12 Top-Rated Day Trips from Amsterdam
After you've enjoyed the many attractions of Amsterdam, it's easy to hop on a train or join a tour to see many other places in the Netherlands that are worthy of attention. Because the country is relatively small, you can reach most of its highlights in day trips from Amsterdam. The spectacular gardens and tulip fields of Keukenhof are an easy half-day trip. The charming old fishing towns along the Ijsselmeer - the former Zuiderzee - and the open-air museum in Enkhuizen are not far north of the city, and you can visit the country's largest concentration of windmills at Zaanse Schans. Haarlem, Hoorn, and the famed porcelain makers in Delft are not far away, and day trips from Amsterdam can also take you to two highly appealing cities in neighboring Belgium: Brussels and Bruges. Discover the most rewarding things to do near the city with this list of the top-rated day trips from Amsterdam.
1 Keukenhof Gardens
The Netherlands is also known the world over for its flowers, in particular its tulips. Just 38 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam, on the outskirts of the town of Lisse, is spectacular Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, and the best place to view the country's rich floral bounty. Keukenhof itself covers an area of more than 70 acres in the area known as the Netherlands' "bulb belt," in a picture-perfect landscape that once formed the kitchen garden (or "keuken") of a large country estate. In a complex that also includes restaurants, patios, and exhibitions, more than 700 varieties of tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, and daffodils are grown. It's also home to numerous flower-related events and festivals, from flower shows to markets and concerts. An easy way to spend half a day here is on a Keukenhof Gardens and Tulip Fields Tour from Amsterdam, a five-hour excursion by coach through the Dutch countryside with plenty of time to stroll through the gardens.
Address: Stationsweg 166A, Lisse
2 Enkhuizen and the Zuiderzee Museum
On the Ijsselmeer, a shallow lake that was part of the former Zuiderzee, Enkhuizen is one of the prettiest towns in the Netherlands. Enkhuizen has a number of historical attractions, among them two 15th-century churches; 17th-century town walls and gates; and the Dromedaris Tower, a relic of the town's fortifications built in 1540. Its carillon ranks among the finest in the Netherlands. From the picturesque harbor, you can take the ferry to the Zuiderzee Museum, an open-air museum that focuses on the rich cultural traditions of the area, with displays of the Zuiderzee's maritime history and the ongoing process of land reclamation. Highlights include a number of preserved 17th-century buildings, many old boats, and artifacts relating to the region's fishing traditions.
Also on the IJsselmeer, about 40 minutes south of Enkhuizen, the old fishing village of Volendam is worth a visit to see its traditional fishing boats and colorful houses.
Address: Wierdijk 12-22, Enkhuizen
3 The Cheese Market, Alkmaar
About 42 kilometers north of Amsterdam on the North Holland Canal - and just eight kilometers from the North Sea - the charming town of Alkmaar is filled with fine architectural monuments and old guild-houses from the 16th to 18th centuries. But the highlight of an excursion to this picturesque town is its world famous Cheese Market, one of the best-known tourist attractions in the Netherlands. Held every Friday in front of the town's Weigh-House in strict accordance with centuries-old traditions (the first such market was held here in the 1590s), it's a fascinating sight to watch as the square is covered with more than 23 tons of large, round Edam and Gouda cheeses. Adding to the experience is watching the cheese-porters, dressed in white and wearing hats in the colors of their guild, carry sometimes as many as 80 Edam cheeses on cradle-like racks to be weighed. Before anything can be shipped off, the crowds are welcomed and bells are rung (English language explanations of the rituals are offered at 11:20am). Afterwards, pop into the Alkmaar Cheese Museum in the Weigh House for its exhibits on the history of cheesemaking.
Address: Waagplein, Alkmaar
4 Historic Haarlem
On the little River Spaarne, about 19 kilometers west of Amsterdam, historic Haarlem is just seven kilometers from the North Sea coast. Established in 1245, Haarlem was a hotbed of artistic endeavor during the 17th century, when it became home to many of the country's most famous painters, some of whose works can be seen in the superb Frans Hals Museum. A highlight of the city's old main square is the 14th-century Grote Kerk (St. Bavokerk), a huge Late Gothic structure notable for its slender, 40-meter-tall tower; its many rich furnishings (of particular interest are the three old model warships, a nod to the church's role as the chapel of the Seamen's Guild); and the famous 18th-century Müller Organ, one of the greatest such instruments in the world for its tone and decoration. Finally, be sure to take a peek into the Old City Hall, built in the 13th century and notable for its large tower and plush interior (guided tours are available).
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5 Zaanse Schans Open-Air Museum
The Zaanse Schans open-air museum is so picture-perfect, it's hard to believe it's actually a real community. Based on the original village of Zaanland as it would have looked around 1700, the museum was established to preserve buildings threatened by industrial development. Typical old wooden houses and windmills of the 17th and 18th centuries were taken down and carefully restored on the site, providing a vivid impression of life in earlier centuries - an effect enhanced by the fact that most of the houses are occupied. Other features of note are its large collection of still functioning windmills, including an oil mill, a paint mill, mustard mill, and sawmill, as well as a cheese-making dairy, an old bakery, a grocer's shop, clog-maker's workshop, and clock museum. Guided tours are available, as is a very pleasant boat trip on the Zaan offering great views of the old houses and windmills from the water.
