While its tranquil, canal-laced towns are popular with tourists, the majority of the action in the Netherlands is focused on its top ten most populous cities. Discover what the country’s top 10 cities have to offer, from the metropolises of the Randstad (a highly populated arc of towns in the western Netherlands) to the industrial hubs of the south—as well as outliers to the north and east.
Amsterdam – Largest Cities in the Netherlands
With almost one million residents, Amsterdam, the Netherlands’s capital, is the country’s most populated city. It is located in the province of North Holland, with other significant cities such as Haarlem and Zaanstad (best known as the city of Zaanse Schans). All of them are located in the Randstad, a conurbation in the western Netherlands with a population of over eight million people—nearly half of the country’s 17 million people.
This port city on the banks of the Nieuwe Maas River is the country’s second-largest metropolis, at least in terms of people; but, to its many fans, Rotterdam rivals Amsterdam for its history, culture, industry, and, of course, football. Don’t overlook its sumptuous modern architecture, which stands in stark contrast to the capital’s classic canal residences.
The Hague, Netherlands – Largest Cities in the Netherlands
The Hague not only bears the vestiges of its 13th-century history but is also a city where history is continually being written, thanks to its role as a crossroads for Dutch politics and international law. The Hague is a short distance from Amsterdam and has some of the top sights and restaurants in the country. Don’t miss the Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (Kunstmuseum Den Haag), two of the country’s best museums for Dutch Masters and 20th-century art.
Utrecht has the appearance of a little university town, yet it is actually the fourth most populous city in the country, with a population of 350,000 people. The city of Utrecht, located in the eastern Randstad, is the capital of the province of Utrecht, which also includes the charming historic city of Amersfoort. Visitors enjoy the unique quaysides of its scenic canals and landmarks ranging from the Gothic Dom Church to the UNESCO-listed Rietveld-Schröder House, a jewel of 20th-century architecture. Kids adore Miffy (Dutch: Nijntje), the world-famous cartoon bunny who stars in her own children’s book series.
Eindhoven – Largest Cities in the Netherlands
Eindhoven still has the undeserved reputation of being an industrial city with boring modern architecture—or, worse, a stopover for low-cost fliers on their route to Amsterdam. In actuality, the city is brimming with invention and innovation at a rate that few other Dutch cities can match. The old Philips corporate park, Strijp-S, has been transformed into a cultural complex to match Amsterdam’s NDSM Wharf.
Tilburg, like Eindhoven, is a city in the southern province of North Brabant. It is also a vibrant city full of creativity and innovation, from local enterprises to street art. Its historic neighborhood, De Heuvel (The Hill), is ideal for a promenade on a sunny day; as a former textile hub, it is home to the country’s only dedicated textile museum. Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven, the only Trappist brewery in the Netherlands, is located just outside the city, where tourists can relax with a beer and beer-themed delicacies in the quiet countryside of Berkel-Enschot.
Groningen, more than any other Dutch city, has it all. From the medieval Aa-Kerk to its critically renowned city museum, this former Hanseatic city has beautiful architecture, a vibrant cultural scene, excellent food and restaurants, and even its university and airport (Groningen Airport Eelde). Outside of the city, in the same-named province of Groningen, the lovely, farm-studded countryside continues north to the Wadden Sea, where the Wadden Islands, accessible by ferry from the mainland, may be found.
Almere – Largest Cities in the Netherlands
Almere is not so much a tourist destination as it is a nice city where residents raise their children and commute to work in Amsterdam. Its history begins just recently, as its entire province, Flevoland, was only recently reclaimed from the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel). There are points of interest in the city, but the best of them are directed toward the city’s modernism.
Breda, the third city on our list from the province of North Brabant, serves as the provincial capital and has a more conservative character than the other main cities in the region. Breda is a delightful city to explore on a bright day, with classic architecture and even a rare béguinage, a type of lay convent more frequent in Flanders, with buildings dating from the 16th century.
Nijmegen, together with Maastricht, is the country’s oldest city, with a 2,000-year history spanning from Roman antiquity through its participation in World War II to the thriving university city of today. Another of my favorite cities, it has a distinct local character and is conveniently near to the big towns of western Germany; Düsseldorf-Weeze Airport is located just across the border.