Amsterdam is usually the first thing people think of when they hear ‘Holland’ or ‘the Netherlands’, and most of the time also the only place people visit when they are in the country. Our capital city has always been popular (I have to say, it is a beautiful city), but especially the last couple of years tourism has increased a lot. The city centre can get really crowded, so if you want to see some other places in the Netherlands keep on reading, because there is so much to explore.
And you don’t even need a car for that! In fact, in the Netherlands, public transport is so good that it is usually even easier to take the train than to go by car. The places you will read about here are all between 20 minutes and 2 hours by train, so perfect if you stay in Amsterdam but want to see something else for a day (a benefit of being such a small country!).
Getting tickets for the train is easy. You can either order them on the official website of the NS (the train company), or get them at one of the big yellow and blue machines at the station.
There are different options: a day return (if you know where you are going and you’re coming back the same day), a one-way ticket (if you are going to stay the night there), a Railrunner (for children), and more. There are also several day ticket options if you want to travel unlimited across the country for a day. Then there are first class and second class tickets. For the first class tickets you pay a little more: the chairs are a bit bigger and the compartments are usually a lot more quiet.
Another option is the OV-chipcard. You can get one for €7,50, and you can put an amount of money on it, so you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket every time. Here are some popular activities you can do on your day trip:
The birthplace of Rembrandt, Leiden, is located in the province of South Holland and is only 35 minutes by train from Amsterdam. The famous painter grew up and was educated among these beautiful canals and authentic buildings, where you can do a Rembrandt route to visit all his historic locations.
But not just Rembrandt learned a lot in this old city. Today, Leiden is one of the most popular cities in the country for students, as there are two universities, of which one of which is the oldest one in the Netherlands (1575).
If you visit Leiden in October, make sure to be there on the 3rd, as this is when the 3 October Festival takes place. During this festival, the people from Leiden celebrate the liberation of the Spaniards in 1574. There are parties all around the city and many activities take place.
Visit one of the many interesting museums, among which the National Museum of Antiquities, where you can find Egyptian mummies, discover one of the peaceful parks or just walk around the beautiful, historical city centre.
North of Amsterdam, 30 minutes by train, you will find Alkmaar. This city is mostly known for its cheese market, which takes place on the square Waaglpein. Here you can see cheese carriers carry the cheeses on barrows (where they can carry up to 160 kilograms) in traditional clothing. The cheese is weighed at the Waag, the tower located on the square. After this, traders and farmers negotiate about the prices and throwers throw the cheeses on the wagons so they can be transported. The cheese market in Alkmaar is the oldest one in the country, dating back to the 16th century and you can see it every Friday morning from 10:00 to 13:00 from April to September.
Just like Leiden, Alkmaar has a similar festival, the 8 October Festival. On the 8th of October, five days later than Leiden, is when Alkmaar was liberated from the Spaniards. The parties start the night before, and on the day itself, there are parades, performances and parties throughout the city.
Alkmaar is perfect to do for a day, as it is not a big city, but definitely worth a visit. Walk along the small city centre along the canals, have lunch at Stadsstrand de Kade (a little beach created in the city), shop in the Langestraat, have a picnic at the Singel park or visit the Cheese Museum.
If you want to see a typical Dutch fishing village, visit Volendam. Only 20 minutes away from Amsterdam Central Station (take bus 316 to Edam-Volendam), this beautiful place located on the Markermeer lake, is known for its old harbour, fish trade and colourful houses.
Just walking around in this picturesque, old Dutch village is already great on its own. There is so much to see, the boats in the harbour, the narrow cobblestone streets with typical Dutch houses, cute bridges and gardens… Take a picture in klompen (wooden shoes) and traditional Volendam clothing in one of the photo studios, shop for souvenirs on the Dijk, get lost in the streets with canals with drawbridges in the oldest part of the centre called the Doolhof (maze) or try paling (eel), a fish typical for Volendam. It is so popular here that there is even a music genre named after it (many famous Dutch musicians come from Volendam), palingsound.
Though Volendam is a little more touristy, it is definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area.
