7 outstanding day trips from Amsterdam by train

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Beautiful windmill at Zaanse Schans in the Netherlands

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

You won’t need to rent a car to visit The Netherlands, for two main reasons. The first one is that renting a bicycle you can go wherever you want. And then the Dutch railways are excellent. Of course you can always combine the two things, because in The Netherlands they’re awesome like that. If you don’t feel like pedalling for a long distance, know that in this Country you will be able to buy a ticket for your bicycle and carry it with you on the train.
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.
Trains are a popular way for cyclists in The Netherlands to travel, as the stations are generally near the starting point of the main cycling routes. They just hop off the train and can pedal to the nearest city, enjoying the beautiful, windmill-decorated landscape.
Bicycles are allowed only from 9:00am to 4:00pm and after 6:30pm. The restrictions won’t apply during the weekend, on National holidays or in July and August. The ticket for your bike will cost you 6,20€, it’s only valid in combination with a regular train ticket and it’s irrespective of the number of kilometres travelled by train.

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.

 

Day trips from Amsterdam by train - Zaanse Schans
The famous wall of clogs in Zaanse Schans

Haarlem: the little Amsterdam

Given that you have your mighty train ticket, with or without a bicycle, the first one of the suggested day trips from Amsterdam by train is Haarlem, a city full of history and culture. It’s just a 15 minutes train ride from Amsterdam to Haarlem and this makes it also a half day trip, in case you want to spend the evening somewhere else.
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.
Even if there are lots of things to do in Haarlem, your first stop will probably be the Grote Markt (market square). It’s the heart of Haarlem, not too far away from the train station. It is located under the Grote Kerk (main Church). You will probably recognize the area because photos of its main buildings have been published on more than one travel guide for the Netherlands, like the Lonely Planet. If you go there on Saturday you will be able to see a very nice (and a bit crowded) street market where they sell just about everything, from wooden clogs to clothes, to some delicious Dutch cheese that you can eat on warm bread.
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!

For those of you interested in museums, you might want to check out the Frans Hals Museum, dedicated to the Golden Age and Hals portraiture.
In Haarlem we also found our favorite brewery in The Netherlands. De Jopenkerk is located in a former Church in the city center. It’s incredible to get inside and realize it once was a Church! Now you can see all the brewing process and enjoying a pint with a delicious cheese platter or with spicy sausages. Me and Al still have fond memories of the place, we’ll definitely go back for more in future!

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 sand dunes.

Day trips from Amsterdam by train - A view of the Grote Kerk in Haarlem
A view of the Grote Kerk in Haarlem

Zaanse Schans: a windmill village

Another one of the suggested day trips from Amsterdam by train is the historic village of Zaanse Schans. You can reach it in about 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam, hop down at Zandaam and then walk to Schansend 7. The entrance is free if you have an I Amsterdam City Card, that also provides free unlimited public transport, a free canal cruise, discounts, free entry to some of Amsterdam’s best museums and overall it’s a great deal if you’re spending a few days in the Netherlands.
Many of the characteristic windmills at Zaanse Schans are now museums, workshops or gift shops. The area attracts nearly a million visitors per year, and knowing this, we decided to go in the late afternoon, when the buses full of tourists had already left. We were rewarded by finding a special guide for us. A chubby, cuddly cat with a cute red collar walked with us as we explored, demanding cuddles now and then as a payment for his company.
If you don’t know the cat language, maybe you’ll want to download the free, interactive map to Zaanse Schans, for Apple and Android, that will tell you everything about the buildings in this iconic windmills village. We were surprised to discover that one of the windmills here still works. It produces high quality paints and pigments, supplied to artists and restorers across the world. This is the last windmill in the world that produces this kind of paint: our cat guide loved it, so we guessed he lives there!
As you walk around, with the delicious scent of cocoa filling your nostrils, have a look at the beatiful gardens in this area. We found the most spectacular ones. The owners recreated cute scenes with garden dwarves, or with luscious flowers. It is an area where we also found many stables, in case you’re interested in a horseback ride!
The Zaanse Schans opening ours are 09:00am to 05:00pm. Check out their official website for all the specifics.

Alkmaar: the traditional cheese market

A lot (and I really mean a lot) of people love to visit Alkmaar because of their very colorful cheese market. You can see it every Friday from 10:00am to 01:00pm. They are planning to start having a cheese market also in the evening on Tuesdays in 2018 but for the moment there isn’t a defined timetable for that.
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.
You can still add Alkmaar, The Hague and Delft to your list of day trips from Amsterdam by train: they’re all easy to reach and unless you plan on staying for hours at the Alkmaar cheese market, chances are that you’ll still have plenty of time to see the other two.
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.
View of the Hofvijver lake in The Hague
The beautiful Hofvijver lake at The Hague

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.

The Het Binnenhof is the center of politics in the Netherlands. When we visited the sun was shining, so we could see its reflection on the quiet waters of the Hofvijver lake. Next to it a lot of flowers in bloom: it was breathtaking. You can also visit the Binnenhof. Beware: you’ll feel tiny while walking Gothic Riddezaal, a great hall  that creates a large courtyard in front of the building. If you are interested in history, definitely opt for a guided tour here! We were told it’s better to reserve through their official website. You can make this one of the day trips from Amsterdam by train, but according to your plans you can still decide if you want to make it a full day trip or a half day trip, as suggested above. We’ve spent good part of the day in walking around, there were so many flowers, the weather was perfect and Den Haag wasn’t even too crowded. It’s one of the places we’d definitely go back to!

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!

View of a canal in Amsterdam
Canals in The Netherlands: they are unforgettable!

