Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands


By Rick Steves

By Gene Openshaw

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Bike cobblestone streets, cruise on charming canals, and stop and smell the tulips: experience the Netherlands with Rick Steves! Inside Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands you'll find:
  • Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Amsterdam and the Netherlands
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the Van Gogh museum and Rembrandt's home workshop, to cozy "brown" cafés
  • How to connect with local culture: Explore Amsterdam by bicycle, sample distinctive Dutch cheeses, and chat with a friendly local over beer brewed from 1,000-year-old recipes
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax over a pint
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
  • Detailed maps for exploring on the go
  • Useful resources including a packing list, a Dutch phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
  • Over 500 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Complete, up-to-date information on Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Alkmaar and Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam, Marken, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, the Historic Triangle, Flevoland, Keukenhof, Aalsmeer, Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, and more
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands.

Spending less than a week in Amsterdam? Try Rick Steves Pocket Amsterdam.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my bus tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

Written with my talented co-author, Gene Openshaw, this book offers a balanced mix of the Netherlands’ lively cities and idyllic towns, from bustling Amsterdam to tranquil Delft. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of cozy towns, we recommend only the best ones. And it’s in-depth: Our self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into the region’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit the Netherlands to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by positive feedback we receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

Have a goede vakantie! Happy travels!!


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

The Dutch Made Holland

The Netherlands’ Top Destinations

Map: The Netherlands’ Top Destinations



Planning Your Trip


12 Days in the Netherlands

Map: 12 Days in the Netherlands

Trip Costs Per Person


Rick’s Free Video Clips and Audio Tours

Travel Smart

Tulip Mania

Wherever you roam, you’ll find the Netherlands to be something of an eye-opener. Behind its placid exterior, it’s a complex mix of modern technology, honored traditions, farmed countryside, outrageous architecture, and no-nonsense, globally minded people.

Progressive Amsterdam is the tourist draw with the Netherlands’ most historic sights and museums, but it also has inviting neighborhoods, with leafy canals, chiming carillons, quaint shops, and friendly eateries. Beyond Amsterdam, you’ll discover the hidden charms of Haarlem, where a market bustles around its historic church. The Hague has Vermeer paintings in its top-notch museums, while peaceful Delft is a Vermeer painting come to life. The country is bursting with delightful towns—Edam, Alkmaar, Hoorn, and more—as well as open-air museums.

Though many refer to the entire country as “Holland,” North Holland and South Holland are merely the largest of the 12 provinces that make up the Netherlands. In Holland’s 17th-century golden age, Dutch traders sailed the seas to find exotic goods, creating a global economy. Tiny Holland was a world power—politically, economically, and culturally—with more great artists per square mile than any other country.

Today, the Netherlands is Europe’s most densely populated country and also one of its wealthiest and best organized. In 1944, the neighboring countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg became the nucleus of a united Europe when they joined to form the Benelux economic union.

Bikes and boats are popular modes of transportation for good reason in this small, flat, canal-crossed country.

The average income in the Netherlands is higher than in the United States. Though less than 10 percent of the labor force is in agriculture, over 50 percent of the land is cultivated: If you venture outside of Amsterdam, you’ll travel through vast fields of barley, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, and flowers.

Much of the flat Dutch landscape was reclaimed from the sea, producing several Dutch icons in the process: Windmills and canals drained the land. Wooden shoes (klompen) allowed farmers to walk across soggy low-lying fields known as polders. (The shoes also float—making them easy to find should they come off in high water.) Tulips and other flowers grew well in the sandy soil near dunes.

The Netherlands’ flat land also makes it a biker’s dream. The Dutch, who average four bikes per family, have put small bike roads (with their own traffic lights) beside nearly every major highway. You can rent bikes at most train stations and drop them off at most others. And you can take bikes on trains (outside of rush hour) for less than €10 per day. But bikes can make things tricky for those on foot. You might expect the right-of-way pecking order to favor pedestrians, then bikes, then cars. Not so. In practice, you should assume it’s bikes first...then everyone else. Watch very carefully for bikes before crossing (or even stepping into) the street.

The Dutch generally speak English, pride themselves on their frankness, and like to split the bill. Thriftiness, efficiency, and a dislike of wastefulness are longstanding Dutch traits. Traditionally, Dutch cities have been open-minded, loose, and liberal (to attract sailors in the days of Henry Hudson). And today, Amsterdam is a capital of progressive policies—a city where they believe that society has to make a choice: tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. Coffeeshops sell marijuana (and sometimes cappuccinos), and prostitutes pose in government-licensed windows. The city is surprisingly diverse, housing many new immigrants—a trend that, unfortunately, has resulted in tension in recent years. The Netherlands in general, and Amsterdam in particular, is gay-friendly. Some of the biggest festivals and parades on the social calendar celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Although it expresses itself in a sometimes-jarring acceptance of drugs and sex, the Dutch passion for tolerance has deep historical roots: For generations, this part of Europe was a particularly fierce battleground between the Roman Catholic Church (backed primarily by Spain) and Reformation-era Protestants (Dutch nationalists). The Eighty Years’ War and other conflicts flamed religious intolerance. But afterward, the reaction against the Spanish Inquisition and the wealth of the golden age brought a new era of acceptance. Today—especially after the Nazi occupation’s persecution of Jews and other minorities—the Dutch are determined to live and let live.

