I’ve just returned home after a 10 day solo jaunt around The Netherlands and I was definitely impressed with this small Western European country in more ways than I can probably list. The way they pride themselves on being environmentally friendly is admirable. The train systems are probably some of the best I’ve ever used. The people are friendly and the bitterballen are to die for! The Netherlands, meaning “lower countries”, only has about about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level, so its flat geography and rich soils make for some of the world’s best places to grow flowers, vegetables and other produce. Apart from being one of the world’s leading vegetable and flower exporters, The Netherlands is also a country rich in history, the fine arts, quirky architecture, tons of ballsy bicyclists and yes, Amsterdam’s unshakable reputation as a party destination for the masses.
I made it my personal travel mission to see as many cities and towns as I could in The Netherlands that spanned outside of Amsterdam within my 10 days travelling through the country. Of course, I did spend a total of three great days exploring the canal lined streets of Amsterdam, enjoying the friendly locals’ personalities and sampling some of their, umm…“greens” if you will. I’m not a party person by any means, so it was way more tame than people may think. From Amsterdam, I took a day trip into the adjacent town of Haarlem, which is a tiny, yet hip suburb about 15 minutes away by train, but without all the tourists, it seemed like a world away. I ventured into the university town of Leiden, but due to some unruly weather, I spent most of the day hiding from the blustering winds and relentless rain by hopping around from restaurants, to bars to cafés and just enjoying hanging out and relaxing, while watching the people maneuver their bikes on the streets like nothing I’ve ever seen before in my life. It’s honestly an art form…I kid you not!
I then hopped on a train to Delft, a canal ringed city situated in the South-Western region of The Netherlands, which was by far, one of my favourite stops during my travels. Delft is most famous for being the birth place of Dutch Master painter, Johannes Vermeer and as the manufacturing base for Delftware, the well known blue and white hand painted ceramics that everyone’s grandma probably owned at some point. From Delft, I headed to the city of Utrecht, which is another university city, so there was a lively, young vibe to the streets, shops and restaurants. Utrecht is most famous for the Dom (Toren) Tower, which you can see from almost anywhere in the city and you can also climb a dizzying 465 steps to the top to get commanding views of the city and canals below. As a half day trip, I hopped on a train to the sleepy little town of Gouda, yes, just like the cheese, and explored the tiny cobblestone streets during the early morning hours. The medieval town square is dominated by the impressively large Old Town Hall, which stands tall in the centre of the market in a beautiful Gothic architectural design.
After spending two great days wandering around Utrecht, I made my way to the Southernmost tip of The Netherlands to the city of Maastricht. Located just a few kilometres away from Belgium and Germany, Maastricht was definitely unlike any other city with The Netherlands. The landscapes weren’t as flat anymore, the architecture, food and even the language was looking, sounding and tasting different. Such a contrast to witness compared the the other Dutch cities I had just visited…and the best thing? It’s only a mere three hour train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station. I did however run into some unwelcoming attention from a man while wandering around Old Town in the evening, but more on that situation in another post. I didn’t let the stalker ruin my trip, or taint my impression of the city.
Since I was so close to Germany, I decided to take a day trip into the town of Aachen, Germany. Aachen is known to be a spa town and has an impressive history that spans as far back as 8th-century Charlemagne. The bus ride was cheap and the bus stop was easily accessible from the Maastricht train station. I could literally see it from my hotel’s front door. Wandering through Aachen’s historic city was one of my trip’s highlights. The large commanding Gothic cathedral situated in Old Town was actually one of Germany’s first monuments to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Of course, I couldn’t visit Germany and NOT indulge in some homemade apple strudel doused in a cream sauce, some hot chocolate and a cold German beer. I’d definitely walk it off that day, so no shame in my travel diet game!
For my last full day in The Netherlands, I made the journey back north to Amsterdam. I spent my final full day wandering the streets and visiting some areas of the city that I didn’t get to see during my first two days at the beginning of my trip. The weather was a mild 10 degrees and the sun was shining. Much different than earlier in the week when it was cool and extremely windy. I wandered to the Rijksmuseum, where the fine arts masters such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer have their works of art on display. Although I didn’t make it into the actual museum during this trip, it’s definitely a place where I’d like to visit the next time I find myself in Amsterdam. I mean, as an art history fan, I’d have to see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in person someday. I spent the rest of the afternoon lazily strolling the canal belt and stopping in at numerous cafés to leisurely sip on cappuccinos, do some shopping and of course, go on a night time canal boat cruise. Yes, it was touristy, but it was actually really beautiful to glide along the canals as the bridges glistened with lights. It was also pretty informative and I learned a lot about the canal houses, how they were built and the purpose some of them held as far back as the 17th century. I definitely recommend doing the tour. The rest of my final night was spent eating and drinking while reminiscing about all that I’ve seen and done over the last 10 days travelling through The Netherlands.
Over the course of 10 days exploring lesser known cities and towns, I feel as though I really got to experience and see the true culture and people of The Netherlands. By venturing outside of Amsterdam and away from the hoards of tourists, I had the chance to enjoy the smaller businesses that are owned and operated by the people who truly love their job and their craft. I had the chance to visit a local cheese shop in Gouda that was run by the farmers that make the cheese. I had the chance to have a coffee in a little coffee shop where the owner roasts beans and partners with local chocolate shops to infuse his teas into the chocolates. The best thing though? I got the chance to mingle with the true locals of this amazing country.
Don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam is a great city, which I adored visiting. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s lively, it’s culturally rich and diverse, but I really do recommend getting out of the main city and exploring lesser known cities and towns to get the real feel of life in The Netherlands.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my city guides on all the places I visited in The Netherlands. What to do, what to see, places to eat…I’ll cover it all.
Have any of you been to The Netherlands? If so, did you venture outside of Amsterdam. If you did, which city did you enjoy the most? Let me know in the comments below! xo