With all the many exciting things to see and do in Amsterdam, it is no wonder that the city ranks as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. However, not venturing outside of the city would mean missing out on amazing experiences and sights such a 400-year old cheese-weighing tradition, a medieval village and the world’s largest flower garden. With plenty of train and bus connections, tourists can easily plan day trips to see some of these hidden gems. Check out these great day trips from Amsterdam.
Utrecht is a good place for visitors to delve into the Netherlands’ past. This ancient city has been the religious center of the country since the eighth century. It was once the most important city in Holland until it was surpassed by Amsterdam in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). Not too many visitors venture the 50 km (31 miles) off the beaten path from Amsterdam, but more travelers should make the time to come to this historic city. It’s been called the most beautiful canal city in Europe – take that, Venice! A city known for independent thinking and creativity, Utrecht is perfect for visitors who enjoy the sidewalk café life, while looking up at the surrounding Gothic buildings. Shoppers definitely will like the Hoog Catharijne, Holland’s largest indoor mall. Plus, this quintessential Dutch city, which exudes Old World charm, is easily traversed in a day on foot.
Cheese lovers will naturally want to gravitate to Edam, the small town where the famous cheese originated. This pale yellow round cheese, which comes wrapped in a red paraffin coat, was the world’s most popular cheese in the 14th to 16th centuries because it doesn’t spoil. Spoilage is not a problem these days, because this smooth popular cheese doesn’t last long enough around the kitchen to go bad. Wednesday is a great day to visit Edam, a half-hour drive from Amsterdam, because the traditional cheese market happens then, with participants wearing traditional garb. If it’s a Wednesday in July or August, so much the better, because farmers bring their cheese to market loaded on boats or horses. Edam was once a shipbuilding city, with ships carrying cargo that included Edam cheese because it could be traded for exotic spices. The city’s other main draw is the Edam Museum that is located in a 400-year-old residence.
The picturesque city of Leiden is a must-see for its scenic, tree-lined canals that are marked with old windmills, wooden bridges and lush parks. A boat ride down one of these lovely canals makes for an unforgettable experience. There are plenty of things to see and do in Leiden such as the numerous museums that range from science and natural history to museums dedicated to windmills and Egyptian antiquities. Pay a visit to the Hortus Botanicus to see its sprawling botanical gardens and the world’s oldest academical observatory. Admire the beautiful architecture of the 16th century Church of St. Peter and check out its association with several historic people, including American pilgrims.
Travelers who don’t have time for Italy but don’t want to miss out on a canal ride should head to Giethoorn, a quaint Dutch village known as “Little Venice” or “Venice of the Netherlands.” Pretty much the only way to get around this traditional Dutch village is by boat or by walking from island to island – Giethoorn boasts 180 bridges. The village is especially popular with Chinese tourists – upwards of 200,000 Chinese visit Giethoorn with its 2,000 residents annually. Giethoorn is quite picturesque with red-thatched houses lining the canals. The village is quite peaceful, with no loud noises, making it a perfect day getaway from Amsterdam, about 120 km(75 miles) away in another world. Visitors can glide over the water trails at their own pace since motorboats are available for rent – the boats have quiet electric motors so as not to disturb the serene ambiance.
Nearly 800 years ago, a dam was built on the Rotte River on the North Sea; a city grew up around it. That city became Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, not surprising since the Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse rivers provide access to central Europe. Just 80 km (50 miles) from Amsterdam, Rotterdam offers so many things for visitors to see and do. Because much of Rotterdam was destroyed during WWII, the architecture is varied. Travelers can take a harbor cruise to absorb the spectacular skyline. More great views of the city can be found atop Euromast, at 606 feet high, one of the highest towers in the country. American history buffs may want to visit Pilgrim Fathers Church where the pilgrims worshipped before departing for Plymouth Rock and the New World. Travelers of all ages will enjoy the zoo and a ride on a coach that’s a motor vehicle one minute and a boat the next.
A 40-minute train ride from Amsterdam will bring visitors to Alkmaar and its famous cheese market tradition that dates back to 1593. Every Friday between April and September, visitors can watch while costumed cheese traders re-enact a centuries-old practice of weighing more than 2,000 cheeses, stacking them on sled-style carriers and loading them onto trucks. This colorful and lively event is so popular and fun to watch that it draws about 100,000 spectators annually. What’s more, there are plenty of stalls surrounding the market where visitors can buy Dutch cheeses like Gouda and Edammer.