Prostitution (advertised in Amsterdam’s Red Light District) and marijuana (sold in coffeeshops) are legal and regulated.

French fries (friets) are served with mayonnaise. The Begijnhof’s courtyard is a peaceful oasis in downtown Amsterdam.

Another facet of this philosophy is Dutch humility. A popular saying here is, “The tree that grows the tallest gets blown by the strongest wind.” While the Dutch have an affinity for Americans, they don’t always quite know how to take our proud individualism.

This book presents the best of Amsterdam and the Netherlands—its great cities, small towns, fine food, rich history, and sensuous art. You’ll experience both the quaintness of the countryside as well as the modern vibrancy of the Netherlands’ forward-thinking urban centers.

Along the way, you’ll meet intriguing people who will show you how to swallow a pickled herring, paddle a canoe through polder waterways, or slice off a hunk of cheese from a giant wheel. Rattling your bike over cobbles, past a line of gabled houses reflected in a mirror-smooth canal...it’s just like you imagined it. It’s as if the tourist clichés of the region—whirring windmills, Dutch Masters, canal rides, dike hikes, and tulips—all come to life in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands’ Top Destinations

Wauw! There’s so much to see in the Netherlands. To help you decide where and how to spend your time, this overview categorizes the country’s top destinations into home-base cities and day trips. I’ve ranked each and suggested a minimum amount of time to allow. Much of the country is an easy day trip from whichever home base you choose.


If you intend to stay in one of these three cities for your whole trip, be sure to visit the other two on day trips.

▲▲▲Amsterdam (allow 2-4 days)

The dynamic capital, with golden age architecture lining shimmering canals, boasts magnificent museums, from the venerable Rijksmuseum (with Dutch Masters) to Van Gogh’s colorful collection to the thought-provoking Anne Frank House. The city has a lively food scene, diverse nightlife, marijuana-selling “coffeshops,” and an eye-opening Red Light District, along with bustling streets and markets...and bikes everywhere.

▲▲Haarlem (1 day)

The cozy town, with its grand market square, huge church, and stately architecture, was home to artist Frans Hals and author Corrie ten Boom (who hid Jews from the Nazis, as described in The Hiding Place). Just 20 minutes from Amsterdam and 10 minutes from the beach at Zandvoort, Haarlem is conveniently central yet invitingly small.

▲▲Delft (1 day)

The picturesque, canal-laced hometown of Vermeer (hosting a fine Vermeer Center but not his art) and Delft Blue porcelain (with a tourable factory) has a tranquil vibe. Delft makes a mellow home base for day-tripping to nearby cities: While one hour by train from Amsterdam, Delft is only 15-30 minutes from Leiden (a delightful university town), The Hague (which does have Vermeers), and Rotterdam (with avant-garde architecture).

Photo fun inside (opposite) and outside the Rijksmuseum; Zandvoort’s wide beach; bird’s-eye view of Delft; Haarlem’s sunny square

North of Amsterdam
Alkmaar and Zaanse Schans (half-day each)

Little Alkmaar is hugely popular on Friday mornings for its cheese market, when big orange rounds of cheese are sampled and sold with flair (late March through Sept). Nearby Zaanse Schans is a touristy, re-created 17th-century Dutch town, with windmills and old-time shops. You can combine both destinations on a day trip, best on Fridays.

▲▲Edam, Volendam, and Marken (1 day)

The postcard-perfect region of Waterland harbors the adorable cheesemaking village of Edam, the tourist depot of Volendam (with a promenade and quirky museum), and the fascinating former fishing hamlet of Marken. You can see all three in a day, but with less time, focus on little Edam (market day is Wednesday, but it’s cute anytime).

Hoorn and Enkhuizen (1 day)

This time-warp duo—the golden age merchant’s town of Hoorn and the charming village of Enkhuizen, with an open-air museum on Zuiderzee culture—makes a good day trip. Take public transit or the slower, scenic Historic Triangle loop (including rides on a boat, steam train, and modern train).

Flevoland (1 day, worthwhile only for drivers)

The country’s newest province, reclaimed from the sea, looks modern and plain except for Schokland. This former fishing village is now surrounded by dry land, with a museum describing the reclamation project, the region’s history, and the villagers’ lifestyle.

