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Netherlands Trip Report

Just returned from our first trip to the Netherlands and had a great time. I received some helpful tips and information when planning our trip from the other forum members here and wanted to say thank you again for helping make our trip a great success! I like to write so buckle in for a long report!

Our trip breakdown: 2 nights Hoorn, 5 nights Amsterdam, 3 nights Leiden. We flew Delta in and out of Schiphol, arriving shortly after 6 am on a Thursday morning.

Our lodging: Ysbrantsz Boutique Hotel in Hoorn, the Highland House in Amsterdam, and Steenhof Suites in Leiden. Ysbrantsz was great. The best thing about the Highland House was that it was very central with a boutique atmosphere and a good price. The not so great? That it was very central in an area that was neither quiet or charming. Our room faced an alley and when our windows were open, we would sometimes smell marijuana from those smoking it there. We also had a basement room that had unpleasant odors coming from the floor drain and it was more humid. The room itself was a nice size and clean and comfortable. Our breakfast was in their sister hotel across the street, which was torn up from road construction and the path through the construction changed each morning. While I think the Highland House is a perfectly acceptable choice for a first stay in Amsterdam, if I had it to do over again, I think I would try the Max Brown Canal District Hotel instead, which was a similar price at the time of our booking. I think we would have preferred that area more and while it would have not been quite as central, it would have been just fine. Now for the Steenhof Suites - this was our favorite hotel of our stay! The bed was one of the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in traveling and the shower was incredible - so much pressure and so hot and steamy. Now it sounds like a romance novel, lol. It was a bit of a walk from the train station, but it was a great hotel.

Technology: this was the first international trip that I tried utilizing an e-sim card on my phone. I didn’t figure it out perfectly, but it did everything that I really needed it to do at a fraction of the cost of utilizing the Verizon international plan that I have used in the past when I absolutely had to access data on my phone without wi-fi. I purchased 3 GB of data through Airalo for $6 using a referral code before our trip. I never figured out how to get it to work for phone calls or texts without iMessage, but I was able to access all my apps, the internet, email, and messages via iMessage, What’s App, or Messenger. Using the NS app was especially helpful as I could figure out what trains where leaving when from what platform, all while walking to the train station. If you’re interested in trying it and want to earn me some referral cash, you can utilize code “JULIE7698” when registering.

Now on to the good stuff, our actual trip!!

Day 1: I have never seen an airport so quiet upon arrival. There was no queue at immigration; it literally took a minute or two and we were through and ready to catch our train to Hoorn. We purchased our tickets at a self-kiosk and we were off. Arriving at our hotel so early in the morning, we were obviously not able to check in. So, we dropped our luggage off, freshened up in their toilet, and walked back to the train station in Hoorn to catch the train to Enkhuizen for the Zuiderzee open-air museum.

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Now, while we had several windy, cool days on our trip, this was the only day with really miserable weather. It was cold, it was windy, and it was raining (not drizzling). I had posted shortly before leaving on our trip on whether or not to bring rain pants. From the divided feedback I got, it’s definitely a personal decision to pack those kinds of items! My rain pants fortunately pack down very small, so I decided to go ahead and bring them. FWIW, I only bring jeans on trips (I don’t like synthetic blend pants). The weather that day was simply not fun - cold, windy, with heavy rain coming down at times, not a light drizzle or mist. So, even though I only wore them that one day, I had absolutely no regrets about bringing them. My husband was definitely a lot more uncomfortable than I was, and he tends to be a lot more warm-blooded than I am. If you're curious, I have the Black Diamond Stormline pants and I highly recommend them. They’re great.

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed the open-air museum! Lots of beautiful buildings, interesting displays, and historic information to learn. The Archimedes screw that was on display at the windmill - so that’s how all that water moves! We interacted with the rope maker and the barrel cooper; the barrel cooper was particularly chatty about both the barrel-making process and our upcoming travels in the Netherlands. He was excited for us to visit the Keukenhof. Due to the weather, I thought it might be pretty quiet but Zuiderzee was busy with other visitors while we were there. We also enjoyed the interior portion of the museum. Ready for something to eat, we popped into Dubbel & Dwars, which looked to be hopping with locals, which is typically always a good sign. There, we had our first beer and bitterballen of our trip! So yummy!

While Enkhuizen was a pretty place to wander around, we were ready to head back to Hoorn to get properly situated in our hotel. After getting back and settled in, we then proceeded to explore the picturesque town of Hoorn - it’s really a lovely little place! It was the sleepiest out of everywhere we visited. We walked the town and took in the different sights; unfortunately, the Westfries Museum was closed for major work so we were unable to visit. We ate dinner at Eetcafe de Klinker and enjoyed it.

After finishing dinner, it was still too early to go to bed. We like to stay up later our first night as we find we settle in better and avoid jet lag doing this. So, we strolled around town (the skies were clear now), and admired the pretty architecture. We decided to have a nightcap at Eet & Bierencafe de Beiaard. This place was a gem - the bartender treated us to our own little genever tasting! We had some great conversation with him and shared a few drinks and a traditional bar snack board. Great way to end our first night in Hoorn.

Day 2: Say cheese!! We were off to Alkmaar this morning, arriving at the market itself around 9:45. I had read we should get there around 9:30 to get a good spot but I have my doubts if that would have even sufficed. It was crowded! We found ourselves down at the very end away from all the action except for girls in traditional outfits hawking bags full of cheese for sale. We hung out down at the far end of the market for about 45 minutes before we started making our way down the sidelines, which had better views of the action.

