So, you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands? That’s great! If you’ve stumbled upon this article, that means you’re most likely interested in seeing more than just Amsterdam. Now don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam is a magical city with some magical herbs (wink wink), but most tourists miss out on the fantastic attractions that the Dutch countryside and other cities have to offer.
This Netherlands road trip will take you all around the country, starting in Amsterdam and heading north to Groningen and Bourtang, south to Giethoorn and Maastricht, then finally west to Rotterdam and finishing back in Amsterdam. It is the perfect trip for those who want to spend a weekend in Amsterdam and five days in the Netherlands countryside experiencing the culture and history.
The Best Time to Visit the Netherlands
A good time to do this self-drive tour of the Netherlands is in the summer and fall, between June and November. In the winter, it gets darker a lot earlier and tends to be damp, wet, and cold.
If you plan on visiting the Netherlands in the summer, remember to bring a sweater as the average temperature during the day is only 17°C. Summer is the height of the tourist season, so also expect attractions to be busier than usual, especially on weekends.
The average temperature during the fall is 11°C, but the autumn colors are well worth it. It is quite beautiful to see the vibrant colors on the trees while you tour the Netherlands by car. Fall is also less busy in terms of tourists, so it is a great time to visit attractions with minimal crowds.
Renting a Car in the Netherlands
If you plan to rent a car in the Netherlands, we recommend using RentalCars.com. You can pick up rentals from Amsterdam Schipol Airport or near Amsterdam Central Station in the city center.
Renting a car in the Netherlands is relatively easy, and the road laws are very similar to those of North America. To rent a car and drive in the Netherlands, you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. If you are under the age of 25 or over 70, you may be subject to additional charges or fees. For a complete list of things to consider when renting a car in a foreign country, check out our article on driving and road safety abroad.
Driving in the city in the Netherlands can be stressful as drivers need to watch out for busy bike lanes, tram lanes, sidewalks, and other cars. Remember to plan your route in advance so that you don’t get overwhelmed on the road. It is also important to remember to thoroughly inspect the car yourself before leaving the rental lot. Take pictures of any damages or scratches visible on the car just in case the damage is brought up when you return the vehicle.
The Perfect Netherlands Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Amsterdam to Groningen
After renting a car from either the airport or central station, it’s time to start your road trip around the Netherlands by heading north toward the city of Groningen. Groningen is a young city with a large university and is roughly a 2.5-hour drive from Amsterdam. Once you arrive, you won’t need a car to get around. Most of the major attractions in the city are easily accessible by foot.
Start by wandering through central Grote Markt square, where you will find the Martinitoren – a stunning Gothic church dating back to the 12th century. Around the corner from the church is the Forum Groningen, a tall, modern public library with the best rooftop terrace in the city. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from the café and rooftop patio while enjoying a cup of coffee, beer, or snack. If you fancy doing a little shopping afterward, walk toward Herestraat street. Here you can check out shops like H&M, Jack & Jones, and other boutique shops.
After a little shopping spree, head to Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum, located in one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in the city. Visitors can learn more about the history of Groningen, how it looked in the medieval ages, and the history of ship transport in the northern Netherlands. If you are interested in learning about World War II, the German occupation, and the liberation of Groningen, consider signing up for a half-day tour of the city with Battlefield Tours. This tour should be booked in advance.
Being primarily a university city, Groningen has an excellent nightlife atmosphere. You can find excellent restaurants in the main Grote Markt square or down any of the streets off of it. If you are looking to get a drink at a pub or hit a cocktail club, head to Poelestraat Street just off Markt square. Poelestraat is one of the main party areas in the city for college students and young professionals. Groningen also has its own Red Lights District on Nieuwstad street; visitors must be 21 years old to enter any of the establishments.
Other Points of Interest in Groningen:
If you find yourself with some spare time in the city, here are some other highlights to check out:
- Noorderplantsoen Park: Have coffee in the café located in the 1930s pavilion or wander along the lake.
- Hoornsemeer Lake: Rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and other water toys for some time on the lake, or enjoy a day at the beach.
- Prinsentuin Garden: Wander through this pristine Renaissance-style garden filled with roses, herbs, and hedges.
Where to Stay in Groningen:
Day 2: Groningen to Bourtange and Giethoorn
After a hearty Dutch breakfast, leave Groningen behind and head toward the unique town of Bourtange, about an hour’s drive away. Bourtange is an incredible star-shaped fortress dating back to 1583 and located on the border of Germany. Today, it still houses a small village with a few shops, churches, and restaurants. The original walls and homes have been kept in immaculate shape, and tourists can wander the ramparts and fortress walls, and read about its history on a self-guided tour. Before leaving Bourtange, make sure to grab a bite to eat in the main village square.
Next up on this Netherlands itinerary is the mesmerizing town of Giethoorn. Giethoorn, known as the Venice of the Netherlands, is a must-see on your road trip. There are few roads in the town, and most people get around by boat on the canals or by foot. The homes have an enchanting look, with old-style thatched roofs, immaculate gardens, and dramatic arched bridges.
