Compact in size and offering superb transport links (especially by train), the Netherlands is a treat to explore – and much of the country is easily accessible as a day trip from its capital, Amsterdam.

Den Haag’s standout museums, Zandvoort’s sandy beaches and Zaanse Schans’ working windmills are just a few of the wonderful attractions within an hour’s journey of the city – all some of the best day trips from Amsterdam.

People look at Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the Mauritshuis museum, The Hague, Netherlands
Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is the most famous of the masterpieces that hang at the Mauritshuits, a highlight of any visit to The Hague © Lex van Lieshout / ANP / AFP via Getty Images

1. Take in the royal vibes of Den Haag (The Hague)

Travel time: 45 minutes

While Amsterdam is the Dutch capital, ’s-Gravenhage (the Count’s Hedge) – better known as Den Haag (The Hague) – is the seat of government and of the royal family. On the shimmering Hofvijver lake, the Binnenhof complex is the world’s oldest parliament building still in continuous use. Its 13th-century Ridderzaal is home to the throne from which the Dutch monarch addresses the upper and lower houses each year.

For more royalty-tinged thrills, head to the extraordinary Mauritshuis, where works by Dutch masters form the basis of the 800-strong Royal Picture Collection. You can also drop into former royal palace Lange Voorhout, now home to the Escher in Het Paleis, which showcases the improbable creations (such as those never-ending staircases) of Dutch graphic artist MC Escher. Alternatively, spend a sunny afternoon simply holding court at one of the city's numerous canal-side cafes, where staff will inevitably treat you like – you guessed it – royalty.

How to get to Den Haag from Amsterdam: Den Haag is located southwest of Amsterdam and takes around an hour to reach by car. Trains travel to Den Haag Centraal from Amsterdam Sloterdijk (journey time: 45 minutes) and Amsterdam Zuid (journey time: 38 minutes). Den Haag is also well connected to Delft and Rotterdam.

People on a floating barge with drinks in a canal in central Leiden, South Holland, Netherlands
A lively university city, Leiden has both canals and museums in abundance © Aeypix / Shutterstock

2. Get a culture fix in Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt

Travel time: 30 minutes to 1 hour

Laced by canals lined with gabled 17th-century buildings and crisscrossed by bridges, the lively city of Leiden is a great place to get your culture fix. The city is home to the Netherlands’ oldest university, which dates from 1575, and is notable as birthplace of Rembrandt. The Museum De Lakenhal, which reopened in 2019 after a stunning renovation and expansion, displays many of the painter’s famous works, such as The Spectacles Pedlar, alongside works by numerous other Dutch masters.

Elsewhere, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden harbors ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts, while the Museum Volkenkunde is dedicated to ethnology, with cultural treasures from around the globe that tell stories about humanity’s shared existence.

Once you’ve had your culture fix at the museums and galleries, head to the beautiful Hortus Botanicus Leiden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, where you can admire (and smell) colorful blooms from across the world.

How to get to Leiden from Amsterdam: Leiden is southwest of Amsterdam and takes around an hour to reach by car. Trains run from Amsterdam Sloterdijk (journey time: 30 minutes) and Amsterdam Zuid (journey time: 23 minutes) to Leiden Centraal station.

A girl plays with a toy windmill near the real windmills of Zaanse Schans, Netherlands
The little ones will love the working windmills at Zaanse Schans © Siddhesh Polekar / Shutterstock

3. Take your kids to see the windmills at Zaanse Schans

Travel time: 15 to 25 minutes

Visitors of all ages will enjoy an afternoon at Zaanse Schans – but since younger travelers especially will enjoy seeing the creaking sails of its six authentic windmills in action, this is a top day-trip choice for families. This engaging attraction also boasts a recreated 17th-century village made up of traditional buildings from around the Netherlands, including a clog factory, and the workshops of a cheesemaker and pewter smith. The nearby Zaans Museum delves into the history of the Netherlands' earliest mills. After your visit, you can take a shortcut back to the station via a 5-minute riverboat journey.

How to get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam: Zaanse Schans is located to the north of Amsterdam, roughly 25 minutes away by car. Alternatively, catch the Sprinter train from Amsterdam Sloterdijk station to Zaandijk Zaanse Schans (journey time: 12 minutes) and walk 1.5km (1 mile) to Zaanse Schans. During the summer months, you can also travel between Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans by ferry.