With all the government buildings located here, visitors might think The Hague is the capital of the Netherlands. It’s not – Amsterdam is the constitutional capital even though the cabinet, the legislature and the Supreme Court are located in this coastal city. The city also is home to most embassies and 150 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice. All this bureaucracy aside, however, a visit to The Hague will keep visitors busy. Only an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, the city has a vibrant night life centered around its three main squares. Not to be missed in the city center is the Binnenhof, a complex of 13th century waterside Gothic buildings where the Dutch parliament meets. Other sights to enjoy include Madurodam, a miniature Dutch city; Mauritshuis, with its paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer; Beelden aan Zee, an underground sculpture museum, and shopping in boutiques around the Grote Marktstraat.
When travelers to the Netherlands think of Delft, their thoughts most likely turn to the pretty blue and white pottery the city is famous for. This tin-glazed pottery has been made here since the 16th century; it is based on Chinese ceramics. Vases, bowls and plates are especially popular, so this is a place to stock up on souvenirs. But there’s more to do in this canal city than shop for pottery. There’s the Oude Kerk where Johannes Vermeer is buried, and the Nieuwe Kerk, where members of the Dutch royal family are buried. The Renaissance-style ornate Delft City Hall is across from the Nieuwe Kerk; today its where civil wedding ceremonies are held. Other sites include the old weighing house and an 18th century windmill that was restored to working order in 2013. Hungry travelers can snack on Scheve Jantjes, a butter cookie that comes in a Delft blue tin container.
Bruges is a well-preserved medieval town in the northern region of Belgium surrounded by beautiful canals and old city walls. This postcard-perfect town makes an ideal day trip from Amsterdam because of its fabulous attractions and activities. Meander along the cobblestone paths of the city center to explore the historic walls and gates. Climb the stairs of the high tower at the Belfort Grote Markt to hear the bells ring and see wonderful views of the area. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which claims to contain a vial of blood belonging to Jesus Christ. Tour the Brewery De Halve Maan to see how Belgian beer is processed and be rewarded with a free drink. Savor free samples of delicious Belgian chocolate at the Choco-Story Museum. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the old city. Better yet, view Bruges from a hot-air balloon tour.
Want to experience authentic Dutch heritage? Hop on a bus in Amsterdam and travel 30 minutes north to the charming fishing village of Volendam. Visitors can walk around the bustling harbor to see colorful boats and have photos taken of themselves dressed in Dutch costumes with striped clothing, high-pointed bonnets and wooden clogs . A stroll around the old village offers many attractive sights such as historic houses built on stilts and a beautiful 17th century church. Visit the Volendam Museum to learn about the village’s history and see artifacts, vintage furnishings and folk art.
Step back into Dutch history with an excursion to Zaanse Schans. Located 20 minutes from Amsterdam in the city of Zaanstad, the neighborhood of Zaanse Schans is a living, outdoor museum containing an impressive collection of historic windmills and other buildings. Here at this popular tourist attraction, visitors can learn about traditional Dutch life and watch various demonstrations such as cheese-processing, coffee-grinding and clog-making. There is even a wonderful pancake restaurant here where visitors can dine on hearty Dutch food. Buy souvenirs here like cheeses, clogs and miniature Zaanse houses. For a special treat, see all of Zaanse Schans with a scenic ferry ride around the area.
No list of day trips from Amsterdam would be complete without including the world’s largest flower garden, located near the small town of Lisse. Attracting more than 800,000 visitors annually, Keukenhof Gardens showcases an 80-acre complex of remarkable gardens that are designed in various themes such as the English Garden, Japanese Garden and Historical Garden. Planted every year with seven million flower bulbs, these gardens explode into spectacular beauty each spring. To see and capture stunning photographs of these flower gardens, plan a trip during the open season that begins mid-March and ends mid-May. Situated across from the gardens is the Keukenhof Castle, which is opened year-round and frequently hosts events like festivals, music concerts and medieval fairs.