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The best day trips from Amsterdam

From the historical Zaanse Schans to the colourful flowers at Keukenhof, here are the best day trips from Amsterdam
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By Derek Robertson |
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Amsterdam benefits from being a relatively compact, well-organized city with lots of delicious restaurant and things-to-do options: the perfect destination for a three-day trip. But if you have more time on your hands, already visited all the best museums and attractions in town, or are just experiencing a burning desire to explore beyond the city confines, there are plenty of great day trips to embark on, from the riot of colourful flowers at Keukenhof in the south west to the quaint, historical splendor of Zaanse Schans just a short trip north.

To the south, within easy reach by train, lies the pretty, mediaeval University town of Utrecht and the industrial and cultural powerhouse that is Rotterdam, a vibrant and exciting destination in its own right. For a more laid back escape, head all the way north to the province of Friesland to visit Vlieland, a picturesque island and nature reserve where cars are banned and you can wander along beaches, windswept dunes and marshland. 

Best day trips from Amsterdam

1
Utrecht
Photograph: Courtesy cc/flickr/hans permana

Utrecht

This lively little mediaeval gem is ike a mini-Amsterdam, its beautiful canals and gorgeous little streets untroubled by hordes of selfie-stick wielding tourists. The picturesque Old Town is full of cool independent boutiques, bustling cafes and bars, and converted, waterside wharf cellars, and it’s no slouch when it comes to culture either: some of the best art and music can be found alongside the hundreds of historical monuments, adding to the rich tapestry that makes Utrecht so special.

EAT
The chic, cavernous industrial space occupied by De Zagerij caters to every whim: morning coffee, cocktails, quick and tasty lunches, or a full, five-course à la carte experience. The food is modern with a twist, made using only the freshest ingredients.

DRINK
Utrecht is a beer lover’s paradise and there’s nowhere better to sip a few ales than Café Olivier, a converted church that offers a huge range of brews both on tap and in bottles. Pro tip: order Belgian beer, their specialty.

DO
The best way to take in the magnificent Old Town—particularly Oudegracht—is from the water, and you needn’t restrict yourself to traditional canal tours (although they are great). Kayaks, pedaloes and even gondolas are available for rent at various points in the city centre.

STAY
Located in a historic, 17th century mansion that used to be an eye hospital, the 36 rooms of the Eye Hotel are stylish yet homely and come in a variety of sizes to suit all budgets. Details such as walk-in showers and Nespresso machines make it a comfortable base for a day or two of exploring.

If you do just one thing…
Climb Dom Tower. Known as the “pride of Utrecht,” 465 steps will take you the 95 metres to the top of the Netherlands’ highest church tower, where you’ll be rewarded with amazing views across the city and beyond. The guided tour also takes in the huge bells in the Ringing Attic and the stunning St. Michael’s Chapel.

2
Keukenhof
Photograph: Courtesy cc/flickr/nuria mpascual

Keukenhof

Known as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is home to one of the world’s largest flower gardens: 79 colourful acres of blooms that are created by planting 7 million bulbs per year. While primarily famous for its tulips, with over 800 varieties, there’s plenty more to discover here. The last ten days of the opening season are taken up by the world’s largest lily show. Open from mid-March to mid-May, April is the best time to see the tulips in all their wondrous glory.

EAT
For the best food in the area, head to Vier Seizonenen, a family-run restaurant that serves classic French cuisine with a touch of the orient. Dinner is à la carte and the set lunch menu is enticing as well, both of which take advantage of great local and seasonal produce.

DRINK
The small, quirky Het Café in nearby Lisse is a throwback to the Dutch “brown bars” of yore. Bar games, hefty food portions and a cosy atmosphere make this a great place to quench your thirst after a day’s exploring. They even host karaoke during the weekend.

DO
If exploring the official garden is not a physical enough activity for you, opt to rent a bike and cycle through the commercial bulb fields that surround Keukenhof. There are several routes to choose from (ranging from 4km to 7km) and whizzing past tulips in full bloom on two wheels is just about the most Dutch experience possible.

STAY
A traditional, small inn located in nearby Lisse, Het Wapen van Noordwijkerhout is known for its friendly, helpful staff, warm welcome and great value. Parking is free and the breakfast spread is sumptuous (as is all the food served here).

If you do just one thing…
Visit Keukenhof Castle. Right over the road from the gardens, it was completely restored to its former, lavish glory in 2012. Entry includes a 30-minute guided tour and there’s also a petting zoo for kids and a teahouse for those in need of some refreshment.

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3
Zaanse Schans
Photograph: Courtesy cc/flickr/kismihok

Zaanse Schans

Take a trip back in time at Zaanse Schans, a perfectly preserved relic of the Netherlands’ industrial heyday of the 18th and 19th century. One of the country’s most loved attractions, the area’s windmills, warehouses and traditional houses have been turned into museums and workshops showcasing a variety of trades and customs: visit a cheese farm, see flour being made the traditional way or watch clog makers go about the business of crafting wooden shoes. Fun and educational, it’s a unique experience and a glimpse into the skills of the bygone era that made the country what it is today.