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Everywhere on the sidelines was packed with attendees, queuing up several people deep. I am short and so many Dutch people are very tall; I had to wait for people to step out from the lines and eventually work my way up towards the fence so I could see anything at all. I eventually made my way there and was able to see the market process happening! Such a cool experience. They had the cheese aisles lined with beautiful tulips, adding charm to the market atmosphere. After observing for a while and taking lots of pictures, I decided I wanted to see the process from other angles, so I repeated the process above and weaved in and out of the crowds a few times, eventually making my way to the weigh station to see that process unfold as well. My husband is tall and could see a lot from further back, so he never really came up to the front of the lines like I did. He was kind and even offered to take pictures above other people’s heads for any short person he saw trying to get one.

After getting our fill of the cheese market, we explored more of Alkmaar. There was a food truck vendor making fresh poffertjes - now these were a food highlight! Little delicious fluffy rounds of goodness 🤤 so fun to see them being made, and the smells! Yum. We toured the cheese museum which was a fun little stop and walked through the rest of the street vendors set up for market day. Lots of beautiful buildings, shops, and canals to wander and admire. We found Alkmaar to be a lovely place. We ate dinner there and then headed back to Hoorn to sleep for the night.

Day 3: Saturday, market day in Hoorn! It was time to make our way to Amsterdam, but not without exploring the local market first on our way out of town. I stopped at a baked goods vendor and picked up a delicious fresh apple pastry pocket with a croissant type of crust; I wasn’t planning on eating the whole thing but I ended up eating the whole thing, it was so good! We also stopped at a vendor with fresh, homemade stroopwaffels which we snacked on for the rest of our trip. He was disappointed when we told him we were spending five days in Amsterdam and told us that was too long. Pretty much all of the locals we spoke with told us five days in Amsterdam was too long, lol. With everything prebooked, it’s not like we could change anything anyways, but it was interesting to hear the perspective from the locals.

Again, we arrived too early to completely check in at our hotel upon arrival but we were able to drop our bags off and start exploring the city. We started our visit with Rick Steves’ Jordaan Walk. The tour kicked off from Dam Square. Funny side note - we saw a woman walking her cat on a leash in the square. He was so sleek and low at first I thought she was walking a ferret. Turns out, she was walking a cat who was trying to hunt pigeons! That was a European trip first! The Jordaan walking tour was decent but it is probably one of my least favorite RS walks that we’ve done. It just didn’t feel as interesting or informative compared to others. Unfortunately for us, the Westerkerk was undergoing restoration works and the steeple was completely covered in scaffolding. So, we couldn’t see what I imagine is a very picturesque canal view with the church in the background. Construction and closures ended up being a bit of a theme for this trip, as several things were closed and lots of roads were torn up. After completing the RS Jordaan walking tour, we wandered around Jordaan for a while and visited Cafe Chris, the oldest operating bar in Jordaan, dating back to 1624, for a beer and some more bitterballen. These ended up being our favorite bitterballen of the entire trip. Cafe Chris has a fun atmosphere and was a great introduction to a classic brown cafe.

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From there, we made our way to the Anne Frank House Museum for our 3:45 afternoon timeslot. I reread the book back in January; I highly recommend doing this if you haven’t read it in years. I’d forgotten so much and approached it with a different perspective in my late 30s than what I did as a teenager. Suffice it to say, I found it to be an emotional experience to visit the museum.

I was surprised that you couldn’t see the original house facade anymore; it is covered in a more modern glass facade. Following our museum visit, we decided to enjoy a warm drink in the museum cafe and do some people-watching of the world outside the cafe while we waited for our next activity, a canal boat cruise with Flagship Amsterdam at 5:30. Since the weather wasn’t great, all of the roll-down clear vinyl shutters were pulled down on the boat. While we could still see out of the shutters, they really limited your ability to take pictures of any quality or observe the buildings well. The commentary was not for those looking for a scholarly approach; it was full of comedic spins and a bit light on the history.

Overall, we enjoyed our ride but we definitely wished the weather were a bit better to get the full experience. I did notice we were much further down in the canals on this tour compared to the one we took in Leiden. Also, the buildings in Amsterdam are quite a bit taller. This combination created the visual effect of the buildings really towering over you when you’re on the Amsterdam cruise compared to the Leiden one. We finished our day with dinner at O Bistro, a French restaurant. The food was good but it didn’t quite meet my expectations after reading so many rave reviews of the place. Adorning the walls was the art from a local Amsterdam painter and linoprint artist, Eddy Varekamp. His art is so much fun - we ended up buying a piece, a beautiful, oblique street view of Amsterdam. I’m looking forward to framing it up as a fun reminder of our trip!

Day 4: Our day started with 9:30 tickets to the Rijksmuseum and the Vermeer exhibit. At the time of our trip, the Girl with the Pearl Earring had already moved home to the Mauritshuis Museum. I enjoyed the other paintings on display, particularly his View of Delft and Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Beyond the Vermeer exhibit, I also particularly enjoyed the displays of Delftware that were open for viewing (one exhibit was open and another exhibit was closed). We spent a few hours enjoying the museum and the art; it’s a large museum and we didn’t cover everything. I was delighted to see the animated light fixtures over a stairwell in the museum; I had seen those on Instagram a few years ago and didn’t realize they were housed in the Rijksmuseum. What a wonderful surprise to see them in person! They are stunning.

