Things to Do in Netherlands
Leiden's Museum De Lakenhal and the building it is housed in (the Laecken-Halle) are considered to be one of the best examples of Dutch Golden Age architecture in the Netherlands. For centuries, the building served as the inspection hall and the bustling center for Leiden's famous fabric trade, the products of which were exported to all corners of the world. The original façade of the 17th-century palace remains intact, although the interior has undergone quite a few changes over the centuries.
The site welcomed the Museum De Lakenhal in 1874, bringing in a diverse collection of works by Leiden-born master painters including Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucas van Leyden and Theo van Doesburg. With a focus on fine arts and Leiden history, the museum hosts visiting exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection. A mix of armaments, old tile, fabric, paintings and even an altarpiece from a 'hidden church' are tied together by the history of Leiden, allowing visitors to easily imagine what life in this historic city may have once been like.
Most famous for its streetside brothels, Amsterdam's Red Light District (De Wallen) also houses scenic canals, bustling restaurants, bars, and plenty of shopping. While this controversial neighborhood may not be for everyone, its winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleys evoke Amsterdam’s rich history and laid-back culture.
Teylers Museum is an art, natural history, and science museum in Haarlem — it is the oldest museum in The Netherlands. Founded in 1778, and open to the public since 1784, the museum was once used for public demonstrations of scientific experiments. Today, it is known as the best-preserved 18th-century public knowledge institution for the arts and sciences in the world, and is slated to become a UNESCO world heritage site.
Most of the museum’s exhibitions showcase natural history like rocks and minerals, fossils, and some of the very first equipment used by physicists and other scientists. There’s also something for the fine-art lover, including a selection of works by Dutch masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and some prints and drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael. Other exhibits include fossils that are millions of years old, machines that generate electricity, and historical books and coins. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions a few times each year.
The bestselling book “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” brought to life one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century in a compelling, personal way. In the true story, a young Jewish girl, her family, and some friends are forced into hiding in Amsterdam to escape the Nazis during World War II. The house that served as the Frank family’s hiding place for two years survived the war and is now a moving museum, with the primary site being the achterhuis (rear house), also known as the secret annex. Here the Franks sat in silence during the day and ate food that was secretly brought to them before being mysteriously betrayed and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Otto Frank, the only Frank who survived the war, published Anne’s now-famous diary in 1947.
The building that houses Den Haag’s premier fine-art museum is almost as important as its collections. Built the 1930s by HP Berlage, Holland’s leading exponent of Art Deco, the structure is of honey-colored brick, while the inside is all yellow-and-white tiles and straight, harmonious lines. Nowadays, the building forms part of a complex that includes the science-themed Museon, the Den Haag Museum of Photography, the Omniversum 3D movie theater and the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, there is so much to see in the world-class Gemeentemuseum Den Haag alone that several hours are required to do the vast displays justice. There are even two onsite restaurants to choose from so you don’t have to leave once you get hungry.
Top billing has to go to the world’s largest collection of abstract paintings by Piet Mondriaan; 50 of his works hang in the tranquil white galleries of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, including his last, the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie of 1944. Other permanent exhibitions are equally strong: “Discover the Modern” covers the very best of 20th-century art with artists ranging from Kandinsky and Schiele to Kirchner, Monet and Picasso.
There is also a sublime collection of decorative arts that showcases tulip vases from Delft, intricate doll houses, an enormous display of antique musical instruments and a horde of some 50,000 prints by illustrious artists of the last two centuries. A new innovation is the wonderfully child-friendly interactive exhibition called Wonderkamers, in which kids effectively become part of a space-age computer game as they explore the gallery.
Built using funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) is one of The Hague’s best-known landmarks. The grand neo-Renaissance building is home to the UN’s International Court of Justice, which hears legal disputes between states.
Rotterdam’s brand new market hall is more than just a place to shop for produce and grab a bite; it’s an attraction in its own right. It features over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants and 15 shops, all located underneath an imposing horseshoe-shaped structure with glass facades consisting of 4,000 small windows hanged by steel cables – it is, in fact, the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, and as such, is considered an architectural masterpiece by many experts.
Additionally, the inside of the market is covered by more than 4,000 colorful tiles that give the horseshoe-shaped arch a boost of color, making it the largest artwork in the Netherlands. A 10th-century farm was uncovered seven meters underground during construction of the market, and several foundations and artifacts are now on exhibit throughout the market hall in homage to Rotterdam’s agricultural past.
Opened in 1874, The Netherlands’ Groninger Museum is the most-visited art and history museum in its province. The post-modernist building that houses the museum is made of three main pavilions, each designed by a noted architect: Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini, and Coop Himmelb(l)au. In addition to the permanent collections that range from fashion to art to architecture, the museum has an ‘Info Center’ where visitors can use computers and watch films and documentaries to get all sorts of bonus information about the museum’s exhibits. The info center also has a lounging area where visitors can kick back and read any number of art magazines and periodicals the museum subscribes to.
