Day Trips from Amsterdam

In a country the size of a postage stamp, it’s easy to hop on a train that will take you from the buzzing capital to iconic windmills, dazzling blooms and sandy beaches in less than an hour. To see the real Holland of emerald plains and verdant meadows studded with dykes and dunes, get out to the countryside, where you’ll find kitschy Dutch gardens, plump cows, day-glow tulips and families of swans gliding along carefully constructed polders.

A four-kilometer seaside promenade is the perfect place for a stroll at Scheveningen, a beach resort in Den Haag’s wealthy northernmost district. In addition to a sandy beach, colorful esplanade, pier and the Scheveningen lighthouse, there’s a Sea Life aquarium, Pathé cinema, the Steigenberger Kurhaus music theater, Scheveningen Museum and a casino. Trendy clubs, restaurants, surf schools and other water sports options line the wide Noorderstrand (North Beach) boulevard. After a three-year metamorphoses completed in 2013, the beach-side stretch offers the best of sun, sand and surf on Holland’s western coastline. Giant sculptures by the sea add a whimsical touch, while numerous bars and eating establishments provide spots to grab a drink or a meal while watching the action in the harbor.
Binnenhof 22, 2513 AA Den Haag, Netherlands
Den Haag grew up around the Binnenhof, but has evolved into a cultured and sophisticated city with attractions that extend far beyond its governmental functions. Still, the courtyard created by its government buildings is one of the top 100 among Dutch UNESCO monuments. If you’d like to see Dutch politics in action, you’re in luck if you’re visiting Den Haag on a Tuesday, when one-hour guided tours are offered at 13:00. In addition to touring buildings that surround the Binnenhof, you can sit in the public gallery and participate in lively discussion about proposed legislation.
Strandweg 13, 2586 JK Den Haag, Netherlands
Among the most popular attractions for kids of all ages on the Scheveningen esplanade is SEA LIFE, home to more than 200 sea creature species and over 4,000 individual aquatic animals. At an interactive rock pool, see sharks, turtles, stingrays, clownfish, jellyfish and dangerous piranhas up close and personal. Touch live anemones, hold a hermit crab, and see stars at a collection of knobbed, chocalate chip and sunflower starfish. Discover what other creatures inhabit waters along the Dutch coastline, including dolphins, otters and rare turtles. In 2013, SEA LIFE Scheveningen was honored with ZooSite’s “most special birth” award, recognizing the arrival of Titulus, a black tip reef shark who now swims around in a special cage in SEALIFE’s ocean tank. The aquarium is a pioneer in seahorse breeding, having spawned nine different species over the past two decades. Exhibits are stocked with starfish bred in the park, so none are ever taken from the wild for exhibition purposes. Through extensive breeding, SEALIFE aims to save starfish and other endangered sea creatures from extinction. With its sister brand, Seal Sanctuaries, it annually rescues, cares for and returns more than 100 orphaned, injured and sick seal pups to the wild.
Lange Poten 4, 2511 CL Den Haag, Netherlands
Tweede Kamer (literally, Second Room), serves as the Dutch House of Representatives or lower house of Holland’s Parliament. It has 150 seats, filled through democratic election. Meetings take place in this building in The Binnenhof courtyard, geographic center of Dutch politics. After legislation is approved by a majority in the Tweede Kamer, it moves on to the Senate. In addition to functioning as a place for debate about Dutch legislation, The Tweede Kamer also is responsible for selecting the first round of judges when vacancies occur in the Netherlands’ Supreme Court.
Zaanse Schans, 1509 Zaandam, Netherlands
On the banks of the river Zaan, time stopped three centuries ago at Zaanse Schans. In this recreation of a Dutch village in the 17th–18th centuries, stroll down streets lined with typical green wooden houses, manicured gardens and graceful bridges. Poke into tradesmen’s workshops, historic windmills and tiny boutiques. See how wooden clogs are made and watch pewter jewelry fashioned before your eyes. Discover how artisanal Dutch cheese is crafted and purchase a wheel of Gouda or Edam to take home. Refuel with coffee and apple pie in one of numerous restaurants within the village. Explore a few museums and round off your visit with a boat trip on the river. Although several museums at Zaanse Schans charge for admission, there’s no entry fee at the popular tourist attraction created by relocating houses, windmills, storehouses and barns to form a replica of a typical Zaanse village. Alongside clusters of windmills, characteristic wooden houses and unique shops, traditional Dutch crafts are showcased and the lifestyles of people who lived in Holland long before sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll entered the picture are revealed.
According to a popular saying in Holland, “Money is earned in Rotterdam, divided in Den Haag and spent in Amsterdam.” To see where financial division happens in the Netherlands, head for the country’s seat of government: The Hague or Den Haag, as the Dutch call it. Den Haag is a cultured city with just under 500,000 people―less edgy than Amsterdam but more sophisticated than Rotterdam. Amsterdam may be the capital of Holland, but you’ll find the Dutch Parliament, Supreme Court and Council of State in Den Haag. In addition to being the seat of government, the Netherlands’ third largest city (after Amsterdam and Rotterdam) also is the locale for 150 international courts, foreign embassies and international organizations. As home to the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, it’s among six major cities that hosts the United Nations, along with New York, Vienna, Geneva, Tokyo and Nairobi.