EAT
Listed on the Michelin Guide for over 40 years, De Hoop Op d’Swarte Walvis in its current incarnation serves contemporary Dutch cuisine made with regional produce. The waterside location—the terrace overlooks the world-famous windmill panorama—is stunning and you can dine in the bar, brasserie or restaurant proper.

DRINK
It’s fitting that an area so steeped in production, particularly of food stuff, should have its own microbrewery, and Brouwerij Hoop doesn’t disappoint. The small batch craft ales and beers are excellent, as are the bar snacks if you suddenly feel peckish.

DO
There’s no quirkier gift than a pair of traditional wooden shoes and, at Kooijman, you can witness the whole process “from log to clog,” using 80-year-old machinery and deft hand-crafting skills. Of course, you should purchase your very own pair.

STAY
Boasting wonderful views over the river, the rooms at Heerlijck Slaapen, a B&B made up of several restored 17th century villas, each have a distinct feel and theme, and come furnished with antiques, fine Dutch craftsmanship and luxurious bathrooms.

If you do just one thing…
Marvel at a working windmill. There are six still functioning mills here: a mustard mill, two sawmills, two oil mills and the world’s last working dye mill. Most of them offer a historical exhibition and the chance to climb up to the outdoor viewing platform.

4
Rotterdam
Photograph: Shutterstock

Rotterdam

The Netherlands’ second biggest city has a modern, distinctive feel, born out of the huge rebuilding projects undertaken after World War II (it was virtually razed to the ground back then). A true architectural marvel, some of the 20th century’s most renowned architects have built here, and its unique character is shared by the local people: an enthusiastic, can-do bunch that has ensured that, both economically and culturally, the city has kept pace with the country’s more celebrated northern conurbations, and that it remains a vibrant destination in its own right.

EAT
You’ll find many great restaurants here but for a real local flavour head to Markthal, the food hall located inside a stunning residential and office building. The various stalls and eateries cover everything from sushi to tapas, from pizza to vegan salads; should you wish to do some grocery shopping, there’s also an excellent selection of local purveyors here.

DRINK
Hail a water cab and ride out to the SS Rotterdam, a former ocean liner that now houses a hotel, various bars, restaurants, a nightclub and a museum. The Captain’s Bar, an homage to luxury 1950’s cruising, is the place to sup decadent cocktails and killer gin and tonics.

DO
Explore the historic Maritime Quarter, the only part of the city spared from World War II bombing. Admire the riverside’s most iconic buildings and enjoy a unique view of the largest port in Europe from the water while on a harbor tour. Booking is essential.

STAY
Housed in the former HQ of the Holland Amerika Line Company, the Hotel New York is an art nouveau wonder that’s a throwback to a bygone era of luxury and class. Rooms are tasteful and elegant, and faithful to the original spirit of the building.

If you do just one thing…
Climb the Euromast. Built as an observation tower in 1960, the various levels offer incredible views of the city. At 112 metres, there’s an open-air platform while a rotating glass elevator takes you up 185 metres where you’ll get to revel in the best panoramas in the country.

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5
Vlieland
Photograph: Courtesy cc/flickr/Dutch Astrid

Vlieland

The Netherlands is not particularly known for its nature, yet it boasts several areas of incredible natural beauty and wildlife. Vlieland, an island in the north of the country, is one of the most beautiful, full of sand dunes, meadows and marshland. Cars are banned and there’s only one town, making it the perfect escape for those looking to wind down for a day or two with the option to embark on adventures of the rugged kind. Be sure to take the fast ferry (45 minutes!) from the mainland to maximize your time.

EAT
In the cosy confines of Zuiver, there is only one option: a five-course “surprise” menu that changes daily and showcases the best local and seasonal produce. The food is consistently excellent, and it’s worth shelling out for the accompanying wine pairings.

DRINK
There’s not much in the way of nightlife here but, for sundowners with the best view, Strandpaviljoen ‘t Badhuys—the island's only beach bar—is the place to be. Grab a table on the terrace, where you’re just a few feet from the golden sands.

DO
If time is of the essence, book a Tuk Tuk Safari, a guided tour of the whole island in a special, electric tuk tuk. Lasting 90 minutes and complete with witty, informative drivers, the tour takes in the breathtaking views and unique wildlife of the island. Expect to see seals, birds of prey and the most dramatic cloud formations imaginable.

STAY
Decked out in wood and with a number of cosy rooms in a converted stable, Posthuys offers a relaxing retreat in the heart of the sand dunes, several miles from the town centre. For nature lovers, this place is hard to beat. It also happens to be just a five-minute walk away from one of the island's best beaches.

If you do just one thing…
Visit the lighthouse. No longer in use, it remains a popular attraction; on a good day, you can see the mainland from the observation deck, 40 metres up.

Explore the city like a local

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