We at Holland Windmills love the countryside surrounding Amsterdam. Here are the 19 best locations for a day trip from Amsterdam, within a 20 kilometre radius from the city centre. Every location is about a half day trip.
We’ll start with the North, then cover the East, South and West:
1. Amsterdam Wetlands
To the north of the city the countryside is called the Amsterdam Wetlands.
Imagine a flat sea of grass and water. This is the most Dutch landscape there is.
It’s a landscape with ditches and meadows, reeds, cows and birds, farms and church towers on the horizon. This area is full of peatlands, canals and lakes.
For centuries, villages in these wetlands didn’t have roads. They were only accessible by boat. Isolated from the rest of the world, every village developed its own identity.
Although they are only half an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, these villages feel different from the cosmopolitan city. Most of the old houses, farms and even churches in the Amsterdam Wetlands were made out of wood. Stone buildings were too heavy for the soft soil.
Every village had its own building style. Some of these wooden houses are beautifully painted. Some of the most pretty villages in the Amsterdam Wetlands are:
- Broek in Waterland
The best way to visit the Amsterdam Wetlands -of course- is by boat. The villages have these for rent during spring- and summertime.
As long as there are people living in the Amsterdam Wetlands, they used all kinds of boats. This area was build with boats.The inhabitants had to fight for every square inch of pasture. To make these swamps and peatlands accessible for cattle, the rivers and lakes were dredged. The mud was put on top of the bits of land. ‘Doormodderen’, mudding on, is still a widely used verb in Holland that stems from that time.
You needed a special kind of boat for this job. A boat that was slender enough to fit the small canals, yet sturdy enough to ship mud, cows, piles of cheese (and your whole family on sunday).
By looking at paintings from the Seventeenth Century researchers could see that the shape of these ships hasn’t changed at all. Most of these boats were (and are) rowing boats. The bottom of the canals is too soft for a pole and there was no room for towpaths. In wintertime people used another kind of boat for traveling. These small, elegant boats were light enough to carry over land and ice if necessary.
2. De Beemster
Holland has a lot of reclaimed land areas. We call them ‘polders’. Most polders date from the Seventeenth Century. Reclaiming land was an enormous task. First the builders had to erect a dike around a lake. On top of this dike, dozens of windmills then drained the water out. It took several years for the lake to fall dry.
It was worth it, because the soil in these polders is very fertile. It makes for the best grass in the world and the cows love it. That’s why Dutch cheese tastes so good!
These polders are still the major cheese producing areas in Holland. The landscape is dotted with typical farms, huge pyramid shaped houses that stand out in the flat fields.
And of course, there’s thousands of Dutch cows. The black and white Dutch cow gives up to 30 liters of milk a day. Cows in Holland are well treated. By law, they must be outside in the open air at least 120 days a year. Most dairy farms are fully automated. Even the milking is automatic.
One of the biggest polders is the Beemster. This former lake was reclaimed in 1612 by the most famous polder maker in Holland, Leeghwater. His name means Low water in dutch. This remarkable area hasn’t changed much since then. It was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1999.
The Beemster is famous for cheese. Right in the middle there’s a cheese factory, one of the largest in Holland. It has a visitor’s centre and you can do a tour. You’ll literally see thousands of round Dutch cheeses and you can taste them, too.
The best villages to visit for a day trip from Amsterdam to the north are Marken, Volendam, Monnickendam and Edam. Marken is very scenic. It’s an old fishing village on an island. The small fishermen’s houses stand on mounds and poles to keep the water away.
Marken used to be surrounded by the sea. This Zuiderzee was closed of with a long dam at the beginning of the 20th century. Now this is the biggest freshwater lake in Europe, het IJsselmeer.
Volendam is one the most popular tourist destinations in Holland. The village is build on a dike next to het IJsselmeer. The fishermen used to live in extra-tiny houses. Some are no more than 20 square meters, about 200 square feet.
With a family of ten kids, that is, because Volendam is a catholic town.
The men would sail off on monday to fish for herring. The women would stand on the dike to wave them goodbye. On friday the fishermen would return for the weekend, to make some more little fishermen and go to church.
The old fisherman’s quarter is called the Maze. It’s a labyrinth of alleyways and dwarf sized houses.
Volendam is perfect to try some Dutch seafood. Most famous is raw herring with pickles and onions. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s actually very tender and tastes a bit like sushi, only fishier. Most of our guests actually finish it! Another dish is kibbeling, battered and deep fried pieces of codfish served with tartar sauce.
Right next to Volendam is the village of Edam. Edam is famous for the round, bowling ball sized cheeses covered in red wax. In july and august these cheeses are traded on the cheese market.
This 12th century village has many historical buildings, like the colorful Waag (Weigh House). The Grote Kerk (Big Church) has the most beautiful 17th century stained glass windows in Holland.
One of Holland Windmills favorite’s, Monnickendam is a well kept secret as a day trip from Amsterdam. This gorgeous village was founded by monks. The centre looks like it comes straight out of medieval times.
A sturdy lock keeps the village dry. Towering above the lock there’s the old Bell Tower. The bells are out of tune, because the people of Monnickendam were too stingy to repair them, back in the 1700’s. Monnickendam then just kept them like that. They are really awful to listen to.
In summertime Monnickendam has Visserijdagen, Fishing Day’s. The old harbor is then full of volunteers doing old trades, like smoking fish or singing old fishermen’s songs.
Jisp is an old whaling village. Whaling ships from Jisp sailed all the way to the North Pole. Dutch don’t do whaling anymore. We think whales are cool.
Jisp used to lie on an island in the sea. But the sea is all ‘polder’ now. Today Jisp is surrounded by land on all sides: the sea is more than 25 kilometers away!