George Maduroplein 1, 2584 RZ Den Haag, Netherlands
If visiting a miniature version of a country the size of a postage stamp makes no sense to you, stay away from Madurodam, a top tourist attraction in Den Haag featuring historic Dutch towns, ports, canals, roads and monuments re-created on a 1/25 scale. On the other hand, if you fancy learning about the history of a nation that would be underwater were it not for Dutch ingenuity, by all means visit this interactive park that tells the story behind the battle against water, as well as many historic venues that still exist in Holland today.
313 Legmeerdijk
Just outside of Amsterdam near the airport quietly sits the largest flower market in the world. Aalsmeer Flower Auction (otherwise known as FloraHolland) is the Wall Street of Flowers where everyday 20 million flowers and plants follow a carefully choreographed dance through a gigantic distribution center and auction halls. And the best part - they allow visitors to come watch these flowers arrive from Kenya, speed through the facility, and end up in New York City the same day. For a small entry fee of €5 - you can walk the catwalk of this enormous facility and be swept up in the movement below you. Make sure you go early in the morning to get the full effect. As I watched from above I realized everything was moving…even the catwalk vibrated. The place was in a constant state of motion everywhere you looked. And then you can’t help but notice the smell wafting up to greet your nose. Bundles of roses, daisies, irises, lilies, and hydrangeas in containers were being wheeled around by trolley train below you. The auction and facility is the largest in the world and if you are looking for something totally unique to see in Amsterdam - then follow your nose to the flowers!
2961 Kinderdijk, Netherlands
When waterways in the Netherlands freeze into glittering paths, overjoyed residents take to the ice. Visitors can buy or rent a pair of noren (traditional long-blade skates) to glide across town or take part in one of the country’s dozens of tochten, organized tours or races held throughout the nation’s 2,200 miles of canals. Check the local newspaper or the website for route announcements. Ice skating along the frozen lanes also provides a chance to marvel at how the canals have shaped the landscape. Because a quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the Dutch have relied on drainage systems to keep their heads above water. Skate the molentocht, or mill tour, in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk (pictured) to see 19 windmills that once pumped water from the lowlands into the surrounding reservoirs. The historic village about 15 miles from Rotterdam is a peaceful setting for one of the country’s favorite winter pastimes. If you travel to Kinderdijk to skate the molentocht, reserve a room at the Pincoffs Suite Hotel in Rotterdam. Stieltjesstraat 34, 31/(0) 10-297-4500. This appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.
Voldersgracht, 2611 EV Delft, Netherlands
Not a fan of Amsterdam‘s chaotic flow of bikes, trams and cars? Nor a fan of its incessant bustle? Well, dear travelers, I’m happy to report that there is a solution. It’s called Delft, and it will rock your socks. This small village is pretty much everything you imagine Holland to be - crooked houses, cobblestone streets, charming canals, smelly cheeses and large public squares. Minus the massive crowds and the hustle of the capital. I completely, utterly fell in love with Delft. It was just what I needed after an exhausting and busy week in Amsterdam - I was more than happy to stroll in the quaint alleys and hang out in the candle and dark wood clad coffeeshops. The locals were always more than happy to chat over a hot chocolate about all things travel, and their gorgeous little town. If you only had one stop to make in all of the Netherlands, I would immediately suggest Delft over any other city - it will definitely be worth your while.
Alblasserdam, Netherlands
This is the last place in the Netherlands where you can see windmills in their original locations. We were there in February, which meant they didn’t have any up and running, but that also meant it wasn’t crowded. Just joggers and walkers out on the paths. Before we visited, I thought that windmills were kind of touristy. But they play a fascinating role in the history of the country, and seeing them out there, and imagining a country covered with them, makes you realize what an integral part they played. We visited from Delft. Took a short train ride to Rotterdam and then a bus.

Maastricht, Netherlands
Every February many European countries are hosting carnivals where everybody participates, young and old. This year was our first time to one and we were lucky enough to see the one in Maastricht, Netherlands. What a delight that was, it made the cold weather pass unnoticed. We will go again next year and so should you!
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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