A woman with a camera in front of the yellow cube-like houses of the Overblaak Development, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
The contemporary architecture of Rotterdam – such as Piet Blom’s Overblaak Development – is picture-perfect © canart7 / Getty Images

4. Tour the contemporary architecture of Rotterdam

Travel time: 1 hour

In stark contrast to the Netherlands’ historic cities, Rotterdam was flattened during WWII. Over the decades of postwar recovery, the city transformed itself into a veritable gallery of modern and contemporary architecture. Anyone who loves out-there design should visit sites like the Overblaak Development, with its pencil-shaped tower and “forest” of elevated, crazily-angled cube houses, one of which is a museum revealing what life inside is like. The bowl-shaped Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen has a mirrored exterior and a green rooftop restaurant. The horseshoe-shaped Markthal, meanwhile, is a vast, covered food market with sit-down eateries beneath a curvilinear ceiling covered in outsized fruit-and-vegetable murals, and makes an eye-popping stop for lunch.

A great way to get a feel for the city is to take a water taxi: there are 50 docks around the city. If you’re after dedicated architecture tours, De Rotterdam Tours or Urban Guides are both excellent options.

How to get to Rotterdam from Amsterdam: Rotterdam is south of Amsterdam and takes just over an hour to reach by car. Fast Intercity Direct trains connect Amsterdam Zuid (journey time: one hour) and Amsterdam Sloterdijk (journey time: one hour and 10 minutes) with Rotterdam's Centraal Station. Rotterdam is also directly connected to Delft and Den Haag.

Delft market square with the spires of Maria van Jesse Church in the background
Central Delft hasn’t changed much since the 1600s © Manfred Gottschalk / Getty Images

5. Channel Holland’s Golden Age in Delft

Travel time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Spreading out from its monumental market squareDelft’s enchanting, canal-woven core has scarcely changed since the painter Johannes Vermeer made a career creating masterpieces like Girl with a Pearl Earring during the Netherlands’ 17th-century Golden Age. Although none of his original works are on display in his hometown, you can see reproductions at Vermeer Centrum Delft.

You can also see the painter’s final resting place inside the 13th-century Oude Kerk church, nicknamed “Scheve Jan” (“Leaning John”) due to its sloping tower. Practically modern by contrast, the Nieuwe Kerk (or “new church”) was built between 1381 and 1655. Climbing its tower’s 376 steps rewards with spectacular views.

Delft is also famous for its blue-and-white-painted porcelain. Take a tour of a Delftware factory such as the renowned Royal Delft, which runs workshops where you get to paint your own tiles and other pieces.

How to get to Delft from Amsterdam: Southwest of Amsterdam in the heart of South Holland, Delft takes around an hour to reach by car. Direct trains run from Amsterdam Zuid (journey time: 45 minutes) and Amsterdam Sloterdijk (journey time: one hour) to Delft.

A family of three splash through the shallows of the sea on a day at the beach
Zandvoort is a popular beach to the west of Amsterdam © Westend61 / Getty Images

6. Combine city and beach with a trip to Haarlem and Zandvoort

Travel time: 20 to 35 minutes

Only 20km (12 miles) from Amsterdam, Haarlem retains its medieval charm. Its tangle of cobbled streets center on its lively Grote Markt, overlooked by the Grote Kerk van St Bavo. Topped by a 50m-high (164ft) steeple, this Gothic church houses one of the world’s finest organs – the ivories of which were once tickled by a 10-year-old Mozart. Concerts usually take place on Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons; tickets are just €4 each.

Stretching between Haarlem and coastal sand dunes is Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, home to red foxes, fallow deer and numerous bird species. Just beyond is the busy seaside resort of Zandvoort (aka “Amsterdam Beach”), a popular spot to soak up the sun on summer days. Public transport runs from Haarlem – though the most enjoyable way to explore both the park and the coastline is by standard or electric bike.

How to get to Haarlem from Amsterdam: Haarlem is west of Amsterdam, and the journey time by car is 35 minutes. Alternatively, visitors can take the Sprinter train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem, which takes around 20 minutes.

This article was first published Sep 10, 2019 and updated Jun 11, 2024.

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