The Netherlands might seem a tad bit small on the world map, but it could easily fill up days and weeks! Day trips in the Netherlands is the first thing we searched when we started living here. Weekends were mostly spent day tripping to different places around the country. We are living here for more than 2 years now, and still, find new things to do on weekends or nice summery evenings. Soon we developed our favorite spots around the country and visit some of these, year on year. We have also found something interesting to do here in every season.
First things first, the weather in the Netherlands is unpredictable. However, we found this to be true for a lot of countries in Europe. Being from India, we were not accustomed to seeing rains all over the year. India – Pune has a defined monsoon season and it is the most beautiful season of the year. The Netherlands completely changed our definition of rains. And let’s not talk about the wind! So, after the initial “fitting in” we now are seldom bothered by the weather. Like they say – there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. We are now always armed with an umbrella and a windcheater and off we go!
Windmills at Zaanse Schans and/or Kinderdijk
The Netherlands is defined by wind and hence windmills is an integral part of the country. It is famous for is its picturesque windmills. Now you can’t come to Holland and not visit the windmill village. That wouldn’t be fair! Our hearts always go “Awww” when we spot a windmill. Spotting a dozen of them together with a perfect countryside setting is a memory we will never forget.
Our favorite spot to see windmills is at Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk is a little village in the south of Holland. We rented a car on one of the weekends and decided to drive down to the village to see its iconic 18th-century windmills. It was about 90 minutes drive from Haarlem, and I suppose it can be reached via public transport too.
At Kinderdijk, the village was really pretty and quiet. After parking our car at one of the public parking, we walked around a bit soaking in the village vibes and reached the windmills. The UNESCO world heritage site does have an entrance fee, but we reached this place post 5 pm and hence walked in as the tourist office was closed. As a result, we weren’t able to visit any windmills but walked around the entire perimeter enjoying the views. It was a sight to behold. Some windmills also let you go in see their workings which is a really nice way to experience how the Dutch make use of the wind (well it is always windy in the Netherlands, so might as well make use of it!) We had a relaxed evening walk around the length of it, soaked in the views and clicked some pictures.
Another great place to see windmills and more popular with the tourists is Zaanse Schans. This place was much closer to Haarlem/Amsterdam and more doable as it has good public transport connections. We took the bus from Amsterdam Central station to Zaanse Schans. Here there are 5 windmills and the ‘Spice Mill’ is free and open to all to see the workings. The oil and sawmills are also open for a fee and let you go to the viewing deck if you want to enjoy a top view of the entire site. We walked around a bit, saw the spice mill which was really cool! The site also housed a cheese making factory and a wooden shoe – clog making shop(free entry). We visited both to see how cheese is made and aged, sampled the deliciously famous Dutch cheese and bought some! The wooden shoe making “show” is also quite impressive. At the entrance hall, they had a display of various shoes made for different occasions. The wedding shoes particularly stand out – nicely carved and so beautiful!
The setting of these windmills is also around the lake Zaan with the village around it. It is a beautiful day outing to walk around the mills, the village, relax at the lake, and have a picnic. We have visited Zaanse Schans multiple times now, and it does get crowded on the weekend and in the summer because of the accessibility from Amsterdam and also it’s the perfect setting. If you walk further than the spice mill and around the lake, it is easy to find some quiet and peaceful place to relax and enjoy countryside!
Netherlands and canals are synonyms for each other. Rowing a boat in the canals is another perfect way to spend an afternoon in the Netherlands.
Giethoorn is known as the Venice of the north and truly so. It a village northeast of Amsterdam and is a car-free village. The only way to navigate the village is by a boat, cycling or walking. Seeing a village from water is a totally new experience and so so worth it.
Another such weekend, we rented a car yet again, had some friends in tow and zipped off to Giethoorn to see what the hype was all about. Well, it isn’t a hype at all. We found this place to be beautiful and had a gala time rowing our boat around the tiny canals, gawking at the houses, believe me, we did not want to leave.
Giethoorn is an hour and a half drive from Amsterdam. We started pretty late and only reached by around 4 PM. This left just about an hour or so to rent a boat and explore this village. It was also a good idea to have some snacks and drinks on us to enjoy and make merry while rowing away. We couldn’t get enough of the ride but had to return the rented boat since the rental shop closes at 6 PM. We then decided to walk around a little bit – it was picturesque and we didn’t want to leave yet.
Word of Caution – We would love to go back here for more time, however, we are told that on a weekend going late is recommended to avoid the crowds and actually have a chance to rent and row a boat. Summer, weekend and public holidays tend to get too crowded and there is a traffic jam of sorts even on the canal. Ouch!
Volendam is a typical Dutch town with its characteristic authentic wooden houses, northeast of Amsterdam. It is a cute little fishing village, with a gorgeous promenade, harbor and some really amazing seafood!
A visit to Volendam is not complete without visiting the famous Dutch cheese factory on its promenade. This factory attracts thousands of tourists each year.