The main attraction in Jisp is Jisperveld. These wetlands are an oasis for birds. It’s an international intersection for birds on their way to the Arctics or Africa. You’ll see lapwings, godwits, spoonbills and other waterbirds.
A bit further north lies the town of Hoorn. During the Golden Age, Hoorn was a big international port. Ships came in from all over the world with exotic goods.
These goods were packed in warehouses. When you walk through Hoorn, you can tell by the street names what used to be stored there.
The centre of Hoorn is a square called Rode Steen (Red Stone), so called because of the public executions that took place there. Hoorn has very pretty canal houses. Most lean forward a bit, just like in Amsterdam.
In fact, Hoorn looks a lot like Amsterdam. So if you ever get tired of busy Amsterdam: just go to Hoorn, it’s a lot more quiet.
9. Muiden | Amsterdam Castle
To the east of Amsterdam lies the town of Muiden. It used to be an important defensive town for Amsterdam. As you approach Muiden, you can see a castle looming in the distance.
Towering over Muiden is the Muiderslot, also called the Amsterdam castle. This is a wonderful medieval castle, like a fairy tale with a moat, drawbridge and turrets. A visit includes a tour through the old halls, with ancient furniture and weapons.
You can get to Muiden by bus, but the bike ride from Amsterdam is nice too. You follow the old winding sea dike and bike through pastures with sheep, that often block the bike path.
Just like Muiden, Naarden is an ancient defensive town. It’s surrounded by an intricate system of walls, moats and bastions. From the air Naarden looks like a twelve pointed star.
The town has a wonderful museum dedicated to the Holland Waterline, the defensive system that protected Amsterdam.
11. Fort Pampus
For a historical day trip from Amsterdam, hop on a ferry and discover Fort Pampus: discover 400 years of Dutch history with historical artefacts all over the island.
In the past trading ships from the Dutch East Indies loaded with spices and tea would anchor off the island of Pampus, because they often were too heavily loaded to sail into the shallow port of Amsterdam.
Nowadays it is an oasis of peace and relaxation.
To the south of Amsterdam lies Aalsmeer, world famous for its flowers.
During its annual flower festival in June, the Aalsmeer Flower Festival has decorated cars and other outlandish flower arrangements.
You can also visit the horticultural museum Historische Tuin, located in a beautiful setting near the waterfront.
13. Ouderkerk aan de Amstel
A biking trip to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is one of the loveliest you can do as a day trip from Amsterdam. Everybody in Amsterdam knows this trip: it’s a no-brainer on a sunny weekend.
It’s a perfect bike ride for everybody, because it’s an easy ride and there’s loads to see, drink and eat along the way. The Amstel is the river that gave Amsterdam its name.
You start in the centre of Amsterdam and go upstream (to the south) by following the left bank. You pass the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) and de IJsbreker, a very popular cafe in summertime.
Then you cross the Berlage bridge and follow the right bank. After half an hour’s biking you are in the middle of the countryside. You can see a windmill and the place where Rembrandt made drawings. It’s called the Kalfjeslaan and it’s a popular spot for a pause and a drink.
On the banks of the Amstel you can see the summerhouses of rich merchant’s of the 1700’s.
After an hour more you reach the lovely village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, where you can have lunch at the riverside in one of the many cafes and restaurants. Ouderkerk is a bit of a ‘gourmet’ destination in Holland.
A curious attraction in Ouderkerk is the old Jewish cemetery from the 17th century. Then you bike back to Amsterdam by following the other side of the Amstel, the left bank.
The Vecht is the most lovely river in Holland, a winding stream lined with old trees. Back in the 17th and 18th century, this is where rich Amsterdammers build manors to escape the stench and noise in summertime.
These country estate were true status symbols, where the rich could forget their sorrows and get into Zen mode. Favorite past times were cultivating trees and painting still lifes.
The most beautiful manors lie between Maarssen en Loenen. They are build to impress, with monumental staircases, ornamented ceilings and enormous gardens.
15. Zaanse Schans
The Zaanse Schans is to the west of Amsterdam: it is a must see during a day trip from Amsterdam.
In the Seventeenth Century the Zaanse Schans was the biggest industrial area in the world. Zaanse Schans is word famous for the dozen windmills that are still fully operational. On a good windy day we’ll see them turning at full speed.
Visit the town where Czar Peter the Great of Russia resided in 1697.
The house where Czar Peter lived, it is also the oldest wooden house in existence in the Netherlands.
Peter wanted to learn more about the Dutch shipbuilding industry. At this time, the Dutch Republic was one of the most developed countries in the world. Although he remained at the house only a short time, he would return a number of times.
Walk the medieval streets and atmospheric neighborhoods of Haarlem with an experienced guide.
See the city’s most iconic landmarks, from the spire of Saint Bavo Church to the town hall and houses from the 16th- and 17th-centuries. Discover picturesque courtyards, and get an insider’s perspective on Haarlem’s unique history.
Visit the Frans Hals Museum, the house of the famous Golden-Age painter or see the Haarlemmerhout Park, with the palace of Napoleon.
Spaarnwoude is built on a winding dike with two big sluices.
On one of these locks stands the statue of Hansje Brinker, who according to legend put his finger in a hole in the dike to prevent the village from flooding. Down the sluice there’s a little harbour with pretty old town houses.
Spaarnwoude is popular destination for eating smoked eel, which you wash down with a glass of beer.
Bloemendaal is a suburb, a short journey from Haarlem or Amsterdam.
The leafy streets are lined with charming 19th century villas. And the town-centre is full with little boutiques and fine restaurants.
But most important is the sea. Go to Bloemendaal-aan-zee: here you will find amazing wide, clean beaches, relaxed beach clubs and the spectacular Dutch dunes.
Book the best day trip from Amsterdam with Holland Windmills
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