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Planning a vacation to The Netherlands? If you are staying in Amsterdam, renting a car might be absolutely useless. All you need to explore this beautiful Country is a bike and a public transport ticket. Let me show you the best day trips from Amsterdam by train that will led you to windmill villages, shopping cities, historic towns and even a few cheese markets.
Train trips from Amsterdam
Imagine our face when, during our first trip to The Netherlands for a nice weekend in Amsterdam, we saw a woman bringing her bicycle on the train like it was everyday’s stuff. We’d never seen anything like this while exploring Italy and yet it’s a brilliant way not only to take care of the environment but to encourage people to leave their car at home and do more sport. So yes, day trips from Amsterdam by train are a thing and I’m sure you’ll love them too.
If you are planning a few day trips from Amsterdam by train, the best way to save is to buy a prepaid OV-chipkaart that you can just recharge like a normal SIM card for your smartphone. You will need at least 20€ as a starting fare before you can travel and you will have to check in as soon as you hop on the train and check out when you hop off.Otherwise you might buy a single use smart card at the NS ticket machines or service counters, but you’ll have to pay a 1€ surcharge for each journey (so 2€ if you’re doing a return ticket as well). Tickets can be purchased online, but in our experience we found that it’s easier to just use the kiosks or the ticket machines at the train stations.
Haarlem: the little Amsterdam
This medieval city is one of the most instagrammable destinations in the Netherlands. It’s often referred to as a miniature Amsterdam, but it’s much more than that. I found it lively and less crowded than its famous neighbour. Going to Haarlem by train is also a great idea if you have rented a car. The parking fees in Haarlem are particularly expensive, and your car will be absolutely useless anyway, so in stead than risking a ticket or paying lots of money just to spend a few hours away from Amsterdam, just pick up your bike or a train ticket. It’ll be the easier and less expensive option.
Because if you start shopping in all the nice shops you’ll probably lose track of the time, I suggest you to visit the Grote Kerk first. This magnificent cathedral dates back to the 14th century and it’s definitely worth the visit. On Tuesdays and Thurdsays (occasionally also on Sundays), from July to October, you’ll also be able to enjoy organ recitals for free.
The shopping streets in Haarlem are also called “de Gouden Straatjes” (streets of gold), because they’re full of great deals, typical products, but also clothes and accessories from big brands. As you walk by, you’ll probably also find several cheese shops asking you to try their goods. We’ve had the pleasure to taste some of the best Dutch cheeses in Haarlem and also bought some that we brought to my dad, a big fan of cheese: he was the happiest dad in the world!If you are interested in a nice instagrammable place, then head over to the Molen de Adriaan. This is the nicest windmill in the area and it can also be visited with a guided tour. From the inside, aside from the spectacular views of Haarlem, you won’t find much, so take it into account if you aren’t sure you have enough time!
Zuid Kennemerland National Park: the sand dunes
In case you have brought your bicycle with you, it’s easy to pedal to the coastal town of Zandvoort from Haarlem. Here you will be able to see the beautiful Dutch sand dunes with wild flowers near the North sea. The Zuid Kennemerland National Park is probably the most beautiful and one of the wildest in The Netherlands.This nature preserve is located North of Zandvoort and it covers 38 km2 of sand dunes and forest. It protects over 100 different animal species and it’s the perfect place to go if you are into birdwatching. Some say you can see deer, hedgehogs and foxes but I will be very honest with you: it was (very) windy when we visited and thus we didn’t even see the birds! Yet I wanted to add it to our list of cool day trips from Amsterdam by train because the area is very quiet and different from all the other things we saw in The Netherlands.
If you don’t have your bicycle with you, then hop on the train at Haarlem and go to Overveen. It’s a six minute ride and from there you can just walk 10-15 minutes west to the park entrance. If you just want to see the sand dunes and not the whole park, just head over to Zandvoort and from there walk to the sea.
Zaanse Schans: a windmill village
Alkmaar: the traditional cheese market
As I mentioned, the Alkmaar cheese market is very colorful but while it once was traditional, now it’s very touristy. And crowded. Gosh, too crowded, at least for us! Unless you go very early in the morning, of course, but be prepared to the hordes of tourists. There isn’t a huge space, so sometimes it’s uncomfortable if you have your kids with you, because people push and pull.
