The city of Amsterdam is a vibrant, thriving culture. Most people who travel to the Netherlands flock to Amsterdam. But unfortunately, many tourists never dare to venture beyond the canals of the nation’s biggest tourist attraction. So much attention is focused on Amsterdam that it’s easy to forget that there is the rest of the country to explore. If you’re looking for information on what to do in Amsterdam, check out my earlier blog post here. For those of you looking to explore more of the Netherlands, keep reading.
Haarlem (yes, where the New York Harlem got its name) is just a short 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal. The city is quintessentially Dutch and is almost like a smaller Amsterdam with fewer tourists. One of Haarlem’s biggest attractions is the Corrie ten Boom house. Corrie ten Boom lived during World War II and hid Jews in her family’s home in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. By a miracle, Corrie survived the concentration camps and traveled around the world to tell her side of the story. Today, visitors can visit the house where she and her family saved many Jews.
Another big attraction in Haarlem is the grand Müller organ. It’s a massive organ with 5,000 pipes and was played by Mozart and other famous musicians. On weekends, the streets of Haarlem come alive with markets and festivals. Be like a true Dutchman and sample some fresh cheese and herring!
Speaking of cheese, the small town of Alkmaar is a cheese-lover’s dream. The best time to visit is on Friday mornings during the traditional cheese market. The cheese market has been held in the same place, the Waagplein, since 1593 and has recently become a huge tourist attraction.
The cheese market, or kaasmarkt, is held in the center of town, which is a brief 10-minute walk from the train station. You’ll know you’re at the right spot when you hear the music and see hundreds of wheels of cheese. Dutch men called “cheese carriers” wear traditional Dutch clothes and carry cheese across the square to be weighed. They still use the same kind of pallets that the Dutch have used for centuries. Designed to be carried by two men, the pallets are supported by harnesses that the men carry on their shoulders and run with. Sometimes, they will even choose a volunteer from the crowd to go on a ride around the square! The market opens up to the public at 10 a.m. but work begins for the market at 7 a.m.
For a few euros, you can be weighed on an old scale that is balanced by wheels of cheese. Even if you don’t want other people to see your weight, it’s still a fun photo-op!
In addition to the cheese market, Alkmaar is a beautiful town to walk around and explore. There are dozens of shops and restaurants to energize you for the rest of your day. Some food stands are even right next to the cheese market in case you get too hungry watching the wheels of cheese. If you want more information, you can visit the Alkmaar website.
A trip to the Netherlands wouldn’t be complete without visiting some sort of flower attraction. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the country during the springtime, you may be able to visit the Keukenhof, the most spectacular flower exhibit in the world. For those of you who can’t travel to the Keukenhof, the Aalsmeer flower market is still an extraordinary place to visit.
Aalsmeer is the world’s largest trading center for flowers and plants in the world. Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday the flower auction is open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. You can choose to embark on a self-guided tour or use a tour guide. Guided tours must be made in advance and are exclusively for groups. Adult tickets are 7 euros and children’s tickets are 4 euros.
If you can’t make it in time to see the auction itself because you’re still sleeping off the night before, the warehouse stays open past the auction and you can watch the flowers being processed. The warehouse is enormous – in fact, it’s the fourth largest building in the world! Over 20 million flowers are traded there every day.
For further information, visit their site here.
The Netherlands has no shortage of quaint towns and Zaanse Schans does not disappoint. This town is a quick train ride from Amsterdam and is located across the river from a chocolate factory. You will be in a chocolate wonderland the whole time you are there.
The color of the buildings is what makes the town so iconic. All of the houses and windmills are painted some shade of green. This beautiful color scheme brings the town to life and makes it seem magical.
In addition to just walking around and admiring the perfectly manicured landscapes, Zaanse Schans offers many things to do. It is essentially an open-air museum. Some of the windmills still work and are open for visitors to see the insides and learn how windmills function. There is also a workshop where traditional wooden shoes, klompen, are made. There is also a small museum of wooden clogs attached to the workshop that show the variety of wooden clogs. Entrance is free and well worth the visit. I find it very intriguing to learn how klompen turn from blocks of wood into beautiful shoes!
Many small shops line the streets of Zaanse Schans and sell a variety of things. Some are eclectic antique shops and others sell handmade chocolates. So if the smell from the chocolate factory is too overpowering, you can satisfy your craving by trying some delicious Dutch chocolate.
One of the great things about these day trips is they can take however long you want. Aalsmeer and Zaanse Schans could be done in the same day, whereas you may wish to spend an entire day in Haarlem. The Netherlands is a small enough country that nearly everything can be a day trip if you believe in yourself.
Have you ever visited any of these places in the Netherlands?