Venture outside of the city of canals to find charming villages, fascinating history, and art galore.
Though it can be hard to tear yourself away from Amsterdam, taking a short drive, train or bus, or bike ride—just like the locals—to see some of the Netherlands’ other interesting sights will make your trip all that much better. The historical, postcard-perfect Waterland Villages are as close to the city as can be. Cheese-lovers will be in their element in Edam or Gouda, while two of the Netherlands’ other iconic items, flowers, and windmills, can be seen up-close at Keukenhof and Kinderdijk. Those with a hankering for history and art can get their fill in The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, and Otterlo. Best of all, the Netherlands’ small size means that most sights are only about an hour away from Amsterdam, making a day trip very easy to do.
About a half-hour’s drive (or a longer, scenic bike ride) northeast of Amsterdam, you’ll enter a completely different world: the charming fishing (and cheese) villages of Waterland. First up is Broek-in-Waterland, filled with lovely 17th- and 18th-century wooden houses, and Monnickendam, a well-preserved harbor village where you can grab a bite at the 17th-century Weigh House. Next up are Marken’s green wooden houses on stilts and Volendam’s narrow streets of fishermen’s cottages; you can take the Volendam-Marken express boat between the two. Just a little farther north is the famous cheese town of Edam; it’s best to visit on Wednesday mornings during the summer months when costumed “cheese carriers” weigh gigantic wheels of cheese through the town’s center.
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INSIDER TIPBuy a reasonably priced day ticket for the EBS Waterland buses, which depart from Amsterdam’s Central Station and stop at all the Waterland sights of interest.
One of the largest flower parks in the world, with more than seven million flowers in bloom, Keukenhof is open seasonally, from late March to mid-May. As to be expected in the Netherlands, tulips are the star, and you’ll see more than 800 varieties here—but you can also expect to see hyacinths, daffodils, and more. Keukenhof is located about 17 miles southwest of Amsterdam, and it’s easy to get there by car or bus (switch to bus #852 at the Europaplein/RAI metro station).
INSIDER TIPIf you time your visit right, you can also drive or bike along the tulip fields in the countryside near Keukenhof. Seeing the vibrant waves of colorful bulbs up close is an unforgettable experience.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, 34 miles southwest of Amsterdam, is a collection of 19 18th-century windmills—and an impossibly romantic place to visit. Originally built around 1740 to drain water and prevent floods, the windmills are no longer used for that purpose (they were replaced by a modern pumping station), but they’re still wonderful to wander around. Two of the windmills have also become museums where you can go inside to learn the fascinating story of their history and workings. Kinderdijk is about an hour and a half drive from Amsterdam or a train to Rotterdam followed by a bus or boat trip.
INSIDER TIPVisit during National Windmill Days, held on Saturday afternoons in July and August, to see many of the windmills in motion, or during the first week of September to see the mills lit up at nighttime.
The graceful city of The Hague (or Den Haag, as the Dutch call it), home to the International Court of Justice and the Dutch Royal Family, is worth a visit to soak up its art and architectural offerings. Its most well-known museum, Mauritshuis, is famous for its three Vermeers (including Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft) along with its collection of works by Rembrandt and Jan Steen, amongst others. Other museums of note include Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, with the world’s largest collection of paintings by Piet Mondriaan, and Escher in Het Paleis Museum (Escher Museum), dedicated to Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. You can also tour the Binnenhof, a complex of castles that’s now home to the Dutch Parliament, and the Peace Palace (Vredespaleis), which houses the International Court of Justice. Trains from Amsterdam directly to The Hague take just under an hour.
INSIDER TIPThe nearby beach area of Scheveningen makes a fun stop for some seafood after a stroll on the sand.
Much of Rotterdam was destroyed during World War II, so today’s city is an ultra-modern mix of tall buildings, sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Manhattan,” along with the world’s largest seaport. Reminders of Rotterdam’s history do still exist in places such as Delfshaven, the old port area now filled with shops, restaurants, and bars, and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, with a particularly strong collection of 15th- to 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painters. You’ll also want to see the best of the modern sights, including the Kunsthal, a building designed by Rem Koolhaas to house temporary art exhibitions; the 607,000-feet high Euromast tower, for a spectacular view of the city; and the Markthal, an enormous covered food hall filled with delicious treats. From Amsterdam, it takes about an hour by train to reach Rotterdam.
Most famous as the birthplace of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, Delft is also known for its charming 17th-century cobblestone streets, canals, and Delft Blue pottery. Vermeer himself is buried at the Oude Kerk (Old Church), first dating from 1200, while the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), finished in 1510, houses descendants of the House of Orange, the Dutch royal family; climb the Nieuwe Kerk tower for wonderful views. To find out more about Delft’s history, and to see lovely rooms furnished in 17th-century style, stop by the Museum Het Prinsenhof, home to a tragic history: Prince William of Orange was murdered here in 1584. Last but not least, don’t miss a visit to the Royal Delft Factory, which dates back to the 17th century. Delft can be reached from Amsterdam in about an hour by train.
Inside the small village of Otterlo, about 52 miles southeast of Amsterdam, you’ll find the Kröller-Müller Museum, home to the second-largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world and one of the largest outdoor sculpture collections in Europe. Besides works by Van Gogh, the indoor museum includes art by Picasso, Mondriaan, Seurat, and Monet, while the sculpture gardens feature more than 160 artworks from such artists as Rodin and Dubuffet. The Kröller-Müller Museum is located inside De Hoge Veluwe National Park, which you can explore by bike (free bikes are available for use) or by walking. From Amsterdam, you can reach the museum in about an hour by car or an hour and a half by train and bus.
First, you should know that gouda is not pronounced goo-da but how-da. Now that that’s out of the way, you’ll want to make a beeline to this adorable town in the Southern Netherlands, where you can see the cheese market every Thursday from April through August. (If you’re there at another time, stop by the De Goudse Waag – Kaas en Ambachtenmuseum, or Gouda Cheese and Crafts Museum, instead.) You also won’t want to miss Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church), which features beautiful 16th-century stained glass, and Stadhuis van Gouda, the town’s 15th-century city hall, decked out with gorgeous 17th-century tapestries. Reach Gouda from Amsterdam in less than an hour by train.