Delft: home to the famous Delftware

I first heard of Delft because of the famous the black and blue pottery. It’s also known as “Delftware“, and according to history, it was originally a copy of the Chinese porcelain.
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

Gouda is good city that you can add to your list of day trips from Amsterdam by train. It takes just about one hour ride to get there from the Amsterdam Central Station. As many of you pointed out on my Instagram, not many know that Gouda isn’t just a cheese, but also a beautiful city! The famous cheese wasn’t named after the city because it was produced here, but because it has been historically been traded here. Every Thursday morning, from 6 April to 31 August, in fact, they still organize the spectacular Gouda cheese market, and surprisingly we also found it way less crowded than the one in Alkmaar. You will get to see farmers dressed up with traditional costumes negotiating over the price with the traders: the deal is sealed with a handshake and it has been like that for centuries. So in case you want to add this kind of experience to your trip, we definitely suggest the Gouda Cheese Market in stead than the one in Alkmaar.
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!
Sand Dunes at Zaandvort in The Netherlands
Sand dunes are definitely something you wouldn’t expect in The Netherlands

 

Seasonal day trips from Amsterdam by train: the tulip fields

If you are visiting the Netherlands from mid-March to the end of May, you absolutely can’t miss a visit to one of the beautiful tulip fields near Amsterdam. They will be in full bloom so add them to your list of day trips from Amsterdam by train. Nope, not only because they will be “instagrammable”, but because they are a sight you won’t forget. Spring transforms large parts of the Netherlands into a colorful patchwork. According to experts (I’m not, unfortunately), mid-April is absolutely the best time of the year to visit the tulip fields for spectacular photos. Most of the tulip farms are located in the province of Flevoland, and in an area known as Kop van Noord-Holland. Another well known area is Bollenstreek near Leiden, where you will also find the world famous Keukenhof gardens (tickets €17), a huge park/garden where you will find more than 7 million tulips! Check out their official website, as they also offer bus tickets from several cities combined with their tickets. Easy peasy!
Still have some time left? Why not planning a trip to Giethoorn, the fairytale village in The Netherlands where they don’t have cars?

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7 outstanding day trips from #Amsterdam using a train or a bike. | Haarlem | Zaanse Schans | Zuid Kennemerland National Park | Tulip Fields | Tulip Fields near Amsterdam | Gouda | Alkmaar | Cheese markets | The Netherlands | The Netherlands travel guide

33 Comments

  1. What an excellent post. Love the picture of the clogs in Zaanse Schans 🙂 Bookmarked! There's so much to do in Amsterdam but great to be able to quickly leave the city. Next time I really want to see Keukenhof, it must be so overwhelming to see so many tulips!

  2. this is the advantage of small countries, everything is close! I did something by bike during a long WE in the area. If I ever go back to Netherlands, I will make sure to check one of your proposals

  3. Tom

    Amsterdam really isn't a very large city, so it's not surprising that so many places are just 15 minutes away by train. Interesting that your longest travel time for your day trips is still just one hour–there's really no excuse to not get out of A'dam and see the rest of the country.

  4. I think renting a bike is definitely the best thing when you visit Amsterdam. I have read every where that Dutch loves to bike. That can only mean one thing, you can go everywhere with a bike. The fact that you said their train system let you bring your bike in the train, makes it better! I mean of course you would want to cycle and make thousands stops because Amsterdam is too photogenic to miss! If you love to take pictures and enjoy beautiful sceneries, you definitely need to visit Bali. Bali is so exotic and that means photogenic as well. You can also rent a bike and cycle to the traditional village or even to the beach. You'll love it here. Come visit and let us provide the best accommodation for you, stay in our amazing villa. Please do visit our website, thank you!

  5. As an Amsterdammer who sees so many posts about the area that makes me cringe, you did an excellent job! All of these places are wonderful! The only one I would really add is Utrecht. It’s both chill and buzzing at the same time.

    1. That is my worst nightmare! To write something that makes a local cringe! That’s why I try to express my own opinion at my best… but the Netherlands were something else! I wasn’t expecting to fall in love and yet here I am! We’re even thinking to get back for more in Spring, as I’m a flower person and I’ve read it’s so beautiful over there when the flowers are blooming! Thank you very much for commenting, and I’ll note down Utrecht, now I’m very curious to explore it! Do you have any suggestions for things we could visit over there?

  6. Eloise

    Oh! I wish I found this post years ago, it would have made my trip easier! I had a week in Amsterdam and really wanted to explore somewhere else – without going too far. I found nice places to explore (Delft and also the windmill village) but I would have loved to see Harlem and the sand dunes that you listed. Thanks for sharing all this! 🙂

  7. Mary

    Amsterdam has been on my wishlist for so long but other spots in the world keep distracting me. I think I need to practice my bike riding skills before I get there since it seems like it’s the best way to travel within the country especially since you can bring your bike on the trains with you. Thank you also for your detailed prices/hours — it really helps in the planning!

  8. Paige

    I had no idea that Gouda is a town in addition to the cheese! (It’s one of my favorite cheese, so I would definitely take that train ride. Zuid Kennemerland National Park sounds really beautiful and unique. Like you said, I never would’ve expected sand dunes to be in the Netherlands.

    1. Haha then a visit to Gouda and the cheese market is absolutely mandatory! As for the sand dunes, after seeing so much green all around it was almost an alien sight. But it’s truly wild and beautiful so I always recommend a visit to the Zuid Kennemerland Park!

  9. Sandy N Vyjay

    There really is so much in and around Amsterdam that goes beyond Tulips and museums. These train trips have a dual bonus too as train travel in Europe is in itself a pleasurable experience and on top of that, you get to visit these enchanting places. I am really interested to visit Gouda, it sounds really beautiful.

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