Kids will love the ‘Discovery Space’ and the ‘DIY Studio,’ which are bursting with cabinets and drawers to browse through, interact with, and create from. The studio is available to school groups during the week, and open workshops are hosted by the museum on the weekends.
Wood creaks, wheels turn, and steam hisses as you step on board a thrilling journey through time. The Museum Stoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik is a museum on wheels that moves from village to village across the west Frisian countryside in The Netherlands. Between the historic ‘Zuiderzee’ towns of Hoorn, Medemblik, and Enkhuizen, the engine whistles along the tracks while passengers sit back and enjoy views of windmills, meadows, and fields of blossoming tulips. The Steamtram Museum Hoorn-Medemblik highlights the history of steam trains in the Netherlands, and the role rural rail transport played in the country’s development.
The Steam Tram Museum purchases, restores, and conserves a collection that represents this heritage of rural rail transport, including the last remaining pieces of Dutch steam tram rolling stock. The museum boasts an impressive collection of Dutch steam trams including nine steam locomotives, diesels, around 30 coaches and 20 freight wagons. There’s also four restored stations and a large collection of signals and signaling devices.
Relishing in the glorious history of Dutch painting, Delft Vermeer Centre (Vermeer Centrum) celebrates the legacy of Johannes Vermeer, the famous painter who once called Delft home. In the Netherland’s Golden Age, Vermeer flourished as one of the most successful and highly regarded Dutch painters. His ‘Girl With the Pearl Earring’ painting has become one of the most recognizable in the world.
The museum expertly tells the story of his life and his works, while also highlighting the technique of other painters of the time. There are even pieces of his equipment and supplies that lend a glimpse into his artistic process.
The center is designed to show Delft as Veneer once saw it, allowing for a journey back to 17th century Holland and into his world of light and color. It teaches of his upbringing, mentors, and the influences that shaped him an his work. Visitors also have the opportunity to visit his studio and, using the camera obscura, play with light, composition, and perspective just as he once did.
More Things to Do in Netherlands
Mauritshuis is home to one of the best collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the world. Often referred to as "the jewel box," the ornately elegant 17th-century mansion is a textbook example of Dutch classical architecture, built as the private residence of John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen.
The Museum Gouda specializes in religious art from the 16th century, paintings from the 'Haagse School' of the 19th century and 20th-century Dutch pottery. Visitors will get to know the classical scholar Erasmus, who grew up in Gouda and played on the street where the museum is now located, and Dirck Crabeth, the master artist who created eight of the stained-glass windows in the nearby St John Church (leading to the church being placed on the UNESCO list of monuments).
The museum has a large collection of smoking pipes, tiles, antique apothecary jars and a solid selection of works from artists such as Toorop and Redon. If this sounds like an eclectic mix, it is! But hundreds of years ago, beer, cheese, pipes and pottery were cornerstones of Gouda's economy, and the museum does a wonderful job of showcasing how the town developed over the years.
The Amstel is the great river that runs through Amsterdam and whose water was diverted into the city’s famous canals. The city was first built around the river, giving it the name Amstel Dam, and today the waterway is flows past modern buildings and charming houseboats before winding its way into the Dutch countryside.
Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is the largest and most visited art museum in the Netherlands. Its collection, which ranks among the world’s finest, includes nearly 8,000 pieces spread over 80 galleries. Some of the Rijksmuseum’s most revered works are 15th- to 19th-century paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. In addition to the astounding eight centuries of Dutch art and history, the museum has extensive outdoor gardens and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Transformed from a farmhouse into a stately home in 1533, Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) in The Hague was presented to William of Orange’s widow in recognition of her husband’s service to the Netherlands. Noordeinde Palace is one of four palaces across the country owned by the Dutch royal family and serves as the office of King Willem-Alexander.
Better known by its affectionate local nickname of “the Swan,” Erasmus Bridge crosses the River Nieuwe Maas with its elegant white spines, constructed in 1996 to link north and south Rotterdam across the harbor. Designed by Ben van Berkel, the bridge is an iconic landmark in Rotterdam, and its 456-foot (139-meter) single pylon supports 32 steel cables from which the half-mile (800 m) roadway is suspended. The southern side of the bridge includes Europe’s heaviest bascule, which lifts in order to let shipping transport through. It’s best seen at close quarters from the water on a harbor tour, from above on the viewing platform of Euromast or from the walking and cycling trails around the Port of Rotterdam.
The Swan is beautifully illuminated at night and often provides an eerie backdrop for Rotterdam’s festivals and fireworks displays. In 2005, several planes flew beneath the bridge as part of the daring “Red Bull Air Race.”
