Until very recently I thought The Netherlands stood only for, oh well, Amsterdam, cheese, tulips and coffee shops ( wink, wink). But in late July I found myself planning a 5 day trip to the beautiful underwater country (ok, partly) and researching like crazy for the most beautiful small towns in The Netherlands.
And I am referring here to the most beautiful places apart from Amsterdam. Don’t get me wrong, I love the capital of The Netherlands, but it wasn’t my first time there thus I wanted to see and feel more.
Of course, when you have more time, it is definitely worth it to go out and explore even more of The Netherlands: Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, just to name a few. But for now, I’ll focus on the smaller towns, perfect for an Amsterdam day trip.
I’ll add here that whenever we have more time, but not quite enough to travel slowly and explore at our own pace, we mix and match and choose to do some things ourselves, while for others we book organized tours.
We choose to do that because:
- We don’t find it very efficient to rent a car for a day. It takes time to find the pick-up place, get used to the car, get used to the driving style and conditions in a country, and get stressed with parking spaces and fees. It is just too much for only a day and it is not worth it.
- We could get to see more small Dutch villages in just one day. While all of them are rather close to Amsterdam, getting there by public transportation would have proven to be a time-consuming challenge. Thus, we would have wasted a lot of time planning the trip, getting there, possibly without seeing all of them in the end.
- We like it that once we’re on the bus we don’t have to worry about anything, get some valuable information from the guide, but still have the flexibility to wander away from the group once we get to the destination.
- The price is worth it, not only because of the reasons stated already, but also because in some European countries trains are not as cheap as in others. Thus prices might add up also when doing the trip on our own.
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So here are, my 4 most beautiful small towns in The Netherlands
Zaanse Schans – the windmill village
The little town is really close to Amsterdam, making it easy to reach by train on a 17-minute ride, and a cheap getaway from the busy streets of Holland’s capital town.
Plan a half-day visit to one of my top choices for one of the most beautiful small towns in the Netherlands and get ready to indulge in tons of chocolate, hot chocolate drinks, and windmills.
What fascinated me the most was how people still live in these small colorful houses, in the middle of this very windy place and how windmills used to be both a means of living for people, while also being the place they lived in.
If you have a few days in Amsterdam and you are looking to spend a few hours away from the craziness, go to Zaanse Schans!
When you want to do and see more than just Zaanse Schans, you can always book a day trip and combine it with some of the other villages below in just one day. That’s a great idea when you don’t have much time but you want to experience true Dutch countryside and learn about cheese making, and much more. See Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam and Marken Tour in just one day!
During the tulip season, you can book a Keukenhof + Zaanse Schans + Canal cruise trip where you’ll experience one of the things The Netherlands is so well known for and why so many people flock that way in Spring: the amazing picture-perfect colorful tulips.
Where to stay in Zaanse Schans
While the little windmill town is very close to Amsterdam, you might still want to spend a night away from the tourist crowds and choose to stay in the little village on the canals, thus here are a few options:
- Hotel Zaandijk – set in one of those beautiful greenhouses, just by the canal and the bridge linked to Zaanse Schans, this is the perfect romantic setting for spending a night in the cocoa-infused town.
- Stay on your own little island – wouldn’t that be so cool? The place is such a nice, traditional type of accommodation really close to Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans.
Volendam – the doll-house town by the sea
Driving along the greenest fields I have ever seen before, with traditional music playing in the background, I couldn’t get my eyes off the window.
Tens of beautiful cows passed by, looking so happy and relaxed, sharing the wide green with their fellow ducks and geese, while no one was bothering them.
I was so absorbed in thinking how beautiful life would be here and I almost didn’t feel the whole road to the second of the most beautiful small towns in The Netherlands: Volendam.
We were told that Volendam is a very small fisherman town, in North Holland, that used to be the harbor of the nearby Edam. Needless to say, I had a whole different picture in my mind before I got there.
Volendam surprised me with its beauty and narrow canals, framed by alluring scarlet homes with wide windows letting the light caress their interiors.
I lost the group while taking tens of pictures since I couldn’t decide what I loved most: the pretty flowers mirroring in the clear water, the picture-perfect little houses who were standing in line waiting for me to photograph them, or the long, sunny strip of beach, taking us straight to the small city center.
