We're in Netherlands in early September but, for a change, we want to stay outside of Amsterdam. We're looking for small-town charm, peace and quiet, but also interesting sites and things to do: cheese market & museum, boat trips, good Indonesian (and other) food. We've heard many good things about Haarlem, Alkmaar, Gouda, Utretch, etc. I would be grateful for your ideas. Thanks!
We always stay in Haarlem at a hotel on the square next to the church. We love it. Great restaurants in the area and far more relaxing in the evening than in Amsterdam. It is convenient via bus from the airport. Do not remember any Indonesian food in the area but it could have changed recently. Some interesting museums, and art galleries in the area plus a new brewery housed in old church. (New three years ago.) We have stayed four times in the area for a total of about three weeks. From the square it is maybe ten minute walk to the train station and another ten minutes or so into Amsterdam.
Mark of the WOLTERS WORLD youtube videos usually recommends Haarlem.
Frank, would you mind sharing the name of the hotel you stayed at in Haarlem? I’m thinking about staying there next year.
Stephen, I love wolters world! 😊 He does have some great videos on the Netherlands, as well as many other places. Adding the link below to his you tube channel for anyone who might be interested.
Rick's 21 day Best of Europe tour starts in Haarlem and the Welcome dinner is usually at De Lachende Javaan Indonesian restaurant.
We just had an extended stay in Gouda and fell in love with the town and especially our Relais & Chateaux hotel - https://wshs.nl/en/ compared to Amsterdam prices, this place was a steal and breakfast was ah-mazing.
Glorious cathedral and cheese market, very central for day trips. Great shopping and quaint.
We loved Haarlem. Super quick and easy to catch the train to Amsterdam.
We returned 2 weeks ago from a one week stay in Haarlem, the last stop on a 6 week trip. I loved it and it worked great as a base. It’s easy to go anywhere you want from there, and Amsterdam is only a 20 minute train ride away. If I ever go back to that area I would base there again.
“ We've heard many good things about Haarlem, Alkmaar, Gouda, Utretch, etc. I would be grateful for your ideas.”
It all depends on what you want to see and do. If you want to limit yourself to the western part of the country, then Haarlem could be a nice base. If you also want to visit the rest of the country which is equally interesting, then Utrecht is a much more convenient base. From Utrecht, you can train to the beautiful historical hanseatic cities like Zwolle, Deventer, Kampen, Elburg, Zutphen in the eastern part of the country. Or to cities like Den Bosch, Roermond or even Maastricht in the south. Or to cities like Groningen in the north.
How about Leiden?
Don't you want a place with frequent train service, short walk from the hotel? If there were any wooden villages left from Band of Brothers, they wouldn't have a train station near them. Alas, most of the Netherlands and Belgium have lovely old city centers surrounded by banal postwar masonry redevelopment. At least it's low-rise, but it's not a small town. Rick has recommended Haarlem for years, but I'd just as soon stay in Amsterdam. I consider Leiden and Utrecht especially suitable for people who have already stayed in Amsterdam, because they are substantial cities with a more than one day of things to do. I liked them equally, but Utrecht is not on the main line of hot visits like Leiden is.
I don't know about sleeping in Alkmaar, but it's a huge tourist destination. Yes, it's very pretty. I'm not saying we didn't enjoy our daytrip there, I'm just asking if you would want to be woken up by tour busses!
We loved Deventer (for example, as mentioned in another reply), but it didn't seem like a whole-day visit. I suggest you plan for some days that you see two reasonably nearby towns by train in one day, to make the most of the day.
We just got back Monday. We based in Leiden and stayed at the Ibis at the train station. Super convenient and nice town where Rembrandt was born. We also stayed in Dortrecht and Utrecht just for single nights, and finished up in Amsterdam to meet a fellow traveler. I liked Haarlem and if we were to go again, we'd probably stay there if I needed/wanted to be close to Amsterdam, although Leiden is a really short train ride. I liked Gouda, but no need to stay there. I liked Delft, as well---well, we liked everywhere, but I would choose Leiden or Haarlem. Hard to choose, I know! Maybe look at hotel choices and go with whatever type of hotel you like for the best price. Don't think you can go wrong with either choice.
Kathy, what did you think of Dordrecht?