Tourists can rent their own boat to explore the canals or take a canal tour with one of the many companies in the area. The canals in Giethoorn also lead out to nearby lakes in the National Weerribben–Wieden National Park. After a tour of the town by boat or foot, stroll over to the Museum Giethoorn to learn more about the history of the region and to see how life used to be in the town. Afterwards, you can grab a bite to eat or enjoy a glass of wine at one of the many bars and restaurants.
Other Points of Interest Nearby:
- Wandelroute Natuurmonumenten: Enjoy a moderate hiking and biking trail through forests and wetlands.
- Watertoren Sint Jansklooster: Climb this national monument water tower for fantastic views of the lakes and wetlands below.
Where to Stay in Giethoorn:
Day 3: Giethoorn to Maastricht
Day three of this Netherlands road trip itinerary has a World War II theme. As you head out from Giethoorn, you will drive just under two hours to Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. The site is home to primarily Canadian soldiers who gave their lives during the liberation of the Netherlands in World War II. It also has nine war graves of other nationalities and commonwealth soldiers.
There are roughly 2,610 graves of those who fought in the Battle of the Rhineland. Even if you are not Canadian, this is a truly awe-inspiring place to visit. The age of these young men and the quotes left behind by their families are enough to bring a tear to your eye, so make sure to bring some tissues. After wandering through the memorial, head into the beautiful little town of Groesbeek for lunch at one of the quaint restaurants or cafés.
Once you have gotten a bite to eat, drive to Overloon War Museum, just 20 minutes away. This museum houses one of the most extensive collections of World War II artillery, vehicles, and memorabilia in Europe. If you are a war history enthusiast, this is an absolute must-see.
Stay the night in Maastricht, a stunning city known for its medieval-era architecture and as the Euro’s birthplace.
Where to Stay in Maastricht:
Day 4: Maastricht to Rotterdam
On day four, it’s time to discover the ruins of Valkenburg Castle, located 20 minutes away from the Maastricht city center. This 14th-century castle is one of the most unique castles in Europe as it has underground tunnels that tourists can explore. These tunnels were used as a secret food chain when the castle was under siege and to transport soldiers behind enemy lines for surprise attacks. Throughout the years, the tunnels have had many other uses. It served as a hideaway and makeshift church for persecuted monks in the 16th century, and during World War II, soldiers also used the tunnels for refuge and shelter. Tourists can tour the tunnels and wall art on a guided tour while learning about the amazing history of this castle on a hill.
Head next to the southernmost point in the Netherlands, Les Trois Bornes, where Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands meet. Les Trois Bornes is about a 35-minute drive from Valkenburg Castle and takes you through some of the only rolling hills in the Netherlands, offering fantastic views.
Once you arrive, you will find tons of parking lots because this is a top-rated destination for families and travelers. Visitors can take the elevator up the Baldwin Tower and enjoy stunning panoramic views of all three countries. There is also the Labyrinth Drielandenpunt hedge maze and a café. Don’t forget to snap a picture at the monument with the flags so that you can show your friends and family that you were in three different countries at once!
If you are looking to grab some lunch, take a short walk down the road to De Bokkerijder. This restaurant has fantastic food at reasonable prices and incredible views of Germany from its patio.
Once you’ve gotten a bite to eat, head northwest to Rotterdam. If you have time, stop in the small town of Oudenbosch and check out the Roman Catholic church of Basiliek Oudenbosch. It’s an exact scale replica of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The drive from Les Trois Bornes to Rotterdam is just under three hours, provided that there isn’t any traffic.
Where to Stay in Rotterdam:
Day 5: Rotterdam to Amsterdam
Rotterdam has plenty of attractions to visit during the last day of your road trip of the Netherlands. Start your day by heading to the windmills at Kinderdijk. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts 19 windmills and has one of the most unique mixes of windmills in the world. Tourists can wander paths through the tall blades of grass, take a water cruise, hit the gift shop, or tour the inside of the mills.
After a lovely morning stroll, it’s time to head to downtown Rotterdam for lunch. There are many places to eat, but if you want the best of the Netherlands and Rotterdam, go to Euromast Tower. Visitors can enjoy beautiful meals from the Brasserie Restaurant at the top of the tower while taking in stunning panoramic views of the city. Make sure to book a table in advance as the restaurant is extremely popular.
Depending on when you need to get your rental car back to Amsterdam, you can opt to check out a few more sites in Rotterdam.
- Kijk-Kubas: These unique architecture homes, built by Amsterdam architect Piet Bloom, are also known as the Cube Houses. Tourists from around the world come to marvel at their incredible design.
- Miniworld Rotterdam: Tourist attraction with a miniature scale model of Rotterdam with night and day simulations and an on-site restaurant.
- Strand Nesselande: White sand beach on the banks of Lake Zevenhuizerplas with swimming and restaurants.
- Pilgrim Fathers Church: Historical Protestant church where pilgrims would come to pray before sailing off to America in the 17th century.
- Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: Art museum with famous paintings from Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Bruegel, and Van Gogh.
That brings this five-day road trip of the Netherlands to an end! If you find yourself with a few days in Amsterdam, check out our list of the best things to do in Amsterdam and the best Airbnbs in Amsterdam.