The 27 Most Beautiful Towns in the Netherlands

Naarden is a unique, star-shaped fortified village with canals, ramparts, bastions and ravelins
Naarden is a unique, star-shaped fortified village with canals, ramparts, bastions and ravelins | © frans lemmens / Alamy
Anahit Behrooz

An extraordinarily diverse country featuring lush countryside, wild shorelines, medieval towns and modern cities, the Netherlands is rich in both natural and cultural dynamism. Here, we check out the most beautiful Dutch towns that showcase the charm and wonder this country has to offer.

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Must Visit Towns and Cities in the Netherlands

1. Amsterdam

Architectural Landmark

Canal, Amsterdam, Holland, Netherlands

The capital of the Netherlands and the country’s most popular tourist destination, Amsterdam is a place of contrasts, a contemporary, laid-back city filled with unique and historical sites. The famous 17th-century canals which are found in the heart of the city are lined with charming houses, recognisable by their tall and narrow structure. Other architectural landmarks, such as the Gothic-inspired Rijksmuseum or the city’s many impressive medieval churches, add to Amsterdam’s beautiful cityscape and secure its place as one of the country’s most remarkable cities. Book a guided walking tour to discover the prettiest side streets and canal bridges in the city.

2. Delft

Architectural Landmark

Netherlands, South Holland, Delft, Voldersgracht and Vleeshall (Meat Hall)

Known for its links with the great Dutch painter Vermeer, Delft is an astonishingly picturesque town worthy of its artistic heritage. The city centre has a number of monumental buildings, such as the impressive Renaissance-style town hall, or the Oude Kerk, a medieval church with an extraordinary 75m (246ft) church tower leaning at a slight angle. Delft is also home to dozens of beautiful, intersecting canals, including the Vrouwjuttenland, a canal dating back to 1432 and remarkable for its charming houses, cafés and the water lilies which float upon the surface. Book a walking tour to see the very best of the City of Orange and Blue.

3. Giethoorn

Historical Landmark

giethoorn_pmrad7

An idyllic little Dutch village, Giethoorn has often been termed the Venice of the Netherlands for its myriad canals and small bridges. There are no roads in the old quarter of the village, and all travel and transportation is carried out on the water. Giethoorn differs from Venice however in its innate peacefulness; around every corner are charming thatched-roof cottages, small, well-tended gardens and lush greenery. Visitors can take a boat out onto the canals and explore the nooks and crannies of this unique village, or wander the footpaths and the bridges, stopping at one of the village’s many cosy cafés. There are plenty of day trips here that set off from Amsterdam.

4. The Hague

Historical Landmark

the-hague_2b7mj34

The political, administrative and legal capital of the Netherlands, the Hague is a beautiful city whose streets and buildings reflect both its impressive history and contemporary importance. Picturesque yet with an approachable charm, the city centre is a quirky mixture of architecture from medieval to modern and features the magnificent Binnenhof, the Netherlands’ seat of government. Nearby, the Noordeinde Palace, one of the Dutch royal family’s main residences, attracts plenty of visitors and their cameras. Towards the north of the city lies the area of Scheveningen, a wealthy beach resort complete with a pier, lighthouse and miles of sandy beaches.

5. Leiden

Historical Landmark

Gravensteen, a formal prison in Leiden, Netherlands

Home to Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden is known all over as one of the country’s main centres for history and culture. The birthplace of Rembrandt, this is an attractive city where traditional brick buildings cluster around the historic city, mingling with impressive university buildings. Like many Dutch cities, Leiden is located on the water; two branches of the Old Rhine enter the city and converge in the middle, with dozens of small canals branching off and winding throughout. Leiden also features an abundance of beautiful green spaces, including the Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and the Leidse Hout, a small deer park on the edge of the city.

6. Broek in Waterland

Historical Landmark

View on t Havenrak in Broek in Waterland, a charming, historic village on a perfect summer day, North Holland, The Netherlands.

Broek in Waterland is located in the municipality of Waterland, an area of the Netherlands on the western shores of the Markermeer and characterised by its flat grass plains intersected by rivers, canals and dikes. The town is a picturesque village perfect for those searching for natural beauty and tranquillity. The streets are lined with typical Dutch houses painted in quaint pastel colours and centre around the charming village church which dates back to the 17th century. The town also features a large lake, which is the perfect spot for picnicking in summer and ice skating in winter.

