A lowdown on places to visit it Netherlands beyond the capital city
On a Bucolic Trail
With its charming canals, world class museums, 17th century gabled buildings, historic architecture or the bustling nightlife, it is not an understatement to say that Amsterdam is arguably one of the most vibrant and eclectic cities in Europe. The effervescent capital of Netherlands also houses the fourth busiest port in the continent, making it a hub of activity. Most often, visiting the country is all about exploring the multifaceted city of Amsterdam. But beyond Amsterdam, the Netherlands offers several charming sights and oodles of bucolic charm. In fact, the Dutch countryside is often counted as one of the most beautiful and unexplored in Europe. There are several small towns just outside Amsterdam that offer great insights into Dutch culture, cuisine and craft. So, here is a lowdown on some of the places you can visit in the land of the Dutch beyond its capital city.
Zaanse Schans: Think Netherlands and it almost immediately conjures images of cosy wooden houses, windmills, watery meadows and lush greenery. And if you want see this whole setting live, just take a trip to Zaanse Schans. A neighbourhood of Zaandam, which is a city located north of Amsterdam and on the river Zaan, Zaanse Schans is akin to an open-air museum and is an accurate recreation of Holland during the prosperous 18th and 19th century. During this period there were over a whopping 600 windmills in this region whose wind power propelled a number of factories that processed several commodities like paper, oil, wood, paint, dye and even cocoa. The region was not only famous for its enterprise and creativity but also for the spirit of community where workers and owners shared technical know-how and lived in harmony.
The brainchild of award-winning architect Jaap Schipper, most of Zaanse Schans as seen today was created between 1961 and 1976 with several heritage buildings and structures being actually transported and installed here. The Zaans Museum was opened in 1994 and since then this sprawling region has attracted visitors from all over. While here, visitors can travel back in time while witnessing traditional houses, barns, bakeries and watching windmills in action. From craftsmen’s workshops, chocolate and cheesemaking to oil extraction, you can soak in the unique culture of the Dutch. Apart from the Zaan museum, there are several others, including the Bakkerijmuseum (Bakery Museum), Museum Zaanse Tijd (museum of unique clocks) and the Honig Breethuis, which is a typical 19th century merchant house.
Volendam: Often touted as Netherlands’ best known fishing village, Volendam is located just over 20 km from Amsterdam. A destination for all seasons, this lively town is known for its harbour, fish trade and quintessential Dutch character. It is here that you can savour some of the most exotic Dutch cheese and dress yourself in authentic Dutch costumes. Home to a close-knit community of hard-working families who revere the water and their village, Volendam offers a true taste of Netherlands’ rustic charm.
Perched on Lake Markermeer, the village houses several interesting sights, including the Palingsound Museum, which chronicles a genre of music characteristic of Volendam. You can also visit the Volendam museum that gives you insights into the culture and folklore of this village. Take a walk along the De Dijk, which is the oldest part of the town and full of charming cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Apart from savouring some of the delectable caramel waffles and traditional fish of the region, you can visit a cheese factory where you can witness the art of cheesemaking, including the making of some natural cheeses which have plant-based rennet. It is also a great place to sample and pick up a variety of gourmet Dutch cheese.
Marken: Another quaint fishing village, Marken is accessible by a long causeway or a ferry that takes about 30 minutes from Volendam. An utterly picturesque island, this one is best explored on foot. The island that dates back to the 19th century is replete with colourful, timber houses, which were built on piles to prevent them from flooding. The sparsely populated village is known for its well-maintained homes complemented by manicured lawns and the prettiest of gardens. Apart from the Marken museum, one can visit the Shoe Museum here where you can witness the history and different kinds of the signature Dutch clogs or wooden shoes. You can also watch a fascinating demonstration of how a pair of shoes is made using a machine. These shoes were traditionally used by farmers and the working class given their comfort, durability and water resistance quality. While they were earlier crafted by hand, the clogs are now made by a hand-operated machine. The museum is also a great place to pick up souvenirs, which include clogs, magnets and windmill miniatures.
Delft: Located about 70 km from Amsterdam, Delft is an alluring university town with plenty of museums, canals and heritage buildings. However, the main highlight of the town is the signature blue pottery known as Delft blue. The latter refers to the world-renowned, hand-painted earthenware, which was made from clay and then coated with a tin glaze. A craft that was widely practised in the 17th century, Delft had about 33 factories making these exclusive pieces. Over time, the art slowly diminished and currently, there is just one factory called Royal Delft showcasing this rare craft. Do not miss a chance to watch a live demo on how these iconic pieces are handcrafted and handpainted. There is also a museum in the premises that depicts the history and evolution of this craft that dates back to 1653 AD. Given that the pieces are handpainted, no two pieces are identical and all of them come with a certificate of authenticity. There is also a showroom adjoining the museum where you can pick an authentic Delft Blue souvenir that is sure to bring back happy memories of the time you spent in Netherlands.
Giethoorn: The epitome of all things charming, Giethoorn is straight out of a fairytale. A village without roads in most parts and only boats as the main mode of transport, this one is arguably one of the most beautiful villages in Netherlands. Often referred to as the Venice of Holland and Dutch Venice, most of Geithoorn consists of little islands interconnected by over 150 hand dug canals. The village, which first finds mention in the 13th century, is filled with greenery and is a picture of idyllic clam with the silence being occasionally broken by the quack of a duck or the chirping of a bird.
The best way to explore the village is by taking a boat ride that takes you on a serene ride through the canals and underbridge as you pass by museums, cafes, houses and boutique shops on the bank. Named after the large number of goat horns that were found buried in the mud by early settlers, the village has a very interesting history. One can learn all about this and the native customs and culture of the place by visiting the Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus. The 1871 Mennonite church is again an insightful place to visit. Do note that this village could get really crowded with tourists during the summer and peak holiday season, hence it is ideal to visit it during the off season.