4. Zandvoort aan Zee
With 30 minutes by train, you will be at the sea. There are many nice beaches in the Netherlands, but the closest to Amsterdam is Zandvoort aan Zee. This place is also one of the most popular ones, with trendy bars, plenty of watersport activities and most importantly, a sandy beach. In summer it is perfect for sunbathing and swimming, and in winter people love to go for walks here and afterwards get a hot chocolate in one of the beach bars. If you are interested in seeing more beach towns in the Netherlands, check out our guide to the Netherlands’ coastal cities and islands.
Only 25 minutes by train, you will find Utrecht. Being the oldest city in the Netherlands after Nijmegen and Maastricht, there is a lot of history, which you will notice while walking around the city centre. Utrecht is another city popular among students, with two big universities here.
What makes Utrecht different from other cities are the canals. The canals in Utrecht have wharfs, where you can sit on one of the many terraces and watch the boats go by. Climb the highest tower of the Netherlands, de Domtoren, walk along the beautiful canals, relax in Park Lepelenburg or one of the many other parks, or visit the Railway Museum. For a detailed itinerary, check out this article.
6. Texel Island
The Netherlands has five islands, located in the north. The easiest to reach from Amsterdam is Texel: take the train to Den Helder (1 hour and 17 minutes) and then take the ferry (20 minutes).
Texel is the biggest and most popular island of the five and has 30 kilometres of sandy beaches. The island is known for having as many sheep as people, about 14.000! With seven beautiful villages, there is lots to explore. Visit the picturesque red lighthouse, learn about the island and see seals at the Ecomare Museum, visit the romantic church in Den Doorn, watch the sunset on the beach or explore the island by bike.
For more tips and tricks to the world of Dutch islands and coasts, check out our complete guide to them here.
Wait, you mean the cheese? You guessed it!
The most famous Dutch cheese in the world is named after its city of origin, Gouda. Close to Rotterdam and The Hague, it is only 50 minutes away from Amsterdam Central.
Just like Alkmaar, Gouda has a cheese market. Every Thursday from April to August (10:00-12:30) you can view this traditional spectacle. Watch how the yellow wheels of cheese are being delivered with horse and carriage and try some of this Dutch delicacy yourself. Visit the Jongehoeve Cheese Farm and see how cheese is made, go to the Red Lion Windmill or just wander around city centre with its charming canals.
Only 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam is Amersfoort, and it is perfect to spend a day as the city is not so big.
You will be amazed by the historical city centre with medieval architecture, among which the Koppelpoort, a gate that is part of the city wall, was built between 1380 and 1425. The gate goes over one of the canals and in summer and spring, it is accompanied by beautiful water lilies.
Amersfoort is the place of birth of the famous Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who you might know from the yellow, red and blue artwork. Visit his house, Mondrian House, where he was born in 1872 and is now dedicated to him and his work. They even built a reconstruction of his studio in Paris.
The city of Amersfoort’s beer brewing dates back to the Middle Ages, so definitely check out the brewery De Drie Ringen or the oldest café of the city, Den Grooten Slock.
From Amsterdam to Rotterdam it will take you about 40 minutes (if you take the Intercity Direct, otherwise it might take you longer).
Rotterdam is very different from all of the other places in this article: where Alkmaar and Leiden have their old canals, Rotterdam has skyscrapers, and where Amsterdam and Utrecht have authentic bridges, Rotterdam has the futuristic Erasmus Bridge. As you can see in photos, Rotterdam looks way more modern than other cities in the country, and that is mainly an effect of World War II. In 1940, when the Netherlands were invaded by Germany, a big bombardment took place which destroyed a big part of the city. Rotterdam had to be rebuilt and lost a lot of its authentic buildings.
But because Rotterdam is so different from the rest, it has its own charm and characteristics. Apart from having the largest seaport in Europe, the city is known for its diverse architecture. You will see this at Station Blaak, where you can see the yellow Cube Houses and the Market Hall, a building shaped in an arch, with a food market on the inside. View the city from above at the Euromast, have dinner in the trendy Witte de Withstraat (the old part of the city) or relax at the Kralingen Lake, a lake surrounded by forest, grass, an artificial beach and windmills.