7. Naarden

Architectural Landmark

People relaxing on outdoor terrace of cafe on Oude Haven in old town of Naarden, North Holland, Netherlands

A stunning example of a star fort, Naarden is known as one of the best-preserved fortified towns in Europe. Star forts grew in popularity over the 15th century as a highly efficient form of defence and are visually arresting forms of architecture. The town of Naarden is located on the typical six-pointed star design and surrounded by a moat and lush green fields. The town is just as beautiful up close as it is from afar. The St Vitus Church, a 14th-century basilica, lies at the heart of the town, while the old town hall is a wonderful example of a traditional Dutch building, with intricate brickwork, charming green shutters and a peaked roof.

Underrated Towns to Visit in the Netherlands

There are many smaller settlements beyond Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague that are hugely under appreciated outside of the Netherlands. These charming, yet under explored burgs include several secluded spots on the Wadden Islands, two fortified communities and the oldest city in the Netherlands. Recommendations from Tom Coggins.

8. Nijmegen

Architectural Landmark

As Nijmegen was founded during a Roman conquest around 2,000 years ago, it is recognised as the oldest city in the Netherlands. Several buildings around the city still contain elements that date back to this period and there are many other fascinating historical sites in Nijmegen, such as its Dutch Golden Age weighing house or Brouwerij de Hemel, which brews beers inside a 12th-century stone monastery. The coolest way to see Nijmegen is without doubt on a private e-chopper tour around town.

9. Haarlem

Architectural Landmark

Haarlem’s medieval city centre contains many incredible attractions, including the Frans Hals Museum, De Hallen exhibition centre and de Grote Kerk. The city is around 15 minutes away from Amsterdam by train and within biking distance from one of the largest nature reserves in the Netherlands, Zuid-Kennermerland National Park. Book a boat cruise to enjoy the city’s picturesque streets in style.

10. Groningen

Architectural Landmark

Groningen is the largest city in the Northern Dutch provinces and became particularly prosperous during the height of the Hanseatic League. The city’s university is among the oldest and most respected in Europe, and around 25 % of Groningen’s population is made up by its student body.

11. Muiden

Architectural Landmark

A castle has stood in Muiden since at least the 14th century. The city is surrounded by several other fortifications that are related to the Defence Line of Amsterdam, including Pampus Island – a 19th-century sea fort accessible via a frequent ferry service.

12. Bourtange

Architectural Landmark

During the 16th century, the Dutch military built a star shaped fort on the only road leading between Germany and Groningen in order to control this vital trade route. Over the years, a village developed inside and around this awesome stronghold and Bourtange’s fortifications are now completely open to the public.

13. Urk

Architectural Landmark

After an enormous dyke was raised in Zuiderzee during the mid-20th century, the island of Urk became part of the Netherlands proper. Many people on this former island still speak an ancient dialect called Urkish, that sounds considerably different to modern Dutch.

14. Apeldoorn

Architectural Landmark

As Appeldoorn borders the Hoge Veluwe National Park and Ijseel Basin, the city is surrounded by natural beauty. There are also several important historical sites inside Appeldoorn, such as Het Loo Palace which was owned by the Dutch Royal family from 1686 to 1962.

15. Den Burg

Architectural Landmark

Den Burg is the largest village on Texel and lies roughly in the centre of the island, meaning that it’s exceptionally close to many other places of interest, such as Texel Brewery and the Dunes of Texel National Park. Around 6,000 people live in or near the village and there are plenty of amenities inside its borders, including a small cinema, traditional pubs and stores.

16. Valkenburg

Historical Landmark

The building of Schaloen Castle in Oud-Valkenburg, Province of Limburg, The Netherlands against a beautiful July cloudy sky

Visiting Valkenburg is like taking a step back in time. The city centre is filled with beautiful historic architecture, from the remnants of the city walls and gates to the Gothic Saint Nicholas and Saint Barbara Church featuring beautiful late medieval wood carvings. The ruins of Valkenburg Castle, dating back to the 14th century, are set on a hill above the town and are the highest castle ruins in the Netherlands. Valkenburg is also notable for what lies beneath its surface: a series of tunnels and caves, some man-made and previously used as mines and some natural. During the winter, they play host to a magical underground Christmas market. Recommended by Anahit Behrooz.

17. Thorn

Historical Landmark

Streets in the historic city of Thorn in Limburg, the Netherlands. Known for its white houses

Thorn, also known as The White Village of Thorn, is a remarkable town with a remarkable history. The town began as a small settlement sprung up around an abbey, but in the 12th century became its own principality and was known as the smallest independent state in the Holy Roman Empire. Thorn is no less extraordinary today and has developed into a charming Dutch village with cobbled alleyways, small courtyards and the beautiful Gothic church. The town is notable for its characteristic, whitewashed brick houses, providing a contrast to the dark bricks typical of much Dutch architecture and lending the town a fresh, unique feel. Recommended by Anahit Behrooz.