We visited Volendam on a lazy sunny weekend. We took the bus from Amsterdam central and reached Volendam in about 30-40 minutes. We got down in the main center and decided to walk to the harbor so that we could take in the lovely town vibe and see the village itself. Needless to say, it was quite a wonderful walk.
Once at the promenade we walked around, devouring the little houses and the hustle and bustle along the harbor. Restaurants, souvenir shops, local boutiques line up the street and make it come alive. Street food vendors also line up along the seafront serving fresh seafood and other delicacies which we hear are a must have! The Dutch obsession with Herrings is known to all, so what better place to try that in a fishing village?
We visited the cheese factory, which was great and savored some Dutch cheese. It might not be the best-priced shop to pick up Dutch cheese, but it does give you an idea of what to buy and what cheese you might like!
We then continued our walk to the harbor and towards the end of the promenade. Even prettier houses line up the seafront and it got quieter as we walked along. I guess all the tourists stay in the “shopping” area and rarely venture further away.
Later in the evening, we took a quick ferry to the Island of Marken (it is also reached by bus in the winter months, but a ferry is so much cooler!). The island is another fishing village, with an even picturesque harbor and lighthouse at the end of the town. You can rent cycles here to cycle to the lighthouse, or take a loonnggg walk to the lighthouse. Trust us – either way, it’s worth the time and effort if you are looking to spend a relaxed evening. There is also a very nice wooden shoe maker here, who is more than willing to show off his skills and demonstrate how are the famous Dutch wooden shoes made. Call in advance to let him know you want to visit. We finished our day with dinner along the harbor at Marken, overlooking the sea and a gorgeous sunset.
A beach day – Scheveningen (South Holland) or Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, Zandvoort an Zee (North Holland)
Holland is surrounded by the North Sea on its West and North. The entire West coast is lined with some great beaches, sand dunes, and beach resorts.
The winds in the country are sometimes really strong and that would not make a good beach day, however, on a nice sunny day, we get so excited to explore 2 of our favorite beaches in this country.
The beach that came up when we searched for beaches in Holland is Scheveningen in South Holland. It is a great beach and had some really cool beach shacks and beach resorts, a lovely promenade to walk, lots of activities and a shopping mall with gaming zones and casinos bang on the beach! What more could you ask for?
We first visited Scheveningen while taking a city break at The Hague, and went to this beach to see ‘Sea Life’ – a largish aquarium with sharks and lots of sea species, and to see its pier. It was a cold windy day in February and hence we couldn’t really enjoy the beach as we would have liked too. We returned to this beach a couple of times in the last 2 years, twice to see the annual fireworks festival cum competition in August/September each year or just to enjoy a long drive and a promenade and some beach vibes! This beach has it all for sure!
The other beach we have come to love and keep going back to is Zandvoort an Zee. Since we live in Haarlem, this beach is within cycling distance for us. We cycle through the Zuid-Kennemerland national park on a good sunny day – enjoying the flora and fauna, the sand dunes, a lovely lake to swim or just sit and relax or read a book by. After about 30-40 mins of cycling, we reach the beach, where we park our cycles and then stroll along the promenade or the soft golden sand watching the sunset – doing it all in true Dutch style!
The good thing about the beach at Zandvoort is, it has its own train station. On days when we want to have a quick beach getaway for a few hours, we hop on a train and within 15 mins we are at the beach to enjoy the tranquility. This beach is slowly becoming our happy place and the ‘go-to’ place when we need to quieten our minds or get out for a bit without the fuss!
Cycling or driving around in a Tulip field
Think the Netherlands think cycling. Cycles are probably the first thing we read, saw, heard, noticed, felt (basically awakened all our senses) when we started living in the Netherlands. The country is mostly reclaimed land, so almost flat and has dedicated cycle lanes, which the Dutch oh so proudly (aka dangerously) navigate. Jokes apart, cycling is the best and coolest way to explore the country. We soon jumped on the bandwagon and bought ourselves second-hand cycles. And boy did we cycle – groceries, to national parks, to beaches – we covered it all! The Netherlands has a list of scenic cycling routes! This amazes us the most.
Cycling around the tulip fields? Well, fairy tales are made of paths like those!
Tulips are the main reason millions of people visit the country in spring. April is the month to be in the Netherlands if you want to experience the gorgeously beautiful craziness of the tulips.
Keukenhof was the place recommended by Google and TripAdvisor for satisfying our tulip obsession and so we visited the gardens on Easter weekend (2016). To tell you the truth, we were underwhelmed. Don’t get us wrong, the gardens are truly beautiful; but, our favorite way to see tulips in Holland is either cycling or driving around the countryside and seeing the tulip fields.
Can’t get enough of the beauties and need more inspiration – head here: https://accidentaltrippers.com/blog/7-ways-to-enjoy-tulips-in-holland
These are our favorite things to do if you have a couple of days in Holland.If you are here for a longer period hop over to Day Trips Part II for more ideas of day trips in Holland.
We would love to hear your favorite trips around the country. Let us know in the comments where have you been already?