Another university city, Delft, is an hour by train away from the capital. A fun fact about this city is that there are more men living here than women, because the Delft University of Technology is more popular among male students than females. Apart from having a beautiful historical centre like most older Dutch cities, it is known for a couple of things.
Delft is known for its famous ceramic Delft Blue pottery, which you can admire at the Delft Blue Museum. Another well-known Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer, was born here. You might know him from the Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Milkmaid, and you can learn about his work at the Vermeer Centrum.
One of the most important events in Dutch history took place in Delft as well, the murder on Willem van Oranje (Willem the Silent), ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands and main leader of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs. You can visit the place where it happened, Prinsenhof, where you can still see the holes in the wall.
11. The Hague
With 50 minutes you will be in The Hague. Although Amsterdam is the capital, The Hague is where the seat of the government is. Located on the coast, this city has a historic centre as well as some modern skyscrapers located near the train station.
Visit the Binnenhof, the political heart of the city and one of the oldest Parliament buildings in the world that is still in use today, or the beautiful Peace Palace, which houses the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the United Nations International Court of Justice and more.
Besides politics, there is more to see in this city. Admire the art of the Dutch artist Escher at Escher in het Paleis museum, take the tram to Scheveningen Beach or walk through the Netherlands as a giant at the miniature park Madurodam, where you can find the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, the Port of Rotterdam, the Binnnehof and more in miniature.
12. Keukenhof, Lisse
Another thing that people think of when they think of the Netherlands are tulips. You have probably seen the pictures of beautiful fields filled with this local flower, which makes it look like an ocean of colours. You can find these fields in different places in the country, but one of the best places to go to, is the Keukenhof in Lisse. The Keukenhof consist of beautiful gardens perfectly taken care of, full of the national flower in all colours.
Unfortunately, because flowers don’t bloom all year and the Keukenhof only wants to offer the best experience, it is only open between March and May. So if you happen to be in the Netherlands around this time, make sure to pay these breathtaking gardens a visit, so you cannot just see the fields of tulips, but also be amazed by the smell.
To get to the Keukenhof, you have to take a train from Amsterdam to Harlem, and from there you can take a bus. In total it will take you about 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Enkhuizen is truly an authentic place and only one hour away by train from Amsterdam. Surrounded by the Markermeer Lake and Lake IJssel, it is a harbour city with a lot of history. In the 17th century, it was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, which you can see in the architecture: there are impressive city mansions, canals, churches and city walls.
Visit the Zuiderzeemuseum to learn about the water, the Zuiderzee, that is now Lake IJssel. Wander through the cobbled alleys, look into the houses and experience what it was like to live in the Netherlands between 1880 and 1930. The museum is mostly an open-air museum, but there is also an indoor part. The museum is great for kids, just like Sprookjeswonderland (Fairytale Wonderland), also located in Enkhuizen.
This town in the Gooi region looks like a literal star from above. Naarden is one of the best-preserved fort towns in Europe: it is part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam, a 135-kilometre long ring of forts around the city.
Visit the Netherlands Fortress Museum and see what a crucial role Naarden played in defending the nation and ride the museum boat for a unique perspective of Naarden, walk around the beautiful historical town or hike through the forest and around the lake. From Amsterdam Central, you can take the train to Station Naarden-Bussum, which will take you about 25 minutes.
Haarlem is a popular city in the province of North Holland. A lot of people from Amsterdam move here when they want to leave the busy city life, and only 15 minutes away from Amsterdam Central, it is a great place to visit during your stay in Amsterdam.
See the Frans Hals Museum (another Dutch painter!), the oldest museum in the Netherlands, the Teylers Museum of art, natural history and science, feel as if you go back in time at the Grote Markt square, or taste different beers at the Jopenkerk, an old church turned into a paradise for beer-lovers. Haarlem is a city full of culture, art and history, but it is also known for its nice boutiques. So if you’re a shopaholic, you won’t get bored here.