Most people who visit the Netherlands don’t leave its largest city of Amsterdam. But there is so much more to see in this country lying on land reclaimed from the water, and so much of it is easily accessible with the Netherland’s excellent public transportation system. I was fortunate to visit Amsterdam last March for a long weekend. Read about my 4 Days in Amsterdam. I came for the tulips but also wanted to learn more about historical Dutch culture. Here are the three day trips from Amsterdam I enjoyed using public transportation. Because of my time constraints, I made each trip as a half-day excursion, but any of them would best be done using a full day.
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A Day Trip from Amsterdam to a Cheese Market
The towns of Edam, Gouda, and Alkmaar all run historical recreations of cheese markets. They all are at different times and start in the spring.
The Netherlands was a trading giant in the 14th-18th century, and Dutch cheese was a huge commodity. Each market has uniquely different ways of quickly trading cheeses.
How to Visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market
We chose to visit Alkmaar because its cheese market is open on Friday morning, so it was the only one that fit our long weekend schedule. I am so glad that it worked out, as we all loved the town and experience.
The cheese market started all the way back in 1365! The current market takes place on the Waagplein beneath the beautiful cheese weigh house. Although the official market opens at 10 am, I would recommend getting there at 9 am to see the preliminary activities and get a good seat. It is very crowded.
Will I Learn About Cheese at the Cheese Market?
In the market itself, you can learn all about the trading of cheese throughout history. But we learned the most about cheese itself by visiting the Cheese Museum in the weigh house. It is pretty inexpensive and definitely worth your time. The cheese museum is open March through September.
You can also learn about the types of cheese by stopping by the numerous booths selling cheese. There are ample opportunities to taste a lot of cheese! You will also learn that Gouda is not a type of cheese, it is a shape named after the city in which it was mainly traded. Same thing with Edam. It is more the kind of milk, additives, and length of aging that differentiates cheese in the Netherlands. And it is delicious!
How to Get to the Alkmaar Cheese Market From Amsterdam
You can easily catch a train from Amsterdam right into Alkmaar. Look at the train schedules here or visit the information booth in Amsterdam’s Central Station. At the station in Alkmaar, there will be a Dutch cheese girl to direct you to the market and signs along the beautiful walk. Give yourself at least half an hour to walk, as it is around 1.3 km from the station.
Is Alkmaar Worth Visiting Without the Cheese Market?
The short answer is definitely. Alkmaar has an open market square in which you can grab a meal, pretty canals and a lot of shopping with branded stores. Be sure to stop into the large church as well. It is empty on the inside, but an excellent place to learn some history. On market days, there are also shopping stalls.
How Long Do I Need to Spend in Alkmaar?
We spent half a day in Alkmaar. If we had more time, we would have taken time for a leisurely lunch in the market and taken a canal ride.
The cheese market and town are quite crowded on market days. If you would rather see it with a guide, you can book a tour of the Alkmaar Cheese Market here.
A Day Trip from Amsterdam to See Tulip Fields
Keukenhof is one of the largest and most famous flower gardens in the world and is a must-see for any flower enthusiast. The land was originally an estate for a castle and encompasses almost 80 acres!
Each year the gardens have a theme. There is also a windmill you can climb up to look over the gardens and adjacent tulip fields. There is a beautiful lake in the middle of the park and a tulip museum.
You can take a boat ride around the perimeter of the park leaving from near the windmill. On the day I was there, the wait for a boat ride was a couple of hours. The boat ride takes 60 minutes and costs a fee in addition to the garden’s entrance fee.
The gardens are very crowded, but less so right around opening time. The first hours I visited were my favorite times. I headed to the left from the entrance into the wooded area and got alone time among the winding paths surrounded by fields of flowers.
When is a Good Time to Visit Keukenhof?
Flowers are unpredictable, so it is hard to book your trip in advance and guarantee that you will be in Amsterdam for peak bloom. It happens sometime between late March to early May, usually in late April. Due to other commitments, the last week in March was when I needed to travel to Amsterdam. I ended up there only a few days before peak bloom, so I got lucky. Follow Tulips in Holland’s weekly flower update starting in March to see predictions and conditions for this year.
Is it worth visiting Keukenhof Even if the Tulips are Not in Bloom?
Tulips are not the only flower growing in the Keukenhof Gardens. I visited on the early side for tulips and think that is a great time to visit. Most of the tulips had just started to bloom, so I saw lots of them. The early spring blooms, such as hyacinths, have a much stronger fragrance, and the gardens smelled delightful.
How to Get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam
To get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam by public transportation, you need to travel from Amsterdam to Schiphol Airport, then catch a shuttle from the airport to the gardens. This trip will take about an hour. Find more details here.
If you want to be simpler, you can take a cab there, but it is much more expensive. Since I was traveling solo, I talked my way into a group’s cab for about the same price as the shuttle would have cost me on my way home to save time.
How Much Time Do I Need to Visit Keukenhof Gardens?
I visited in half a day, as that is all the time I had, but I could easily have spent a few more hours. I would have loved to have time to take the boat ride.
A Day Trip from Amsterdam to Tour a Historical Dutch Village and See Working Windmills
Zaanse Schans is a historical amusement park in Zaandam, about an hour outside of Amsterdam by bus or train. Buses are quicker, and there is a stop just a short walk from the park. Be aware there is a lot of walking or bike riding required to get around once you are in the park.
The park admission is free, although there are entrance fees to many of the attractions. It is set up as a village on the Zaan River among small waterways and meadows. There are various mills, crafts, and stores.
There are a collection of historic windmills, many of them still working. While in the windmills, you can see the many things they were used for, such as grinding spices, sawing wood, and making oil and paint.
How to Plan Your Day at Zaanse Schans
When I went there was an app to download that was supposed to help you make your way around the park. I could never get it to function correctly and wished I had a paper map.
Before you go or when you enter, decide what you really would like to do. I recommend stopping at:
- Tour at least one windmill.
- See a wooden clog being made at the wooden shoe factory.
- Eat a fruit-covered Dutch pancake at the patio of Restaurant De Kraai.
- Visit the chocolate factory in Verkade Pavillion.
- Climb the tower at the entrance to Zaanse Schans to take in the landscape, which is unique to The Netherlands.
If you have extra time, consider a boat ride or taking a bike ride around the grounds.
How Long Should I Spend in Zaanse Schans?
Much like Keukenhof Gardens, this attraction is very touristy but worth your time. Although you can do it in a half a day if pressed for time, there are lines for many things. A whole day will give you more time to see everything you want.
If you would rather let someone else do the planning, look into taking an organized tour from Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans.
The Netherlands in springtime is really magical, as is its unique landscape and culture. These day trips from Amsterdam were the perfect way to get an understanding of these things in a short four-day visit to Amsterdam. If you missed it, read my post on A Perfect Spring Weekend Trip to Amsterdam, which includes things to do in Amsterdam.
Thank you to Keukenhof Gardens for providing me complimentary tickets to tour the gardens.