Amsterdam is arguably one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe and I consider myself fortunate to live here. With its gorgeous canals and historic canal houses, world-class museums, vibrant nightlife and top-notch restaurants, there are lots of things to see and do in Amsterdam. For returning visitors, I highly recommend visiting other places near Amsterdam as there is so much to see within an hour’s train or car journey from Amsterdam. From picturesque medieval towns to the famous tulip fields, national parks, castles and windmills, there’s a plethora of interesting places to visit near Amsterdam. Here are my recommendations for places you can visit as day trips from Amsterdam:
12 day trips from Amsterdam
I’ve chosen these places as they can easily be visited as a day trip from Amsterdam by means of public transport (train/bus) or on a tour. All of these places are within 1.5 hours from Amsterdam. Due to their proximity to Amsterdam and cheaper hotel prices, some of these places such as Haarlem, Leiden, Amersfoort and Rotterdam are alternatives as a base from which to visit Amsterdam. To get to these places, check Google Maps, the Dutch train service or hire a car.
This historic city is home to the country’s oldest university (Leiden University, since 1575), centuries-old buildings and the famous Leiden Botanical Garden (founded in 1590 and where the tulip was first introduced in Western Europe). Leiden University is still one of the top universities in Europe, having produced 13 Nobel prize winners, and with students from around the world, creates a vibrant, international atmosphere in the city. Leiden is also famous as the birthplace of Rembrandt and played a pivotal role in the Dutch revolt against the Spanish occupation in the 16th century.
These days, visitors can stroll around the picturesque canals and the city’s ‘hofjes’ (courtyards), visit the Leiden Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus Leiden), the Burcht (Castle) of Leiden and the Pieterskerk (which is especially interesting for American visitors due to its connection with the earliest Pilgrims). One hotel in Leiden I can recommend is the Boutique Hotel d’Oude Moorsch.
Haarlem is another historic city that’s perfect for a day trip from Amsterdam. It’s a joy to walk along the beautiful medieval cobblestone streets and charming canals but there’s much more to see in Haarlem. The Cathedral of Saint Bavo is one of the must-sees in Haarlem. This Gothic cathedral in the city centre is famous for its 18th century Müller Organ; the likes of Händel and Mozart once played this world-famous organ. Haarlem is also home to important art museums such as the Teylers Museum and the Frans Hals Museum, dedicated to the famous master. Another must-visit is the historic De Adriaan Windmill (dating from 1779). If you plan to stay in Haarlem, I can recommend Amrath Grand Hotel Frans Hals (across from the St. Bavo), or Boutiquehotel Staats or Hotel Lion D’or (both situated near the station).
Delft is a gorgeous town situated between The Hague and Rotterdam. Famous the world over for its blue ceramics and as the birthplace of the artist, Johannes Vermeer, Delft is an easy day-trip from Amsterdam. Stroll around the canals (in the summer months the location of an open-air antique market), visit the Vermeer Centre and see how Delft Blue ceramics are made in this lovely city. In addition, I recommend visiting the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) where the burial vault of the Dutch Royal family is located. A guided walk of Delft shows visitors the many fascinating aspects of this city. Read more about things to see in Delft.
If you’re short on time and want to pack as many sights in as possible, you can opt to join a full-day tour of Delft, The Hague and Rotterdam.
Spring tulip fields
The famous tulip fields of South Holland and the Keukenhof Gardens are a short drive from Amsterdam. Situated around the towns of Lisse and Hillegom, southwest of Amsterdam, the tulip fields are a sight to behold each spring. I recommend joining a tour that includes a drive around the fields and a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens. This tour includes a visit to a flower bulb farm, whilst this tour combines the tulip fields, Keukenhof Gardens with a visit to historic Delft. Alternatively, you can make your way to Lisse or Hillegom by train and hire a bicycle to see the tulip fields on your own. The best month to see the tulips is April (around mid- to late-April is best).
Note: please refrain from crossing the tulip fields on your own without the owner’s permission, and disturbing/plucking the flowers.
Rotterdam and the windmills of Kinderdijk
Rotterdam is a vibrant city that’s unlike other cities in the Netherlands. During WWII, the city suffered devastating bombings and the post-war reconstruction didn’t do much aesthetically. However, in the past decade or so, Rotterdam has experienced somewhat of a renaissance. Beautiful skyscrapers have created a new skyline and the culinary and cultural landscape has blossomed. Countless new urban, cultural and tourism-related initiatives have made Rotterdam a fascinating city to visit.
There are stunning museums such as the world-class Booijmans van Beuningen and the KunstHal (contemporary art), the equally-stunning Markthal (central market), the vibrant Witte de With Quarter (with its many bars and restaurants) and the famous Cube Houses, a Rotterdam icon. Visitors can go on a harbour tour to see Europe’s largest port or join a architecture walking tour to discover Rotterdam’s architectural gems. There are lots of things to see in Rotterdam that will keep you busy for one or more days.
From Rotterdam, visitors can take the Waterbus to another UNESCO World Heritage site: Kinderdijk. This site, with its nineteen 18th-century windmills, is famous the world over. If you’re short on time, you can opt to join a tour from Amsterdam that includes both Rotterdam and the Kinderdijk windmills or only the Kinderdijk windmills.
