Great “social distancing” day trips for autumn in the Netherlands

Night view of Rembrandt bridge and de Put windmill in Leiden, Netherlands

Vacation is over, summer is just about over, school’s back in session. Yes, autumn is upon us! Though the general call to avoid crowded areas is still in place, there are still many sights to see and things to do in the Netherlands. Some of these places could even be called “hidden gems of the Netherlands”, since they are close to larger cities that generally steal their thunder – at least on travel websites and with tourists!

Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague might be crowded, so consider nearby cities to avoid crowds and experience more of this amazing country.

Thinking of visiting Amsterdam? Why not check out Haarlem?
Only a short 15-minute drive or train ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem is the capital of the province Noord-Holland. Its rich history dates back to the 13th century, although most of the buildings you see today are from the 16th and 17th centuries, known as the Dutch Golden Age. The city played an important part in the Eighty Years’ War, historically known as the beginning of the Republic of the Netherlands. Though the city fell to the Spanish in 1575, it was the fierce fighting of one small city against the Spanish army that inspired many other Dutch cities at the time to resist Spanish rule.

Haarlem attractions include the Frans Hals Museum, named after the second-most important Dutch painting master after Rembrandt, with two locations: one on the main town square situated across from the Grote Kerk (the Big Church) and the other in an area called De Hallen. The oldest museum in the Netherlands, Teylers Museum, is also located in Haarlem. This so-called “museum of wonders” was established in the 18th century and houses collections of art, books, coins, fossils and instruments. And the Amsterdamse Poort is one of the last remaining parts of the original city walls.

Want to visit Rotterdam but not sure about the crowds? Gouda is right next door!
Virtually everybody knows Gouda cheese but many non-Dutch speakers might not realize that this city has so much more to offer. Pronounced correctly as “how-dah” with the back-of-the-throat guttural “G”, the city is known for more than its famous cheese. Stroopwafels also come from this Zuid-Holland city and its town hall is one of the oldest Gothic-style town halls in the Netherlands.

Attractions to see in Gouda include the cheese market, held every Thursday in the city’s Marktplein, which also includes an arts and crafts market. Towering over the city’s central square is the town hall, dating back to the mid-1400’s, and the Gouda Cheese Museum, where the former cheese weighing station was located. And like many Dutch town and cities, the city itself is an attraction unto its own with many buildings in the city center dating back to the late Middle Ages, as well as lots of charming canals.

Live around The Hague and need something to do? Head up north to Leiden!
The oldest university in the Netherlands, founded by Willem of Orange and attended by Princess Beatrix (Queen of the Netherlands from 1980-2013) and King Willem-Alexander, is located in Leiden. The city is a typical European university city with a vibrant café and restaurant scene and historical university buildings scattered around the old city. Like many other Dutch cities, Leiden has many canals, and the city boasts two medieval gates (Morspoort and Zijlpoort) that still stand today. And you can’t miss the city’s windmill museum, De Valk, near the train station and open every day except Mondays. And see if you can find the city best-hidden gem, the castle!

Leiden was another important city during the Eighty Years’ War. Besieged for several years by the Spanish, the city became another symbol of resistance for the growing revolt in the Low Countries. The city celebrates its liberation from the Spanish on 3 October 1574 with city-wide festivities in the days leading up to 3 October (though some events go on through the 4th). Part of this is the traditional herring and white bread fest, as well as hutspot, which – as the story goes – originates from the time of the city’s liberation nearly four and a half centuries ago.

For American history, Leiden also holds an important place. After fleeing religious oppression in England, the Pilgrims lived in Leiden before departing on the Mayflower for Massachusetts and New Amsterdam (present-day New York City). 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail for the New World; there are many events and programs planned around this historic anniversary. You can find more information about this at https://www.mayflower400uk.org/.

Written by Marla Thomson