We are flying into Amsterdam and want to spend 3 full days in the Netherlands prior to heading to Ghent/Brugge. We’ve been to Amsterdam and Kinderdyck. We’d like to stay in one place 3 nights and do some day trips. Cities that appeal to us are Haarlem, Delft and Leiden. Edam, too, thought it’s a geographic outlier. We liked Amsterdam, but do not want to stay there this time. Interested in opinions/suggestions. Thanks
I’d choose Leiden. It’s a beautiful city but also full of life because it’s a university town. To me it feels livelier and more “real life” than Delft or Haarlem. It’s also more centrally located, although to be fair the train system is so good that any of the places would work.
I know there’s a lot of love for Haarlem here. It’s beautiful but I would find it a little small for an extended stay. Delft is gorgeous but even off season I found it a bit touristy.
But anyway. Any of them would be lovely. But Leiden was the only one that got me wondering if I could find a job at the university and move there for the rest of my life.
We’ve been to the NL 5 times for multiple week visits staying in Amsterdam 3x, Leiden 1x and Zandvoort 1x. We are going back to lovely Leiden for a week this summer. My vote from your list, for a charming, lively, easy to take day trips from city, would be Leiden.
I agree with Golden Girl. I loved Leiden and found it wonderfully charming. It was the perfect city for wandering aimlessly and enjoying the ambience. It is more like a real place where people live, work and study although there is certainly plenty to see and do. I could easily spend a week there or longer.
I have not been to Delft or Edam so I can’t speak for those but I did go to Haarlem and didn’t really care for it. I enjoyed a few sights there like the Corrie Ten Boom house but felt like it was a city performing for the benefit of the many tourists who come there.
We just got back from the Netherlands and Utrecht was one of our favorite cities. Stayed there four nights and did day trips to Leiden and Amersfoort from there.
I should add that I am going to Utrecht myself shortly to use as a base… when I told Dutch friends how much I loved Leiden they said that I would also love Utrecht.
I do think Leiden is perfectly located for the OP, though.
Utrecht is a perfect base to explore the Netherlands. Leiden is a good base to explore Holland (North and South Holland).So if you want to explore the Netherlands ( there a many beautiful historic towns outside Holland) I would choose Utrecht, which is the central train hub in the Netherlands. If you just want to explore Holland, Leiden could be a good base.
I appreciate all the suggestions! Is Edam worth a detour when we arrive? Are Haarlem and Delft quieter in the earlier mornings or evenings?
Edam is tiny. We saw it on a day tour to the Zaansa Schnas windmills and Volendam from Amsterdam. It would not serve well as your base, I think.
I wasn’t considering Edam as a base. If time permitted maybe a detour on our arrival day before heading to a base south/west of Amsterdam
The key reasons for chosing Utrecht or Leiden is that neither can be seen in one day. Delft is almost that, because it abuts Den Haag, another nice big city. I wouldn't pick Haarlem because you've said you're finished with Amsterdam. In general, Americans seem to have a romanticized idea of Europe as a post-war duplicate of a movie set, when it's actually mostly banal modern masonry luxury-sprawl homes surrounding a small, historic core town.
I haven't been to Edam, but Alkmaar was a touristy "cheese" destination that was fun but not "important", really. I liked Amersfoort (for example) better than Alkmaar, as a daytrip. It's small enough to do another small city the same day, if you like Rick Steves Days.
Most Americans don't travel to Den Bosch, but they should. It's a fantastic beautiful little city with a ton of fun tourist stuff to do and lively street life. It's on the way to Ghent. It does get tourists but a lot of them are Dutch people doing weekend getaways. Den Bosch is a little bit different than northern cities in the Netherlands, in a good way. It's just south of the Rhine river, so historically was more Catholic than Protestant. Some cool stuff around it too.
Leiden and I have our differences. I've been three times in the past 5 years, and finally decided I don't like it as much as a lot of other Dutch cities.
Haarlem is pretty but kind of right next to Amsterdam.
SueH, what was your impression of Amersfoort?
Second Hank's idea about Den Bosch / 's Hertogenbosch, very charming with a southern vibe as we say. A good base if you are interested in theme parks like De Efteling, one of Europes finest. Nearby Heusden is a lovely little town along the Maas river.
Have to say it's a detour on the way to Ghent/Bruges, nevertheless Zutphen north of Arnhem is worth considering too. It's one of the best well preserved historical cities in the Netherlands. A good base for visiting the Open Air Museum just north of Arnhem, places about Operation Market Garden, Palace Het Loo near Apeldoorn and the Kröller-Müller Museum also near Arnhem.
Hank - we were in Amersfoort on a Sunday, so that affected what was open. Went to the TI and got a self-guided city tour pamphlet - highly recommend it as it gave a great overview of what sites the town has to offer. Mostly your typical small town, but with more public statues (and an explosion that destroyed part of the town, a common theme). There was a folk singing competition going on that the crowd really enjoyed. Their pedestrian walk/don't walk lights are unique (girl with ponytail). Lots of restaurants with outdoor seating. A very nice, relaxing day with no crowds.
I agree with Wil about Zutphen. It's a very old and pretty town, was part of the Hanseatic League so had wealth and has history. It's a great area of the Netherlands to explore, but as Wil said a bit out of your way.
“ Are Haarlem and Delft quieter in the earlier mornings or evenings?”