Side note for the museum for those visiting while the Vermeer exhibit is there: we utilized the locker storage in the Vermeer exhibition area. After going through the Vermeer exhibit, we grabbed our bag and went to store it in the main museum lockers. Unfortunately, those lockers were already full. So, we walked back into the Vermeer exhibit and stuck our bag back in the same locker. You might just leave yours there if you’re utilizing a locker and save a few steps.

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From the Rijksmuseum, we made our way to the Kattenkabinet Museum. It was a Sunday so many of the shops were closed on our walk, but I enjoyed window shopping along the way. I had assumed that we wouldn’t have an issue buying tickets at the door for the Kattenkabinet Museum. Turns out, I assumed wrongly. The lady working the desk was not super helpful; it was 12:30 and she said the soonest she might possibly have availability was around 4:00 and to check then. I got on my phone and was able to buy tickets for 1:30, their first available time slot.

So, we wandered around a bit, grabbed some warm drinks at a nearby cafe, and then returned in one hour for the cat museum. We found it to be tiny but fun. The cat-themed art on display was interesting and so was seeing a bit of a traditional canal house. We also saw two of the resident cats while exploring. One is evidently very feisty; he had two signs saying to not pet him! From what I could tell, he preferred to spend most of his time happily napping alone in a sunshine-filled window. After visiting the museum, I won’t say that it offers great value for the dollar, but if you love cats and have the time, you should check it out.

After the Kattenkabinet museum, which took maybe 20 minutes to visit, we explored more of the canals in the area and then went back to our hotel to freshen up for the professional couple's pictures we had scheduled that evening. I’ve started trying to schedule photo sessions on some of our travels and I highly recommend it - they make lovely souvenirs! Since we don’t have kids, we don’t really have a reason to get pictures taken otherwise, so our travels present a fun opportunity to do so.

Having wrapped up our session, we walked down a street that our photographer recommended where she said we would find several good eating places. We settled on a traditional-looking place called Eetcafe Rosereijn; it appeared very busy compared to other restaurants in the area, which seemed like a good sign. Luckily for us, it ended up being a great choice! I had a delicious traditional stamppot with mashed potatoes that had kraut and bacon mixed in, topped with brown gravy and sausage. For dessert, I ordered my own piece of apple pie instead of opting to share my husband’s dessert sampler plate that he ordered. Thank goodness that I did - that pie ended up being my favorite piece of apple pie on our entire trip! So good!

Day 5: Time to stop and smell the flowers! Today we were off to the Keukenhof! In lieu of getting there via the public transit route, I booked us 8:30 am tickets on a direct bus with skip-the-line tickets to Keukenhof through This is Holland Transfers instead. We just had to walk from our hotel to the ferry to cross the water to get to This is Holland, where we then waited a short amount of time for our bus. We also transferred our vouchers for tickets upon arrival at This is Holland. Super easy. And as luck would have it, there were some open seats on the 8:15 bus so we headed out a little earlier than originally planned. Since we knew we also wanted to ride bicycles from the Keukenhof, I had also prebooked our bicycle rentals from Rent a Bike Van Dam.

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After the bus got parked, we immediately walked to the bicycle stand so we could get our bicycles picked up during our assigned timeslot. We then parked our bikes until we were ready for them in the afternoon. I had booked in advance because I was concerned they would be all booked by the time we got out of the Keukenhof. You can’t reserve in advance online after a 12:00ish timeslot and I was afraid we wouldn’t be done with the gardens that soon. In hindsight, I doubt that renting the bikes in advance is really necessary because it looked like they always had plenty of bikes on hand. However, I don’t know if that’s true all the time. Regardless, after securing our bikes, we headed into the Keukenhof and made our way straight to the windmill. My logic was that the windmill would be both very popular and crowded, which definitely seemed to be true.

After climbing the windmill, we decided to hop on the canal cruise of the flower fields. I had read mixed reviews about this activity and I’m conflicted about recommending it as it takes both time and a small additional chunk of money to do. While the views are nice, there are several commercial buildings in proximity so I didn’t find it to be quite as picturesque as I’d imagined. Also, since you’re in a boat lower than the fields, your perspective isn’t as great. The fields were beautiful though, and the delightful smells! A highlight of the cruise for me (beyond the flowers), was watching farmers harvest flowers for a few minutes. We got to see their tractor with its gathering bins on the back, which was very interesting. All of this was from afar on the boat, but close enough to see. The other comment I have about the cruise is that by the time we got back, the crowds had arrived at Keukenhof in full force. In retrospect, I realized that we could have had that time to wander the gardens with fewer people. So, perhaps booking a cruise timeslot for later in the day would be a better idea? I’m a planner and I was trying to lean into saying yes to an impromptu activity…just my two cents.

Our day had started a little misty and very overcast. As the day went on, the skies eventually cleared. Interestingly, after the sun popped out, I observed how different the flowers appeared in both types of light. They drastically change in color and radiance between the clouds and the sun, and the tulips definitely opened up in the sunshine for their full glory. I felt grateful to see them in both types of light as they were so different.

At the time of our visit, the daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and some others I don’t know were happily blooming; they looked and smelled fabulous. There were a few displays past their prime, but not many. There were displays of flowers that hadn’t opened up yet. Gardeners were busy throughout the grounds keeping it all well-manicured. The indoor exhibits were very crowded, a little uncomfortably so for our post-COVID brains, so we didn’t spend much time there. We did grab some lunch from a food truck on the grounds; I seriously enjoyed that simple ham and cheese sandwich - it was really good!

