Although traveling to other cities is thrilling, when you live in a city sometimes you want to leave the hustle and bustle behind you for the day. I had read about the idyllic Dutch countryside before my trip to Amsterdam and remembered studying in college Rembrandt prints of windmills set behind waterways. I wanted to explore this different side of Holland that seemed locked in time.
Because the country is relatively small, there are several quaint historic towns an hour out of Amsterdam by train. Delft and Haarlem are on the same train line so they seemed like the best options for a day trip. Like I mentioned in my last blog on Amsterdam, one of the best ways to experience Dutch life is by water. Taking the train was no exception as you paralleled many canals through pastureland and spotted the occasional old windmill.
Delft: Home to Vermeer and Royal Delft China
I am not someone who is big on souvenirs, but I love blue and white china and had my heart set on picking up something as a Dutch memento. Delft is world renowned for their pottery or "delftware". Royal Delft China is located just outside the city offering behind the scenes tours on how each piece is lovingly created. If you have time, I highly recommend taking the tour.
If you want a comprehensive historic tour of the city head to the Tourist Information Point (TIP) at the center of the main square near the "New Church" and purchase one of the museum/tour package (Combi Ticket) options. The main square is somewhat touristy so, take time to wander through the streets beyond. Explore the old drawbridge or visit Vermeer's Aunt's House captured in one of his paintings. Don't miss stopping to take a break at the "Beestenmarkt" and sit with the locals in this converted animal market turned beer garden. If you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of a local celebrity, a rather large hog, taking her daily stroll.
Haarlem: Windmills, Jenever and Maritime
Haarlem is located just northwest of Amsterdam amid of the key flower growing fields in Holland. If you are travel here in the spring, it is one area not to miss. From the train I could see the remnants of a productive tulip season and preparations for next year. This town was once a bustling maritime port, a history that is evident the in medieval architecture and canals.
I arrived late in the day, but there was still plenty to explore including a fully restored windmill. If you happen by Molen de Adriaan, after tour hours stop by the neighboring restaurant for an al fresco Jenever and Tonic and take in the view. Jenever is the Dutch version of gin and many local restaurants, including this one, distill their own. It was quite possibly the best Gin and Tonic I've ever had! If Jenever is not your preference, consider stopping by De Jopenkerk to taste a locally made beer with a side of bitterballen in a converted church.
Not far from the Windmill, is the Grote Markt, containing the expansive town square and cathedral, De Grote Kerk. I arrived before the evening bells that once called visitors to the city's walled gates before closing. Luckily for me, the walls are long gone, and I had time to pass by several enclosed garden courtyards or hofjes before taking the train back to Amsterdam.
There was plenty to see in these two towns and I highly recommend at least visiting Haarlem (a 15min train ride) if you are traveling to Amsterdam. The countryside and pace of life provided a deeper view of Dutch culture that could easily be lost in a larger city.