We lived in Amsterdam for 3 and 1/2 years and we were able to experience most of the city and much of the country. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated nations in the world and has a fantastic train system that efficiently connects so many picturesque towns and villages as you wiz by lush pastures occupied by cows, windmills and an abundance of colorful tulips in the spring (a wonderful time to visit Holland). While Amsterdam is one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the world, don’t leave Holland without seeing another pretty Dutch town. Here’s 10 Awesome Day Trips From Amsterdam!
Haarlem is just a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam with trains departing Amsterdam Central Station every 15 minutes or so. It’s a lovely town featuring the largest church in Holland and a beautiful non-touristy square to enjoy the casual Dutch lifestyle over a nice eetcafe meal like kipsate (chicken sate) and a tasty drink. If you like beer you should definitely visit the Jopen Brewery, which is near the main square. The ‘Jopenkerk’ is a former church that has been converted into a brewery and Jopen beers are some of the very best in the Netherlands. Haarlem offers much of the beauty of Amsterdam, on a smaller scale, with an more relaxed pace. For these reasons, I decided to include Haarlem in my upcoming small group tour of the Netherlands and Belgium.
2) Zandvoort Van Zee
A great town to visit if it’s a sunny day and you want to go to the beach (an underrated activity for many who live outside the Netherlands). You can reach Zandvoort by train in just 30 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station. In the warmer months, the beach is lined with a wonderful mix of multi-cultural restaurants and clubs right on the beach. For choice of food and drink selection, it’s actually one of the best beach towns we’ve come across in the world (along with Scheveningen). The Dutch are a well traveled nation and they’ve brought many slices of the world to their beach town scenes.
3) Den Haag (The Hague) & Scheveningen Beach
While Amsterdam is officially the capital of the kingdom of the Netherlands, the Dutch parliament building (Binnenhof) is actually in Den Haag. Den Haag is also home to the International Criminal Court, which you can visit and has a nice mix of modern and old world architecture as skyscrapers mingle with canals and old world Dutch buildings. While the American Embassy is in Amsterdam, many other nation’s embassy’s like Canada and Australia are located in Den Haag. Scheveningen Beach is just a 15 minute tram ride from the center of Den Haag so you can combine some history and a beach day all in one!
Amsterdam’s rival Dutch city was completely destroyed during World War II, but Rotterdam decided to re-build in a futuristic manner. Rotterdam is a more blue collar city compared to Amsterdam and residents pride themselves on generally being less pretentious than those from the capital. Rotterdam has some of the most beautiful futuristic architecture in the Netherlands but also offers old world beauty around the Oude Haven (Old Harbour). This is a beautiful area for a stroll and to enjoy a meal, just don’t walk around in an Amsterdam Ajax soccer jersey!
Amsterdam is sometimes called the ‘Venice of the North’ but Utrecht can lay equal claim to such a statement. The town has several beautiful canals, much of which can be strolled closer to water level than you can in most areas of Amsterdam. Many visitors enjoy Utrecht because it reminds them of a smaller and more laid back version of Amsterdam, much like Haarlem, though with more canals. There’s several great restaurants that are on level with the canals and the town is only a 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam.
A little further than several towns on this list (about an hour from Amsterdam) but in our opinion, it’s as beautiful as any Dutch town featuring lovely canals and one of the prettiest main squares (grotemarkts) in the country. It’s great to visit for the Saturday flea market. Delft blue china is famous and you’ll see a lot of it in shops in Amsterdam but the flea market in Delft offers an opportunity to buy some antique pieces at good prices. Among other things, you can also tour factories that make modern day Delftware, and Delft was also home to Vermeer, who is famous for his painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
A very pretty town in North Holland, Alkmaar can be reached by train from Amsterdam Central in around 45 minutes. The town’s history dates back to 1254 and has a very popular outdoor cheese market every Friday from the first week of April until the first Friday in September. Here’s a great post on what to expect at the Alkmaar cheese market written by another travel writer. We actually never visited Alkmaar for the cheese market, but on the only Saturday we visited we thoroughly enjoyed walking around the pretty town and visiting the National Beer Museum at De Boom. There’s also a cheese museum and a Beetles museum among other attractions in the town, so there’s a wide range of things to do here.
8) Tilburg (for the La Trappe brewery and De Koningshoeven Monastery)
Tilburg itself is not one of the prettiest Dutch towns, but the La Trappe Brewery at the De Koningshoeven monastery was one of the most beautiful afternoons we ever enjoyed while living in the Netherlands. The monastery is just outside of town and you can catch a city bus there and enjoy lunch at the monastery’s cafe before partaking in the brewery tour. While the tour was offered only in Dutch, our guide gave us an English printout and nicely explained a few key things to us in English. We’ve visited a lot of breweries in the world and this is probably the most beautiful of them!
An interesting fact about Gouda is that the town is actually named after the cheese, rather than the other way around! Gouda’s cheese market runs every Thursday morning from 10am-1pm from the beginning of April until the end of August. While we never visited for the cheese market and actually never visited while living in the Netherlands, I finally had the opportunity to visit Gouda during a business trip to the country last year and really appreciated the beauty of the town. I also had the opportunity to visit the cheese museum located in the beautiful town square.
Gouda features one of the prettiest town halls (stadhuis’s) in the Netherlands and I was very impressed spending a few hours here. And that’s the other thing, you only need a few hours to enjoy a town like Gouda before returning to Amsterdam or combining it with a visit to another Dutch town like nearby Den Haag or Utrecht during a long summer day- which is very doable!
Maastricht is one of the prettiest Dutch towns, whose residents speak a softer version of Dutch compared to Amsterdammers. Unfortunately, it’s a 2 and 1/2 hour train ride from Amsterdam, so we don’t recommend just a day trip unless you find a special daily train pass deal. Occasionally there’s specials on Dutch train passes for sale at stores like Kruidvat and we partook in a long day trip to Maastricht from Amsterdam with these. Keep your eyes open if you’re an expat living in the country, because if you can travel anywhere in the Netherlands in a single day at a really cheap price, then it might be worth visiting Maastricht or Groningen this way. You can always nap on the train ride back like we did!
Netherlands Trip Planning Assistance
In 2015 I guided a small group tour through the Netherlands and Belgium. You can read about it on my Recap on Guiding a Tour of Belgium and Holland. I assist with arranging special tours to this region for businesses, families or a group event.
You’ll generally get the best value booking short stay apartments in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam’s historic center. If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up here for free and receive $40 credit off your first stay! The best deals on hotels can usually be found on booking.com. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 857-919-9327 for assistance with planning an awesome Dutch vacation!