South Holland is one of the world’s most densely inhabited regions. It has a population of about 4 million people and includes world-famous cities like Rotterdam and The Haye (Den Haag). The province lies by the North Sea, known for its long sandy beaches. It’s surrounded on the north by North Holland, on the east by Utrecht and Gelderland, and on the south by North Brabant and Zeeland.
The most remarkable thin about South Holland is that it has practically everything that makes the Netherlands famous! Tulips are celebrated at the Keukenhof, windmills are marveled at Kinderdijk, cheese is admired and sampled at Gouda, Delft Blue pottery is honored in Delft, and so much more! Not to forget the beautiful beaches of Scheveningen and Katwijk, just to name a few.
There are countless sights and activities in the province of South Holland. These are our travel tips for South Holland.
Let’s start our list of things to do in South Holland with the cities. Well-known cities such as Rotterdam and The Haye (Den Haag) are two of the most popular places for a city trip in the Netherlands. But there are a few more cities in the province that are great for a citytrip.
Rotterdam is the most interesting city in South Holland. The city is famous for being the EU’s largest seaport, with the Port of Rotterdam stretching over 40 km. However, the city is also well known for its cultural diversity, riverbank setting, modern architecture, and maritime tradition. There is plenty to see and do in Rotterdam.
If you just have a couple of hours, head to the Euromast observation tower that gives visitors a 360° view of Rotterdam. You can see the iconic bridge (Erasmusbrug), the Maas river, the city center and its parks and parts of the habor.
If you have more time (a day or a weekend), make sure to explore the sights and unique activites. Read more about Rotterdam in our tips for a day in Rotterdam which includes an itinerary for a daytrip (or weekend).
Families also love the Rotterdam Zoo in Blijdorp has been named one of the “most beautiful zoos in Europe”.
Den Haag (The Hague) is the capital city of South Holland and the country’s seat of government. Het Binnenhof (Inner Court) comprises a set of historic buildings, some dating back to the 13th century. Although this is where the Dutch government conducts its affairs, many spaces are open to the public.
Next to the Binnenhof is Mauritshaus (Maurice House), an art museum that showcases the most notable collections of Dutch and Flemish works of art. More than 800 pieces by various artists from the 17th to 18th centuries are on display here.
What we like about Den Haag is the cityscape overall. Den Haag is a vibrant city with a blend of old and new architecture. The lively city center has plenty of opportunities for shopping, markets, as well as countless cafés and restaurants.
Rotterdam or Den Haag? Both are world-famous cities in the South Holland province and both make a great day trip. So which city should you visit if you had to pick one? It depends. If you’re coming from afar, we would definitely recommend Rotterdam over Den Haag. However, if you’re on vacation in Scheveningen (for instance) and have limited time, it makes more sense to visit Den Haag.
Delft is a charming city steeped in history. It’s well-known as the home of Delfts Blue porcelain, painter Johannes Vermeer, and its ties with the Royal House. Many canals, historic mansions, and courtyards contribute to the city’s old-world charm.
The city, however, is far from antiquated. It’s also home to the Delft University of Technology, which is regarded as one of the best engineering and technology universities in the world.
The Royal Delft Museum transports visitors to the world of Delfts blauw (Delft Blue), the world-famous white and blue porcelain. Here, you can visit the sole remaining 17th century Delft Blue ceramic factory and see painting demonstrations by Delfts blue craftsmen who still do everything by hand.
Since 1575, Leiden has been regarded as a university city. It’s home to Leiden University and the Leiden University Medical Center, both internationally known. Leiden revolves around its canals, and the city’s oldest neighborhoods are totally encircled by a network of picturesque waterways that formerly served as a protective barrier surrounding the city’s outer walls. As such, a canal boat tour is an absolute must when in Leiden.
If you want to go indoors, visit CORPUS. It’s a one-of-a-kind museum that’s shaped like the human body, so you’ll be navigating the structure ‘from head to toe’ and learning about each and every vital body organ and function.
Read more about this city in our tips for a day in Leiden.
Fine sandy beaches and clearblue water attract visitors from all over the country (and even from abroad) to South Holland. Seaside resorts in this provinces are clearly among the best beaches in the Netherlands.
Scheveningen is the most popular seaside town in the country. It has a long, sandy beach, an esplanade, a pier, and a lighthouse, so there’s much to do. You can swim, surf, jetski, play beach volleyball, and even bungee jump from the Scheveningen Pier. A visit can be laid back too. You can just lie on the sand and read and sunbathe or lounge about in one of the many beach bars that dot the area.