We have stayed in Haarlem and Delft multiple times, along with stays in Utrecht and Den Bosch. Of the lot, Haarlem has the most to see and do but we feel that Delft is simply one of the most charming towns that we have experienced. I would say Haarlem has 2 to 3 full days of sightseeing options while Delft’s top tourist sites can be knocked out in an afternoon. Delft oozes charm in the mornings and evenings, but you will likely need to head out of town (easy to do) in the afternoons if you want to hit museums and churches and the like. When in Delft, we take advantage of the close proximity to The Hague by bike, tram or train. So many top notch sights there, not to mention easy access to the sea. We also enjoyed Utrecht, as it has a cool, local vibe with many options to day trip just about anywhere due to its large train hub. Den Bosch was just okay.
roubrat, we didn't spend much time there, but it was very pretty and I wish we had a bit more time. We took the waterbus from there to Kinderdijk and it was really fun, the waterbus was super clean and nice. It's worth a stop, for sure.
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and helpful suggestions. So many great destinations to choose from ... I think we will not go wrong with any of these. Thanks again for your help!
Below I'm going to paste my standard plug for Den Bosch. It's off the Rick Steves trail, but 100% an "if you know, you go" destination.
Many positives about the places listed above, but my recommendation is different. With three days on your routing I would choose 's-Hertogenbosch, aka Den Bosch. It's a small city with a big beautiful intact historic core that is pedestrian friendly. It's a relatively affluent town, and has a deserved reputation among the Dutch as being a city with a cafe culture. People are sitting outside everywhere enjoying life. Den Bosch is south of the Rhine, and so was/is majority Catholic, and so has more of a festival culture than most neighbors to the north. It's known for its "Burgundian lifestyle," strolling, relaxing, eating and drinking outside, etc.
Den Bosch LOADED with low key tourist activities and sites for a city of its size, and most of what it offers works for children (for instance, the treasure hunt at the Hieronymus Bosch art museum is a delight, and the canal boat tour of Den Bosch's unique subterranean canal system). There's a moat around the whole town and then mostly countryside as far as the eye can see, and huge state/national parks. It's also a short bus ride from Efteling, the Dutch Disneyland that Walt Disney supposedly visited before Disneyland. Efteling is not as intense a visit as Disneyland and would be a slam dunk hit with your kids for a day. And Den Bosch itself would make a worthwhile and relaxing couple of days.
Short video from funny travel blogger Travel Gretl (and her mom I think?)
How about Leiden?
roubrat, I loved Leiden, and wish I would have stayed there a few days instead of taking a day trip. It was such a charming and beautiful place.
And I must be the only person in the world who disliked Haarlem. I enjoyed visiting the Corrie Ten Boom house but other than that, I just wanted to get out. It didn't help that I was there on an incredibly crowded and touristy day in May.
Mardee, I'm hoping I have time to visit Leiden on my upcoming trip, but not sure if I will.
Haarlem 100%! It is such a great little city. We stayed in an apartment booked through Haarlem Hotel Suites. Excellent location just down from the church, a short block from the canal. We side tripped easily to Amsterdam (15 minutes) and Leiden (30 minutes.) I liked Leiden but I wouldn't stay there. Haarlem feels more welcoming and manageable.
When the OP started this post they said they will be visiting in early September. I do hope they have booked something by now, if not I would strongly suggest to not stay in Haarlem. The first weekend of September is when the Dutch GP is held on the nearby racetrack in Zandvoort. Chances are that hotels are already fully booked and/or very pricey. Trains to Zandvoort leave from Haarlem, so the city will be absolutely crowded with racing fans. It will be anything but a charming little city.
Btw, compared to Leiden, Haarlem is bigger and has significantly more inhabitants.
We spent a wonderful week in Leiden and recommend it highly as a base. The connection to the Pilgrims is interesting too.
OP, where did you decide to stay?
Delft and Haarlem. Thanks again to all.
We are in Haarlem now. It is a lovely town/city. We are staying at the Hotel Malts and I can not say enough nice things about it! Great location, clean rooms, delicious breakfast and best of all the owners are so nice and helpful. I will come back.
Another vote for Haarlem. We stayed a week as our home base in an Airbnb.
Delft is wonderful. The Dutch train system is great - easy to get place to place.
I guess it is good people are keeping this alive for future reference, but do you at least realize the OP was in May for a trip last September? Just sayin'...
This is another case of appreciating that the original poster kept this post after their travel. I am looking at the answers for my 1-2 nights near Amsterdam as a stop on my way back to the US after a RS tour in Croatia and bookmarked this post.