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The Dutch love road trips, so it’s no surprise that The Netherlands is a great place to hit the road. It’s one of the best ways to see the country, and with proper planning it can work out to be pretty cheap. Whether you bring your own vehicle, hire a motorhome, or even cycle, there’s tons to discover outside of Amsterdam.
Since we’re both from the Netherlands, we’ve spent a fair amount of time on the roads, visiting our favorite cities and sites. In this article, we’ll imagine our perfect Netherlands road trip that’ll help you discover the culture and hidden gems of our country.
So, strap yourself in and let’s get started!
Netherlands Road Trip: The Basics
Before we start our journey, let’s take a look at some of the basics, such as how much you can expect vehicle rental to cost, as well as your options when it comes to exploring the Netherlands.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
It’s easy to bring your own vehicle from mainland Europe and the UK. This is a cost effective way of enjoying your Netherlands road trip, especially if you own a campervan/motorhome. There’s no vignette to worry about, and you can legally drive on Dutch roads with ease. British vehicles will need to put headlamp adjusters on, and you can buy these on the ferry. At the time of writing, petrol in the Netherlands costs around €1.65 per liter.
Renting a Vehicle
Vehicle rental in the Netherlands isn’t as cheap as other parts of the world, but it’s not extortionate either. You can expect to pay around €20-€40 per day for a small-medium rental car. Motorhome rental in the Netherlands typically costs between €70 and €150 per day. Prices reduce for longer-term rentals, and can increase during high season.
The Dutch are crazy about cycling and it’s one of the best ways to see the country. With a wealth of cycle networks and special bike lanes throughout both the towns and the countryside, it’s a safe and enjoyable way to see the Netherlands. Bike rental typically costs €10-€40 per day, or €50-€150 per week. Or, you can always bring your own.
Know the Rules of the Road
It’s important to know the local laws if you’re planning a road trip. While rules in the Netherlands are pretty similar to most other European countries, there are some things that might not be obvious to visitors from further afield. Here’s a breakdown of the most important:
- Drive on the right, overtake on the left.
- It is compulsory to carry a driving license, car registration papers and insurance documents in the car (Dutch, EU and international driving licenses are accepted).
- Mobile phones may only be used with a hands-free system while driving. Even holding a mobile while driving a vehicle is considered an offense.
- Seatbelts are compulsory in the front and rear of the vehicle.
- Drivers should pay particular attention to cyclists, who may ride two abreast.
- Unless otherwise signposted, vehicles coming from the right have priority.
It’s also compulsory to carry hi-vis vests for each passenger and a warning triangle to be used if you break down and have to stop at the side of the road. In addition, it’s advisable to carry spare bulbs for all external lights, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.
It’s worth bearing in mind that most rental vehicles will be equipped with these items. You can find the full list of rules right here.
Let’s Hit the Road!
With the basics out of the way, it’s time to delve into our dream Netherlands road trip! We’ll assume that you’re starting and ending your trip in Amsterdam, where you’ll find plenty of rental companies. The following round-trip takes in some of the best sites in the Netherlands and should take around 14-days.
Along the way, you’ll soak up the authentic Netherlands culture with visits to the awesome Dutch windmills, old-fashioned villages, and much more. This trip won’t cover the entire country, but showcases the most iconic sights!
Day 1: Amsterdam & Muiderslot Castle (40km)
Day one is an easy one to help you soak up the capital city, while taking your wheels out for a quick spin to check that everything is okay. Amsterdam is full of great things to do, from museums and art galleries, to the iconic Amsterdam Canals. You can either spend the whole day exploring the city, or drive out to the nearby Muiderslot Castle, around 20km or 15 minutes away.
The castle is a beautiful example of medieval architecture showcasing over 700 years of history, set in stunning grounds. Home to a variety of exhibitions and collections, there are guided tours and activities to enjoy. When you’re done, you can either return to Amsterdam for the evening, or camp out at the castle.