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For perspective on how much time we spent in the gardens, we started at the gate at about 9:30 am and left at about 2:15 (yay for pictures with timestamps). This included our 45-minute canal ride and very little time in the interior exhibits. What a beautiful place! It was so, so crowded though. While you can get away from the crowds in places in the gardens, it was still congested in a lot of places. FWIW, I enjoyed the Floralia garden experience so much in Brussels when we were there a few years ago. In retrospect, I think I may even prefer that experience to Keukenhof; so I would also say it’s very worthy of visiting if you’re looking for another beautiful spring floral exhibit to experience. Not to give the wrong impression though - I really loved our day spent in the flower gardens at Keukenhof. It’s a beautiful place and I’m so happy to have finally been able to experience it for myself.

Next up, riding our rental bicycles to the flower fields! I haven’t ridden a bike in years. I used to be incredibly proficient as a kid, able to ride long distances in gravel and sand without holding on to the handlebars…my how things change in 25+ years 😂 I felt like a complete, nervous rookie! Good lord. I managed to sideswipe a bush with my leg as I was getting started. So while it took me a little while to get comfortable, I did finally get to the point I enjoyed myself for parts of the ride. It felt so good to have the breeze blowing by with the sun on my face and the beautiful Dutch scenery around me. We saw some fields but only rode around 10 km in total. My seat should have been adjusted higher. Since it wasn’t, my previously injured knee started getting cranky but having the seat down lower where I could easily get off the bike was a security blanket for me and I decided I’d rather have a shorter ride where I felt safe versus potentially hurting myself halfway through our trip. On our way back, we stopped off at Keukenhof Castle. It’s a pretty little castle with gardens containing some interesting sculptures. Worth a quick stop if you can.

We made our way back to return the bikes and catch the next bus back to Amsterdam. Unbelievably, we watched some drama unfold at the bus stand. Some older American woman believed she was entitled to a chair (outside the bus) that belonged to the tour operator. He tried to explain that she was on company property and they were liable if anything happened to her and to please vacate the chair. She refused, heated words followed, followed by some pushing between the woman’s husband and the operator, until the woman took her water bottle and assaulted the man, smacking him in the head with it!! It was horrible to watch!! After the water bottle hit, she and her husband finally walked away. I really couldn’t believe we saw that happen. Absolutely insane.

Our bus finally departed and we made our way back to Amsterdam. We went back to our hotel, freshened up, and popped into De Drie Fleschjes, the oldest tasting house in Amsterdam, dating back to 1650. The interior was very atmospheric but unfortunately, it was really quiet with only one other patron. We found this person to be a bit inebriated and chatty and wanting to talk politics. Now while I don’t mind some curious intercultural conversation, he wouldn’t let the politics go even after I tried to change the topic a few times. So, we just decided to pay the tab and leave. We ended up going to our dinner reservations at Gio Cucina a bit early and had a very nice dinner.

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Apple pie was now calling my name after that first delicious piece the night before, so we walked to the Papeneiland Cafe for a slice to share and to enjoy more picturesque evening canal views along the way. Such a fun, lively little bar. Loved the atmosphere of the place. I didn’t think the pie was as good as the pie from Eetcafe Rosereijn, but it was still very tasty. Now, my stomach was wondering who really had the best pie in Amsterdam. So, we walked by Winkel 43 on our way back to our hotel. Before our trip, I had read that they are supposed to have some of the best apple pie in town. Walking up, we found ourselves facing a long line out the door, so we decided to just head back to our hotel for the night instead of getting more pie, saving our wallets and our waistlines, ha! I’m guessing it is either really that good or maybe it is just instagram famous at this point…or maybe both?

Day 6: Today’s agenda - laundry, walking tours, beer, and the Dutch Resistance Museum! We generally try to pack lightly so fitting in laundry is always essential for our trips. While researching our trip, I had noted Wasserij Sneeuwwit as both close to our hotel and open early. So, we headed there after breakfast to drop our laundry off. Much to our chagrin, Wasserij Sneeuwwit does not offer same day service. That was a learning experience - make sure to contact a laundry service in advance to see if they offer this. Since they would not be able to get our laundry done before we left town, they were kind enough to give us the name of another company that would be able to, The Wash Company, a fifteen minute walk away. Fortunately, they were able to take our laundry and said they would have it turned around in a few hours. From there, we made our way to Dam Square to start the second Rick Steves audio walking tour of our trip, his Amsterdam City Walk. We really enjoyed this walk and would highly recommend it; it proved to be a very interesting tour of the city. At stop number 12, we took Rick up on his suggestion and tried our first and only herring on the trip, Rotterdam style. While it wasn’t the proverbial cup of tea for either one of us, at least we can say we tried it!

After finishing up our first walk of the day, we made our way back to The Wash Company to pick up our laundry and then we dropped it off at our hotel. This was our “fluff” time to spare; I hadn’t originally planned on touring the Red Light District but we decided to go ahead and do the RS audio walking tour for this area as well. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, I found the area to be a lot nicer than what I anticipated. After finding most of the coffee shops we had encountered scattered around the city to be pretty seedy and stinky, (not meaning to offend but it is not my thing), I had very low expectations for the Red Light District. I found parts of the area are really beautiful and was so surprised. Now I’m sure visiting during the middle of the day around two in the afternoon is a lot different than late at night. Suffice it to say we really enjoyed this walking tour and found it very informative and interesting. Visiting the Oude Kerk was on my radar but it was unfortunately under a special closure of some kind so we were not able to go inside.

