Most tourists coming to Netherlands have Amsterdam at the top of their list. Many have Amsterdam as the only thing on their list. True, there’s loads to see in Amsterdam, but there’s also plenty of attractions just outside the city. These hidden gems are often no more than an hour away and can easily be seen and enjoyed in a day.
Just a twenty five minute drive from Amsterdam lies lovely Muiden. This old town is situated on the shores of the ‘Ijmeer’. Muiden is known for its medieval castle; the ‘Muiderslot’. This UNESCO-listed fortress was built in 1285 by Count Floris V. Being one of the oldest castles in the country, it has a long and vibrant history. Even Dutch ‘Shakespeare’, P.C Hooft, spent the majority of his life living at Muiderslot. In the late eighteen hundreds the castle was fully renovated, restoring its former glory. Today the site attracts tourists from all over the world.
There are several tours around the castle grounds. For instance: follow the Knight’s Route to the Western tower, the highest point of the Castle. Discover Muiderslot’s seven centuries’ worth of history on the Historical Floor. Take the Tower Route for a tour of the Eastern Gate and Southern towers. Afterwards, go for a stroll through the Dutch Renaissance gardens and watch the owls, falcons, and other birds during live demonstrations at the Falconry. The castle also regularly hosts classical music concerts and theatre plays.
If you really want to get down to the roots of Dutch culture, you will have to visit ‘Zaanse Schans’. Zaanse Schans is a municipality of Zaanstad that has been remodeled into an open air museum. Between 1961 and 1974 old houses, buildings and windmills were uprooted and brought to a designated area, now known as Zaanse Schans. Sights to see include the old windmills, a small clog factory and a replica of the first Albert Heijn grocery shop. In one the five museums, you can gather information about the Netherlands, the Dutch and their unique culture. Don’t miss the cheese making demonstrations at the Catherina Hoeve cheese factory, where you can taste and purchase some of the best cheese Holland has to offer!
North of Amsterdam you can find dozens of small old-style Dutch towns and villages. The most popular of these is Volendam. In this authentic village the old wooden houses are built on stilts and locals still wear their colorful traditional dresses. It’s very popular to have your picture taken in full traditional clothing. Volendam also has its very own music style; ‘Palingsound’ or ‘Eelsound’. Palingsound is a combination of typical Dutch sounds with pop music. Make sure to stop by the Palingsound Museum, a museum dedicated to this particular style.
Haarlem lies just west of Amsterdam. Actually, it’s the exact distance from Amsterdam as Harlem in New York is from the tip of Manhattan. Fascinating fact? I’m full of them. Here’s another: did you know that Haarlem shares a ‘friendship link’ with the world-famous English settlement of Derby?
Though only a fifteen minute train ride from the big city, Haarlem has a very different feel to it. The old city center revolves around the ‘Grote Markt’ – the big market. The market square holds a number of notable buildings such as the Grotekerk (or St. Bavokerk), the Vleeshal (literally, ‘meat hall’) and the city hall.
One outstanding feature of Haarlem is the Teyler’s Museum – the Netherlands’ oldest museum. This diamond in the rough holds a dazzling array of fossils, bones, and geological specimens, including a display on luminescence. A massive collection of scientific instruments, crowned by the world’s largest electrostatic generator, is perhaps the museum’s most impressive inclusion. The free audio tour makes it well worth the EUR 10 entrance fee.
For the finishing touch, end your day enjoying a beer in one of Haarlem’s many bars or cafés.
Bloemendaal & Zandvoort
If you’re visiting in the summer, the beaches of Bloemendaal and Zandvoort are two places you shouldn’t miss. You can catch a direct train to Zandvoort from Sloterdijk Station in Amsterdam. Alternatively, both Bloemendaal and Zandvoort can be reached on foot from Haarlem. Bloemendaal has seven beach pavilions, all organizing summer parties, making it a popular place with younger visitors.
Zandvoort’s nine kilometer beach makes it a perfect place to enjoy a long promenade. It’s also great for sunbathing or for watersports like windsurfing. The Dutch don’t see a great deal of sunlight through the year, so these beaches can get crazy busy at the first hint of sun. Nevertheless, spending a day here is well worth it for a break from the city.
KeukenhofHaven’t seen Keukenhof? Then you haven’t seen the Netherlands.
This enormous flower park attracts over 850,000 visitors from all over the world each year. Seven million bulbs are planted in different shapes and patterns, creating the most colorful site in the Netherlands and a true feast for the senses. Rent a bike and enjoy the beautiful sights and smells. Alternatively, hop on a boat to float alongside the bulb fields. Whatever you do, make sure to bring your camera because the Keukenhof is something you don’t want to leave out of your photo album.
Alkmaar’s Cheese market
Say cheese! And cheese is what you’ll get. Alkmaar’s famous cheese market is the only place where you can still witness the cheese weighing according to tradition. Every Friday 2,200 cheeses, weighing 13.5 kilos, each are stocked on Alkmaar’s Waagplein. The cheese traders then start their task of smelling, touching and tasting the cheese. A traditional ‘handje klap’ will determine the price and two carriers will carry the cheese to the trucks. It is not possible to actually buy the cheese, but fortunately the market stalls surrounding the spectacle offer all the Edammer and Gouda you’ve ever dreamt of.
The Dutch government and parliament, the Supreme Court, the Council of State and Royal Residence of the Queen are all situated in The Hague. Besides this, 150 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, are also located here.
Take a stroll around The Hague’s narrow streets, get some ice cream at ‘Florencia Ijsfabriek’ and stop by the historic Binnenhof and medieval Ridderzaal, which now contains the Houses of Parliament and government offices. Shoot your pictures from the Lange Vijverberg, which runs alongside the Hofvijver (court pond). Finish the day with a walk on the beach and a cup of tea in the famous ‘Kurhaus’, a high-end hotel on the beach at Scheveningen.
If you want to escape all the city fuss, try renting a bike in Holysloot. Holysloot is a small village and a true oasis of peace and tranquility. Holysloot is situated just north of Amsterdam, near the Markerlake. With only one main street, there’s not much to do but to hop on a bike and explore the beautiful landscape around Holysloot. Barns, cows and windmills – you will encounter all the Dutch stereotypes. There are several cycling routes for you to choose from: stick to the dykes and polders to go ‘au naturel’, or follow a livelier route that takes in some of the surrounding villages.
Madurodam, The Hague
Not enough time to visit all that Holland’s got to offer? Miniature Park Madurodam might be the solution to your problems. Located just ten minutes from The Hague, this model village covers 1.77 square kilometres and holds a number of famous Dutch buildings and destinations. Madurodam was built in 1952 and has been visited by tens of millions of visitors ever since. Complete with moving trams, cars and airplanes, Madurodam gives you a good insight in the Netherlands. In addition, this park inspired Fernando de Ercilla to design Catalunya en Miniatura, one of the largest miniature parks in the world.
So, we’ve lined them up…it’s up to you to knock them down! If you’ve visited any of these destinations, what are your recommendations? Have you been on any other day trips in the Netherlands? Leave your comments, tips and suggestions below!
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