Scheveningen is host to many festivals, concerts, and beach events throughout the year. If you’re in the Netherlands during New Year’s Eve, try the nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s dive). Although held in many places in the country, Scheveningen is the most popular place for this yearly ice-cold plunge in the sea. It’s been held here since 1965, and approximately 10,000 people participate each year.
Read more about this popular destination in our tips for a day in Scheveningen.
Katwijk aan Zee
If Scheveningen is a bit too busy for you, then head on to Katwijk aan Zee, a seaside resort that offers visitors 4.5 km of lovely, sandy beach. You can relax and enjoy the sea view from any of the beach pavilions, walk, hike or cycle around the area, or try any of the outdoor sports activities on offer. If you want the ultimate beach staycation experience, rent one of the small beach houses along the coast.
Katwijk also has a great network of cycling and walking paths along the dunes. It’s a wonderful place to combine relaxing at the sea with biking and hiking.
Learn more about beaches and activities in Katwijk here.
Ouddorp is a lovely seaside resort located on the South Holland island of Goeree-Overflakkee.
It’s more remotely than Scheveningen and Katwijk, reason for which there are less visitors (and less issues with parking) here.
It offers visitors a long stretch of beach (18 km long!), so a wide array of water activities are available such as swimming, surfing, beach kite flying, etc. Ouddorp is also known for its square lighthouse, the Westhoofd, which sends its guiding light to ships on the North Sea.
Hoek van Holland
Although Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland) doesn’t boast the country’s longest beach (3.5 km), it does have one of the broadest (250 meters). The beach is separated into three sections: the Large Beach, which has most of the facilities and pavilions; the Hoekse Beach, which is popular with water sports enthusiasts; and the Northern Beach, which includes a naturist section.
To the north of Hoek van Holland, you’ll find the small town of Ter Heijde / Monster which is a popular dog beach in the province.
Sights and Activities in South Holland
In addition to large cities and cozy beaches, you’ll find plenty of sights and activities in South Holland. Below are the 3 most famous sights, which are among the best things to do in the Netherlands.
Keukenhof Tulip Garden
The Keukenhof is known as the Garden of Europe. Every year, between 1 and 2 million local and international people visit. People come here in the spring (end of March to mid-May) to admire the nearly 7 million flowers in full bloom at this time. You can see many different types of flowers in this spring park, but of course, the enormous diversity of tulips takes center stage.
Read more about this world-renowned flower park in our Keukenhof Tulip Garden article.
Gouda Cheese Market
Gouda cheese is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. It’s also one of the oldest cheeses still made today, with its first mention dating back to 1184! For this reason, and the fact that nearly 60% of Dutch cheese is produced in this region, Gouda city is known as the ‘Cheese Valley’. So if you’re in the area, be sure to visit the Gouda Cheese Market (Thursday mornings, mid-April to mid-September) and soak in a lively and traditional way of selling and buying cheese.
Our Tip: Take a guided tour of De Goudse Waag and learn about Gouda cheese from a cheese expert.
Windmills aren’t just a Dutch symbol. They are a testament to their ingenuity when it comes to water management. A third of the country is below sea level, so if the Dutch weren’t great at controlling water, at least a third of the country wouldn’t exist by now.
In 1740, nineteen stone mills were built in Kinderdijk to prevent the flooding of the lowlands. Today, it’s the only ‘windmill complex’ in the world, earning UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. During your visit, be sure to check out the mill museums and the mill workshop to learn more about how the Dutch have been controlling water for centuries. You can also take a boat tour to admire these ancient windmills from the water.
Here’s more information on the windmills and travel tips for Kinderdijk.
Getting Around South Holland
Due to the importance and population density, South Holland has an excellent infrastructure network. Getting around is pretty easy.
If you plan to visit mostly areas in the Rotterdam and The Hague region, then we recommend using public transportation, as parking can be quite costy in cities. Purchasing a Tourist Day Ticket instead of the OV-Chipkaart (the country’s pass for public transportation) can save some money.
It’s best to explore the city center (e.g. Rotterdam, Den Haag, Delft) by foot. You can rent a bike to explore the outskirts.
One particularty about South Holland is the water. As such, there are plenty of boat tours available. Rotterdam also has the watertaxi which allows you to travel from one side of the Maas river to the other.
Places such as Kinderdijk and Keukenhof are also accessible by public transport. However, we recommend going there by car (if you drive).
Accommodations in South Holland
As we mentioned at the start, South Holland gives visitors a great chance to see all the things that make the Netherlands so unique. As such, you can expect accommodation options to be varied as well.
For example, sleep at a bed and breakfast directly on the beach; spend a night on a romantic manor by the river; stay at a water tower, sleep at an inexpensive hostel, or book a room at a country estate.