Belgium has lots of great places to discover while you’re spending your time as an expat in Brussels. Still, at some point you will have the feeling the country is just too small and the urge for a nice daytrip outside its borders is becoming just too big. Luckily there is another small country, just around the corner, that has just as much to offer. Depending on your destination, most highlights can be reached in 1,5 to 2 hours by car. Assuming you have a vehicle, here is a top 10 of the most interesting Highlights of Holland.
1. Kinderdijk (141km, 1h30 driving)
At just 10 kilometers as the crow flies from the city center of Rotterdam lies a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to 19 stunning windmills from the 18th century. This is picture-postcard Holland. The windmills are all in perfect condition and are still capable of pumping the water from lower regions into the Nieuwe Maas River. You can visit the information center and learn all about the ingenious engineering behind this windmill park. Of course you can also go inside one of the mills and see for yourself how these beautiful buildings keeping the lower lands dry (indeed, that explains the name of the country). As a visit to Kinderdijk would only take about 1,5 – 2 hours, you can easily combine it with a visit to Rotterdam or another destination.
2. Delta Works (138km, 1h30 driving)
Holland’s history in water engineering goes back a long time, but its current status as the world’s leading expert is primarily a result of the Deltaworks in the Southwest provinces of Sealand and South Holland. After the devastating flood of February 1953, the Dutch Government embarked on a mega-project involving the building of many dykes, storm surge barriers, locks, and levees, to protect the coastline and hinterland. The project was so sizeable, that only a few years ago it was declared officially completed. The main place to visit is the Deltapark Neeltje Jans visitors center in the middle of the Oosterschelde. Check here for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_Works
3. The Port of Rotterdam (143km, 1h30 driving)
For half a century after the Second World War, Rotterdam used to be the world’s largest harbor until both Singapore and Shang Hang took over the top positions. Still, the size of the Port of Rotterdam is enormous. Spanning about 50km from East to West, it welcomes over 40,000 sea ships per year. You can find here several huge refineries, container terminals, dry bulk and ore terminals, car terminals, and several other specific industries that require long distance transportation by ship. For a visit to the port, it’s recommended to first visit the outer areas, such as Pernis, Europoort and the newly built Maasvlakte 2 harbor that stretches out far into the sea. After that, return to the city and make a boat tour with Spido, view the city and port from above at the Euromast, visit the magnificent steamship SS Rotterdam and have lunch, dinner or a drink at the bar / restaurant of Hotel New York.
4. Maastricht (125km, 1h20 driving)
Only a few kilometers over the Belgian border and in the absolute South of the country lies one of the Netherlands’ oldest and most charming cities. Maastricht’s history goes back to the Roman era, which also explains that it has the country’s most heritage sites after Amsterdam (over 1600!). As many of our eurocrat members know very well, it’s the official birthplace of the European Union and the Euro due to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. In the city itself you can find lovely squares, great shopping streets, parks, museums, old churches and city walls, as well as several underground carved out tunnels.
5. Amsterdam (205km, 2h15 driving)
Undoubtedly Holland’s most favorite destination concerns the capital Amsterdam. The number of highlights in this city is enormous, including famous museums like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, the 100 kilometers of canals with 1500 bridges, the Anne Frank House, the Red Light District and the endless number of bars, restaurants and shopping. Amsterdam just has it all; except for tall buildings in the center as virtually the entire old town is one big museum with 1550 heritage sites. And the best thing is that you an easily cover the entire city in one day by foot as it is very compact, although to really experience it a weekend trip would be ideal
6. Delft (162km, 1h50)
Less known, but still quite popular with foreign tourists is the lovely little town of Delft, right in between Rotterdam and The Hague. It’s known for its historic canals, Delft Blue pottery (Delftware) and the 17th century painter Johannes Vermeer. Also the founder of the Netherlands, William (I) of Orange was murdered here in 1584, whereas members of the Royal Family are generally intered in the Royal burial vault in the Nieuwe Kerk. The city is also home of the prestigious Delft University of Technology, which makes Delft the home for a student population of about 20,000, about 20% of its total size. A trip here can be easily combined with other destinations.
7. The Hague (169km, 1h55 driving)
The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where the national government is not settled in its capital. Indeed, not Amsterdam but The Hague houses the seats of the Government, Parliament, and Supreme Court. Also the Royal Family, including current King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima, as well as former Queen Beatrix, live and work in this coastal city. Besides, over 150 international organisations are based in the Residential City, including the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court. As an official United Nations city, it can be justifiably called the judicial capital of the world. In fact, did you know the UN’s predecessor the League of Nations was based in The Hague. You can still visit the beautiful Peace Palace dating back the to turn of the 20th century. To close a daytrip, it is highly recommended to visit the sea side as well in the unpronounceable Scheveningen.
8. De Keukenhof (200km, 2h05)
Holland equals flowers. And there is no place where this can be better observed than the world famous and exquisite spring garden De Keukenhof. Every fall, not less than 7 million bulbs from many different flower growers are planted here. And they can’t wait to show you their inner beauty six months later. The “layered” planting of the bulbs guarantees that you can always see amazing flowerbeds during the (only!) 8 weeks the park is opened. Still most people prefer to go during the final weeks of April to witness the spectacular colors of the tulips, Holland’s most beloved symbol.
9. Valkenburg (133km, 1h25)
Just 15 minutes from Maastricht, Valkenburg is a destination in and of itself for a lovely daytrip, especially for those who love to walk in nature. Set between the only mentionable hills in the entire country, Valkenburg is especially known for its large network of carved out marl quarries. You can also find an impressive ruined castle, a toboggan run, a large spa center, an official Holland Casino, and a charming town centre with nice shops and high quality restaurants. You may also want to visit the nearby World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial of Margraten where over 8,000 American soldiers are buried. It’s a solemn and impressive site to pay tribute for those who lost their lives for liberty.
10. Arnhem & Kröller Möller (213km, 2h10)
Close to the Germany border you can find one of the largest cities in the East that is known for its excellent shopping and the many large pop concerts in its unique football stadium with moveable field (e.g. Madonna, Britney Spears, Tina Turner). The city is also known for the disastrous Battle of Arnhem during Operation Market Garden. It was one of the major setbacks for the allied forces. Over 1600 British and Polish soldiers lost their lives here to secure the bridge over the Rhine. With Nazi forces still stronger than expected this operation was indeed “A Bridge Too Far”. Your second part of the day could be a visit to the outstanding Kröller-Müller museum, right in the middle of the National Park “De Hoge Veluwe”. Although it’s worth visiting for all artefacts from the 19th and 20th century and the superb sculpture garden around the museum, it is especially known for the impressive Vincent Van Gogh collection, which includes masterpieces the Potato Eaters and the Café Terrace at Night.