Some 20,000 works of art can be found at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands. The art and sculpture museum (which opened in 1938) was founded by collector Helene Kröller-Müller, an early admirer of Vincent van Gogh. Although today Van Gogh is one of the world’s most famous artists, he received little recognition while he was alive. Kröller-Müller regarded Van Gogh as a ‘great spirit of modern art’ and was a prolific collector of his works. In fact, the attention she gave to his work contributed to his recognition as an artist. The Kröller-Müller Museum has the second-largest collection of Van Gogh’s art in the world (around 90 paintings and 180 drawings). In addition to the large collection of works by Van Gogh, the museum is home to masterpieces by artists including Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, and Piet Mondriaan. The museum also has one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe. This ‘outdoor gallery’ measures some 25 hectares and is open year-round to showcase more than 160 sculptures by iconic artists like Aristide Maillol and Pierre Huyghe.
Micropia is a unique museum in Amsterdam dedicated to microbes and microorganisms. These microscopic organisms make up two thirds of all living matter. As soon as you enter the museum, you'll start to learn about the invisible organisms living all around us. An animation in the first elevator tells you about the mites that live on your eyelashes and the bacteria and viruses that live on those mites. Other exhibits include a body scanner that tells you what type of microbes live on your body and a Kiss-o-meter that counts the number of microbes transferred during a kiss. There are Petri dishes with bacteria in them that show you what lives on everyday household objects.
Another exhibit shows a collection of animal feces and a preserved human digestive system. There are also films showing different animals decomposing. In a real-life working laboratory, visitors can view technicians preparing the exhibits through a window. Other displays teach visitors about bacteria, viruses, fungi, and algae. This museum will also teach you how microbes are essential for life, from supplements to food and more.
The fairytale estate that encompasses De Haar Castle (Kasteel de Haar) feels a world away from the bustle of nearby Utrecht. Though designed to resemble a medieval fortress, the Netherlands’ largest castle was actually built in the 20th century. Highlights include lavish rooms and gardens that conjure the Dutch Golden Age.
Once a working-class neighborhood, Jordaan in central Amsterdam has become an upscale enclave favored by artists and designers. Grand 17th-century houses, art galleries, speciality shops, music venues, cafes, and restaurants line the leafy canals in this quintessential Amsterdam neighborhood, which attracts tourists and locals alike.
The Church of St. Lawrence (Sint Laurenskerk) is the primary landmark of Rotterdam, and the only remaining building of medieval times in the city. The late-Gothic structure was built between 1449 and 1525, originally consecrated as a Catholic cathedral before being converted to a Protestant place of worship following the Reformation in 1572. Much of the ornate decoration from the interior was removed at this time.
For a time, from 1619 to 1642, the church was topped with a wooden spire designed by architect Hendrick de Keyser, but this was demolished due to rot. The next idea was to top the tower with a stone pinnacle, but this caused the tower to tilt, requiring new piles to be added under the foundation. Much of the remaining interior decoration was removed during the Batavian Revolution of 1795.
Sint Laurenskerk was heavily damaged in the German bombing of May 14, 1940, the images of which still symbolize the hardship the city endured during this period. After the bombing, there was controversy over whether to keep or demolish the church, and in the end, a restoration was agreed upon.
One of the main attractions of the Sint Laurenskerk is the Carillon of bells, which were originally installed in 1661 as a set of 36 designed by F. Hemony. More were later added during the post-war renovation, and there are now 49.
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of works by the legendary Dutch artist, is a must-see for art and art history lovers. The museum boasts a collection of Vincent van Gogh’s personal effects, plus 200 paintings and 500 drawings by the master and his contemporaries—including Gauguin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Bernard—plus Van Gogh’s famous works “The Potato Eaters” and “Wheatfield with Crows.”
Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) is known for its successful conservation and breeding programs. Visit the zoo for the chance to see creatures from all around the globe, from African pygmy hippos to Asiatic lions, North American polar bears to Australian swamp wallabies. There’s even an on-site aquarium and butterfly garden.
The Frans Hals Museum is known for its collection of paintings by the Dutch Golden Age masters. Nearly all the pieces date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when Haarlem was known as the “City of Painters,” and as you make your way round the museum exhibits you’ll see works by the likes of Ruisdael, Jan Steen, Saenredam, Van Goyen, Heda, and of course, Frans Hals. Fifteen of Hals’ enormous civic guard pieces are showcased here and are a highlight of any visit. In particular, look out for Hals’ famous twin portraits, Regents and Regentesses of the Oudemannenhuis.
Built in 1609, the attractive building changed purpose from almshouse (where Frans Hals lived out his final years) to orphanage before becoming the art museum you can see today in 1913.On a visit to the Frans Hals Museum, it’s worth looking out for the separate section containing a replica of a 17th-century Haarlem street.
- Things to do in Amsterdam
- Things to do in Rotterdam
- Things to do in The Hague
- Things to do in Eindhoven
- Things to do in Dordrecht
- Things to do in Leeuwarden
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- Things to do in Maastricht
- Things to do in Belgium
- Things to do in Luxembourg
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- Things to do in North Holland
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- Things to do in Flanders