From the Red Light District, we made our way to the Verzetsmuseum, aka, the Dutch Resistance Museum. Wow. This museum hits really hard. We both really enjoyed it and for my husband, it ended up being one of his personal highlights of the trip. Very impactful and the personal stories…just wow. I definitely recommend visiting this museum if you have any interest in the war.

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Ready for something lighter, we made our way to the brewery that had taken up residence in my heart with one of what is now my favorite beers ever, Brouwerij ‘t IJ. Again, this was a stop that wasn’t on our original itinerary but we had the time so we went to check it out. Such a cool place! The windmill is fun but the beer and atmosphere was fabulous. It was hopping with what seemed to be both locals and other tourists; the sun was out and we enjoyed some delicious beer and a cheese and sausage snack! I fell in love with their Ij Wit beer on this trip. So, so good! Totally recommend checking this place out if you like beer and you have free time in Amsterdam. Great stop.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a foodie. I like to scope out restaurants and make reservations in advance of our trip. Tonight’s meal at Brothers Hartering was one of the two nicer, surprise tasting menu dinners I had planned. We had some really good food here, including morel mushrooms in a delicious sauce over toast, crab from the North Sea, and rosemary seared prime rib, oh my goodness. Drooling just remembering it. The not so great? Veal brains. Now in actuality, they tasted OK - I was just a little freaked by the soft texture and the visual, they literally looked exactly how you think they would look. Plus the fact that I know eating brains has the potential to make you very sick or potentially even kill you (that happened to my elderly neighbor’s husband decades ago). I definitely got out of my comfort zone and tried something new. We really enjoyed all of the other dishes that we were served and would recommend Brothers Hartering if you are looking for a nicer restaurant in Amsterdam. By the time dinner was finished, the sun had set and we enjoyed a lovely lamp lit canal-filled walk back to our hotel. We did decide to walk back through the Red Light District once again to see how different it was at night - and it was definitely very dfiferent after the sun has set. The streets were absolutely crowded and unlike our day time visit, most of the workers were out in their spaces, open for business. Just a totally different vibe than the daytime, and interesting to see.

Day 7: Van Gogh, Van Loon, and a spontaneous day trip to Haarlem! After another hotel breakfast, which were decent by the way, we made our way back down to the museum quarter for our 9:30 tickets to the Van Gogh Museum. This ended up being one of my favorite museums that we visited! I loved how they presented Van Gogh’s art; even though it was busy with other people, the experience felt so intimate and I had such a better understanding of his life, art, and story. I loved this museum and left with a deeper appreciation for both him and his work. I highly recommend making time for this museum if you’re planning your visit to Amsterdam.

Upon leaving the Van Gogh museum, we walked down Spiegelgracht, the same street we walked leaving the Rijksmuseum. Now that it was Wednesday, many of the shops were open. We perused a few and I ended up buying a few KLM genever houses from one of the antique shops. They had a brilliant display of them and I had to restrain myself from spending hours admiring them all, lol. Too cute and I love that they are modeled off real houses across the Netherlands.

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Leaving the shops, we made our way to Museum Van Loon, a traditional Amsterdam canal house museum. We did not have prepurchased tickets, which was not a problem. But, between planning and arriving, a new exhibit was in place at Museum Van Loon which effectively blocked our views of most of the traditional furnishings in the home. The guy who sold us our tickets did warn us, but I was thinking it wouldn’t be too bad and we’d still be able to see quite a bit. Unfortunately, this really was’t true. We got to see a few rooms, plus the garden and coach house. The rest was really truly covered up with the exhibit. So, while we enjoyed what we could see, it wasn’t really quite the experience I had hoped for. The home was beautiful and I would love to have the chance to see it again without obstruction.

By the time we were finished with the two museums, it was just noon. I kept this afternoon as open in our itinerary, thinking I might want some time to do a little shopping or wandering. But, after being in Amsterdam for a few days, I felt I already had enough opportunities for shopping and thought it would be fun to go check out Haarlem to see what it was all about. I had read that it was a beautiful, cleaned up version of Amsterdam. Since we had the time and it was close, why not? So, we made our way to the train station and hopped on the train to Haarlem. This ended up being a great decision, what a beautiful Dutch city! I did take a quick peek to see if there were any last minute tickets available for the Corrie Ten Boom House, but they were unfortunately booked full.

As we were making our way to the center of town, we were surprised to start hearing a lot of screaming. Now it didn’t sound quite like “I’m being tortured” screaming, it was more like the sounds you might hear at an amusement park. We turned a street corner and sure enough, in front of the massive church was an entire carnival set up! What a surprise! The atmosphere was very festive and fun; everyone seemed to be out with their kids to enjoy the rides and the nice weather. Unfortunately the carnival obscured our views of a lot of the buildings in the square. But, we made the most of it by hopping on the ferris wheel later in the day and taking our first ferris wheel ride together!

