5 beautiful small cities in the Netherlands

Zaandam - weekend in the Netherlands

When you are visiting cities in the Netherlands you’ll probably have Amsterdam and Rotterdam first on your list. Obviously, and you’re absolutely right. But if you have a bit more time in this country, or if this isn’t your first visit, why not explore these 5 beautiful small cities in the Netherlands?

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5 beautiful small cities in the Netherlands

The 5 cities in this blog post are my favourite small cities in the Netherlands. They each have a unique vibe and it is fun to wander around here. Discover the fairytale cobblestone streets, famous blue ceramics and eccentric-looking houses in:

  1. Hoorn
  2. Delft
  3. Haarlem
  4. ‘s-Hertogenbosch
  5. Zaandam

1. Hoorn

30 minutes from Amsterdam by train

The first time I visited Hoorn was when I was a little girl. My dad had built his own sailing yacht and he took us sailing that Summer. Hoorn is a small city along Lake Marker (Markermeer), which is kind of a large lake. Together with Lake IJssel (IJsselmeer), the adjacent lake, they divide the north part of the Netherlands into two.

Source: Hoorn Administratie

In the old city centre and the harbour, you can still see the VOC influences. In that time Hoorn was flourishing in wealth. Now, this still is the city of boatmen, fishermen and seafood. Here are a few nice places to enjoy the city:

  • Oranje Buiten has a terrace with lake views and a small private beach. Enjoy lunch, drinks or dinner with your feet in the sand. This place also has a beautiful hiking area along the coast of Hoorn, walking over the dykes.
  • At floating Restaurant De Baai you can’t only enjoy lovely food at the terrace, but also engage in different types of watersports. How about supping, kitesurfing or wakeboarding before lunch?

2. Delft

55 minutes from Amsterdam by train

Delft is situated between Rotterdam and the Hague. This is a city of cobblestone streets, the famous painter Vermeer and Delft Blue ceramics.

The birthplace of Johannes Vermeer (born in the Golden Century) is idyllic with its historical city centre, cobblestones and canals. Besides the historical sights, the city also has a modern, hipster vibe. The city even has a list of the most Instagrammable spots!

Photo by Toni Zaat

Here are some cool things to do and see in Delft:

  • Discover the Instagrammable spots in Delft
  • Check out the Vermeer museum. You can get tickets here.
  • Visit the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Almost every member of the Dutch Royal family is buried underneath the church. With good weather, you can go to the top of the church for a magnificent view.
  • Check out The Blue Tulip and Madame Blue at the market square to see the traditional blue painting of the Delft Blue ceramics. Or paint your own tile!

3. Haarlem

20 minutes from Amsterdam by train

As you might have noticed, I am a sucker for the historical city centres, old buildings and cobblestone streets. Haarlem fits into this list. I love combining this city with a visit to the beach. The city has a great combination of culture (historical sights and museums) and trendy coffee places and other hotspots.

5 beautiful small cities in the Netherlands Haarlem

Besides, there’s a shitload of activities to do in Haarlem:

  • Do as the locals and get on a bike! I love doing bike tours and Baja Bikes is one of the best. A great way to discover the city!
  • Dakkas is the place to be in Haarlem. Built on top of a parking garage, Dakkas looks like a greenhouse. Besides a great menu, you can also join the comedy factory or a yoga class on the roof!
  • Visit windmill de Adriaan located on the river Spaarne. Oh, and you can also sup on the river in Summer!
  • Do a canal cruise for the best views of Haarlem.

4. ‘s-Hertogenbosch

1 hour from Amsterdam by train

One of my favourite cities in the Netherlands is ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Fair enough, I am biased because I live here. Not really sure why, but for some reason, I ended up living here in an apartment on the edge of the city centre. What is most appealing to this city is the Burgundian lifestyle, referring to the heartwarming hospitality and that everything revolves around food & drinks and great companionship, whether you know each other for years, or you just met in a bar.

‘s-Hertogenbosch has an old city centre with the market square and St. Jan’s Cathedral as showpieces of the city. Here are some fun things to do:

  • Climb up St. Jan’s Cathedral. For 7 euros you can climb up this Gothic monument for a magnificent view.
  • Every Wednesday and Saturday there’s a farmer’s market on the main market square. Best place to sample food, try our traditional herring and other Dutch or international food.
  • With multiple awards of the ‘most hospitable city of the Netherlands’, ‘s-Hertogenbosch is the place to enjoy food and drinks. Try one of the venues in the Korte Putstraat, a narrow street filled with bars and restaurants.
  • Visit the NoordBrabants Museum to see the works of by Van Gogh, Jan Sluijters, Piet Mondrian and Marc Mulders. You can get skip-the-line tickets here.

5. Zaandam

15 minutes from Amsterdam by train

Cities in the Netherlands Zaandam
Source: Inntel hotel

Whenever friends ask me for recommendations, I always tell them to visit Zaandam. A very popular part of the city is called De Zaanse Schans, which is basically a free open-air museum. In the 20th century, the city wanted to preserve the traditional wooden houses turning the area, unintentionally, into a tourist attraction. What exactly is there to see here?

  • Along the river the Zaan, you can find traditional and colourful windmills. If you go around Zaandam to explore, it is best to rent a bike. Or you can do a guided tour to Zaandam from Amsterdam.
  • Walk around De Zaanse Schans and relive the 18th and 19th century. You can visit the bakery museum and see the warehouse where they make wooden shoes.
  • The Czaar Peter house is one of the oldest wooden houses in the Netherlands, built in 1632. It got famous because of the stay of Tsar Peter the Great in 1697.

Planning on visiting my home country? Have a look at my travel guide of a local for my article on the countryside or more information. And give me a shout if you have any questions. Happy to help you out!

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5 beautiful small cities in the Netherlands

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