by Luc O Cinnseala
The phrase ‘there’s something here for everyone’ has never been truer for any city as it is for the Dutch capital, whose range of sights and activities caters as much to young families as it does to raucous hens and stags.
Thanks to the great Dutch transport network, Amsterdam also makes a great base for exploring the Netherlands, so whether you’re looking for Dutch clichés, other cities or just a break from the madness of the (actually rather safe) Red Light District, you can do it all in a day and still be back in time for that infamous nightlife.
1. Tulips: Lisse
You’re in the Netherlands and you’re not going home until you’ve been snapped cycling a bike down a flat road surrounded by fields of colourful tulips. Chances are the fields you’re thinking of are in and around Lisse.
Every year, thousands of tourists leave busy Amsterdam behind and head south for tulip season—March to May—to be bombarded with colour. If you want to join them, hop on a train to Sassenheim, rent a bike there and take a leisurely cycle past the colourful fields in the striking Dutch countryside. Your bike company should be able to advise you on a suitable travel route and/or provide you with a tulip map.
If you want something less physical, if bad weather has reared its head or you’re looking for a more refined botanical experience go to Keukenhof Gardens on the edge of Lisse Town itself. Open from mid-March to mid-May annually, this is one of the largest flower gardens in the world and is arguably the most beautiful, with seven million bulbs planted there annually.
Time from Amsterdam: 30 minutes
Getting there: Take a Sprinter train from Amsterdam-Zuid to Sassenheim. For Keukenhof, take the 50 bus from Sassenheim Station to Lisse.
2. Windmills: Zaanse Schans
When travelling anywhere in the Netherlands you’re likely to see a windmill or two. After all, the country has about 1,200 of them.
If you want to get up close to these beautiful structures make the short journey to Zaanse Schans in Zaandam, known as ‘the world’s oldest industrial region’. This stretch of river is dotted with enough functioning windmills to satisfy your hunger.
The site contains numerous other preserved period buildings from the 18th-century and has its own museum. Don’t miss your chance to enter one of the windmills and take in the impressive view from the top.
Time from Amsterdam: 40 minutes
Getting there: Take the 391 bus from Amsterdam Centraal right to Zaanse Schans
3. Cheese: Gouda
Most of us can agree that the world would be a darker place without cheese, and the contribution of the Dutch must never be underestimated.
Gouda’s cheese market is held right in the centre of town every Thursday morning in spring and summer, where you can pick up this quality foodstuff from its source. You can even sample the goods right there in the market square. Don’t worry if you can’t make it during market time: the town has no shortage of shops selling the cheese in wheels and wedges of all sizes all year round.
Aside from its famous export, Gouda is the epitome of a quaint Dutch town you might not have otherwise gotten the chance to visit. It also does a mean stroopwafel (baked syrup waffle). Eet smakelijk!
Time from Amsterdam: 50 minutes to an hour
Getting there: Take a Sprinter train from Amsterdam Centraal direct to Gouda station.
4. Canals: Utrecht
Yes, Amsterdam has more canals than you could see in one trip but it just doesn’t have the alternative atmosphere of Utrecht. The university town’s heaving student population means it has a busy nightlife that lacks the masses of unruly tourists that Amsterdam can attract. Think Amsterdam with a civilised twist if, indeed, that is what you’re looking for. Best of all, trains run 24-hours to Amsterdam, meaning there’s no such thing as running to catch the last train.
By day, Utrecht’s picturesque streets and marvellous churches, museums and galleries are noticeably less overrun than its big city neighbour. The Sonnenborgh Museum and Observatory, alone, is worth the half-hour train journey here. And the town’s two-level canals mean you can relax over a coffee underground and outside at the same time!
Time from Amsterdam: 30 minutes
Getting there: Take a Sprinter train from Amsterdam Centraal to Utrecht Station.
The fact that Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port is hardly enough reason to visit, unless you’re seriously interested in your maritime history. However, good reasons to travel the short journey from Amsterdam include a laid-back arty vibe and a 185-metre observation tower that you can zipline or abseil off.
Less than a two-hour train journey away, a day trip to the beautiful Belgian capital is entirely doable from Amsterdam. Gorge on chocolate and beer, indulge your inner comic book nerd and see where the EU lives—and still make it back to Amsterdam for supper. Check out our guide to exploring Brussels in 24 hours for more tips!
You’ll need to book your train at Thalys.com as early as you can or this cross-border adventure might end up costing you quite a lot.
Where to stay?
Train Lodge Amsterdam
It’s all in the name, for this is one of Amsterdam’s most unique hostels. Explore the city by day and by night bunk down in the comfortable carriages of a former luxury train. Train Lodge’s four carriages contain dorms, private rooms and a bistro. Guests can also sit out on the train’s own terrace for some al-fresco relaxation and mingling.
St Christopher’s at The Winston
Part of the respected St Christopher’s hostel chain, this large hostel is located right in the centre of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and is a favourite with visitors to the city. The hostel has its own bar and beer garden and offers guests a free breakfast—in other words, it’s everything you need for your stay in this great city.