We are headed to the Netherlands for the first time in March and will have our children (11 and 9). We plan to do a day trip to Amsterdam but overall desire to have an experience that is a little more off the beaten path. We prefer meandering streets and exploring towns to museums and are hoping to have our time there be relaxing. We only have four days. Where would you recommend as home base?
We are going for the first time in April and based on lots of reading and researching chose Haarlem as our base.
We stayed in Haarlem last year for 5 nights - spent a day in Amsterdam, a day in Ghent, a day in Bruges and the rest of the time in Haarlem. It has canals, cobbled streets, a nice town square and a working windmill!! Basing ourselves in Haarlem rather than Amsterdam made Ghent and Bruges super easy as they are on the same train line and closer than if we were in Amsterdam.
We have also stayed in Amsterdam previously and much prefer Haarlem. The main reason is to avoid the drunk/druggie backpackers in Amsterdam.
I've spent more time in Amsterdam than anywhere else, but I have stayed in both Haarlem and Leiden. I've only been on a short tour of Delft.
I'm sure you have or will research all the places you list, but just in case, you'll find all but Leiden linked in the information on the Netherlands right here on this Rick Steves website.
Bummer, because I was going to recommend
Leiden! So, here's a link to information about it. My favorite thing there is the Museum De Valk which really is more windmill than museum. You can explore all the levels inside and go outside on the level where the windmill blades are.
Be sure to check the world weather at timeanddate.com before you go. You can see the actual past weather data for the days you will be in the Netherlands as well as the forecast for while you are there. Based on my experience, it will be cold. Pack accordingly.
I might be somewhat biased, but Leiden would indeed make a good base. It has, after Amsterdam, the largest historical centre in this part of the Netherlands with a lot of canals to walk along, small alleys to get lost, and a huge market right in the centre on Saturdays, and still very untouristy. This website gives an impression of what to expect.
It is only 20 mins from Schiphol airport, 40 mins from Amsterdam, and cities like the Hague, Delft and Haarlem are all around the corner with trains running at least 4 times per hour.
My preference for a good base would be Leiden too. I like the convenience of its train station to the city center, canals, cobble streets, restaurants, bike paths easily leading out to the dunes/sea, tulip fields in the right time of the year, trains to interesting cities both north and south for day trips.
Haarlem is gorgeous but very small. So you could wander the streets for a day or so and run out of streets! Haarlem is useful as an alternaive to staying in Amsterdam as it's only 20 minutes away on a train. But if you're only going to Amsterdam for 1 day then that's not really important.
Delft is very picturesque to walk around and has canals in the centre which is something that Haarlem lacks. It's an hour from Amsterdam on the train so a slightly longer journey on the train for you Amsterdam day out.
Every Thursday in Delf tthere is a market on the main square with over 100 stall s with all sorts, so nice to browse if you are there on a Thursday.
Looking for an apartment during June and July. We're an older couple who like the arts and culture. Where should we live in Amsterdam? Or, should we go to Haarlem?
For Amsterdam I recommend the PIJP area. Close to the Metro & trams , easy walk to the Rijksmuseum with a large collection of Rembrandt paintings and more of course . I believe that kids are free . The Albert Cuyp market is large and fun and has just about everything. and is in the center of the PIJP. with many old streets and history . For the kids and you too I highly recommend a trip to the " This is Holland " 5-D show . It's behind the Central Station , take the FREE ferry to the north side of Amsterdam and you'll see a very tall building with the name This is Holland on it .. For hours you can go to their website .On a rainy day it's the perfect place to go to the Rijks or This is Holland .
And for meandering streets ; plenty of those in Amsterdam because it is a very walkable city. My twin grandkids ( 11 years old ) loved Amsterdam because we needed no car but walked or took public transport . Where we live , just outside St. Louis , Missouri , you need a car for everything .But in Amsterdam the kids even walked by themselves to the A.C. market and Dunkin Donut shop.!
For more history the city center is it.
Thank you all so much for your responses! They have been very helpful as we plan our trip.
On our last trip to the Netherlands we spent a week in beautiful Leiden. It was a perfect and easy base for day trips.
I agree with the above comments, Leiden is a beautiful town to have as a base better than Haarlem. Here is my idea for a day trip. A wonderful city to meander through is 's-Hertogenbosch (many just call it Den Bos). It has fabulous cobbled streets and a walled city center. The market square is beautiful with many shops and places to eat. We visited and wished we had given ourselves more time to walk around. For a day trip with your children, I would recommend renting a car for the day. First visit Camp Vught National Memorial, (just outside of 's-Hertogenbosch, it opens at 10am) it was a German Concentration Camp in the Netherlands during World War II. Interesting to see. It will keep your kids attention. Then head to the market square in 's-Hertogenbosch. Have lunch, walk around. Do the canal tour. The canals here are different than Amsterdam or Leiden because they go under the city and at night, in the olden days, they would shut the doors to the canal entrances so outsiders could not get into the city. The only problem with this tour for your family is that it is in Dutch. Ask them if you can go on a tour with someone who can explain in English. When you are finished in 's-Hertogenbosch stop in Heusden. The city is in the shape of a star with a moat around the entire town. This is very small town compared to 's-Hertogenbosch. Again nice streets to walk down. Have dinner at De Pannekoekenbakker in Heusden, they have a great variety of Dutch Pancakes, yea you can eat them for dinner. Again your children will like this. Here is the address Vismarkt 4, Heusden (They put the street name before the number). Enjoy!