âThe Netherlands is a small country in Northwestern Europe that is famous for its tulips, cheese, windmills, and canals. While the capital city, Amsterdam, is popular among backpackers making their way across the continent, much of the country is virtually untouched by tourism. Many people simply refer to the nation as Holland, which doesn’t acknowledge the incredible small towns, outlying cities, and green countryside outside of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland.Find out what each of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands is best known for and why visitors should venture outside the capital city during their stay.
Noord-Holland is perhaps the most well-known province in the Netherlands because it’s home to the country’s capital city, Amsterdam. In 2019, more than 20 million tourists flocked to Amsterdam for its unique nightlife, an array of museums, and mouth-watering cuisine.
Some of the top attractions to enjoy in this famous province include seeing the windmills at Zaanse Schans, taking in the history at the Anne Frank House, and appreciating Dutch art at the Rijksmuseum. Visitors looking for a lively urban destination with diverse dining options will want to make this province their priority when visiting the Netherlands.
Another well-known province, Zuid-Holland is located directly below Noord-Holland and boasts two of the country’s most prominent cities. Zuid-Holland is home to The Hague which is where the seat of the government is located as well as the Noordeinde Palace where the royal family does their work. Just a half-hour away from The Hague is the city of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest seaport.
The popular tourist destination, Keukenhof, is also in Zuid-Holland. This massive flower garden is the spot where Instagrammers flock in April each year for the perfect photo among the blooming tulips.
Moving to the northeast of the Netherlands, the province of Drenthe is sparsely populated, making it the perfect place to explore authentic, quaint Dutch towns full of locals. The majority of the land in Drenthe is used for agricultural purposes with lots of forested areas and rivers found here as well. The best way to get around Drenthe is on the traditional Dutch mode of transportation: by bicycle.
Assen hosts the TT Circuit Assen, a motorsport race while Emmen offers visitors a fun day at the Wildlands Adventure Zoo.
Just south of Drenthe is the province of Overijssel. The name Overijssel translates roughly to across the Ijssel, referring to a Dutch distributary of the Rhine waterway. Overijssel is a historic province with an abundance of charming small towns and villages to explore.
Perhaps the most famous is Giethoorn, which is often called the Venice of the North. This quaint village features rustic cottages bordering the canals which are lined with vibrant green grass and colorful flowers. Visitors can spend an unforgettable afternoon floating through these waterways on a boat.
Directly south of Overijssel is the large province in the Netherlands, Gelderland. With its vast size, it’s no surprise Gelderland offers stunning landscapes, historic cities, and breathtaking castles. The Veluwe is a must-visit region of Gelderland with forested hills, small lakes, and large sand drifts.
Gelderland is home to the oldest city in the Netherlands, Nijmegen. Its origins date back over 2000 years, making it a popular spot for a walking tour and an impromptu history lesson when visiting the area.
To the northwest of Gelderland is the smaller province of Flevoland. Flevoland is the youngest province of the Netherlands and it was only established in 1986 when three regions were merged into one. Flevoland isn’t connected to the mainland of the Netherlands, making it the largest artificial island in the world.
The Dutch created Flevoland by building a dike that would close off a shallow bay. Over time, the Dutch people drained the bay in stages, eventually resulting in the newest province.
Groningen is the northeasternmost province of the Netherlands, bordering Friesland and Drenthe. To the east, it shares a border with Germany. The capital city by the same name, Groningen, is a beautiful destination with a pedestrian walking zone and impressive shopping districts.
A notable landmark of Groningen city is the Martini Tower (Martinitoren) which is a tall church steeple. The city center is walkable, making Groningen a wonderful option for exploring on foot.
Friesland is another northern province, located west of Groningen. Historically referred to as Frisia, the people of Friesland do not identify as Dutch but as Friesians. Friesland has two official languages, Frisian and Dutch so each town or city in the province also has two names.
Friesland offers some of the Netherlands’ best-hidden gems, including the city of Leeuwarden which features canals and architecture reminiscent of Amsterdam, without the crowds.
Utrecht is centrally located and is the smallest province in the Netherlands. Despite its size, Utrecht is rich in culture and history. The largest city in the Province is Utrecht is called Utrecht and is an excellent spot for a day trip from Amsterdam for tourists looking to escape the crowds.
The province has lots of museums, castles, and incredible architecture. The second-largest city, Amersfoort, is straight out of a fairytale with cobbled walking streets along the canals.
Limburg is the southernmost province of the Netherlands, bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the west. The province has many important historical sites for the nation, many of which are located in the cultural hub of Maastricht. Maastricht is a great choice for visitors to the Netherlands who are seeking an urban area to use as a base for their travels other than Amsterdam.
The city has over 1600 historical landmarks to visit, and it’s the birthplace of the European Union and the euro.
Noord-Brabant is located south of Zuid-Holland and is one of the most industrialized areas in the Netherlands. Noord-Brabant has a reputation for being the most social, fun-loving province in the country, making it a welcoming destination for travelers. It’s also the birthplace of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.
Some of the best cities to visit in Noord-Brabant are Tilburg and Eindhoven. Eindhoven is a modern city that is a hub for technology and design. There are also plenty of dining options for foodies. Tilburg features more traditional architecture with lots of green spaces to enjoy.
Zeeland is the westernmost province in the Netherlands, bordering Belgium. As a coastal province, Zeeland boasts the best seafood in the country and many of the most popular beaches.
Domburg beach is an idyllic spot for camping on the North Sea while the adorable harbor municipality of Vlissingen is perfect for a weekend getaway. If you love fresh mussels and lobster, Zeeland needs to be on your itinerary when visiting the Netherlands.