Amersfoort is a charming medieval city with picturesque canals, old city walls and quaint houses. Situated less than an hour away by train, Amersfoort is another great day trip from Amsterdam. The historic city centre is very compact so you can stroll around at a leisurely pace to soak up the medieval atmosphere. Interesting places to visit in Amersfoort include the Koppelpoort (one of the medieval city gates), Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren (Our Lady tower, the 3rd tallest church tower in the Netherlands), the Muurhuizen (beautiful houses along the old city wall) and the Mondriaan House (the birthplace of the famous Dutch artist). Read more about things to do in Amersfoort.
Hoge Veluwe National Park and Van Gogh
The Hoge Veluwe is the largest national park in the Netherlands, with mile after mile of woodlands, sandy dunes and heathland. The park is popular with the Dutch who come here to hike, spot wildlife and picnic. In its heart lies, extraordinarily, the world’s second-largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam)! The Kröller-Müller Museum is one of the country’s most prominent museums and houses an impressive collection of Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet and many other famous artists. The museum is surrounded by expansive parklands filled with sculptures and other art installations. A visit to the museum can easily be combined with a walk or bike ride in the national park. You can join a tour from Amsterdam to the Kroller-Muller Museum or a tour that combines both the park and the museum.
The historic towns north of Amsterdam
The region north of Amsterdam has many quaint, historic towns which make for a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. During the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), some of these towns such as Volendam and Edam, rose to prominence as important fishing, trading and shipbuilding posts. If you have a car, I recommend driving to Durgerdam, just across the Ij-Harbour, and continuing along the Markermeer coast to the island of Marken (connected to the mainland by a dike). From here, it’s a short drive to the historic towns of Monnickendam, Volendam and Edam (famous for its cheese). You can opt to continue further north to another historic town: Hoorn, which has a beautiful historic centre and is the location of the Westfries Museum (that showcases the Dutch Golden Age).
You can also rent a bike in Amsterdam and cycle the same route to Durgerdam (cross the Ij-Harbour by means of the free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to Ijplein, then cycle to Durgerdam) and continue north along the Markermeer lake towards Monnickendam and/or Marken.
There are also tours from Amsterdam you can join such as this full-day tour that covers Marken, Volendam and Edam. Or this tour that takes visitors to Volendam and the famous windmill village of Zaanse Schans, or this half-day tour that covers Volendam, Marken and Zaanse Schans.
Vecht River and Haarzuilens
The Vecht River is a picturesque river that lies southeast of Amsterdam. Along its banks are quaint towns such as Muiden, Weesp and Loenen aan de Vecht, as well as historic villas and castles built by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. There are various castles to visit such as the medieval Muiderslot (or Amsterdam Castle), Nijenrode (a beautiful castle that is now home to a renowned university) and the fairy-tale like De Haar Castle in Haarzuilens.
The stretch of the Vecht River between the towns of Loenen aan de Vecht and Breukelen, with its stunning villas, is especially photogenic. From there, cross the A2 highway to the charming village of Haarzuilens and the imposing De Haar Castle (approximately 30 minutes drive from Amsterdam). The best way to explore this region is by car (or bicycle for the very active) but you can also opt for a tour which covers some of these castles and towns.
Giethoorn, the ‘Venice of the Netherlands, is a popular day trip from Amsterdam. This historic village is famous the world over for its charming canals, 150+ bridges and thatched roof houses. The only mode of transport around this village is by boat. Giethoorn is a very popular tourist attraction so I only recommend visiting the village during the off-peak seasons. From Amsterdam, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive or 2 hours by public transport (train/bus) to Giethoorn. You can also join a day tour from Amsterdam.
Zwolle and Hattem
Zwolle is an ancient city northeast of Amsterdam that experienced its Golden Age in the 15th century. The city thrived on trade and joined the Hanseatic League (a commercial and defensive confederation that encompassed major merchant cities in northern Europe, from the Baltics, Scandinavia and Germany to the Netherlands) in the 13th century.
The capital of the province of Overijssel, Zwolle is a lovely town to explore on foot. Major highlights include the Museum de Fundatie (with its extraordinary ‘egg’ atop a historic palace), the Sassenpoort (a 15th century tower gate), the Grote Kerk (Big Church), the Peperbus church tower and remnants of the ancient city walls. Zwolle also has the distinction of having the best restaurant in the country: De Librije, an excellent 3-Michelin star restaurant.
Just across the Ijssel River lies the picturesque town of Hattem. Hattem makes for an interesting side trip from Zwolle if only to walk around its charming streets. For art lovers, this small town is home to the Anton Pieck Museum dedicated to the famous 20th century artist. There are frequent buses from Zwolle Station to Hattem (about 30 minutes).
Arnhem is, similar to Zwolle, another historic riverside city that was a member of the Hanseatic League. Situated east of Amsterdam near the border with Germany, Arnhem is a gorgeous city spread out across gentle rolling hills, which is quite uncharacteristic for the mostly low-lying, flat landscape of the Netherlands. The historic city centre is easy to explore whilst the suburbs, with its beautiful parklands, are home to famous attractions such as the Burgers Zoo (one of the largest in the country) and the Openlucht Museum (Open-air museum). Arnhem is also the eastern gateway to the Hoge Veluwe National Park.
There you go! These are my twelve suggestions for Amsterdam day trips. I hope you’ll venture out from Amsterdam and visit some of these places.