We walked down to the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis, a former hospital complex of beautiful buildings founded in 1581 in Haarlem on the Gasthuisvest. We stopped for a tasty lunch at a cute cafe and made our way to the Jopen brewery, housed in an old church. We took joy in simply walking the beautiful streets and exploring Haarlem. I could see the allure of staying here instead of Amsterdam; it is a beautiful place and very charming. Before leaving town, we decided to have some fun and take a spin on the ferris wheel. I mean, how often do you get a chance to ride a ferris wheel next to a beautiful, old cathedral surrounded by equally beautiful old buildings? I’m scared of heights but this adventure was totally worth it. So much fun, even in the wind!😀

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Saying goodbye to the carnival, we made our way back to the train station and then back to Amsterdam. There, we had our first and only rijstaffel dinner reservations awaiting us at Max Restaurant. Can’t recommend it highly enough - the food was fresh and delicious and just so dang good! Crazily enough, we only managed to keep our reservations with a stroke of luck by getting there in the nick of time. Our table was the last two table reservation open in that timeslot; another couple was standing in the door as we walked up and he was about to seat them. Turns out, her name was the same as mine and he thought the table was hers! We walk up, and he said, you don’t have a reservation. I said, yes, I do and gave him my full name and then he said, I just about gave your table to the wrong Julie! To make the story even wilder, since we were getting there with about 10 minutes to spare, I had popped into a shop just a few doors down from the restaurant. If I had dallied just a few seconds longer, that couple would have been at our table and we would have been out our spot. I’m so glad we didn’t lose our table; this place ended up being one of our favorite dining spots in our entire trip! We ended our last night in Amsterdam with strolling more of the canals in the evening light before heading back to our hotel to pack our bags to move on to Leiden the next day.

Day 8: Today started very overcast and drizzly. My original itinerary included a day trip to Gouda on our way to Leiden. However, feeling like we had gotten the full cheese market experience at Alkmaar, we decided to save Gouda for a return trip to the Netherlands and make our way to our hotel in Leiden. This meant a more leisurely morning at the hotel, less luggage schlepping, and more time to explore Leiden. Once again, we arrived at our lodging too early to check in but we were able to drop our luggage off and begin exploring. We started wandering the streets and found ourselves at de Burcht in Leiden. What pretty views!

We eventually made our leisurely way down to the Molen de Valk windmill, which was open for visiting so we decided to go ahead and tour it. I really enjoyed this tour; it was very interesting to see the traditional residence down below and all of the working parts of the windmill up above. Just be aware that you have to climb lots of steep ladders coming down. I’m scared of heights and did OK, but I could see it being problematic if you have mobility issues. From here, we started the reading walking tour from Rick Steves for Leiden. While I prefer the audio tours, this was an excellent introduction to Leiden and I recommend taking the time to do it. We did pop into the Pilgrim Museum while we were on our walk. It is a very tiny place and since there were several people in the museum, I honestly felt a little claustrophobic so we didn’t stay very long. We also found several serene hofjes along the way.

Dinner tonight was unplanned. A quick google search led us to De Bonte Koe - an excellent choice! Yet again a beautiful, traditional cafe. I loved the cow-themed tile on the walls. The place was packed and we grabbed one of the last tables available in their terrace area. It appeared to be a drinking hole for university students and teachers. We had some excellent bitterballen here and just pub grub kind of food. Definitely recommend for good, casual eating in Leiden. Finishing up dinner, we decided to walk the canals which by this time were bathed in the golden glow of sunset. We grabbed the first gelato of our trip and enjoyed our evening stroll around town. Before heading back to sleep, we found a table on the canal at Einstein where I had my first cup of verse mint thee. I felt foolish that I had not found this earlier on in our trip; I loved the fresh mint tea nightcap! So good.

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Day 9: Today was our actual wedding anniversary; to kick the day off on a romantic note, I had made a canal cruise reservation with De Leidse Rederij. As it turned out, reservations may not be really necessary this time of year - we ended up with our very own private tour that morning with no other passengers. Just us and our captain, who happened to be very congenial and funny. In addition to the normal things you see on a canal cruise, we were also treated to a trash boat digging up bicycles and other trash in the canals. We had heard about this on our Amsterdam cruise but it was interesting to see the boat in action. We really enjoyed this tour and had a lot of fun; would absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Leiden.

Since we arrived in Leiden earlier yesterday than expected, we once again decided to deviate from the itinerary and day-tripped to Den Haag to visit the Mauritshuis to see it’s beautiful resident, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. When planning our trip months ago, I had checked the website to see what the same day availability of tickets looked like for the Mauritshuis. Seeing same-day tickets available and unsure if or when we would be going, I didn’t prebook any tickets for us. Unfortunately, I didn’t even think to look on their website while we were riding the train to Den Haag. So, you can imagine my gut dropping right to my knees when they said they had no available tickets left for the day. Ugh! I once again got on my phone to see if we had any other options. Luckily for us, the vendor “Get Your Guide” had tickets available in a timeslot about two hours later so we went ahead and grabbed them. Interestingly enough, the tickets were the same price as what the museum was selling them for.

With time to kill, we walked around Den Haag and stopped for a delicious lunch at the beautiful Restaurant ‘t Goude Hooft. We sat outside and enjoyed watching the world go by for a while - one of my favorite things to do when visiting European cities. From here, we walked some of the streets in the old part of Den Haag. We stopped in at a lovely stroopwaffel place called Van Schaik. A young man was very busy making stroopwaffels in the window. The process was very interesting; he would section out a chunk of dough, roll it, put it in the waffel machine and press it, pull it out, cut it in half, slather in the caramel, and put it back together and set it to the side. While we were there, he was making a large size of stroopwaffel. He said he makes one about every thirty seconds - very impressive! We bought some home for us and friends as a tasty souvenir from our trip.

