Are you planning to visit Europe this summer and not sure which country to spend most of your time in? We highly recommend the Netherlands. It is the land of old school windmills, waffles, Gouda, tulips, bicycles, canals and is one of the most liberal countries in the world.
The Dutch love their bicycles and literally all the destinations in this lovely country are bicycle friendly. However, exploring the entire Netherlands on a bicycle may be a little too extreme for many, so our first tip for you is to use a rental car. Depending on how you plan, you can pick up your car at the start of your journey in Amsterdam and drive your way around the country.
We’ve created a one-week itinerary for you to explore the Netherlands on your own by car. Depending on your pace of traveling, you can make this journey in 5 days or 7 days or even 14 days. When San and I travel, we usually travel slow and spend a long time in each destination to get a feel of it. However, if you’re short on time, you don’t have to stay overnight.
Amsterdam, the city of Sins
Amsterdam is not just one of the most visited cities in Europe, but in the entire world. It is famous for its canals, narrow houses, coffeeshops, red light district, some of the best museums in Europe, and a crazy nightlife. While you’re here, don’t miss Amsterdam-Noord. Because of its liberal nature, some people also call Amsterdam the city of sins. It is very easy to reach Amsterdam from any part of the world by catching a flight to Schiphol Airport, or by train or bus from most of Europe.
Spend a day in Amsterdam and be sure to read our travel tips, which will help you save money here. Go visit a few of the art museums in Amsterdam. Do keep in mind that parking charges in Amsterdam are very expensive, so it makes sense to rent a car after you’ve already spent a day here. Be sure to check out our amazing itinerary for Amsterdam for ideas.
While you’re in Amsterdam, you can rent your own bike and cycle around at your own pace. If you’re not very confidant about cycling in Amsterdam and want to brush up on your skills, then I have handpicked a few cycle tours for you that you can check out:
- Amsterdam 3 hour bike tour: Bike ride through Amsterdam’s prettiest streets and hidden gems.
- Amsterdam 2 hour bicycle tour: Cycle through Jordaan, Red light district, Rijkmuseum, etc.
- 2.5 hours Amsterdam Sightseeing Tour by Bike: Cycle through the Museum square, pass by the Vondel park, Anne Frank house, Wester Church Tower and the red light district
- Windmills, Cheese and Clogs: 3 Hour Countryside Bike Tour to the outskirts of Amsterdam
- 2 hour bike tour of Amsterdam city: Cycle through the city, cross the skinny bridge and pass by most of the famous attractions. Stop for a drink at Vondel Park
- 3 Hour guided tour of historical Amsterdam: Available in English, German and French
If you arrive in Amsterdam without a booking, you may just get the biggest shock when you find how expensive the rooms (and even hostels are). You can check our curated list of places to stay in Amsterdam for every budget. If you plan in advance, you can find a decent place to stay here which is affordable. From here, you can pick up your rental car and move to the next destination.
Lisse, the largest garden in the world
From Amsterdam 45 minutes, 35 kilometers
We did mention that the Netherlands is famous for its tulips. One of the main tulip attractions in Holland is the Keukenhof Garden which is at Lisse, an idyllic little town. This garden has over 800 varieties of tulips. In 32 hectares you can find artworks, events, flower shows, inspiration gardens and much more. The Keukenhof is one of the largest gardens in the world and will give you an experience you’ll never forget. You don’t really need to stay here for the night but you can directly visit the next destination on the itinerary.
Here are some of the top tours that I have handpicked for you so that you can skip the line and enjoy the beauty of these colorful tulips:
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof ONE DAY Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket + Multi Lingual Tour
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof 5 Hour Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket + Multi Lingual Tour + Cruise on Lake
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof Half Day Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket and Tour
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof 6 Hour Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket with Tour + Diamond Factory Tour
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof One Day Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket + A’Dam Tower Lookout Entry
- Amsterdam to Keukenhof 8 Hour Round Trip + Tulip Garden Entry Ticket + Windmills + Clog Maker + Cheese Farm + A’Dam Tower Lookout Entry
Please note, that the Keukenhof Garden isn’t always in full bloom. Usually the best time to visit this place is in April, but we recommend you check the local tourism website before you go. Here’s an amazing guide which will tell you the best way to do the Tulip Fields in the Netherlands.
