When you think of stunning scenery and quaint villages, the Netherlands might not be the first country that comes to mind. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty to offer in the way of pretty towns and villages. If you’re looking to explore more of this small (but mighty) country, why not plan a trip to one of these lesser-known gems?
1. Broek in Waterland, North HollandThis one is easy for anyone living in or around Amsterdam, as it’s only about a 15-minute drive from the city centre, and is easily accessible via public transport from Amsterdam Centraal. Located to the north of the Dutch capital, this town is split into two halves: the newer part, which sits to the south of the N247 road, and the older half, much of which dates back to the early 19th century.
When strolling through Broek in Waterland, be sure to enjoy the views of the Havenrak Lake and stop off for some delicious pancakes at De Witte Swaen. Aside from Broek in Waterland, another pretty town worth visiting in this area is Monnickendam.
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2. Bourtange, GroningenLocated significantly further north than Broek in Waterland is Bourtange, a fortified town sitting near the Dutch-German border. About an hour’s drive to the southeast of Groningen, Bourtagne is probably one of the better-known spots to feature on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of its place.
This town has a long and rich history; Fort Bourtange was initially built during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), and in the late 16th century became part of the fortifications on the border between the northern Dutch provinces and Germany. The fort has been out of action since the mid-19th century, meaning Bourtange exists today as a normal village and open-air museum.
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3. Blokzijl, OverijsselWhile you probably haven’t heard of Blokzijl, you might be familiar with some of its more popular neighbours, Giethoorn and Urk, which both get quite a lot of publicity for their beauty. At just about a 40-minute drive north of Zwolle, Blokzijl in the province of Overijssel might seem like a bit of a trek to those living in Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague, but just because it isn’t as well known doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time.
The town is first mentioned in Dutch history back in the 16th century when, in 1581, it became fortified. Back in the day – before the Dutch became experts in reclaiming land – the town was on the banks of the Zuiderzee; a shallow bay of the North Sea which was closed off after the construction of the Afsluitdijk. Today, Blokzijl has an old sea lock and a small harbour, which makes for a great place to sit and enjoy a snack or a cold beer on a terrace on a sunny day.
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4. Elsloo, LimburgAnyone who comes across the town of Elsloo would likely think they’d stumbled across the border and into Germany without even realising. Along the Dutch border with Belgium (not Germany, interestingly enough), about a 25-minute drive north of Maastricht, you’ll find Elsloo, a town which claims to be the oldest farming village in the Netherlands – archaeological digs have revealed that people first settled there around 7.000 years ago!
Elsloo acts as a perfect starting point for a number of gorgeous cycling and walking routes in Limburg, and those visiting the town will be treated to the timeless sight of cobblestone streets and old brick houses with painted shutters. If you take a trip to Elsloo, be sure to explore the local botanical gardens and Kasteelpark (“castle park”), which looks out over the Maas and the Belgian town of Kotem.
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5. Boxtel, North BrabantNestled between Den Bosch, Tilburg and Eindhoven you’ll find Boxtel, a municipality and town which has a history dating back to the 11th century. The town’s name derives from the Buchestelle and is believed to be a compound of the words stelle (“stable”) and bok (“buck”). While the town itself is lovely, a key highlight is the local castle, Kasteel Stapelen, which was the seat of the noble Van Boxtel family.
If, after a stop in Boxtel, you’re still hungry for more beauty, then head west to Oisterwijk – another lovely town in North Brabant that has the perk of having the Oisterwijkse Forest right on its doorstep. The town itself also has a number of sights, including an open-air theatre, a windmill and an art gallery, as well as several examples of gorgeous architecture.
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6. Winsum, GroningenYou might have already heard of this one, as it was only a few years ago that Winsum in Groningen was voted the most beautiful village in the Netherlands, beating out stiff competition from some of the other towns and villages on this list.
