By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, I’ve listed my top picks for where to go in Holland, and tips on when to go.
With affordable flights from the US, minimal culture shock, almost no language barrier, and a well-organized tourist trade, the Netherlands is a good place to start a European trip. Virtually every city I mention is within an hour (or so) train ride from centrally located Amsterdam. The best home-base cities are Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Delft.
Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities:
- 2–3 days: Amsterdam
- 4 days, add: Delft
- 5–6 days, add: Haarlem, The Hague, Rotterdam, and/or Leiden
- 7–9 days, add: Towns north of Amsterdam such as Alkmaar, Edam/Waterland, Hoorn/Enkhuizen, and more
- 10–11 days, add: Arnhem (with its Kröller-Müller and open-air folk museums), Utrecht, and possible overnight in Otterlo
- 12 days, add: If you have a car, it’s worth exploring Flevoland.
With more time, add more Amsterdam, or dip down into Belgium.
When to Go
Although Amsterdam can be plagued by crowds, the long days, lively festivals, and sunny weather make summer a great time to visit. It’s rarely too hot for comfort.
Peak Season: Amsterdam is surprisingly crowded — and hotel prices can be correspondingly high — in late March, April, and May, when the tulip fields are flowering in full glory. Seasonal conferences can also drive up prices in September in Amsterdam. July and August have typical summer crowds.
Shoulder Season: Late spring and fall are pleasant, with generally mild weather and lighter crowds (except during holiday weekends).
Winter Season: Travel from late October through mid-March is cold and wet in this region, as coastal winds whip through these low, flat countries. It’s fine for visiting Amsterdam, but smaller towns and countryside sights feel dreary and lifeless. Some sights close for lunch, tourist information offices keep shorter hours, and some tourist activities (like English-language windmill tours) vanish altogether.
Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the upcoming Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands guidebook.