Remember, you can see Volendam together with Zaanse Schans and Edam on a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. Or, if you want something different and are looking for more of a cultural trip, go and see 5 UNESCO World Heritage spots Day Tour.
What can you do in Volendam, you ask?
Oh well, choose one of the most popular activities:
- Visit a cheese factory and learn how cheese is done directly from the producers. Watch a demonstration, taste endless types of cheese and spend your money wisely on at least 3 varieties of cheese.
- Move forward to one of the places where you will get to taste, see how they are done and if you’re lucky (like me :D), get to make them yourself. What am I talking about? Stroopwafels of course! They are tasty, sweet and perfect to have with a cup of coffee or tea on a rainy morning while looking outside your window and dreaming about fairy tales.
- Take a seat on a bench. Even better, grab a waffle soaked in Nutella and while nibbling on it, admire the daily life. I promise you’ll understand very quickly why famous painters such as Picasso or Renoir fell in love with this small but charming town.
Lovely colored houses overlooking the narrow strip of beach
Where to stay in Volendam
Volendam is such a small and charming place offering so many options, that it might just be a pity not to spend at least one night here, and below are my picks, mixing traditionalism with comfort and beautiful views:
- Hotel Marinapark Volendam – right in the center of Volendam, if you are lucky and catch some sunny days, you might even get some beach time.
- Charming skipper’s lodge – what can be more authentic than spending a night in this place? Just have a look and come back afterward and let me know.
- Edam house – head a bit further from Volendam to Edam and rent this beautiful romantic old house. I would surely love to spend a few days here and taste the cheese, explore the countryside, see the windmills.
Giethoorn – the no 1. of the most beautiful small towns in The Netherlands
This place was probably the most beautiful small town to visit in The Netherlands!
Also known as “The Venise of the North“, Ghiethoorn is a 2000 inhabitants town, without cars, where every house is placed on a small island of its own and attracts more than 1 mil. tourists yearly.
If that is not enough to have you heading that way, you should know that you can only walk, ride a bike here or rent a boat and sail along the beautiful canals.
A day trip to Ghiethoorn from Amsterdam takes around 9 hours and took us through the Dutch countryside, all the way to one of the most picturesque towns in the world. Upon arrival, we had a boat tour on the canals and learned a bit about the town’s history, and were astonished to hear the prices of houses there.
We had time to explore the village on food and cross the many small bridges around, take tens of pictures, eat lunch on the canal with the ducks, and loved every second of it.
For nature lovers, there’s always the Nature Reserve Kayak & Giethoorn Boat Ride, and to be honest, if I would have known about it, I would have done it like this. What could be more charming than to explore the National Park Weerribben-Wieden by kayak and see that fabulous lush nature The Netherlands captivated me with?
Where to stay in Giethoorn
I am also dreaming about returning and spending a quiet and relaxed weekend in a traditional house here, and I have to admit my mind is set on the B&B Plompeblad. But you can also choose to stay in an old windmill, transformed more recently into a hotel. Talk about novel experiences!
Ok, this is not a place that will offer you a lot of activities to choose from, but for me, spending a few days (or just an afternoon) in such a peaceful place, sipping on Prosecco and eating mussels, it’s not a bad way of spending time. And all with such a charming colorful view!
de Rijp – the village in between tulip fields
During my trip to see the tulip fields near Amsterdam, we stopped along the way in one of the prettiest small towns in the Netherlands: de Rijp.
After our visit some years before where we have seen the 3 above villages, I thought I couldn’t be charmed by another small village in the Netherlands, but somehow this one did the trick.
Just strolling around the narrow streets, with small traditional colorful houses on both sides is a pleasant pastime. Visit the smallest candy shop in Holland and chat a bit with its owner, and maybe learn a little bit about the town’s history. You will be surprised to find out that this was once one of the most important ports in Holland.
You can always have a similar experience when you book the Half-Day Countryside Bike Tour from Amsterdam and pedal your way through the 35-kilometer route, passing by picturesque villages and pretty colorful fields (when you choose to go in spring or summer).
Other travel resources for visiting The Netherlands
- See the tulip fields near Amsterdam without the tourist crowds
- Zaanse Schans – windmill and chocolate town
- Do you only have one day for a trip from Amsterdam? See why you should take a day tour from Amsterdam to Giethoorn, Venice of the North
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