Yes. Delft is simply lovely, mornings and evenings. Compared to Amsterdam, Haarlem is, but Delft is charming and low key. I agree there isn’t as much to do (tourist sights) in Delft but you are right next door to The Hague, which has a week or more of sightseeing opportunities. We enjoy Haarlem, lower key compared to Amsterdam, but still pretty sizable. I have only day-tripped to Leiden, so it may be unfair to say it didn’t do it for me.
I would add to SueH's reply that Amersfoort has a lovely historic square, and a very substantial relic of town wall, entrance gates, and a highly-refurbished moat. I think there are some small decorative canals. I agree that day of the week is important, but there's a small museum we didn't see, and a De Stijl architectural landmark, at least. I found it a very refreshing glimpse of properous Dutch regional life. I was surprised how oriented downtown was towards "shopping". That part seems strangely American! (There has been a global financial crisis or two since I was last there, so I hope this is still accurate)
The downtown business district has been renovated and spruced up, but it doesn't have the "developer sprawl" that sometimes darkens other small historic places. Amersfoort is a modest walk from the train station, not right at the station.
I want to thank jules for starting this thread and others for responding, because I'm overdue for a trip to see more of the Netherlands, and it's very helpful to have these comments about the smaller cities. I've enjoyed day trips to Gouda, Utrecht and Den Haag in the past, but I've never taken a trip with a substantial focus on the Netherlands. I'm copying everyone's comments and dropping them into a document for review in a year or two.
While I spent a couple of hours in Edam, and found it charming, I'm not sure I would go out of your way to see it. You will see other towns just as quaint as beautiful on your day trips from your home base.
We loved spending a week in Leiden!
Fabulous information! Great to have this forum for information to less traveled places. As I reported on my other thread, we are so excited about this itinerary we sketched out that we decided to do it this September. And then, airfares jumped from what I'd seen at about $1200 to $1600. For economy plus. At this point, I'm not willing to pay that. We'll see what husband thinks when he returns from his backpacking/photography trip.
I'll toss out this question, for the Netherlands, how far in advance do rooms need to be booked for smaller accommodations in these smaller towns? Maybe, there will be a decline in airline prices. . .
Jules did you see the thread about someone looking for three hotel nights in Leiden starting June 6th? It's basically sold out, as are most surrounding areas.
I'm not sure if that's just indicative of how busy the summer season is going to be? In general I would say don't worry much about finding accommodations; something will turn up no problem. But this year seems to be quite different, so intensely busy. In your shoes I might speculatively book some fully refundable rooms.
I recently walked from Volendam to Edam and it was a delightful day as I had not seen much of the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. It is a cute town but there are lots of cute towns in the area so I would not go out of my way to see it if you are already touring Delft and Utrecht and Harlem.
I'm a fan of Den Haag / The Hague.
I recently walked from Volendam to Edam and it was a delightful day as
I had not seen much of the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam.
Nice! I haven't done much town to town walking in Europe, but that which I have done has been just fantastically pleasant - nothing quite like it.
After bike riding around some parts of Burgundy last summer, I imagine that that would be fantastic. Place to walk from town to town, particularly if you could sew a few train rides into it to cross larger gaps to more impressive places ....
We just stayed in Voorburg and it was between the Hague and Delft. On a trainline that was super easy to negotiate. The hotel we stayed in was an old chateau turned into a boutique hotel. I got a really good deal on the room (through booking.com) and it had a Michelin star restaurant attached to it. https://www.centralparkvoorburg.com/. The food was AMAZING!!!
Voorburg was a super charming town, not tons to do/see (but super cute shops), but it was quiet and a good base for us. I will admit I felt like a princess in the hotel.
We stayed in Delft and used it for three days as a jump off point to Rotterdam (by bike) and The Hague (by train). And we spent a lot of time riding and walking in the Delft area. It was lovely - big enough for lots of options, but small enough it was easy to get around.
We did Edam & Volendam on a day trip bike ride from downtown Amsterdam. Easy peasy, but also felt it was "enough" of both towns for that vacation. Lovely to spend a few hours between them, but not really as much to see and do as the bigger towns like Delft or Leiden.
I do think, though, you could pack in all sorts of stuff to from ANY of your choices as stuff is close by and relatively easy to get to.
We have just returned from the Netherlands. We spent 5 nights in Gouda. We stayed in lovely accommodation overlooking the town square. It was great. On Thursdays throughout spring and summer they have a Cheese Market to observe and lots of other market stalls as well. Gouda is very central in the Netherlands and is a lovely town. The main square is about a 10 minute walk from the train station. The train will take you all over the Netherlands very easily. We travelled to Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, Delft, Utrecht, etc very easily by train and return "home" to Gouda each night. Lots of restaurants there as well as supermarkets etc. Gpuda never seems to get mentioned much in reviews but we found it very pretty.
Anyone been to Schiedam? Looks to be at the outskirts of Rotterdam. I'm reading there are multiple windmills and they were used to make Jenever.
I would choose Delft. You're not far from Haarlem and Leiden. I stayed two nights in Edam... charming place. I also stayed in Haarlem and Delft. And spent a day in Leiden. All good. But I would go with Delft. Stayed at Hotel Koophandel.
By the way, not sure if you’re still considering, but I’ve just spent three days in Utrecht and have completely fallen in love with the place. Even in early July it felt refreshingly untouristy - the shops and restaurants lining the canals are very much places that local people seemed to be. Just a very relaxed liveable place. Recommended. (In addition to my recommendation for Leiden).
Golden Girl, you've convinced me. I know we both loved Leiden, and I really wanted to visit Utrecht on my last trip, so it's definitely added to the next excursion to the Netherlands. Thanks for the update!