Winsum is comprised of two villages – Bellingweek and Obergum – which sit on either side of the Winsumerdiep canal and are connected by two bridges, De Goog and Jenerverbrug. The village is home to two windmills, the oldest of which dates back to 1801, the Torenkerk church, the Winsumerdiep harbour, a synagogue dating back to 1879, and a whopping 59 national monuments and four municipal monuments. No wonder the people of the Netherlands find it so lovely!
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7. Spakenburg, UtrechtSpakenburg is a popular historic Dutch town for a number of reasons, and is in fact one of the few places in the Netherlands where you might still be lucky enough to see local villagers in traditional Dutch dress. Situated about 30 minutes northeast of the city of Utrecht, Spakenburg’s original position on the Zuiderzee meant it was a thriving fishing village for hundreds of years – but also meant it was susceptible to flooding, and it suffered greatly during the vergeten Watersnoodramp in 1916.
Since the creation of the Afsluitdijk closed off the Zuiderzee in the 1930s, Spakenburg’s fishing fleet has shrunk considerably, but the town’s rich history is still very much on display today. Every summer, the town hosts Spakenburg Days to celebrate and display its culture and history with music, performances and a street market. Another must-do if visiting Spakenburg is to book a trip on an authentic Dutch fishing boat, which will allow you to enjoy the local scenery while also learning about the town’s fishing history.
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8. Thorn, LimburgIt’s true that many of the towns and villages in the Netherlands (including the ones featured on this list) have a typical look and architectural style. Thorn, on the other hand, could not be mistaken for any other Dutch town. In the province of Limburg and sitting on the Dutch-Belgian border, Thorn is known as the Witte stadje (“white town”) because all the buildings (except for the church) in Thorn are painted white.
Just going to Thorn and wandering the fairytale-like streets is an ideal way to spend your time, but you could also book a tour or follow one of the local cycling or horse-riding routes. Alternatively, visit Museum Thorn, the archaeological site of Thorn Abbey, or the town’s church, Abdijkerk Thorn.
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9. Franeker, FrieslandThere are a number of lovely towns worth visiting in the northern province of Friesland; the fortified city Dokkum is both a beautiful place and a great spot for some shopping, for example, and the seaside towns of Hindelopen and Stavoren both offer lovely views of the Ijsselmeer.
Today, though, we’re turning the spotlight on Franeker which – like the other Friesian towns mentioned above – is one of the towns along the route of the elfstedentocht. It’s one of the 11 historical cities of Friesland, and is worth a visit if only to see the Eise Eisinga Planetarium – the oldest working planetarium in the world that is still in use!
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10. Zierikzee, ZeelandZeeland – as the province’s name would suggest – almost consists more of water than land, but aside from heading down to Zeeland just to partake in watersports and visit the province’s beaches, you can also spend your time visiting some of the local towns and villages. One that’s definitely worth a stop is Zierikzee, which is along the southern coast of the middle of the three islands.
Located 50 kilometres southwest of Rotterdam, Zierikzee is a real port town with a rich history that can still be observed today – there are more than 500 monuments to be discovered in an around the town! There are a number of charming shops, and plenty of terraces offering lovely views of the harbour.
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11. De Rijp, North HollandAs mentioned right at the beginning of this article, there are a number of beautiful – and famous – small towns and villages in the province of North Holland. But aside from the popular sights like Edam, Volendam and Marken, there are plenty of other lesser-known spots that are most definitely still worth your time. In fact, just north of the village of Zaandijk – another pretty and oft-visited spot thanks to the iconic Zaanse Schans – you’ll find one of these lesser-known gems: De Rijp.
De Rijp was the birthplace of Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater, a millwright and hydraulic engineer who played a key role in the Netherlands’ first stages of land reclamation and was involved in the creation of the first polder in the world, the Beemster Polder, in the early 17th century. Aside from this, De Rijp has a rich history of its own, as it was founded at the end of the 13th century and became extremely wealthy during the Dutch Golden Age due to whaling, herring fishing, and the local processing of hemp.
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Has this article inspired your next day trip? Did we miss your favourite off of our list? Be sure to share it in the comments below!
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