Millions of tourists flock to Amsterdam every year, and for good reason. With its iconic 17th-century canals, preserved homes, lively atmosphere, abundant museums, and bicycles as far as the eye can see, the city is an unforgettable vacation destination. But there’s so much more in the Netherlands beyond this picture-perfect city, and since the country is small and well-connected by public transportation, it’s easy and affordable to explore. From Amsterdam, you can take day trips to equally beautiful but much-less touristy (and much-less expensive) towns and cities. Here are two must-do day trips, each less than an hour's time from Amsterdam.
Only 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station is the charming, medieval city of Utrecht (16.20 euros, or about $19 USD for a round-trip ticket). Home to the largest university in the Netherlands, Utrecht is filled with picturesque streets, Gothic architecture, terrific shopping, and high-quality museums, such as the fun Museum Speelklok, featuring self-playing musical instruments (13 euros, or $15 USD), and the Museum Catharijneconvent, a religious art museum in a former convent (14 euros, or $16 USD). Utrecht looks like a mini Amsterdam, but it’s more laid back and one of the country’s important religious centers.
Some other highlights not to miss:
- Like Amsterdam, Utrecht has a network of lovely canals. These are unique in that they have two levels (the below-street level is accessible by stairs). Take a stroll along the canals and relax at one of the many vibrant cafes and restaurants dotting the wharf below, eating at the water’s edge. If you’d rather be on the water, rent a kayak, go for a paddle, or take a scenic canal cruise.
- In Utrecht’s historic center stands one of its most recognizable landmarks—the Gothic-styled Dom Tower. Holland’s tallest church tower, at about 365 feet, dates back to the 14th century. Get your workout in by climbing the 465 steps for spectacular views of the city, and all the way out to Amsterdam on the clearest day. You must take a guided tour to get to the top (9 euros, or $10.50 USD). Also visit the nearby Dom Church, known as St. Martin’s Cathedral, and the peaceful Pandhof monastery gardens.
- Ahead of its time, the modern Rietveld Schröder House is the architectural highlight of the Dutch De Stijl art movement. Built in 1924, the house was designed by the Utrecht architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schröder-Schräder. The house, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, stands out for its primary colors and clever design features, such adjustable walls. Book a tour (16.50 euros, or about $20 USD) to visit the innovatively designed structure, run by Utrecht’s Central Museum. Stop by the beautiful Wilhelminapark on the way.
Just a short hop from Amsterdam, 15 to 20 minutes by train (4.30 euros, or $5 USD, for a one-way ticket), or a longer bike ride for those feeling adventurous, is the quaint town of Haarlem. The delightful Dutch town has lots to offer. Wander around its medieval city center and visit the Grote Markt central square and the impressive Gothic Grote Kerk, also called the St. Bavo Church, where you can see the organ Mozart and Handel once played. Head to the Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands, and check out its eclectic art, natural history, and science collection. Don’t forget to also peek into one of Haarlem’s hofjes, hidden courtyards, around the city.
Other don’t-miss highlights:
- No trip to the Netherlands is complete without visiting a windmill, and Haarlem doesn’t disappoint. On the banks of the Spaarne river sits the Adriaan windmill, or molen de Adriaan, one of the city’s most distinctive sights. It was originally built in 1778 and has since been reconstructed. You can only climb the windmill with a guided tour (3.50 euros, or $4 USD), which looks at the history of the mill and Haarlem. There are great views of Haarlem’s city center from the top.
- For anyone interested in the Dutch Masters, visit the Frans Hals Museum located on the Grote Markt. It is home to the world’s largest collection of Frans Hals’ paintings and also contains artwork from other iconic painters from the Dutch Golden Age. (Entrance is 15 euros, or $18 USD.)
- After a day of sightseeing, those into craft beer should stop by Jopenkerk, a hip, independent brewery in a former church. Sample some of the Jopen brand beers, made on site, along with Dutch bar snacks, such as bitterballen (meat-filled croquettes) and cheeses. You can sit in the stained-glass windowed building or on the terrace. Craft beer lovers should also visit the Uiltje brewery, a smaller brewery with a tasting room.