An easy way to get to the museum is on a Zaanse Schans Windmills, Marken and Volendam Half-Day Trip from Amsterdam, which adds to the experience by including two picturesque old villages. The tour includes entrance to one of the windmills, a visit to watch the wooden-shoe maker at work, and a visit to a cheese factory to sample local cheeses. In the summer, the tour includes a boat trip between Marken and Volendam.
Address: Westkade 2, Zaandam
The canals that today make Bruges one of Europe's most picturesque cities began as waterways connecting it to the Zwin estuary and the North Sea. Cruising or walking along them (download a walking tour map from the tourism website) will lead you to beautiful views of old houses, graceful bridges, and tiny gardens. Boat tours begin at any of five different landings. The market hall, which dates from medieval times and is beautifully preserved, dominates the main square; from its tower are sweeping views of the city's famous spires and steep pitched roofs. You'll have five hours to explore this lovely city at leisure on a Bruges Day Trip from Amsterdam, an 11.5-hour tour that takes you through the Dutch and Belgian countryside by air-conditioned coach as you learn about Bruges from your guide.
The capital of Belgium is also the capital of the European Union, and although it is filled with beautiful Gothic and Baroque buildings and has a number of outstanding art and other museums, you won't find it as crowded with tourists as many other European capitals. Its main square, the Grand Place, is grand indeed, and one of the most elegant and best preserved in all Europe. Surrounding it are guild houses that were built in the late 1600s in the Baroque style, resplendent in ornately carved gables and balustrades with gold embellishments. In contrast to these and other Baroque buildings and the older Gothic structures, Brussels is where you'll find some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau. The most famous works of the early 20th-century master architect Victor Horta are in Brussels. You'll have time to find some of these, and to sample the famed Belgian chocolate, on a Brussels Day Trip from Amsterdam. After a guided walking tour that includes highlights like the Royal Palace and Manneken Pis statue, you'll watch a demonstration by a chocolatier and taste some of the product before having free time to explore the city on your own.
South of Amsterdam, between The Hague and Rotterdam, Delft is known worldwide for the blue and white porcelain that's been made here since the 1600s. Most of the picturesque Old Town buildings date from the following century, when the pottery manufacture and export was at its height. Along with its lovely old houses and canals, Delft has some fine Gothic churches and art museums. Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles is the only remaining maker of the famous Delftware, and you can watch the artists at work and see the collection of historical pieces. An hour-long tour of the porcelain factory is the highlight of a Holland in One Day Sightseeing Tour, leaving from Amsterdam. Along with Delft, the 9.5-hour tour includes added time in Delft to see other attractions, plus a bus tour of Rotterdam and a drive through The Hague en route to the miniature city of Madurodam.
9 The Delta Works and the Maeslant Barrier
About 70 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam just past The Hague on the Hook of Holland, the Maeslant Barrier is just part of the country's massive Delta Works project, an engineering marvel designed to prevent flooding. The final piece of this engineering puzzle, the barrier consists of two huge gates capable of closing off the New Waterway when a storm surge threatens. The visitor center in the historic Keringhuis provides a fascinating glimpse into the history and construction of the Delta Works project, as well as a chance to view shipping traffic as it sails in and out of Rotterdam. Plan your visit around a test closing of the barrier (details from their website). English language guided tours of the storm surge barrier and museum are available on weekends (reservations required).
Address: Maeslantkeringweg 139, 3151 ZZ Hoek van Holland
Another of the many quaint towns on the Ijsselmeer, Hoorn is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, thanks to its many fine historic buildings and picturesque waterside setting. Highlights include the town's two yacht harbors lined with attractive 17th-century gabled houses, galleries, shops, and museums, and the historic old Town Hall (Stadhuis), built in 1402 and originally home to the convent of St. Cecilia. Interior highlights include the 18th-century Council Chamber with its painting of the naval battle of 1573. Also of note are the Grote Kerk from 1883 and the former St. Jans Gasthuis, dating from 1563 and known for its early Renaissance façade. The West Frisian Museum (Westfries Museum) displays collections from the 16th to the 18th centuries relating to the history of the town and surrounding area, including group portraits of the once famous marksmen's guilds.
The old Hanseatic town of Kampen lies on the left bank of the IJssel, four kilometers above its outflow into the Ijsselmeer. One of the prettiest towns in the Netherlands, Kampen dates back to the 12th century and was once the country's most important trading center with the Baltic area, as well as France and England. Kampen has managed to preserve many of its most important old structures, including its 15th-century Town Gates; the rectangular Koornmarktspoort, on the banks of the IJssel; the Broederpoort with its four corner towers; and the Cellebroederpoort, a rectangular structure with two round towers. Immediately west of Kampen Town Hall is the Tower of the Holy Ghost, also known as the New Tower as it was built 1664.
12 Medemblik by Steam Train
The best way to reach Medemblik is via Stoomtram Hoorn Medemblik, a 20-kilometer heritage railway line that runs from the equally picturesque town of Hoorn. Once there, you'll have plenty of time to explore the town before heading back to Hoorn (the route can also be done in the other direction). Founded in the 10th century, Medemblik lies on the IJsselmeer and is home to Kasteel Radboud, an old fortress that's been fully restored and makes for a splendid photo. Other highlights include St. Bonifaciuskerk, a Late Gothic hall-church from the 15th century containing the tomb of Lord George Murray, a Jacobite commander at the battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1745; the 17th-century Weigh House (Waag), used to weigh cheese; and the Dutch Steam Engine Museum in the old pumping station, home to a collection of steam engines used on ships and in industry, most of them still in working order.