Day 2: Amsterdam — The Hague (87km)
Day 2 is another relaxing day with just a short distance to cover. Spend the morning indulging in Amsterdam’s cafe culture, before hitting the coast road to The Hague. In Dutch we say Den Haag, which is also the name you will see on the signs. The route takes in both Bloemendaal and Zandvoort beaches So, if you fancy a day and evening at the beach rather than in the city, you can always stop at either one at the end of day 1. Both are sandy with a vibrant local scene that takes in cafes, bars, and live music.
If you’re visiting between the end of March and the beginning of May, it’s worth dropping by Keukenhof to see the famous tulips. You can easily spend half a day taking it all in, before heading south once again to The Hague.
If not, continue straight to The Hague, and enjoy everything the small city has to offer, such as Binnenhof (the Dutch parliament buildings), and Madurodam — a miniature replica of the Netherlands. You can also enjoy Scheveningen and Kijkduin beaches, both of which are more or less within the city limits.
Day 3 & 4: The Hague — Rotterdam (45km)
This is another short drive, so you can either enjoy a leisurely morning in The Hague seeing the sights you missed the day before, or head to Rotterdam to spend the entire day in the city. The road passes through Delft, a small university town home to beautiful churches, canals, great pubs, and museums. Delft is also famous for its blue pottery. If you’re into this, you might like to check out the Royal Delft factory where you can see master painters at work or join a painting workshop yourself.
Rotterdam is a great city that is worth staying at least a full day and night in, so if time allows, consider staying 2 nights. You can explore the famous Rotterdam Harbour, the largest in Europe, and home to the incredible Euromast. The city has an amazing night-life and cafe culture, as well as museums, tours, and adrenaline inducing activities.
From Rotterdam, you can also drive out to the windmills of Kinderdijk, about 30 minutes away. The small village showcases a number of iconic 18th century windmills, plus a network of canals and pumping stations. It’s a pleasant afternoon out, and you can return to Rotterdam later to enjoy the nightlife.
Day 5: Rotterdam — Middelburg (130km)
After a few shorter drives, we’ll now start seeing more of the country, as we head south towards Middelburg, the historic capital of Zeeland province. Along the way, there are plenty of beaches to check out. Brouwersdam and Renesse beaches are among the best, home to sand dunes and some of the best surfing spots the country has to offer.
Next up is Delta Park Neeltje Jans, an amusement park with a difference. The Delta Works is a series of construction projects in the Southwest of the Netherlands, consisting of numerous dams, locks, storm barriers, and levees. Each element is designed to protect a large part of the Netherlands from the sea. But, rather than just building boring barriers, a series of Delta Parks were created to provide education and entertainment.
Delta Park Neeltje Jans is one of the biggest and the best, and you can explore the delta, marvel at the sights in the aquarium, splash out in the aqua park, and enjoy a water safari boat trip. There’s also the exciting Hurricane Machine, where you can experience winds of up to 133 kilometers per hour!
Once you’ve dried off, head south to Middelburg, a small city steeped in tradition and slightly off the main tourist trails. Explore the twisty alleys, stroll along the canals, and stay in a historic boutique hotel. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a night under canvas, there are plenty of campsites in the surrounding area.
BONUS DAY: Middelburg — Efteling (130km)
This is an optional day for thrill seekers looking to enjoy the largest theme park in the Netherlands. At 130km, the drive takes around an hour and 20 minutes from Middelburg, passing through the farms and villages of the southern part of the Netherlands. That leaves plenty of time to enjoy a good breakfast in one of Middelburg’s rustic cafes.
The Efteling is home to roller coasters and a wealth of thrilling rides for adventure seekers, as well as some more tame options for the little ones. There’s truly something for everyone, and with restaurants and accommodation, you can really make a day of it. Besides the official hotels, you’ll find guesthouses and campsites aplenty nearby.
If theme parks aren’t your thing, you could travel instead directly to Utrecht, which is around 170km from Middelburg.
