The Netherlands, often underestimated, is a treasure trove of unique experiences for the adventurous backpacker. Far from being just a flat landscape of tulip fields and windmills, the country offers an array of hidden gems that might not scream ‘exotic’ at first glance but promise an adventure as thrilling as any distant beach or jungle retreat.
For those of us lucky enough to call it home, we’re eager to share these secrets that make the Netherlands a must-visit. Imagine embarking on a safari, exploring a desert landscape, marveling at pyramids, or island hopping—all within the confines of this small European country.
Indeed, the Netherlands is brimming with surprises that position it as one of Europe’s most unexpectedly exotic destinations. In this blog, we’ll share the hidden marvels to visit when backpacking in the Netherlands!
10 hidden gems you shouldn’t miss when backpacking the Netherlands
# 1 Climb the Pyramid of Austerlitz
Website (Dutch) | Nestled within the lush Utrechtse Heuvelrug, the Pyramid of Austerlitz is an awe-inspiring monument that rivals the grandeur of its Egyptian and Mayan counterparts. Erected in 1805 by French occupiers as a tribute to Emperor Napoleon, this Dutch pyramid, crowned with an obelisk, is a fascinating blend of history and architecture. Today, it serves not only as a testament to the past but also as a vibrant recreational spot, complete with a playground and restaurant. Best of all, access to both the park and pyramid is free, making it a unique and wallet-friendly adventure.
# 2 Embark on a safari in Brabant
Website | Who says you need to travel to Africa to experience a safari? At Safari Park Beekse Bergen in Brabant, you’re transported to the African savannah with lions, giraffes, and ostriches roaming around. What sets this zoo apart is the variety of safari experiences it offers, from boat and bus tours to the thrilling option of driving your own car amongst these majestic animals. It’s an immersive experience that brings the excitement of an African safari to the Netherlands.
# 3 Wander through the desert of the Loonse en Drunense Duinen
Website (Dutch) | The Loonse en Drunense Duinen National Park, with its vast sand plains, offers a landscape reminiscent of a desert oasis right in Brabant. This sprawling nature reserve is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a dramatic backdrop for hikes and mountain bike tours. The juxtaposition of the desert-like dunes with surrounding heather and forests, coupled with the occasional shepherd and his flock, evokes a feeling of being in a faraway land, providing a unique escape into nature that challenges the stereotypical Dutch landscape.
# 4 Uncover the caves in South Limburg
Website | The extensive network of caves beneath Maastricht offers a journey into the depths of history and human resilience. These caverns, initially excavated by the Romans, have served as sanctuaries during wars and as hiding spots for priceless artworks, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch during WWII. A guided tour through these underground corridors reveals the stories and secrets of the past, offering an intriguing exploration of a world hidden beneath the city’s surface.
# 5 Enjoy a Dutch city trip
Redefine the concept of a city trip by exploring urban life within the Netherlands. From the striking modern architecture of Rotterdam to the historic canals of Leiden and the vibrant energy of Amsterdam, the country is dotted with cities that boast unique charms. Read our blog about the 10 most surprising city trips in the Netherlands to learn more about the best cities to visit in our home country.
# 6 Stroll through the Japanese garden in The Hague
Website | Hidden within the sprawling estate of Clingendael in The Hague lies a gem that epitomizes tranquility and beauty—the Japanese Garden. This extraordinary garden, accessible only for a limited period each year to preserve its fragile beauty, is a testament to the baroness’s love affair with Japanese culture. During her travels, she curated a collection of unique plants and trees, alongside statues of Buddha, stone lanterns, and picturesque bridges over lotus-filled ponds, creating a slice of Japan in the Netherlands. It’s a paradise for those seeking peace, as well as photographers and couples looking for that perfect shot or romantic setting.
# 7 Paddle through the Brabant jungle
Website | The Biesbosch, a remarkable freshwater tidal area in Brabant, stands as a testament to nature’s wonder. Connected to the sea by rivers, this reserve experiences the ebb and flow of tides, creating a dynamic and unique ecosystem. Exploring the Biesbosch by water offers an unparalleled adventure; renting a canoe becomes an invitation to glide through its myriad of waterways. Whether you choose a short jaunt or a day-long voyage, you’re in for an experience that mirrors the thrill of navigating through a lush, verdant jungle.
# 8 Marvel at the Italian St. Peter’s Church in Brabant
Nestled in the heart of Brabant, Oudenbosch harbors a remarkable architectural marvel—a downsized replica of the iconic St. Peter’s Church in Rome. This Dutch iteration, while inspired by the grandeur of its Roman counterpart, incorporates elements from the San Giovanni in Laterano, the second largest church in Rome, particularly in its facade. The interior, however, remains a faithful homage to the original, complete with a recreation of Bernini’s famous canopy and a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Designed by the celebrated architect Pierre Cuypers, known for his work on the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central Station, this church offers a slice of Italian ecclesiastical architecture in the Netherlands.
# 9 Embrace the island vibe of the Wadden Islands
For those yearning for an island escape, look no further than the Netherlands’ own Wadden Islands. Praised for their unparalleled natural beauty, these islands offer a refreshing alternative to popular beach destinations like Ibiza or the Canary Islands. Texel, the largest of the Wadden Islands, boasts a landscape marked by towering dunes, expansive meadows, and dense forests. Here, activities abound—from biking and walking along the Wadden Sea, to sampling local beers and enjoying forest walks. The island’s vast beaches provide the perfect backdrop for a beach holiday steeped in the tranquility and beauty of the Dutch landscape.
# 10 Stroll through the jungle at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden
Website | Leiden’s Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, is a verdant sanctuary of exotic plant species. Established by Leiden University, this botanical garden has played a significant role in the introduction and study of plants from around the world, including the tulip, which blossomed here for the first time in the Netherlands. Today, visitors can wander through its various greenhouses, each a portal to different climatic zones, housing an array of ponds, towering trees, and vibrant flowers.
# 11 Delight in the culinary wonders of Rotterdam’s Markthal
Website | Rotterdam’s Markthal is not just an architectural masterpiece with its breathtaking ceiling artwork; it’s a gastronomic voyage that spans the globe. This vibrant market hall is a treasure trove of culinary delights, offering everything from freshly prepared sushi and tapas to traditional Dutch treats like stroopwafels and kroketten. Among the plethora of stalls, the Asian supermarket Wah Nam Hong stands out, offering a unique blend of supermarket and dining experience, where visitors can indulge in exotic flavors or purchase beautiful crockery. The Markthal invites you to embark on a world tour of flavors, all under one roof.
# 12 Experience Drenthe’s Boomkroonpad
Website (Dutch) |
Though the Netherlands is renowned for its flat landscapes, Drenthe offers an exhilarating exception—the Boomkroonpad. This unique treetop walkway, celebrated as the country’s most beautiful walking route, allows visitors to experience the forest from a new perspective, high above the ground. The surrounding Hondsrug nature reserve adds to the allure, with its ancient dolmens, dense forests, and heathlands, providing ample opportunities for exploration and adventure.