Back in April 2015 I did a 5 day trip in Netherlands with 3 friends. We came up from Paris, so Rotterdam was our first stop. Most people would probably fly into Amsterdam or start from Amsterdam – which we didn’t visit on our trip. I’ve visited Amsterdam two times – the first during winter, and the second during spring. Adding Amsterdam would add 2 to 3 days to the trip, making it a week long journey in the Netherlands.
We based our stays in Rotterdam (3 days) and Den Haag (2 days). The train network in Netherlands (Sprinters for local trains and intercities for longer distances) runs really well and isn’t too expensive, so it was more convenient to stay in the larger cities and day trip to smaller towns than to move around every day.
Day 1 : Rotterdam
The first day was spent exploring Rotterdam – a port city that was bombed and completely rebuilt, so it doesn’t have the classic Dutch houses that line most cities. It’s not a typically touristic city, and doesn’t have the age-old charm of Amsterdam or other canal threaded small town, but I did like it – Rotterdam had a modern and relaxed vibe. We rented bikes and managed to navigate the city without any problem – there were often bike lanes where we needed to go.
The yellow cube houses of Rotterdam are pretty iconic, and were designed to optimize interior space in a dense urban setting. You can even stay inside them in a hostel, but we’d chosen another hostel nearer to the central train station, seeing as we were planning on taking the train often. Of course, being a port city, there also the great bridges – Erasmusbrug and Willemsbrug. We stumbled upon a giant slide somewhere in the middle of the Noordereiland, built into a hillside, so we spent some time indulging in our childhood selves (and being astonished at the way the Dutch children slide down head first!)
Day 2 : Kinderdijk + Dordrecht
You could spend a day winding along Kinderdijk with your bike, heading out to Dordrecht, and stopping to take photos of the flower fields, windmills, and canals. It’s hard not to smile with such a classically beautiful countryside stretching out before you for miles and miles. We took a ferry with our bikes over from Rotterdam and picnic-ed somewhere along the way on a bench. The bikes we rented were really stable and the roads were straight and empty – I managed to bike without hands for the first time here!
Dordrecht itself is a quaint waterside town with shop houses and boutiques, where we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream before heading back to Rotterdam on the ferry!
Day 3 : Gouda
Gouda seems to be better known as a cheese, but the name actually comes from the town of Gouda, where it was historically traded! When we told our concierge at the hostel that we were heading out to Gouda, she gave us a blank stare. Turns out, Gouda is actually pronounced something more of khow-da than goo-da!
This little town is full of canals, and should definitely be visited on cheese market day. In the main square, huge rinds of Gouda cheese are laid out – and when I say huge, I mean huge! Definitely a place to stop to pick up some cheese. Don’t forget to try the stroopwafels too, Gouda is famous for making them!
Another town we’d considered visiting was Delft, which is known for its blue porcelain, but in the end, due to time constraints, we only visited Gouda.
Day 4 : Leiden
We went to Leiden for the tulips that Netherlands is so famous for, as it was the season. One of our friends wanted to see the Keukenhof gardens, but the rest of us decided to go cycling around in the tulip fields near Lisse.
The cycling road brought us through sand dunes and out to the North Sea, which was still raging and cold at the time, and through countless tulip fields. It was an afternoon spent marveling at the vibrant colours extending into all directions – how are so many different tones expressed in just one flower?! Most of the fields were closed to public (especially those nearer the start of the trail), but one or two allowed you to come closer and walk among the tulips.
Day 5 : Den Haag
Den Haag is a city that I loved – it is just the right amount of bustling, just the right amount of cozy. We spent some time in the Hague Forest where we saw a few wandering deers, and a lot of time just walking around the town. In the evening time, locals seem to all come out and sit on bar terraces to catch up with friends – the city was alive with a lively chatter.
We also took the classic red tram to the Scheveningen seaside, after stopping at the Hague market for some fried seafood! The long stretch of sea was comforting; it was still too cold for anyone to swim, we only idled and made footprints in the sand.
Add on : Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, my favourite museums are the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh museum, the Rembrandthuis, and the houseboat museum (smaller than the other two but nonetheless interesting!). I find in general that smaller, more focused museums are easier to love – the Van Gogh museum where I learnt about all his different stages of life and the evolution of his style was more engaging personally than the huge Rijksmuseum with all her different sections.
Simply walking around the canals made me happy as they are really scenic – I was lucky to visit Amsterdam a second time for a rowing competition, and got to row in some of the smaller canals! As for food, what I remember are the fries in cones from Mannekin Pis, burgers outdoor at the Burger Bar, meatballs in paper boats at Cafe Loetje, and fresh oysters at the Noordermarkt.
During my first visit, we also spent a day cycling up in the north of Amsterdam, in the countryside along ditches and fields. We got a little hungry and stopped at a house when we saw a lady at the door, to ask if she had any food recommendations nearby. She pointed us to the village of Broek in Waterland, and specifically to a pancake house (pannenkoekenhuis) called De Witte Swaen. It filled us up well!
My memories of Netherlands are pleasant to revisit – she is definitely one of my favourite countries to explore; canals, bikes, windmills, tulips, what’s not to like?
I hope this post has been useful! Download a printable Netherlands itinerary here.