Cheese for sale (opposite); re-created village at Zaanse Schans; barging past Edam; artisans at Enkhuizen’s open-air museum; a café in Volendam

South of Amsterdam
Keukenhof and Aalsmeer (half-day each)

Holland has two flower-power destinations. The best is Keukenhof—a huge, beautifully landscaped garden park, blooming with millions of colorful tulips (open late March through late May). Near the airport, Aalsmeer Flower Auction fills a giant warehouse with fresh flowers, allowing you to observe the business behind the beauty year-round.

▲▲Leiden (half-day)

The historic, charming university town was Rembrandt’s hometown before he moved to Amsterdam and the Pilgrims’ last stop before they sailed to Plymouth Rock.

The Hague (half-day to 1 day)

The governmental town has an excellent art museum (Mauritshuis) showcasing the Dutch golden age, a Peace Palace with international courts, and the nearby beach resort of Scheveningen, with its amusement pier, boardwalk, and promenade.

▲▲Rotterdam (half-day to 1 day)

Europe’s busiest port, Rotterdam, has soaring skyscrapers, pedestrian malls, a futuristic market hall, and a 21st-century buzz. Built new after being flattened by WWII bombs, this modern city is the opposite of quaint, offering a well-rounded look at the Netherlands today.

Old-time bridge at Leiden; bicycle-truck at Arnhem’s open-air museum; cube houses in Rotterdam

East of Amsterdam
Utrecht (half-day)

The bustling university city has the country’s largest old town, best railway museum, and a fun musical museum, plus a climbable church tower for a view of it all. Utrecht can be done as a day trip, or it’s an easy stop between Amsterdam and Arnhem.

▲▲Museums near Arnhem (1 day)

Near Arnhem are two Dutch treats—the worthwhile Netherlands Open-Air Museum and the excellent Kröller-Müller Museum, with a world-class collection of Van Gogh masterpieces, set in the middle of a lovely forested park. To avoid rushing your visit, consider overnighting in Otterlo, near the park.

Balancing act at the Kröller-Müller Museum’s sculpture park

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.


As you read this book and learn your options...

Choose your top destinations.

My recommended itinerary (on here) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 12 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.

Amsterdam is on everyone’s list for good reason: museums, eclectic food, golden age architecture, street life, canal boats, markets, and entertainment. You could easily spend a week here. And if you like big cities, you’ll enjoy Rotterdam and The Hague, too. Hobbits seek out quaint villages, such as Edam or Hoorn.

Historians focus on Amsterdam (Dutch golden age, Dutch Resistance during World War II, and more) and Leiden (pilgrim lore). To visit the Dutch past, head for one of the Netherlands’ open-air museums: Zaanse Schans (touristy and closest to Amsterdam), the less touristy Enkhuizen, and the farthest but most authentic, near Arnhem.

Art lovers are drawn to Amsterdam and The Hague. For modern art (beyond Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum), the country’s best is the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, followed closely by the impressive Kröller-Müller Museum, set in a forest near Arnhem, where cyclists pedal free bikes through the woods.

If you like colorful markets, the Dutch won’t disappoint, whether it’s cheese (Alkmaar), flowers (Keukenhof and more), food and clothing (Haarlem), or everything (Amsterdam’s street markets).

Photographers are happy wherever they go.

Decide when to go.

Although Amsterdam can be plagued by crowds in summer (June-Aug), it’s a great time to visit, given the long days, lively festivals, and sunny weather (rarely too hot for comfort, extremely long hours of daylight).

Amsterdam can also be busy—and hotel prices higher—in late March, April, and May, when the tulip fields are flowering in full glory. Fall comes with lighter crowds, though seasonal conferences can drive up prices in September. Both spring and fall have generally mild weather.

Golden age art by Frans Hals (opposite); costumed street performer; modern art at the Stedelijk; Rick in a windmill


  • "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
  • "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
  • “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
  • "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
  • "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
  • "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
  • "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
  • "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
  • “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
  • "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
  • "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
  • "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News

On Sale
Apr 4, 2023
Page Count
545 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

Learn more about this author

Gene Openshaw

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually. He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves' Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy, daughter Jackie, and his new grandson…baby Atlas. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

Connect with Rick:
twitter: @RickSteves
instagram: ricksteveseurope

Gene Openshaw has co-authored a dozen Rick Steves books, specializing in writing walks and tours of Europe's cities, museums, and cultural sites. He also contributes to Rick's public television series, produces tours for Rick Steves Audio Europe, and is a regular guest on Rick's public radio show. Outside of the travel world, Gene has co-authored The Seattle Joke Book. As a composer, Gene has written a full-length opera called Matter, a violin sonata, and dozens of songs. He lives near Seattle with his daughter, enjoys giving presentations on art and history, and roots for the Mariners in good times and bad.

Learn more about this author