The Most Beautiful Towns in Friesland

We wanted to pay special attention to some of the truly stunning towns, villages and cities in the northwestern province of Friesland, ranging from charming coastal communities to larger, architecturally spectacular settlements. Tom Coggins rounds up the most beautiful towns in the province to explore.

18. Leeuwarden

Architectural Landmark

This picturesque, coastal village serves as the county seat of Terschelling Island. A stunning, multi-tiered lighthouse called Brandaris stands in the centre of the village and has watched over Terschelling’s shores since the 16th century. The village is surrounded by grassy dune lands and looks out onto the Wadden Sea – an area that’s protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

19. Harlingen

Historical Landmark

Harlingen Port Harbor Friesland sea beach coast The Netherlands

Located on the shores of the Wadden Sea in the northern Netherlands, Harlingen is a small town famous for its fishing industry that has become a popular tourist spot in recent years. Visitors can wander the quaint cobbled alleyways, admire the boats sailing from town to sea and take in the beautiful architecture. The town features a charming port filled with boats and ships, as well as numerous historic canal lines with attractive warehouses dating back to the 17th century and traditional houses. The old Harlingen lighthouse, built in the 1920s, still stands and has become the city’s most iconic landmark. You’ll spend some time here on the Seal Safari half-day tour departing from Amsterdam. Recommended by Anahit Behrooz.

20. Sneek

Architectural Landmark

Sneek was founded in the 10th century and served as an important trading hub for many years. Like other mercantile cities in the Netherlands, Sneek features a canal belt that was built in order to facilitate water traffic flowing through the city. These waterways lead onto Sneek’s most iconic landmark: the Waterpoort, a Mannerist-style gatehouse with two pointed turrets.

21. Dokkum

Architectural Landmark

Dokkum’s fortified town walls are among the most well-preserved structures of their kind in the Netherlands and follow a star-shaped canal that circles the city’s historic centre. In springtime, thousands of tulips burst into full bloom in gardens along these defenses, creating a stunning walking route that flows through the city. Dokkum also features two working windmills that stand on the western side of its bulwarks.

22. Wierum

Architectural Landmark

This coastal village developed around an ancient church called Mariakerk that was built on an artificial mound in the 13th century. Although the church originally stood inland, it currently overlooks Wierum’s shoreline due to floods and coastal erosion. For most of its history, Wierum’s economy revolved around fishing and there are many monuments in the village dedicated to the trade, including Mariakerk’s ship-shaped weather vane and a memorial on Wierum’s seawall honouring the memory of 22 fisherman who died at sea during a severe storm in 1893.

23. Franeker

Architectural Landmark

Franeker was the second city in the Netherlands to establish a university, which welcomed many famous students during its existence, including French philosopher René Descartes and Prince Willem IV of Orange. Although this institute was disbanded in 1811, Franeker still features several buildings associated with the university, such as the oldest working orrery in the world, the Eise Eisinga Planetarium and Museum Martena, which houses a large collection of academic artefacts.

24. Makkum

Architectural Landmark

Makkum lies just beneath the Afsluitdijk causeway, which connects Friesland with North Holland. Like many other towns in Friesland, Makkum grew around an ancient, artificial hill that was built in order to safeguard against the frequent floods that plagued the area until the 20th century. Over the last few decades, this seafaring town has developed into a major beach resort, due to its stunning coastline.

25. Bolsward

Architectural Landmark

Due to its proximity to waterways that flowed between the North Sea and Zuiderzee, this former Hanseatic city was one of the most influential trading centres in Friesland for several centuries. Many buildings from this time have survived until the present day, including Bolsward’s stately town hall that’s recognised as one of the most complete examples of Frisian Renaissance architecture.

26. Sloten

Architectural Landmark

Sloten is the smallest city in Friesland and currently houses around 760 inhabitants. Its small population mainly lives inside Sloten’s historic town walls, which are surrounded by a wide moat that feeds into a nearby lake. Aside from its historic fortifications, the city features several other points of interest, including an 18th-century windmill and rows of charming, waterside houses complete with pointed gables.

27. West-Terschelling

Architectural Landmark

This large village lies on the western reaches of Terschelling Island in the Wadden Sea. The area has been inhabited for over 800 years and features one of the oldest lighthouses in the Netherlands, Brandaris, which was completed in 1594. Recommended by Anahit Behrooz.

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