The Netherlands is one of the most beautiful destinations for a backpacking trip. Holland might not sound as exotic and exciting as remote beach or jungle destinations, but as Dutchies we can tell you exactly what hidden gems will surprise you and make you want to visit the Netherlands. How about a safari, desert landscape, pyramids or island hopping? The Netherlands is one of the most exotic and surprising destinations in Europe because of these 10 hidden gems.
10 hidden gems you shouldn’t miss when backpacking the Netherlands
# 1 Climb the Pyramid of Austerlitz
Website (Dutch)| Forget the pyramids in Egypt or the Mayan pyramids, because we also have a pyramid on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. In 1805 the French occupiers of the Netherlands had a pyramid built on the highest point of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. It was intended as a tribute to their emperor Napoleon. The Egyptians clearly copied the design: our Dutch Pyramid of Austerlitz is a classic pyramid with an obelisk on it. It hardly gets more Egyptian. Nowadays it is really a trip and you have a playground and a restaurant. The entrance to the park and the pyramid is free.
# 2 Go on a safari in Brabant
Website | Spotting lions, giraffes and ostriches? You don’t have to go to Africa for that. We think the Safari Park in Beekse Bergen is the best zoo in the Netherlands. Just like in other zoos you can walk through the park along the animals. But much cooler is the option to go on safari by boat, bus or even your own car! In the Safari Park you can drive your own car among the exotic animals. You imagine yourself on the African steppe when the giraffes block the road.
# 3 Wander through the desert of the Loonse en Drunense Duinen
Website (Dutch) | One of the most beautiful nature reserves in Brabant is the drifting sand plain in the Loonse en Drunense Duinen National Park. You imagine yourself as the desert, the sand plains are so vast here. Around the dunes you have heather and forests, which makes this area a wonderful place for hikes and mountain bike tours. With a little luck you will meet a shepherd with his flock of sheep, so that you really feel like you are in Morocco.
# 4 Discover the caves in South Limburg
Website | At Maastricht you will find a huge underground cave system. And you can also visit those caves with a guide! The Romans once started to excavate the lime soil on which Maastricht was built, creating an underground maze. The long corridor has saved the citizens of Maastricht in times of need. During wars, people went into hiding in the endless corridors and the most important Dutch art also found shelter here. Rembrandt’s Night Watch, among others, went into hiding during the Second World War! We visited the caves again last year and were allowed to visit this art cellar on request. Please indicate these requests immediately at the start of the tour, so that your guide can tailor his route accordingly.
# 5 Go on a city trip in your own country
For this annual city trip in Europe, leave out the plane and opt for a weekend trip in your own country. The Netherlands has the most beautiful historical cities, futuristic skylines and vibrant centers. For example, we love the impressive architecture in our hometown Rotterdam, the historic canals and great museums in Leiden or our own bustling capital Amsterdam.
Reading tip: in our blog with the 10 most surprising city trips in the Netherlands, we give tips for the ultimate city trip. Including restaurant, coffee and hotel tips for every city!
# 6 Stroll through the Japanese garden in The Hague
Website | The Japanese garden is located on the beautiful Clingendael estate in The Hague – a tip for hiking and picnics anyway. This special garden is only open for a short period of year to protect the unique plants and trees from visitors. The garden was once created by the baroness who lived on the Clingendael estate. She was a big fan of Japan and brought all kinds of Japanese flora for her home from her travels. There are Buddha statues, stone lanterns, lotus flowers, bridges and arbors. It will not be surprising that this is a popular spot for bridal suites and Instagram photos.
# 7 Canoe through the Brabant jungle
Website | The Biesbosch is a unique piece of nature in the Netherlands: it is a freshwater area, but does have tides. The Biesbosch is in fact connected to the sea via rivers. As a result, the water level goes with the ebb and flow and you have a very special nature reserve here in Brabant. Because it is such a wetland, the water is also the best way to explore the Biesbosch. Rent a boat or – even better – a canoe! There are numerous sailing routes, from two hours to a full day.
# 8 Visit the Italian St. Peter’s Church in Brabant
Oudenbosch in Brabant contains an exact, but reduced, copy of the famous St. Peter’s Church from Rome. The facade differs somewhat from the world-famous Vatican, because it is more inspired by the second largest church in Rome: the San Giovanni in Laterano. The interior is exactly like that in Rome. Bernini’s famous canopy has been recreated and a copy of Michelango’s Pieta is also present. The architect of this Dutch Vatican is also no unknown name: Pierre Cuypers who also designed the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central.
# 9 For your island feeling, go to the Wadden Islands
Do not choose Ibiza, Canary Islands or Corsica for an island and beach holiday, but our own Wadden Islands. The Wadden Islands of the Netherlands offer a unique piece of nature and are even recommended by the Lonely Planet. I already spent some lovely fresh air weekends on the largest Wadden island of Texel. I love the diverse landscape with high dunes, meadow vistas over fields and beautiful forests. Take the bicycle, go for a walk on the Wad, taste local beer or walk in the forest. And did you know that Texel also has one of the widest beaches? The ideal place for your beach holiday in your own country.
Reading tip: We wrote an extensive blog about the island of Texel with our 10 favorite places on the island.
# 10 Stroll through the jungle at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden
Website | The oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands can be found in Leiden. The exotic gardens were once founded by Leiden University. It was the place where the first Dutch tulips were ever grown and where exotic species from Asia were later explored and admired. Even today, the Hortus consists of several greenhouses with ponds, trees, walkways, colorful flowers and huge plants.
# 11 Wander through the Markthal in Rotterdam eating
Website | In foreign cities, the market hall is often the place for endless stalls with local dishes, exotic vegetables and a lively activity. In the Netherlands you have to be in Rotterdam. The Rotterdam Markthal is not only cozy, but also a beautiful building. The huge ceiling painting in particular is impressive and has also been compared to the Sistine Chapel. In the culinary field, you make a world trip in the Rotterdam Markthal. From sushi to tapas, from Indian to Basque, from churros to stroopwafels, from burgers to hot dogs, from Dutch fries to Het Kroket Loket. One of our favorite shops in the Market Hall is the Asian supermarket Wah Nam Hong. It is a supermarket, but you can also eat and buy beautiful crockery on the first floor.
# 12 Take a walk at high altitudes
Website (Dutch) | For cool mountain hikes you should not be in our flat Netherlands, but in Drenthe Staatsbosbeheer has made a unique alternative. This Boomkroonpad is the most beautiful walking route in the Netherlands and runs through the treetops at a great height. Also nearby you can walk in the Hondsrug nature reserve, along the dolmens, forests, fens and heath.