It would be wrong to judge anyone for thinking first of Amsterdam when planning an Eurorail adventure across Europe. After all, it’s without question one of the continent’s most beautiful cities and a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The real shame would be to not consider stopping off on your journey through the Netherlands instead of making a beeline for the capital. It’s not all windmills, tulip fields and canals, as you’ll discover when you visit these five Dutch cities.
If you’re after the historic charm of tall, crooked houses and narrow canals, stay on the train to Amsterdam. If you’re looking for the Netherlands’ capital of cool, make sure you disembark in Rotterdam. Virtually levelled to the ground during the Second World War, the port of Rotterdam has risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the decades since. It has also shrugged off its image of a drab port, thanks to its ambitious (and adventurous) architectural projects. Top of the list are the Cube Houses, the Erasmusbrug and the horseshoe-shaped Markthal.
Delft may be one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands but it is definitely a spring chicken at heart thanks to a burgeoning student population. Don’t let the relaxed atmosphere of this medieval town fool you – you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere more connected with the country’s turbulent history than Delft. It’s old centre was also the muse of Johannes Vermeer who lived and painted here his entire life. Don’t get back on the train until you’ve joined locals having a drink at watering holes along its lamplit canals.
The Netherlands’ third largest city needs no introduction, given its global significance. Not far from both Delft and Rotterdam, the city of Den Haag (the Hague) holds the distinction of once being the country’s capital. Although it eventually lost out to Amsterdam, the city is still home to both the Dutch royal family and the government. While the skyline is now dominated by glass skyscrapers, the Hague maintains a regal charm, thanks in part to the presence of some of the country’s most important cultural landmarks, including the Mauritshuis – home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Golden Age Dutch masters.
The home of Eurail itself, Utrecht is a city going places. While it boasts – like many of the cities on this list – a quaint medieval centre with leaning church steeples and ornate crow-stepped gables, the city is being rapidly modernised with a new railway station and extended concert hall. Energy pulses through its old streets thanks to the country’s largest student population, making it one of the hippest places to visit with a broad spectrum of venues and bars. Unusually for many towns in the Netherlands, Utrecht has split-level streets which run above canal level with most watering holes found at the water’s edge.
Known as the city of a hundred names, Leeuwarden is also a former capital of the Netherlands. Nowadays it’s more than happy to be European Capital of Culture, sharing the mantle in 2018 with the Maltese capital, Valletta. Two hours’ train ride north of Amsterdam, it’s normally unchartered territory for many visitors. Perhaps that’s why it is arguably still the most authentic corner of the Netherlands. Bolstering its cultural credentials, the city and surrounding region of Friesland are awash with a year-long programme of exhibitions, shows and installations. To top it all, the city is the gateway to the idyllic Wadden Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site.