Day 6 & 7: Efteling — Utrecht (95km) or Middelburg to Utrecht (170 km)
The next stop is Utrecht, a beautiful ancient university town known by locals as the lively beating heart of Holland. From Efteling it’s around 75km directly, or an extra 20km if you stop off at Loevestein Castle.
This medieval castle is situated in a stunning nature reserve, surrounded by rivers and lakes, and is home to a wealth of wildlife. There are also tours through the medieval museum, which showcases a number of interesting exhibitions.
After the castle, drive through more scenic Dutch countryside for another 60km before reaching Utrecht. There’s lots to see in this small university city, and if time allows, it’s worth spending an entire day. It has a lively vibe, and is famous for its historic center, wharf cellar bars along the canals, and the iconic Dom Church. A calm oasis compared to Amsterdam, it’s a great place to soak up some Dutch culture before driving on.
Day 8: Utrecht — Kampen (150km)
Day 8 is for nature lovers, and though the distance is quite far, it’s broken up by visits to 2 of the most stunning national parks in the Netherlands. Enjoy breakfast in Utrecht before driving the short distance to Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park. Here you can enjoy hiking or cycling through vast woodlands, discovering ancient castles, and relaxing in a place that feels a million miles from the city, despite being just 30-minutes away!
Next up is Hoge Veluwe National Park, home to sprawling heathlands, looming sand dunes, and shady woodlands. There are even more chances for hiking or cycling through surreal scenery where you might come across beautiful wildlife. You’ll find plenty of campsites, hotels, and guest houses in these regions, so if you want to stay longer, it’s easily done.
If not, the next stop is the river town of Kampen, around 65km north on a road that takes you through moody woodlands and even more relaxing countryside. Kampen is a small town well off the tourist track, though you’ll find plenty of accommodation and things to do. Home to beautiful historic canalside houses, friendly cafes and restaurants, it’s another great place to relax after a long day on the road.
Look out for historic sailing ships along the river, or take a walking tour to discover the more than 500 historic monuments scattered throughout the town. Again, if you prefer to camp, there are plenty of options in the surrounding area.
Day 9: Kampen — Giethoorn & Weerribben (40km)
Day 9 is another easy day, leaving you plenty of time to explore to your heart’s content. The next destination is Giethoorn & Weerribben, known as the Venice of the Netherlands. You can either drive straight there, or drop by Weerribben-Wieden National Park. Consisting of lakes, ponds, and canals, this stunning swampland is a great place for kayaking or boating. Keep your eyes peeled for otters and cormorants, among other wonderful wildlife.
You can rent boats in Giethoorn, so it’s best to head there first and then spend the day on the water. There are also a number of other nice towns and villages that are worth dropping by, such as Hasselt, close to Kampen.
Giethoorn is also a great base for exploring the Drenthe province, which is home to the iconic ‘Hunebedden’. Hunebeds are prehistoric tombs built by the Funnelbeaker people using huge boulders. Drenthe is home to 52 ancient hunebeds, all within a 30km radius. You’ll find 3 near to Giethoorn, which are named with letters and numbers. The three you find closeby are Dolemen D52, D53, and D54 (there’s a nice teahouse next to the last 2, aptly named ‘Theehuis ‘t Hunebed’). But you’ll discover more on the next leg of the journey!
Day 10: Giethoorn & Weerribben — Bourtange (130km)
Day 10 is a day of exploration. As you’ll be driving mostly through the Drenthe region, there are plenty of Hunebeds to discover. The largest, D-27, is located in Borger, which is also home to the Hunebedden centre, where you can learn more about these fascinating monuments.
Today’s destination is the fortified city of Bourtange, located on the border with Germany in the Groningen province. A stop at Assen is a nice place for lunch, and the surrounding area is filled with hunebeds!
Bourtange is a restored star-shaped fortress town that dates back to 1580. Immerse yourself in the medieval atmosphere, stay the night in the historic barracks, catch a historic reenactment, explore one of the 4 museums, or simply stroll along the canals. There’s no shortage of accommodation in and around the town, including 2 campsites that are within walking distance from the historic center.