On your way to the next destination – Kinderdijk, you can consider making a stop at Den Haag. It is much cheaper and relaxed in comparison to Amsterdam. Here’s a guide to free things to do in Den Haag.
Kinderdijk, old famous mills
From Lisse 1 hour and 15 minutes, 85 kilometer
The mill complex in Kinderdijk is quite a unique sight. The Netherlands is partly under sea level. These mills with pumps combined with the dikes at the sea dries a big part of the land so people can live there. If they would let nature run its course, 40% of the Netherlands would be flooded! For nearly a thousand years, the Dutch have been smartly dealing with the surrounding water using wind and steam energy to keep the Netherlands above water. It’s really impressive to see these nineteen big windmills from the UNESCO World Heritage.
Veluwe, heathlands that changes by season
From Kinderdijk 1 hour and 14 minutes, 110 kilometers
The Veluwe is a beautiful nature reserve to drive through. Expect so see shifting sands, beautiful forests, colorful heathlands, sheep and gently flowing streams. Apart from the natural beauty, Veluwe also has museums, historic towns, culinary enjoyment.
Giethoorn, little Venice
From Veluwe 1 hour and 10 minutes, 110 kilometers
Giethoorn, also called Dutch Venice, is perhaps the prettiest destinations in the Netherlands. This typical Dutch town shows perfectly how Dutch people love to work with and at the water. Sail in a typical ‘Punter’ boat at the little canals through the bush, reedlands, past the old farms and under the many old wooden bridges.
Want to visit Giethoorn on a day trip from Amsterdam?
If you don’t have a rental and and would still like to visit Giethoorn, then why not make a day trip from Amsterdam? You can check out this tour that will take you from Amsterdam to Giethroon and it also includes boat rides in both Amsterdam and Giethoorn.
The Wadden Sea Islands
From Giethoorn 1 hour, 80 kilometers (depends on which island)
Choose one of the five Wadden Sea Islands to leave the crowds behind you. Time to relax and de-stress. The trip on the boat is already an impressive experience. Take a close look at the ‘Wad’, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a group of chilling seals. Take a long walk on the beach or go ‘Wad-walking’ and find treasures in the sand and mud. On one of the Islands, Vlieland, your car is not allowed. But obviously you don’t need your car there, when you want to enjoy and relax in the nature. You can park your car at the harbor.
The Dutch Wadden Sea Islands, Schiermonnikoog (pictured above), Ameland, Terschelling, Vlieland and Texel, are the five pearls of the North of the Netherlands. They are all worth the visit because they differ a bit from another; each Island has its own style and culture. Read more about the differences between the Dutch Islands.
Cross the Afsluitdijk
This 32 kilometers long dike connects two parts of the Netherlands is an important traffic link between the two provinces. This exceptional feat of civil engineering is an amazing system that controls the water level on both sides of the dike and protects the Dutch from floods. At the middle of the Afsluitdijk there’s a viewpoint. Take your time to soak up the view.
Volendam, A fisher village
From The Wadden Sea Islands 1 hour and 20 minutes, 120 kilometers (depends from which island)
A typical Dutch food is ‘Hollandse nieuwe haring’ or Dutch raw herring with onions. You eat it by holding the fish by the tail and allowing it to gradually slide into your mouth. You may like it or not, but you have to try this raw herring!
Herring is not the only special thing in Volendam. This charming village is characteristics with small houses, canals and drawbridges and the most idyllic view. Dress up in a typical Volendams costume and have your picture taken. Don’t forget to visit the wooden shoe factory! It will complete your outfit. These wooden shoes are called klompen in Dutch or you can just call them clogs.
Volendam has a relaxing and friendly atmosphere. Eat at the nicest restaurants at the waterfront. Try Dutch stroopwafels, speculaas cookies, try mini pancakes called ‘poffertjes’ or eat some more fish! As the Dutch say: ‘lekker’! What do you find the tasties?
Hope you enjoyed our suggested Netherlands itinerary for one week. This trip can also be done without a car, but we recommend you rent one so that you’re not dependent public transportation. Moreover, the highways in The Netherlands are easy to drive and free to use. Also the secondary roads are good to ride, and they take you along the prettiest villages and stunning countryside views. You can stop wherever you want (as long as you’re not on the highway) and enjoy the view.