This article covers Utrecht, Delft, and a number of other places and points of interest in the Netherlands that can be reached on day trips from Amsterdam. The towns certainly deserve in-depth exploration.
Utrecht ♥♥ is among the bigger and busier Dutch towns. The architecture of the central area around Oudegracht ♥♥ is quite delightful. You can spend a marvelous time people-watching – or, rather, boat-watching – in a canal-side café; just that experience is worth some hearts. We once rented a canal bike ♥♥ ourselves and circled Utrecht’s canals, which surprisingly took longer than expected, around an hour and a half. On Sundays, there is usually little traffic on the sleepy canals; on other days, the experience may be slightly less tranquil.
Rietveld-Schröder house ♥♥ is worth the extra effort of planning for in advance. Built in the early 20th century, the small house is an unusual conceptual take on city living accommodations, weirdly fascinating and delightful. There are several other museums and a couple of interesting churches worth exploring in Utrecht.
Delft ♥♥ is a small agreeable town that remains largely unchanged since the 17th century. Most of the town life is concentrated on the main town square, Markt ♥, which has the town hall on one end and the Nieuwe Kerk on the other. The church bells ring melodically every 15 minutes. Inside the church, there are stands depicting the history of the country and the House of Orange, as well as some stained-glass windows; you can also climb to the tower top. The Oude Kerk, with its leaning tower, may be worth checking out is accessible.
Delft has its own canal network, which can be toured by boat. Because the town is small, renting a bicycle ♥ allows for a less hectic exploration than a similar one in Amsterdam.
Open for only two months a year, from mid-March to mid-May, the Keukenhof Gardens ♥♥♥ display a fantastic collection of tulips and other flower species. There are literally thousands of varieties of all colors of the spectrum. Breathtaking! In addition to the uncounted flower beds, there are several “conceptual” gardens, a handful of covered pavilions with beautifully themed expositions, a children’s playground, and enough strategically positioned benches for relaxation. A true flower-lover can easily spend an entire day in this park, but the rest of us would find things to do as well.
The Kinderdijk mill network ♥♥ attracts plenty of tourists – including entire river cruises – this World Heritage site can be rather crowded. If you are driving, beware that parking is limited – you may need to find a spot elsewhere and walk to the entrance on foot. Nonetheless, the views are great, and several activities are true pleasures, be it walking the paths or taking boat rides. There is a couple of mill museums, and the visitor center offers films about nearby pumping stations.
The administrative capital of the country, The Hague, has several important sights, such as the home of the Dutch parliament Binnenhof, the excellent collection of old masters at Mauritshuis, and the seaside resort of Scheveningen. The city skyline from the highway approach inexplicably resembles Philadelphia. Our familiarity with the city is limited to Madurodam ♥♥. It is an open-air collection of 1:25 replicas of significant Dutch buildings; you can see practically every important sight of the entire country on a couple of acres.
Wishing to get some experience with the UNESCO-listed Waddenzee, I crossed the inner sea to the island of Ameland on the Holwerd Wagenborg ferry. Once on the island, I only had a few hours to explore the quaint little village of Nes ♥ which has almost no auto traffic but many cute houses, a couple of small churches, and a tall tower, as well as plenty of restaurants and shops in a fairly small area.
The village of Middenbeemster ♥, at the center of the World Heritage site called Beemster Polder, offers plenty of cute houses and gardens. There are a couple of small museums which are open on a limited schedule, and a reasonably interesting church – named after its principal architect as Keyserkerk – where the custodian graciously allowed an impromptu tour and then proposed I climb up to the tower to take pictures of the surrounding area (this is not something regularly available to tourists, but feel free to ask).
Wouda Pump Station ♥ in Lemmer is an interesting World Heritage site which unfortunately is not well set up for non-Dutch speakers. There is one 5-minute-long intro movie with English subtitles that moves too quickly to process. You can then see a 12-minute-long dramatization feature with English subtitles that does little to explain how the station works. No access inside the station without a guide is allowed. If you join a guided tour, you may be the only non-Dutch speaker in the group, in which case you will get 30 seconds of English narration for every 5 minutes of that in Dutch (the guide, nonetheless, is likely to be a lovely person with immense pride of his place of work). If you choose to come and see, it is still probably worth it; budget a couple of hours.
Schokland is a mildly interesting preserve safeguarding some pre-historic artifacts mixed with more recent ones. There is a small main museum, a number of walking/cycling paths through the woods, and a tranquil if not exactly impressive geological garden. Probably worthwhile only for those specifically focused on the World Heritage list.
Van Nelle Fabriek in Rotterdam can only be visited on pre-arranged guided tours, so I only stopped by the grandiose building to take exterior pictures of it. Similar to Schokland, it is only worth a detour for the hard-core WH chasers.
If you decide to stay overnight somewhere outside of Amsterdam, here is an entry on the “memorable stays” list. Hotel de Emauspoort (link) in Delft sits directly behind the Nieuwe Kerk in the very town center (the bells of the church, ringing through the night, is the only negative). There is no parking by the hotel, but if you park in the central underground garage Zuiderpark, you will get a discounted daily parking rate with hotel validation. We occupied Room #1, De kamer van Jan Vermeer, which is a two-level loft decorated with prints of the works by Vermeer, including his most famous, Girl with a Pearl Earring. There is plenty of living space, a double bed on the lower level, and two single beds in the upper loft. The room is furnished to evoke a painter’s studio of the 17th century, replete with an easel and paintbrushes, as well as toilet utilities of the age (don’t worry, those are decorations; a modern bathroom is part of the suite), and accentuated by exposed beams. Breakfast selection is not very extensive, but quite sufficient, and served in a pleasant dining room; bread and pastries that are baked on premises are delectable.