THE 5 BEST DAY TRIPS FROM AMSTERDAM
The city of Amsterdam has so much to see and do that you could spend your entire vacation exploring its vibrant neighborhoods and historical sites without ever thinking of leaving town. Some people, however, may want to explore more of what the Netherlands, and even beyond, has to offer. Our list of the best day trips from Amsterdam gives a brief overview of some of the most interesting destinations that are only a short drive from this European capital. Vast flower gardens, intriguing history, breathtaking sights, and happy festivities all await you at these great Dutch (and Belgian) cities and towns. Pick and choose where you want to go, because when you have a Netherlands rental car at your disposal, it is up to you how far your trip will take you.
DAY TRIP 1: LEIDEN
The city of Leiden is picturesque any time of year, whether in the spring when the tulips are blooming, in the summer when celebrations are at full swing, in the fall when the leaves of the many trees lining the streets are changing color, or in the winter when snow blankets the rooftops.
Walking along the canals that cleave through the city's shops, homes, and cars parked right on the edges of the water can make for great memories with loved ones. You can also go for a guided tour on one of the many boats that provide such a service. The antique and the modern mingle in this small, yet thriving city that is home to the country's oldest university, nestled in the bustling life of today's world. The old windmills that appear along the streets and canals recall a time when life was difficult, yet seemed simple, offering a glimpse into the history and culture of Holland. Travelers can visit one of the many museums in Leiden and learn about natural history, windmills, and even Ancient Egypt. The Botanical Garden of Leiden, which is best viewed in April and May, is one of the main stops on the Bloemen Route that traverses Haarlem, Lisse, and Naaldwijk.
DAY TRIP 2: KEUKENHOF GARDENS, LISSE
Take a 40-minute jaunt on the A4 out of Amsterdam for views of the cultivated beauty of Lisse. Though it is a small town, Lisse is well worth the drive from Amsterdam and offers plenty for travelers to see and do.
The primary attraction in Lisse is the Keukenhof Gardens, which sees over 800,000 visitors each year. This tulip-filled sanctuary - which bills itself as the world's largest flower garden and dates back to 1594 - spans 70 acres of forested areas, complete with ponds, pavilion greenhouse displays, and a windmill. The seven million flower bulbs of the garden, planted every year, burst into color beginning in March and ending in May. Peak season is around mid-April, so planning a trip during that time will give you the best experience.
Nearby and open year-round, the 17th-century Keukenhof Castle stands imposingly, hosting various local events throughout the year, including fairs and concerts. There are plenty of places that offer great food and drink for sale in the downtown area, too, so let loose and enjoy yourself during your visit to this great little town.
DAY TRIP 3: BRUGES, BELGIUM
Anyone interested in medieval history will love visiting the city of Bruges in Belgium. The city's medieval architecture remains mostly intact, giving travelers a pretty accurate picture of what life would have looked like in that bygone era.
The Church of Our Lady, aside from offering visitors a stunning behemoth landmark to admire both inside and out, holds Michaelangelo's sculpture Madonna as well as Anthony van Dyck's Crucifixion. Similarly, the Belfry of Bruges is an imposingly beautiful example of medieval architecture, and because the city still employs a full-time carillonneur, the visitor gets to hear the bells at no charge.
There are numerous other buildings to see, but that's not all that Bruges has to offer. Several theatres and museums are open year-round, and the dozens of music festivals that Bruges hosts each year bring the city to life. For instance, the Cactus Music Festival is held in July and hosts musical acts from around the globe. You can see performances of Jazz, Rock, Reggae, Rap, Country, and much more, but make sure that you buy your ticket in advance to ensure that you can attend. To get to Bruges, take the A2 out of Amsterdam and connect to the E311, the E19, the E17, and the E40. Don't forget to bring your passport!
DAY TRIP 4: MADURODAM, THE HAGUE
Located in the Scheveningen district of the historic city of The Hague - an hour from Amsterdam by car via the A4 and A44 highways - the miniature park of Madurodam is a truly unique experience for visitors. This 1:25 scale model of the city lets travelers view all of the architecture of the city in a compact area. Constructed in the 1950s, Madurodam was originally built to help pay for the care of sick children in the area. The miniature park was so popular that it inspired the construction of Storybook Land in Disneyland in 1956 and Disneyland Paris in 1994. The detail that went into making the various landmarks, historical buildings, canals, and townhouses is truly incredible and has attracted tens of millions of visitors since its creation.
If you want a break from the little houses and streets of Madurodam, make your way into the city to see some of The Hague's many sights up close. Take a look at the goings-on of Amsterdam's government at the Binnenhof, a 13th-century conglomeration of buildings at the city's center. View some of Rembrandt's paintings at the art museum, the Mauritshuis. If you plan to stay overnight, make sure you check out the city's nightlife near the Grote Markt, which literally translates to "the Great Market." You can grab a beer and listen to some live music as you celebrate with the locals.
DAY TRIP 5: ALKMAAR CHEESE MARKET
Only a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam via the A8 and A9 highways, a road trip to the small city of Alkmaar is a great way to wind down your vacation. This historic medieval city, lined with characteristically Dutch canals, is located in the province of North Holland and hosts a number of museums and events.
The Alkmaar Cheese Market, Alkmaar's main tourist attraction, takes place every Friday from April to September and gives travelers a look at how a traditional cheese market would have operated. Because the Alkmaar Cheese Market is one of only four traditional cheese markets still in operation, attending the ceremony is a truly unique experience. Bystanders can watch as merchants and carriers of a wide variety of local cheeses - over 2000 different kinds - weigh their products in front of the Waag, an old-style Dutch weighing house. Inside the Waag are a cheese museum and tourist office that visitors can peruse as they wait for the festivities to begin. Though you can't buy any of the cheeses that are being weighed and loaded onto merchant trucks, you can still purchase the products on display along the street in various stalls. The event draws nearly 100,000 spectators annually, so be prepared for large crowds and lots of fun activities. When night falls, the area around the Waag fills with people on their way to the various pubs and restaurants for which the neighborhood is well-known.
Alkmaar also has a plethora of museums that cover anything from the Beatles and Dutch beer to the local history of the city. Other landmarks of interest include the Grote (tower) of Sint-Laurenskerk, a 15 to a 16th-century Protestant church, which houses the oldest playable organ in the Netherlands; the town hall tower; and the Groot of de Molen van Piet, a traditional Dutch windmill.