Thanks to the Netherlands' compact size and superb transport links, visitors to Amsterdam are spoiled for day trip choices that complement a city break in the Dutch capital.

Encompassing everything from Den Haag's standout museums, Zandvoort's sandy beaches, and Zaanse Schans' working windmills, these are six of the best day trips within an hour of Amsterdam.

Be enchanted by the Golden Age glory of Delft

Fanning out around Delft's monumental market square, the city’s enchanting, canal-woven core has scarcely changed since Johannes Vermeer (of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame) lived and painted here during the Golden Age. Although the city doesn't have any of his original works, reproductions are displayed at the 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. In contrast, the city's “new church,” the Nieuwe Kerk, was built between 1381 and 1655 – climbing its tower's 376 steps rewards with spectacular views.

Delft is also known for its blue-and-white-painted porcelain. You can tour Delftware factories, such as the renowned Royal Delft, which runs workshops where you get to paint your own tiles and other earthenware.

How to get to Delft: Delft is southwest of Amsterdam and 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.

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An aerial shot of Zandvoort beach in Amsterdam. The golden sand is filled with bathers enjoying the sun.
Pair a visit to Haarlem with a stop at Amsterdam's favorite beach resort: Zandvoort © Bram van de Biezen / Getty Images

Experience city and beach on a day trip to Haarlem and Zandvoort

Only 20km (12 miles) from Amsterdam, medieval Haarlem remains a completely independent city. Its tangle of cobbled streets centers on its lively Grote Markt, overlooked by the Grote Kerk van St Bavo. This Gothic church, topped by a 50m-high (164ft) steeple, houses one of the world's finest organs – the ivories of which were once tickled by a 10-year-old Mozart. Keep an ear out for free recitals, which usually take place on Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons. 

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, but the most enjoyable way to explore both the park and the coastline is by standard or electric bike.

How to get to Haarlem: 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.

The exterior of a large museum building, with blossom trees and a nearby weeping willow
Leiden has several significant museums packed with treasures © Kisa_Markiza / Getty Images

Get a culture fix in Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt

Laced by canals lined with gabled 17th-century buildings and criss-crossed 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, dating from 1575, and is notable for being the 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 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. Looking for something a little less stuffy? Head to the beautiful Hortus Botanicus Leiden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, where you can spy (and smell) colorful blooms from across the world.

How to get to Leiden: 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.

Rear view of a boy looking across a green landscape toward windmills
Good wholesome fun awaits everyone at Zaanse Schans © Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Zaanse Schans is a great day trip for families with young children

An afternoon at Zaanse Schans provides good, wholesome fun for all ages, but younger travelers especially will enjoy seeing the creaking sails of its six authentic windmills in action – making this a top day trip choice for families. This engaging attraction also boasts a recreated 17th-century village made up of traditional buildings brought here from around the Netherlands, including a clog factory, cheesemaker, and a 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 five-minute river boat journey.

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

Crowds of people eat and drink outside Grapes and Olives riverboat cafe on the side of the canals in The Hague, the Netherlands
Spend a sunny afternoon cafe-hopping along the canals of Den Haag © Radiokukka / Getty Images

Explore the royal connections of Den Haag (The Hague)

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

For more royalty-tinged thrills, head to the Mauritshuis, where works by the Dutch masters form the basis of the 800-strong Royal Picture Collection, or drop into former royal palace Lange Voorhout, which now houses the Escher in Het Paleis, showcasing the improbable creations, such as 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: 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 to Rotterdam.

Markthal food market in Rotterdam, with its colourful ceiling - depicting giant murals of fruit - on show.
Covered food market Markthal makes for an eye-popping lunch stop © Ankor Light / Shutterstock

Tour the contemporary architecture of Rotterdam

In stark contrast to the Netherlands' historic cities, Rotterdam was flattened during WWII and its inspirational recovery transformed into a veritable gallery of modern and contemporary architecture. Standouts include 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 “cloud-like” Timmerhuis, which incorporates the Museum Rotterdam (profiling the city's evolution), and the horseshoe-shaped Markthal, a vast covered food market with sit-down eateries beneath a curvilinear ceiling covered in outsized fruit-and-vegetable murals, which 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. For dedicated architecture tours, De Rotterdam Tours or Urban Guides are excellent.

How to get to Rotterdam: 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.

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This article was first published September 2019 and updated February 2022

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