The Netherlands is a great place to live. So, now that you’re considering a move to Holland — or have already taken the plunge and decided to start a new life in the land of canals, cheese, windmills, and bikes — the next question is “Where in the Netherlands should you live?”
Whilst in other countries, where you choose to live is often dictated by where you work, the Netherlands is a pretty small country, and has great public transport connections. This makes it possible and very common to live in one city or village and work in another.
The Netherlands also has options for everyone, from families to job-seekers, to those in search of an adventure. So where is the right place for you to live in the Netherlands? Here’s a full breakdown of the cities in the Netherlands that attract the most people from abroad.
The most popular Dutch cities to live in for internationals
Let’s start with a quick lowdown of essential (but easy!) Dutch geography: the Netherlands is basically divided into two main areas: the Randstad, and the rest.
The Randstad is a metropolitan area in the central Netherlands that encompasses the country’s four largest cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht, and the cities, towns and villages surrounding them.
The Randstad is also the most popular part of the Netherlands for internationals to live because of its:
- great connections to the rest of Europe,
- position as an economic and cultural hub,
- and job possibilities (because many national and international companies have offices in these cities).
However, there are some other great places to live beyond the Randstad, like Groningen in the north of the country and Maastricht in the south. These cities are increasingly attracting more international companies and families — and with large student populations, they are lively places to be.
Despite what you may have heard, not all of the Netherlands is as progressive as the rest. The Dutch have their very own Bible Belt — a strip of land stretching from Zeeland in the southwest, through the Veluwe in the centre of the country, to parts of the province Overijssel in the northeast. Here people are much more conservative.
Amsterdam: living in the Dutch capital
When you’re considering where to live in the Netherlands, Amsterdam could be at the top — or bottom — of your list. If you’ve ever wanted to walk out your front door and be greeted by picturesque canals and a historic centre, this could be the city for you. People from over 180 nationalities call the Dutch capital their home, unable to resist the city’s international job opportunities, bike-ability, education, nearby airport, and the plethora of green spaces.
While the city is jam-packed with world-class museums, entertainment, nightlife, and well serviced by public transport, the Dutch capital isn’t perfect. The popularity of Amsterdam has sent housing prices skyrocketing and made the cost of living the highest of any Dutch city. Add to that the constant battle against over-tourism you may find yourself gravitating toward other Dutch cities instead.
Rotterdam: modern architecture meets Europe’s largest port
If modern high rise buildings are your thing then moving to Rotterdam might just be the thing for you! The city is affectionately known as “Manhattan on the Meuse”, in strong contrast to the quaint Golden Age architecture found in the majority of other Dutch cities. After being bombed by the German’s during World War II, Rotterdam was rebuilt and is now defined by cutting edge architecture — think cube houses and clean lines.
Rotterdam is the second biggest city in the Netherlands and is home to Europe’s largest seaport. The port attracts workers from all over the world, making Rotterdam one of the most diverse cities in the Netherlands with a strong international community.
Like any Dutch city, rental prices in the centre are on the steep side and accommodation is scarce. Nevertheless, the cost of living in Rotterdam is rather low, compared to other big cities, such as Amsterdam, and there are more places to rent and buy in and around Rotterdam.
With a dynamic food scene, numerous green spaces, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk, on Rotterdam’s doorstep, there’s also plenty to keep you entertained.
The Hague: international organisations and a seaside town
When deciding where to live in the Netherlands, the Hague is really the best of both worlds. Seamlessly blending a skyline of glistening high-rise buildings with abundant nature — like the seaside and The Haagse Bos, a mature woodland that sits in the centre of The Hague — this influential city is mesmerising.
Thanks to its numerous embassies and the fact that many important international organisations are based here, The Hague hosts a vibrant international community. It’s also the political capital of the Netherlands and the seat of the Dutch government. So, if you were hoping to bump into the Dutch Prime Minister, then The Hague is the place to be — you might ride past him on his cycle to work!
Scheveningen’s long sandy beach is a huge calling card for The Hague — from the city, you’re just a stone’s throw from its iconic pier and vibey beach clubs. However, like most cities in the Randstad, The Hague is experiencing a housing shortage, and rental prices are high. Nevertheless, it’s can be a cheaper city to live in than Amsterdam or Utrecht.
Utrecht: small city with a big vibe
Once the religious capital of the Netherlands, this quaint, medieval city radiates around the Dom Tower — the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. With beautiful old houses, bridges, and canals that ring the city, Utrecht is often regarded as a little Amsterdam — just without as many tourists. There’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see in this historic city.
The city is known for its bustling vibe, but is compact and never feels overwhelming. Home to a world-renowned university, Utrecht is a vibrant student city. All of these factors make Utrecht a great place to live — so, when you’re deciding where to live in the Netherlands, be sure to consider this charming corner.
With a dynamic restaurant scene and loads of gezellig terraces along the Oudegracht and in the Neude square, Utrecht is a perfect city for evenings out. The city also boasts the most cultural events in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam. If you weren’t convinced yet, in 2012, Lonely Planet listed Utrecht in the top 10 of the world’s unsung places.
