Amsterdam is great, but to see another side of Holland a train trip out of the city is easy and cheap with trains leaving regularly to nearby cities. You can even buy special day tickets (dagkaarten) which include bus and tram passes at numerous destinations.
Although large centres like Rotterdam, Utrecht and the Hague are within striking distance of Amsterdam, we focus on three smaller cities – Delft, Leiden and Haarlem. As you’d expect, they all offer yet more canals but the pace is slower and there’s much for art lovers to enjoy.
Just 60km from Amsterdam, the historic centre of Delft is beautifully preserved. The central square is remarkable for its scale and beauty while all around are sights familiar to any art lover – Delft was painted by many leading artists, notably Jan Vermeer who was born in Delft and worked there almost all his life.
The city is renowned for the distinctive blue Delftware. Ceramics have been made here for more than 400 years and shops galore sell a massive range. Sights include Oostpoort (East Gate), its setting against a quaint canal bridge a delight for photographers. The Nieuwe Kerk and the Oude Kerk, with its leaning tower, are of interest too.
Leiden is just 30min from Amsterdam with six trains leaving every hour. It’s a pretty city and home to Holland’s oldest university.
The old city is a short stroll from the railway station. Leiden has many waterways and grew around De Burcht, an old citadel which is now a park. Highlights include the Lakenhal (Cloth Hall), home to a museum and many old master paintings. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, or National Museum of Antiquities, has a superb collection with a notable section from Egypt. The windmill museum, De Valk (Falcon), is a restored working mill.
There’s a major attraction nearby. Buses from Leiden station run every 20min to Keukenhof, the world’s largest bulb field. Its 7million tulips and daffodils attract 750,000 visitors a year. It can be a wasted 40min round trip, as the flowering season varies each year, so check before setting out from Amsterdam on 0252 46 5555.
Haarlem has retained its 17th century layout, historic buildings, courtyards and atmosphere. It’s only 15min away from Amsterdam with six trains an hour and even the railway station will delight visitors. It’s a 500m walk from the station to Haarlem’s Grote Markt, surrounded by restaurants, cafes and the town hall.
The Gothic cathedral of St Bravo, Grot Kerk, contains many paintings and the famous Muller Organ, 30m tall with 5,000 pipes. It was played by both Handel and Mozart and is one of the finest in the world. Organ recitals are the highlight of any visit to Haarlem.
In the centre of Grote Markt is De Hallen, a series of halls which house a collection of modern art. The Frans Hals Museum has an excellent collection of Dutch masters, focusing on the 17th century Haarlem school. The Teylers Museum is the oldest in the country and includes drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael, many paintings and a collection of inventions in a superb setting.