-located hostel at a good price
Maastricht: 1 Day
On the southern ends of the country, you’ll find the city of Maastricht. It’s one of the most historic cities in the Netherlands, dating all the way back to Roman times. Next to Amsterdam, Maastricht is home to the most national heritage buildings in the country, including Sint Servaas Basilica and the centuries-old fortifications around the area.. It also has a big student population, making it a young, fun, and lively city for nightlife. Maastricht is a good final destination in the Netherlands before moving on to Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, or beyond. At this point in the country, the world is your oyster.
Despite being a small country, the Netherlands has so many more destinations to be fall in love with. I didn’t get a chance to experience the north, where I’ve heard Groningen can’t be missed. I skipped over Rotterdam, a modern and trendy city in the center of the country. And of course, I just missed out on the tulip season. This itinerary is very city-heavy, and any Dutch person will tell you that there’s much more to the country than just their cities. The countryside is beautiful and tranquil, until some mega-festival takes hold of it for a few days every summer.
There much to explore in Holland, but this is a good starting point for your adventures through this beautiful country.
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