Formerly referred to as Holland, the Netherlands has a population of just over 17 million people. The country has the highest population density in Europe at around 508 people per square kilometre. Around 92.5% of the population lives in urban areas while more than 40% of the total population of the country live in Randstad. It’s easy to become confused and call it Holland, but the Netherlands consists of 12 provinces with Holland being an area that’s made up of two provinces – North-Holland and South-Holland. Historically, these Holland regions contributed the most to the economy and wealth, which led to calling the entire country, albeit incorrectly, Holland. In January 2020, the Dutch government officially named the country the Netherlands to transform its international image. Interestingly, the Netherlands means “lower countries” and this is because over a quarter of it is below sea level. Around 60% of the population currently lives five metres below sea level with the highest point being Vaaserberg in South Limburg at 322.5 metres above sea level and the lowest point being Zuidplaspolder, which is seven metres below sea level. Luckily, the country is very well-equipped to handle pumping the land dry using windmills, pumping stations, polders and dikes. Considered the sixth happiest country in the world, it may be comforting for expats to also know that one-fifth of the population in the country is foreign-born.
Best cities to live in the Netherlands
So, without further ado, if you’re planning on moving to the Netherlands and are wondering which are the best cities to live in there, here they are:
Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands and is considered one of the most visited cities in Europe. Apart from many picturesque canals, you can also enjoy walking along the cobblestone streets there. The Jordaan neighbourhood offers old 17th century homes, which are well-known for their small inner courtyards. Grachtengordel is more romantic and features iconic bridges and houseboats. You can also stop by at some lovely quaint shops or at a cafe to enjoy the scene. Dam Square offers top-rated attractions such as the Rijksmuesum, Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum.
Another one of the Netherlands’ larger cities is Utrecht, whose size may be misleading as you’re entering a big city with a small town vibe. Old architecture has been well-preserved and it is found in areas with little traffic, making exploration on foot a fun experience. The Old Town area is a must-see, while in Cathedral Square, you can enjoy the sights of St. Martin’s Cathedral, which was built in 1254. You can also enjoy a tour on foot that takes you under the square to see the remains of the old Roman fortress on which the city was built. The Museum Speelklok, which is dedicated to musical clocks, the Centraal Museum or the Railway Museum are other notable areas to pay a visit to. This city offers excellent employment opportunities, has a great food scene, vibrant nightlife, historic monuments and so much more. It’s also considered a family-friendly city as some of its suburbs are affordable. There are also other neighbourhoods which are up-and-coming with modern builds as well as infrastructure. Wilhelmenia Park is another attraction in the city you might enjoy.
Dating back to 50 BC, Maastricht was established at the crossing point of the river Maas. Two of the city’s main attractions are Wilhelminabrug and Sint Servaasrbrug bridges (13th century). The city offers lovely riverside districts, historic sites such as medieval town walls and the market square with its Town Hall. It is also home to the oldest church in the Netherlands – St. Servaaskerk. It’s also worth visiting the St. Pietersberg Caves, which contain over 20,000-centuries-old passageways and tunnels. It has a relatively large student population.
Delft’s Old Town is full of picturesque old canals, homes and waterside cafes. It’s an easy commute from The Hague and Rotterdam and the city is globally famous for its pottery. This has helped cement the city’s reputation as a tourist attraction. While in Delft, it’s worthwhile visiting De Porceleyne Fles, which is a company that was founded in 1653. It’s the heart of pottery making in the city.
Situated at the North Sea end of the Rhine river, it is the busiest and largest port in the world. It’s also a 40-minute commute from Amsterdam. Architecture in this city is more on the modern side as the city core was destroyed during the Second World War. Places to visit include the 15th-century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen as well as modern architecture, which includes the 185-metre tall Euromast and the popular Cube Houses. You can also enjoy a boat tour of Europoort harbour. It’s considered a “creative haven” for the artistic types and it has ecological green spaces, museums as well as prominent galleries. Enjoy a vibrant nightlife with the many clubs and bars there.
Also known as Den Haag, the Hague is the Netherlands’ third-largest city, whose Binnehof or Inner Court features old buildings that date back to the 13th century. It is home to the country’s Parliament. Other sights to enjoy in the Hague include Knight’s Hall, which is a large medieval hall that has been exceptionally well preserved. You can also see the 14th-century Great St. James Church and the famous Peace Palace which is the home of the International Court of Justice.
Located in Noord-Holland, this cute and quiet town offers lovely streets in an old port area, with attractive old homes and buildings. The Bakensesser Gracht district offers the Hofje van Bakenes, which is a 14th-century courtyard that has not been changed for around 700 years. There are also old drawbridges and an original 15th-century city gate. The Grote Kerk dominates the town’s square, while other must-sees include the 13th-century City Hall and the 18th-century Teylers Museum, which focuses on the development of art and science. The city is close to the sea and you can take a short bike ride to the beach.
Other honourable mentions
Apart from these lovely cities in the Netherlands, the country offers tourists and visitors alike so much more. Lose yourself in some of the following cities:
A port city that plays a critical role in the country’s economy, Groningen has an impressive history, which includes the fact that it was granted rights to mint its own coins and became an important trading hub. Today, it is considered a university city with many cultural attractions as well as a lively festival scene. You can find the 13th-century Martin’s Church in the city centre.
Also referred to as Leyden, this is where the country’s national flower, the tulip, was first introduced to the continent. The surrounding countryside offers unforgettable images of these colorful flowers. On Wednesdays, you can enjoy the vibrant street market with many tulips being displayed alongside local produce and traditional craft goods. Being near to water, you can enjoy a tour bout on the Rhine river, head out to surrounding lakes or stroll along the canals there.
Located very close to the border with Germany, it is also in the vicinity of the banks of the river Rhine. It offers many cafes and pedestrian areas to enjoy. You can also enjoy yourself at the Valkhof Park.
this is considered the Netherlands’ leading tulip growing enterprise, located in the town of Lisse. Also known locally as the “Garden of Europe”, Keukenhof consists of 70 acres and is one of the world’s biggest public gardens. Enjoy the local annual flower parade, also known as Bollenstreek, or a visit to the tulip museum.
With a history that dates back to pre-Roman times, Arnhem has blossomed into a town of trade and commerce. It offers old streets and squares which are lined with boutiques and cafes. You can also enjoy the Netherlands Open Air Museum or the Hoge Veluwe National Park.
Located near the Belgian border, Breda has a well-preserved Old Town centre. Noteworthy sights include the Begijnhof district, which is a small church community within the city centre. It has not changed much over the last 200 years. Other sights include the city’s largest church, Grote Kerk (13th century) or the Spaniard’s Hole and even Breda Castle.
Cities and places you should avoid in the Netherlands
When in the Netherlands, take the advice of the locals and try to stay away from the following places: Eindhoven, Heerlen, Sittard-Geleen, Diemen, Roermond and Schiedam. These are considered areas that are less safer than others. Other places to steer away from are Almere, Lalystad, Rijswijk and Limburg. Meanwhile, due to poor work opportunities, many residents do not return to the municipalities of Midden-Groningen, Terneuzen, Hoogeveen, Sudwest-Fryslan and Emmen.