By this time, it was approaching our reservation slot at the Mauritshuis so we made our way back to the museum. We were about fifteen minutes early but they let us in, no issues. The Mauritshuis is truly a gem of an art museum - what lovely art encased in a lovely home. It’s more of a “bite-size” museum which I typically find more enjoyable since it isn’t as overwhelming as the large museums sometimes can be. Just the right size, not too big and not too small. I am so glad we were able to visit. No photograph can do justice to The Girl with a Pearl Earring. She is absolutely sublime!

After a wonderful visit at the Mauritshuis, we made our way back to Leiden to freshen up for our anniversary dinner at The Bishop. What a lovely experience! They gave us a romantic table with a view of the impressive Hooglandse Kerk adjacent to us. What made the experience even more remarkable is that a thunderstorm rolled in while we dined - that was a first! Each course was delicious and the wine pairings were wonderful as well. They surprised us with a cute happy anniversary dessert at the end of our evening which was very sweet, no pun intended. I definitely recommend this restaurant if you are looking for fine dining in Leiden.

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Day 10: Our last day in the Netherlands, how is it possible? Time really does fly when you’re having fun. The only item on today’s docket was a day trip to Delft, so we made our way to the train station, meandering through the impressively large Leiden Saturday morning market on the way. While the rain had thankfully been light and infrequent for most of our trip (excluding our first day), today it was just a lot more drizzly and overcast. Getting off the train, we got our rain jackets on and started exploring Delft. I had planned our day trip to coincide with the Saturday morning flea market in Delft. Now I wasn’t sure what to expect - I’ve been to a few different European flea markets over the years and found some to be better than others. I’m very happy to report that this is one of the best markets I have ever been to! So many vendors with so many beautiful items for sale; I found some really good bargains here. If you love vintage shopping, I can’t recommend this market highly enough!

After getting my fill of vintage shopping for the moment, we started the RS book walking tour for Delft. Again, this was another good tour and I would recommend it. I do have to say that Delft was so pretty that I was questioning my decision to stay in Leiden. I think I may have preferred Delft to Leiden, though Leiden was nice! Delft was just so picturesque. The flea market plus the other Saturday markets ended up filling a lot of the streets and squares; I would have really liked the opportunity to see Delft without those tents and distractions. In my opinion, that is the negative to a Saturday day trip to Delft. If one were to stay there, you would have the opportunity to experience both atmospheres. Just my two cents. Finishing up our walking tour, we popped into the very popular and busy bakery Stadsbakkerij de Diamenten Ring. There we purchased a couple of sausage-filled pastries for lunch - so good!

Now, onto more good things, the Royal Delft Museum! I was on the fence about visiting this museum and I am so glad we went. It was informational and interesting, and entirely worthwhile to learn more about such an important piece of Dutch history. The Delftware was gorgeous but also insanely pricey. I thought I would be leaving the museum with a piece but just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to find a Delftware treasure at the flea market after leaving the museum. I settled on a beautiful bowl at a fraction of the prices at the museum; the seller used the mark to date it back to 1969. He did tell me that date does not indicate value for the pieces. Sad to leave Delft behind, we made our way back to Leiden so we could pack our bags and go out to our final dinner of our trip. The next morning, we were off back to home. I’m happy to say, we made it out of Schiphol without incident and caught our tight connecting flight back home without issues!

And that concludes our trip report! We had a wonderful time in the Netherlands and while we didn’t get to see everything, I feel like we were able to see so much of it and made so many great memories along the way. I hope you enjoyed reading along!

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4005 posts

Julie, your report took me back to our last trip to the Netherlands. I have friends who Hate preplanning or booking things, but from your report it reminds me how necessary it is.
We went to the cheese market at Edam but will look into the one at Alkmaar. We’re in London now and i found a place that makes poffertjes. Love them. I even ordered the PAN and mix from bluedelft.Com. It is really very good for a fix. We’re going to be in Rotterdam next May for a few days, looking forward to seeing this city.

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11368 posts

Julie, thank you for your wonderful report about so many of my favorite places!
Barbara, when you are in Rotterdam, make sure you save a day for nearby UNESCO Heritage Site of Kinderdijk! You take a river boat there from Rotterdam.
You will visit 19 windmills, c.1740, in their original locations. We walked the whole site easily but they also rent bikes there. This is my favorite historical site in The Netherlands!

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Thank you, Julie, for your wonderful trip report. I've bookmarked it to read later when I have a bit more time. Today was the day that my friends and I were supposed to leave for Amsterdam and Berlin....due to circumstances, the Amsterdam portion has been postponed until next April and the Berlin portion will hopefully take place in September.

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5166 posts

Thank you for all your practical tips. I'm assuming your trip was April, correct? And the weather was cool and a bit rainy?

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2490 posts

What a great trip report! I was smiling throughout. I agree that Delft and Haarlem are just beautiful, and I missed out on Winkel 43 too. It was always packed whenever I tried to go. Glad you were able to get into the Mauritshuis. 😊

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Thank you, Julie, for sharing you trip report. I will be going to the Netherlands next month and took many notes from your suggestions.

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Such a great, thorough trip report, Julie. Thanks so much for doing it, it’ll be a great resource for those headed to the Netherlands. Loved reading it.

