7 Incredible Day Trips from Amsterdam
Amsterdam's charms are endless, but it's far from the only beautiful canal city in the Netherlands. Less than an hour away by train, working windmills, charming canal houses, game-changing architecture, art history, and—yes—tulips and cheese await. As far as day trips in Europe go, it doesn't get much easier than these seven destinations—the best day trips from Amsterdam.
Locally known as Den Haag, the Netherlands’ political epicenter (and home of the royal family) is a far more sophisticated version of edgy Amsterdam, just an hour-long train ride away—smaller in size but beautiful in scope. Its avenues are wide and walkable, broken up by multiple parks, canals, and 18th-century Baroque buildings housing some of the country’s most important governmental and cultural institutions. Among the must-sees include the Mauritshuis, a regal home turned museum housing Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring; the more modern Gemeentemuseum, which holds the world’s largest collection of works by Mondrian and others by M.C. Escher; and the Peace Palace, a Neo-Renaissance gem home to the International Court of Justice.
An easy half-hour Intercity train from Amsterdam drops you in Utrecht, one of the Netherlands’ most vibrant cities as well as one of its oldest (some structures here were built back in the High Middle Ages). Like its neighbor to the north, you’ll find an old town circled by a medieval canal, where you can take a boat tour around centuries-old wharves and stop into unique water-level bars and bohemian cafés popular with students from the nearby university. Biking is also a popular option for getting around. Swing by Dom Tower, the highest church tower in Holland and a symbol of the city, as well as the Castle de Haar, where you can follow up tours of the fortress with a picnic in the 135-acre park.
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For a taste of old Holland, take the 17-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station to Zaandijk (or, if you’re feeling particularly Dutch, it's an hour-long ride by bicycle). This is the home of Zaanse Schans, a beautiful old town of riverside windmills and historic clapboard houses that take a page from 18th-century village design. There’s an open-air museum feeling about the place: you can pop into a working windmill, see how traditional wooden clogs are made by hand, and taste local specialties like Dutch pancakes at De Kraai and Gouda at the Catherina Hoeve Cheese Farm. Fair warning: leaving without a souvenir might prove impossible.
TOUR TO BOOK: A private guided day trip to Zaanse Shans and Keukenhof (open from March to May) can pick you up and drop you off right at your hotel. During the tour, you'll see wood workshops and windmills, taste flavors of gouda, and walk through fields of tulips—if the season is right—before a pancake lunch.
The future is now in Holland’s second-largest city, which has been hard at work reinventing itself since WWII. Today, the skyline is nearly unrecognizable: high-design contemporary architecture overshadows the city’s still-surviving windmills, housing some of Europe’s most cutting-edge museums and markets. It’s always a toss-up whether Museum Rotterdam or Kunsthal Rotterdam will put on the season’s hottest exhibit, while Markthal, the main market, wows with its own design—a massive showroom built beneath a curving arch of apartments. Be sure to take a stroll by the Cube Houses—Dutch architect Piet Blom designed these slanted cubic residences to extend out over Blaak Street (you can even take a tour of one!)—before refueling at Fenix Food Factory, a former warehouse turned culinary emporium.
Delft, a small canal town about halfway between Rotterdam and The Hague, has been the largest producer of Delftware—hand-painted blue-and-white glazed pottery famously produced in the Netherlands—as far back as the 16th century. You’ll see Delft tiles everywhere, from restaurant walls and hotel bathrooms to private kitchens, but the city’s legacy extends beyond just its gift to home décor. This was the birthplace and lifelong home of Johannes Vermeer, one of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age. He’s buried beneath the Oude Kerk (Old Church) along with pioneering scientist Anthony van Leeuwenhoek. It’s also worth popping into Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), which, despite its name, was built back in the 1400s. A climb to the top of its spire affords sweeping views of the city. If you still can't resist the allure of those tiles, a tour of Royal Delft factory (and gift shop) is in order.
No visit to Holland would be complete without seeing some tulips. The flower, which was originally imported here in the 15th centrury, has since risen to national icon status and remains one of the biggest tourist draws during their peak blooming season in the spring. The floating Flower Market in Amsterdam is an easy way to get your fix, but between March and May, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t visit the Keukenhof Gardens in nearby Lisse. The park plants a whopping 7 million new bulbs each year over its 80 acres. The colors and patterns they create, as you might expect, are out of this world.
Cheese lovers know it, even if they cannot pronounce it. “How-da,” an hour train ride south, is mostly famously known for its namesake cheese, but there’s lots more here to discover as well, including the Gouda stroopwafel (served with syrup), the local production of fine candles, and the market square loomed over by its 15th-century Gothic city hall, where a centuries-old cheese market (open April through August) draws visitors from around Europe with its fresh produce and tastings served by artisans dressed in traditional garb.
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