Amersfoort is a historic city, less than an hour’s drive (or a train ride) from Amsterdam (map). It’s a charming medieval city with picturesque canals, old city walls and quaint houses. I recently spent two days in Amersfoort and had a fabulous time strolling around the historic city centre. I quickly discovered many things to see in Amersfoort! Here are the main attractions in Amersfoort which I visited:
I guess because of its medieval history and architecture, Amersfoort sometimes reminds me of its more famous medieval sister, Bruges (in Belgium), though it’s a lot quieter and less touristy. Amersfoort lies in the geographic centre of the Netherlands and due to its favourable geography, has excellent road and rail connections, making it one of the top places to visit near Amsterdam.
Things to see in Amersfoort
The best way to explore Amersfoort is to simply stroll around as the historic city centre is very compact. From the central station, it’s about a ten minute walk to reach the city centre. The Utrechtsestraat (Utrecht Street) is the main thoroughfare, a pedestrian-only street with many shops, cafés and restaurants. This street continues as the Langestraat (Long Street) in the medieval city centre.
I suggest using the Langestraat as an orientation point but venture into the lanes and along the canals on both sides of this street. Here are some of the most important things to see in Amersfoort:
Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren
Amersfoort’s most famous landmark is the 15th century Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren (Our Lady tower) or as the locals lovingly call it, Langejan (Long John). This 98-meter tall tower is the third-tallest church tower in the Netherlands, and stands in the geographic centre of the country. It was built, along with a church, to commemorate the Maria Miracle (a little wooden statue which made ‘miraculous’ things happen) as Amersfoort became an important pilgrimage site. The church was destroyed in an explosion in 1787 but the tower still stands proud. It’s also possible to climb the tower for panoramic views of Amersfoort.
Medieval walls and gates
Amersfoort was granted city rights in the 13th century. During this time, a ring of defensive walls and moats were built. Less than a hundred years later, as the city grew, a second wall was built along with towers and elaborate gates, much of which can still be seen today. The most famous gate is arguably the beautiful Koppelpoort, a unique medieval structure as it is both a land and water gate.
If you enjoy craft beers, there’s a brewery located a stone’s throw away from the Koppelpoort called Stadsbrouwerij De Drie Ringen (Three Rings Brewery).
Other medieval gates to visit during your stroll are the Kamperbinnenpoort and the Monnikendamwaterpoort.
When the second wall was built, the city decided to demolish the first wall and build rows of houses on the old foundations. These houses, called Muurhuizen (Wall Houses), still function as homes. I loved walking along this street with its charming houses.
Hof and Sint Joriskerk
The Hof (Garden) is the largest square in Amersfoort and can trace its history back to the 12th century. These days, it’s a lively square lined by numerous cafés, bars and restaurants. There’s a bustling market every Friday and Saturday, and the square is also the venue for open-air concerts and festivals in the summer. Overlooking the Hof is the imposing 15th century Sint Joriskerk (St. George’s Church). The church has a beautiful Gothic interior that’s absolutely worth seeing.
There are various medieval houses in Amersfoort which are absolute gems. Some of them are private homes, whilst some are small museums, cafés, restaurants or bars. One of my favourites is the Café Onder de Linden, which has been a café since 1855. Another beautiful medieval house is the 15th century Kapelhuis (Chapel House) which functioned as a chapel for pilgrims who visited Amersfoort.
The Amersfoort canals
The canal system in Amersfoort is pretty straightforward: it consists of a ring canal that encircles the medieval city centre and the Langegracht canal which cuts through the centre. Despite its simplicity, it excels in picturesque scenes. One of the best things to do in Amersfoort is to leisurely stroll along the canals and take in the gorgeous sights. The Langegracht, with its historic buildings and canalside cafés, is particularly charming. You can also opt to go on a canal cruise to see Amersfoort from the water.
Amersfoort is also the birthplace of the famous Dutch artist, Piet Mondriaan. The house where he was born is now a museum, the Mondriaan House, a must-visit for fans of Mondriaan’s abstract art and geometric designs.
Situated in three beautiful medieval houses, the Flehite Museum showcases the rich history of Amersfoort and the Eemlands.
Just outside the medieval centre, along the Eem River, is an old industrial area that has been redeveloped, with some exciting new attractions. The main attraction is the Kunsthal KAdE, a museum for modern art, architecture and design.
Some excellent restaurants can also be found in this area, such as De Saffraan (a fine-dining restaurant on a barge) and Hoog Vuur (located in an old factory and known for its oven-cooked high-grade meats).
An alternative base to visit Amsterdam
You can quite easily see the main attractions of Amersfoort in a day but I suggest staying a night or two to experience its charming character by night. In fact, Amersfoort makes for a terrific alternative base if you’re visiting Amsterdam. The accommodations are significantly cheaper than Amsterdam and Amersfoort is less than an hour away by train (48 minutes to be exact!) to Amsterdam Central Station, with trains leaving every few minutes (cost €9.10, one-way). Furthermore, in addition to modern hotels like NH Amersfoort (conveniently located between the train station and the medieval centre) and Mercure Amersfoort, you can also opt to stay in historic buildings such as Hotel de Tabaksplant, in charming B&B’s such as B&B In Negentienvijf, or even on a barge such as B&B Woonschip Robbedoes or B&B Vita Nova (links via Booking.com).