While housing is both pricey and scarce in Utrecht, its central location makes it a good option for couples who have jobs in different cities but want to live somewhere central that is easily accessible for both.
Leiden: the city of knowledge
Located in the heart of the Randstad, Leiden is an ideal location for expats. The city is one of the oldest and most picturesque in the Netherlands — with romantic canals flanked by boats, and a windmill standing proudly along one of the main roads.
The city is quite compact, with just 124,000 inhabitants but thanks to the presence of the prestigious Leiden University (the oldest in the Netherlands), it is a bustling student centre.
Leiden has a huge variety of cultural activities with 15 museums in the city alone! The most popular is the Naturalis Biodiversity Center — a great one for kids — and the Museum De Lakenhal which exhibits paintings by famous artists from Leiden, such as Rembrandt. There are also loads of cute bars, cafes and restaurants.
The city also lies in the “Bulb Region”, the best-known flower growing area in the Netherlands. This makes it a perfect base for exploring the quintessentially Dutch tulip fields in spring.
Eindhoven: centre of technology and innovation
If you’re craving something more modern when deciding where to live in the Netherlands, then Eindhoven is just the place for you! Eindhoven may not be the most traditionally pretty city in the Netherlands, but it’s bursting with tech, energy, and innovation.
The city is all about progress, having been rebuilt after considerable WWII bombing. It is now home to high-tech multinationals and startups — plus electronics giant, Philips. It’s no wonder Eindhoven is considered the Silicon Valley of the Netherlands!
Parks make up about one-third of all the public space, making Eindhoven the greenest of the five major Dutch cities. It’s also home to the Stratumseind, the longest café and bar street in the Netherlands — crowning Eindhoven one of the best places to pub crawl.
Plus, if exploring Europe is on your to-do list, you’re in luck! Eindhoven Airport is the second busiest in the Netherlands and is serviced by low-cost airlines, like RyanAir and Transavia.
Tilburg: edgy and fast-evolving
Trying to decide where to live in the Netherlands and fancy something a little quieter than the Randstad? Consider moving to Tilburg!
Historically the wool capital of the Netherlands, Tilburg is now a transport and logistics hub, with a booming start-up scene. In recent years, the municipality has invested significantly in redeveloping disused train yards and warehouses around the central railway station, giving rise to an edgy urban landscape — while simultaneously preserving the cultural-industrial heritage that defines the city.
You’ll never be at a loss for things to do in this city. There’s plenty of culture, art, museums and music, but it’s also one of the greenest cities in the Netherlands, with lots of lovely parks and forests to walk and picnic in. In addition, many of Tilburg’s street corners hold surprises — grey walls have been transformed into vivid street art, adding to the urban charm of the city.
Unlike in the Randstad, there’s still space to expand in Tilburg, and housing is still relatively affordable — meaning you’re less likely to have to spend your inheritance on a shoebox-sized basement room that doesn’t have any windows.
Haarlem: the best of all worlds
Haarlem is commonly considered one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the Netherlands, dating back to 1245. It is a compact city with old-world charm. Thanks to its idyllic location on the banks of the river Spaarne, narrow cobbled streets, and weekly markets, Haarlem has a village-like vibe.
This tranquil city is becoming an increasingly popular destination for internationals. It’s also particularly family-friendly, bubbling over with events and activities for children. Haarlem is the second-largest city in the Amsterdam metropolitan area and an easy commute to the capital.
You’ll never get cabin fever in Haarlem because the seaside towns Bloemendaal aan Zee and Zandvoort are basically in the backyard. Are woodlands more your thing? Haarlem has two gorgeous urban forests, and the Zuid-Kennemerland national park is a perfect spot for cycling, running, and enjoying the outdoors. The city lies in the gateway to the flower growing region — bike for 15 minutes and you’ll be surrounded by millions of colourful tulips.
Maastricht: a buzzing student city in the south
Located on the southern tip of the Netherlands, Maastricht is distinguished by its medieval architecture and vibrant cultural scene. The city has 1,677 national heritage buildings, the second-highest number in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam. With its cobbled old town, walking through Maastricht is like stepping into a fairy tale.
From cute cafes to medieval history, and converted Gothic buildings, living in Maastricht is a treat for the senses. Maastricht even has hills! And lots of beautiful places to picnic, walk, and cycle.
Thanks to its central location in Europe, Maastricht has a very cosmopolitan feel and is a great base for those who love to travel. There are plenty of activities and things to do in Maastricht, however, the city will be more open to you if you speak Dutch, and job opportunities will be more readily available.
Groningen: the gem of the north
Whenever you mention Groningen, Dutchies always say, “that’s so far away!” In reality, Groningen is just two and a half hours by train from Amsterdam — and a beautiful train ride to boot! It’s the largest city in the north of the country, and boasts a huge student population, making it young, diverse and fun. This vibrant city has been a major player since the late Middle Ages, with gorgeous buildings, such as the Martinitoren as proof.