Day 11: Bourtange — Holwerd (140km)
From Bourtange, it’s time to return to the coast, or more specifically, the Wadden Sea, an area of stunning natural beauty. There are around 50 Islands in the Wadden Sea, but the first 5 Dutch islands are some of the most interesting. Each has its own atmosphere and vibe, and it’s worth checking them all out if you can. To get there you can either loop around the coast (a slightly longer route), or inland via Groningen. A nice place to stop for a coffee in this city is in front of the centuries-old Martinitoren clock tower.
The 3 islands that are easiest to visit with a vehicle are Ameland via the car ferry at Holwerd, Terschelling via the car ferry at Harlingen, and Texel via the car ferry at Den Helder. There are numerous sailings per day on each line. You’ll find a ton of campsites and other accommodation around all of these towns, so you can explore the islands with ease.
We suggest heading to Holwerd and sailing to Ameland. Ferry crossings run pretty much every hour and take 20–50 minutes. If you like, you can stay on the island, or return the same day and head for Harlingen, ready to visit Terschelling island.
Some Wadden Island activities include mud-flat walking, relaxing on gorgeous beaches, and indulging in local delicacies, in particular fresh seafood and fish.
Day 12: Holwerd — Den Helder — Texel Island (110 km)
To explore Texel Island, it’s worth taking your time, as there’s lots to do. From Holwerd, it’s around 110km to Den Helder, where you can take the ferry which runs pretty much every 30-minutes throughout the day.
Before you get there though, you’ll cross the Afsluitdijk, a major dam and causeway that has been protecting the Netherlands from raging seas for the past 90-years. The views over the edge are great, and it’s a nice place to witness nature clashing with human ingenuity.
If you arrive in Den Helder early enough, it’s worth catching the ferry to Texel to spend the day exploring and indulging in local delicacies, such as Texel lamb and the locally brewed Texel Skuumkoppe beer. There are places to stay on the island, or you can return to the mainland to stay in Den Helder.
Day 13: Den Helder – Marken (90km)
After enjoying the island lifestyle, it’s time to head back inland. Today’s drive takes us back towards Amsterdam, but not before exploring some more of the smaller villages and towns first. Heading south, the first stop of the day is Alkmaar, the city of cheese. For cheese lovers, it’s a must and you’ve got to catch the world-famous historical cheese market every Friday (March through September).
But there’s more to Alkmaar than just cheese — though a visit to the cheese museum is recommended! This historical town has a charming center, bustling cafe culture, and excellent restaurants. There are also some other great museums, such as the Beer Museum and the Beatles Museum. It’s a nice place to stay the night as well, though if you’d like to move on, the day is still young.
Today’s destination is the quaint fishing village of Marken, which is reached by driving along a thin sliver of land to the island. It’s rustic and charming, with a few choices for accommodation and a cosy harbour-side tavern and restaurant. Alternatively, there are several other fishing villages nearby, such as Monnickendam where you can dine on a fishing boat, or Volendam, a beautiful village filled with narrow streets and a bustling harbour.
Day 14: Marken — Zaanse Schans — Amsterdam (60km)
After indulging in stunningly fresh seafood, it’s time to hit the road again. This last day of driving is short and easy, eventually returning to Amsterdam. But first, you can’t visit the Netherlands without checking out the windmills of historic Zaanse Schans.
Located on the banks of the river Zaan, Zaanse Schans will take you back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries. Besides the iconic windmills, there’s also a historic, functioning bakery, a cheese factory, a pewter foundry, and a wooden clog warehouse where you can see how they’re made. You can hire a bike and cycle the cobbled streets, visit the museums, or relax on a sunny terrace.
From Zaanse Schans, it’s just over 20km back to Amsterdam, where you can discover the exciting nightlife of the city if you didn’t already get a chance to.