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6384 posts

Julie, what a great trip report! I love it that you could roll with the punches and keep a great attitude, regardless of what was happening.

We’re planning to spend about 5 or 6 days in the Netherlands in the fall, probably in Leiden. We spent a few days there about 5 years ago, and it quickly became perhaps my husband’s favorite place in Europe. I’m taking notes of some of your meals and activities.

Thank you for a wonderful report.

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1427 posts

Thanks for your great and detailed trip report. It looks like you had a great time, despite the weather being absolutely awful. For those that have plans to visit the Netherlands next April; the weather in April is very unpredictable. Last year April was beautiful and sunny, this year it was cold and rainy. Next year it could be completely different.

@Julie; You expressed your surprise that the facade of the Anne Frank House was covered in glass. I’m afraid you were looking at the wrong facade, the original facade is definitely still there. The Frank family went into hiding in the Annex of Prinsengracht 263. The Dutch word used for the hiding place of the Frank family is Het Achterhuis. This literally translates as, the back house or the behind house. Because that’s what it is, a house located behind a house. The company of Otto Frank was located in the front house.
See the map on the website of the Anne Frank House that explains it much better than I can; https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/secret-annex/

Prinsengracht 263 isn’t the only canal house in Amsterdam with an Annex located behind the original house. The website of the Anne Frank House has more info about why these Annexes were built; https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/go-in-depth/history-secret-annex/

The Annex itself is small and was never meant to be a museum. As the visitor numbers grew over the years, the Anne Frank foundation bought up parts of neighboring houses in order to accommodate the museum facilities. The last big purchase, in 2015, was the student housing complex on the corner of the Prinsengracht and the Westermarkt. This building was completely remodeled and is now covered in a glass facade. That building on the corner is where you now enter the museum and is where all museum facilities such as museum shop, restrooms etc etc are located.
So the building on the corner of the Prinsengracht and the Westermarkt with the glass facade is not the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House is located a few doors down at number 263. The facade of number 263 still looks the same as it did during the war. There is a small plaque that says that this is the Anne Frank House, but that’s it.

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Thanks for the report! I’m glad to hear you liked Delft and Haarlem as I’ll be staying in both places later this year.

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Dutch_traveler, thanks for the information and explanation. I've heard other people express disappointment at the exterior of the Anne Frank museum.

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@Jane; Thank you. I wrote my lengthy post in this thread because there often seem to be misunderstandings about the Anne Frank House and the hiding place of the Frank family in the Secret Annex. If you read the reviews of the Anne Frank House you will see that there are even visitors who believe that the Secret Annex isn’t the real deal and that it is a reconstruction like some set of a tv show.
I believe the confusion grew bigger after the last expansion of the museum opened in 2018 and the entrance moved to the building on the corner of the Prinsengracht and the Westermarkt. It seems that some people don’t realize that while they tour the museum they cover quite some distance; from the entrance located at the corner of the Westermarkt to the Annex several doors down the street on Prinsengracht 263 and back again to the Westermarkt.

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This is a great trip review Julie! We are going on a similar trip next year for our anniversary. We have never traveled internationally before so I am a bit apprehensive about the planning process. I was hoping to connect with a travel consultant to help but to no avail as yet. This review is a great starting point. We also would like to include Bruges, Brussels, and possibly Frankfort. Has anyone gone this route?

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9903 posts

Thanks for explaining that Dutch Traveler. I was sure that was the case based on my January visit there !! I too was interested that the front of the Anne Frank house (Otto Frank's front-facing business) itself didn't have a very large sign indicating that is what it was, but I was pretty sure that was it, and was surprised to enter at the end of the block. Then from the lecture room prior to our visit, we were able to see the back of the house as it was next door (or maybe one building over) - the windows that the Frank family and their fellow residents would have been unable to open.

Thank you Julie for your incredibly detailed trip report. You have definitely given me some ideas for my next visit to the Netherlands! I am glad you had such a great time - and Happy anniversary !

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Barbara, I fell in love with the little poffertjes! Great idea on making them at home. That sounds both delicious and fun :)

Pat, yes, we were there in April. It was definitely on the cooler side but I still felt lucky to have as much sunshine as we did (it could have been a lot more rain, really.

Jane, I hope you guys have a great trip. We enjoyed our time in Leiden. I would be interested in staying in Delft on a return trip.

Dutch Traveler, thank you for the thorough explanation! I wish I would have realized this when we were there. I figured the facade was still there somewhere, just covered up. I became even more confused when I saw some of the little KLM houses for sale saying they were the Anne Frank house and I knew I had missed it in some capacity, I just wasn't sure what.

Suehoglond, definitely start with the forums (peruse all the comments and old activity) and the Rick Steves guidebooks! I started my European adventures in college on a school trip and then started planning my own trips and never looked back. I've been to Belgium (not Frankfurt) on a separate trip; I know a lot of people combine visits to these countries together. It all really boils down to how much time you have to spend. I was surprised at how much I loved Belgium. I hope you make it there!

Kim, thank you! It was a wonderful place to celebrate our anniversary, for sure.

Glad everyone has enjoyed my trip report! :)

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Julie--Loved your report! You wrote it at the right time for me;) Just a couple days ago I decided we need to go to the Netherlands next spring. Your report is giving me some very good information on what we want to do, so thank you for all the details. A question on the bikes. Were they more of a cruiser style? I will be at the tail end of rehab from a knee replacement, so would not be comfortable on a more technical bike. Basic is good for me;)