Situated outside of the Randstad, Groningen is an ecosystem in and of itself. There are loads of cultural events, and with all those students, Groningen’s nightlife is unparalleled. In addition to having the freshest air in the Netherlands, the weekly farmers market at the Vismarkt is a beloved favourite among residents of Groningen.
While it can be harder to find a job without speaking Dutch, and it’s also a bit of a trek to the other main cities and Schiphol Airport, housing prices are much cheaper here than in Randstad.
Arnhem: nearby gorgeous nature
Situated on the banks of the Lower Rhine, Arnhem is the provincial capital of Gelderland in the east of the Netherlands. The city played a historic role in World War II.
If proximity to nature is a consideration when deciding where to live in the Netherlands, then Arnhem is for you. There are plenty of beautiful places to cycle and walk around Arnhem. A highlight is the gorgeous Veluwezoom National Park which encompasses 11,362 acres of forest full of cycle paths and woodland trails.
With a smaller expat community than those in the Randstad there are fewer social groups and activities targeted at non-Dutch speakers — so it can be a bit lonely for freshly arrived internationals. Fortunately, Arnhem is within easy reach of Utrecht, which has more to offer in terms of cultural and social activities. Arnhem, however, is a much cheaper city to live in than the rest of those in the area.
Nijmegen: the oldest city in the Netherlands
Nijmegen, in the province of Gelderland is the oldest city in the Netherlands — dating back to Roman times. In 2005, this ancient city celebrated 2,000 years of existence.
This cosy city has lots of students and starters, making for a vibrant atmosphere. Although Nijmegen’s compact medieval centre has lots of bars and organised activities, you may find it a little harder to settle in here if you don’t speak Dutch. Nevertheless, the city offers much better value for money in terms of housing than those in the Randstad, making it an attractive option.
Hilversum: a perfect base for commuters
Hilversum is an affluent area southeast of Amsterdam, part of both the Randstad and the Amsterdam metropolitan area. It is surrounded by nature reserves, lakes, woods, and meadows — making it very popular, and a perfect spot for those who work in the city but want to live in a green, leafy environment.
The city lies within easy commuting distance of both Amsterdam and Utrecht, with great road and train connections. However, be warned: the roads between Hilversum and Amsterdam are some of the busiest in the Netherlands at rush hour.
Hilversum is a fairly sleepy city. However, it has all the amenities you could want and need: shopping, swimming pools, cinemas, bars, and restaurants. Several big companies have their European headquarters in Hilversum (like Nike) and it’s home to its own international school. The city has all of the perks of the Randstad, with additional peace and tranquillity.
Amersfoort: quaint and well connected
Amersfoort, in the province of Utrecht, is a major city in its own right, without being too big and overcrowded. Large parts of the ancient city wall are still standing, including the Kopelpoort — the imposing city gate — while the medieval city centre radiates charm. The city has a relaxed atmosphere and lots of festivities. It’s also an ideal base for commuting if you work elsewhere in the Randstad.
Because of its close proximity to major cities, however, renting and buying houses in Amersfoort isn’t the cheapest. Nevertheless, it’s a very child-friendly city and within easy reach of great international schools and mainstream Dutch schools.
Almere: Living on reclaimed land
Almere is the newest city in the Netherlands, with the unique selling point that the land on which it sits was reclaimed from the Ijsselmeer lake between 1959 and 1968. Being so new, Almere is a purpose-built city with spacious and carefully planned residential areas, gardens, playgrounds, and off-street parking. You can even design and build your own home — a rare option in the Netherlands.
With loads of woodlands, parks and beaches, and a good selection of schools — including an international school — Almere is perfect for young families. The city boasts modern architecture and amenities. With excellent public transport links, it’s an easy commute to Amsterdam, just 20 minutes by train.
The downside is that being a new province, some may find that Almere lacks that old-world Dutch charm and personality. In addition, the expat community is still growing, so it might be a bit harder to meet people here. Nevertheless, the city is growing in popularity with both internationals and Dutchies alike.
Living in a Dutch village
City life isn’t for everyone, and with the cutthroat housing market in Dutch cities, it’s also worth considering living in a village in the surrounding area. There are pros and cons to this.
You generally get more bang for your buck when buying and renting outside the cities — think bigger, cheaper houses, and the luxury of not hearing what your neighbours are up to throughout the day. It’s also possible that village life might be more community-oriented and less anonymous than life in the cities. In lush surroundings, you’ll be able to enjoy a calmer pace of life.
We’ve got to warn you though, there’s a strong chance that less English will be spoken, making it a little harder to integrate. Villages also have fewer amenities, so if you’re after an active nightlife or early morning trips to boutique yoga studios, this option might not be for you.
Wherever you choose to settle in the Netherlands, you’ll be close to amenities, green spaces, and cultural sites. While the housing crisis in all of the major cities can make finding your feet tricky, there are tips and tricks to make things a little easier. So, now that you know where to live in the Netherlands, pack your bags and get ready for your Dutch adventure! Success!
Which Dutch city will you be moving to? Tell us in the comments below!
Feature Image: Sabina Fratila/Unsplash