The Netherlands is known for its historical cities with canals, brick houses, gothic churches and locals on bikes. But it’s not just famous Amsterdam I’m referring too. There are many more lesser known cities equally or even more characteristic than our capital. These Dutch off the beaten track cities are all in short distances from Amsterdam – as is pretty much anything in the Netherlands actually – and make the perfect daytrip. Make sure to visit at least one of them to enjoy the typical Dutch city vibe without the crowds.
Let’s start with a close neighbor of Amsterdam. Haarlem is only a 20 minute train ride away from our capital. The city is concentrated around its historic market square and church. Close to the central market square are the ‘Gouden Straatjes’ (Golden Streets) with boutique stores, concept stores and small shops. Two highlights of Haarlem are the Teylers Museum for historical science and the Hals Museum with works of the Dutch painter Frans Hals. One of the best parts of Haarlem are the small courtyards – ‘hofjes’ in Dutch –, most of these green city oasis are open to the public.
One of our favorite Dutch cities is picturesque Delft. Delft is perhaps one of the most visited cities in the Netherlands, tough it won’t get as crowded as Amsterdam. This small town is famous around the world for its Delftware porcelain, or Delft Blue. We’d recommend you to skip the souvenir shops and porcelain workshops though and go for a walk around the historic canals. You might notice that Delft is quite small for a city with this many churches. One of them – Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) – is famous in the Netherlands for having the Royal Crypt. The first member of the Dutch royal family buried here, is known for liberating the Netherlands of its Spanish occupier. He was murdered in Delft and afterwards buried in the nearest church, starting a family tradition. But there are more churches in Delft, as well as canals, small streets, cheese shops, local boutiques and museums.
Leiden is one of the most characteristic cities of the Netherlands – and only a 35 train ride away from the capital. The canals, bridges, brick houses and monumental gates make Leiden one of a kind. The best part of this open air museum is the old fortress on top of a hill overlooking the city. It is free to visit and offers nice views of the city. Leiden is packed with interesting museums as well. One of them has Egyptian mummies on display, another one a huge dinosaur skeleton. Leiden is also a popular place for vintage shopping; our favorites are Flamingo, VNTG and Hartendief. The best espresso bar is small Chummie, Logica serves vegetarian and vegan food and ROOS is known for its instagrammable breakfast.
Utrecht is the fourth city of the Netherlands, but still has a cozy atmosphere. You can stroll around the small streets along historical houses from one canal to another. The biggest one is the Oudegracht where you can rent a kajak to explore Utrecht by water. For quite a different view we’d recommend you to climb the famous Dutch icon the Domtoren. This church tower is actually not connected with the church itself since a big storm 300 years ago. Utrecht has just as many coffee bars, restaurants, concept stores and hotspots as Amsterdam. We’d recommend Meneer Smakers for burgers, Rachmaninoff for interior shopping, Cupp for coffee and Gys for healthy comfort food.
This historic city is more to the east of Utrecht and almost one hour by train from Amsterdam. It has one big canal, surrounding the old walled city. Amersfoort didn’t have an actual wall though, but it created houses around the city to make it easier to defend. These so-called Wall Houses are still in place and make you feel like back in the old days. But there are more monumental buildings, ancient churches and old gates. If you’re done with all these brick houses and that Dutch history, you might like to walk to an upcoming part of Amersfoort with new restaurants and bars. It’s called ‘De Nieuwe Stad’ (The New City) and even has a small river beach.