In the end we decided to spend our Friday in The Hague and Delft. If you want to visit a cheese market, consider going to Gouda, it’s way less crowded. You can read about that scrolling down in this article.
While Alkmaar one is about half an hour away from Amsterdam by train, Delft and The Hague are about 1 hour away, and about 25 minutes from each other. If you’re skipping Alkmaar, I suggest you to spend the day visiting Delft, The Hague and maybe Leiden. You’ll also save on time and train tickets.
The Hague: the center of politics
The Hague is the thirld biggest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. You might have heard of it because it’s the seat of the Dutch government, Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Council of State. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands hare located here, and also international organizations, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court that prosecutes crimes against humanity. It was created after the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal prosecuted the German leaders who participated in the Holocaust and the atrocities in camps like Amsterdam or Birkenau.
Leiden: university city
Take a stroll through the tiny roads in Leiden, a university area where you could go for a quiet boat ride through canals that will make you feel the true essence of the Netherlands. The famous painter Rembrandt studied here, and the city remembers him with so many legends and highlights. First and foremost, the beautiful Rembrandt bridge, where you can go to take beautiful pictures. You can see many views of Leiden and the life Rembrandt lived there in his famous paintings. If you love art, you can’t just miss the chance to see Leiden in person!
We found a lot of similarities with Oxford (UK), and in fact the two cities are twinned, which is also one of the reasons why we decided to add it to our list of day trips from Amsterdam by train. We were honestly curious! This lovely city is full of nice shops and also houses a beautiful Hortus Botanicus that extends along the old outer canal. Near this garden, the Leidse Hout Park also has a small deer area: the kids will love it!
Delft: home to the famous Delftware
I imagined it as one of those tourist traps with high prices and the white and blue ceramics sold everywhere. It’s not hard to admit my mistake now (even if they still sell the Delftware almost in every shop). There are so many things to do in Delft and it has become one of the Dutch cities I’ll never forget. Which is why I just had to add it to my list of day trips from Amsterdam by train.
We got to Leiden right after lunch, and people were still sitting leisurely at the cafes along the canals. The sun hit the tall tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, while in the square underneath there were artisans crafting wooden clogs and street vendors selling colorful tulips. The essence of the Netherlands was all here, unfolding in front of us.
Delft has everything I was expecting from this Country and even more. People here were welcoming and warm. We strolled through the beautiful little streets and discovered, much to my surprise, that the Delftware isn’t as expensive as we were expecting it to be. We bought a lot of nice souvenirs (the real thing, not the useless plastic stuff they sell to tourists!) and every shop wrapped them all extra carefully because they were worried we might break the pottery on our flight back home (they all made it home safely and I still can’t thank enough all the shop owners who took so long in wrapping our stuff!). While walking around the Markt we also stopped by at the Ten to three bakery. This lovely tiny patisserie has also a tea room inside and you can stop by for lunch too. It looks like something straight out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, everything is pink and white, and their cakes are to die for! In stead than sitting inside we decided to spend a nice afternoon outside. From their tables you can see the Nieuwe Kerk while sipping a tall glass of their organic homemade tea, eating soft and delicious cupcakes. Tell you what, choosing between cupcakes, cake or icecream has never been more difficult. Everything looked fabulous!
Gouda: cheese, farmers and traditions
The Town Hall, with its red and white shutters and Gothic architecture, welcomes travellers with a beautiful carillon with mechanical puppets, on the right side of the building. For two minutes of each half hour the carillon provides a nice show, as the puppets begin to move. There are many museums and historical buildings in Gouda, but we decided to take an audio tour of the Sint-Janskerk, a beautiful Church, originally Roman Catholic and then Protestant (today it’s still run by the Protestant community of the town). It is the longest church in the Netherlands: 123 metres! You will love the stained glass windows from the Middle Ages and Reinassance, displaying scenes from the Bible and the Dutch history. These beautiful windows have been placed on the UNESCO list of protected Dutch monuments. The visit is particularly interesting: if you still have time before to return to Amsterdam, stop by this quiet place. When we’ve been there, in July, we were almost the only ones and we enjoyed the sense of peace as well as all the beautiful art inside. Maybe we’ve been lucky, but I still felt the need to add this little gem to the list of beautiful day trips from Amsterdam by train: it’d be a pity to miss Gouda!