Looking for a conveniently close, yet traditional and beautiful Dutch city when planning a day trip from Amsterdam? Visit the gorgeous historical city of Delft!
Most tourists discover the gezellige town of Delft almost as an afterthought as a side trip from Amsterdam or the tulip fields near Keukenhof. The typical day tourist will do the standard things: visit the famous Royal Delft pottery factory, go for a beer or a meal in the many tourist-trap places around the Markt (Market Square), gaze up at the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) steeple rising upward towards the glorious clouds. And then they dutifully head back to the train station and chug back to Amsterdam. That’s all they ever see.
And while Amsterdam is a fascinating city, full of great contradictions like the classic virtue of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” with the barely clad, less virtuous hookers leaning out of seductive doorways in the Red Light District, and with the solemnity of the pious Bejignhof with the scent of coffeeshops in Leidseplein, the small, but very significant South Holland town of Delft, is a gem often unexplored by tourists, or even by native Dutch.
Day Trips from Amsterdam: Try Delft!
Delft is more than old pottery. So much more. It’s a vibrant town, appearing essentially unchanged in the center city from Vermeer’s day, with tons of fun things to do and an ambience which is truly Dutch, even more so than gritty, touristy Amsterdam. Don’t get me wrong, Ik hou van Amsterdam, I love Amsterdam, and I lived there for 2 wonderful years, but Delft is a pure Dutch experience, unclogged by foreigners, and full of little magical surprises once you get off the beaten path. Here’s a suggested guide to experience this feeling, and for an unforgettable full day in Delft:
First of all, Delft is close. It’s less than an hour away from Centraal Station in Amsterdam and it’s even closer from Schiphol airport. For most Americans, who can drive miles to buy groceries, it’s an adjustment to navigate how compact the Netherlands truly are. Take advantage of it! And while Amsterdam is amazing, there is more to the Netherlands than just major city life. So, plan a day trip from Amsterdam to Delft to get the true Dutch experience. When arriving in Delft, start your day by leaving the excellent, brand new train station and NOT heading towards the Markt in the center of town. Instead head south towards the base of the town looking for the Hooikade just over the bridge of the Zuid Kolk. The old city center of Delft is surrounded by an oval canal, with the center sitting like a castle protected by a moat. The Hooikade is just over where the “moat” would be, right over a bridge. Cross that bridge and it’s easy to seek out the very spot where Vermeer stood when he painted one of his most famous paintings, the iconic “View of Delft.” A small park marks the spot; usually it’s devoid of tourists, amazingly so. I’ve been to this spot a dozen times and it’s always been empty. It’s a surreal and almost religious experience to stand in Vermeer’s very footsteps and see the same river and threatening clouds hovering over the Nieuwe Kerk. While much of the landscape has changed in 400 years, it’s amazing how much hasn’t, and, since the two churches were in the same spots when Vermeer painted, you can line up the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk with the steeple of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) to pinpoint the exact spot where the painting was created. Take a deep breath while you’re there. It is extraordinarily beautiful.
Then walk up the old canals towards the 800 year old Oude Kerk, a brisk 20 minute walk at most, taking in the architecture, ambience and, well, the cuteness of the place! As you approach the Oude Kerk, affectionately nicknamed “Old Jan,” notice how it leans precipitously over the canal. As the legend goes, the church started to lean over and everyone got concerned it would topple, but then it just stopped – like the leaning tower of Pisa — and has remained frozen leaning over ever since. And, as you walk, be careful not to impede the many beautiful Dutch students, like so many supermodels, whizzing by on bikes. It’s a student town, with the Delft University of Technology just outside the main canal circle.
Next you could stop in the Oude Kerk and pay your respects to the grave of Vermeer and the other famous Dutch citizenry resting eternally there, but do so quickly for right next door is the incredible Prinsenhof museum.
CSI: The Late Middle Ages (and some great bars and food!)
Take a good hour or two to carefully explore this amazing museum, the Prinsenhof. It’s a mystical, magical historical puzzle. Here, in 1584, William of Orange, AKA William the Silent, was murdered by a zealous Catholic from Spain. At the height of his power, William was fighting for Dutch independence, oh the usual Catholics- versus-the-Protestants type of thing. But, right here, in the Prinsenhof, you’ll see the actual holes made by Spanish bullets imbedded in the wall next to the staircase, like a scene from CSI or a murder mystery novel. Could this really be how he was assassinated? Do the clues fit? See for yourself. It’s a great place to let your mind wander back a few hundred years. Let your imagination fly!
Then you could head back to the Markt, but skip the touristy cafes there, and walk a few more blocks to the cozy Beestenmarkt, where the real Delft people hang. Lots of handsome guys and pretty girls fill up the chairs in the outdoor terrace where ancient cattle were once bought and sold. Relax over a biertje and some bitterballen! A great place to sit and chill, take in some sun and meet some new Dutch friends. The prices are dramatically lower than the tourist-trap spots just a few blocks away on the Markt. Amazingly, you won’t find too many tourists here, which is also fantastic.
For dinner, there are awesome Dutch cafes on every corner, one favorite of mine is De Bieried on the Burgwal, just steps from the Beestenmarkt. It’s a charming, friendly, prototypical Delft’s eet café, where drinks and excellent home cooked dinners await you. If, however, you prefer something ethnic, there are multiple choices all around the city center, you’ll find fantastically spicy Indonesian rijstafel, all-you-can-eat sushi, a Chinese buffet, a great Indian restaurant and scores of other restaurants — all are located in this part of town.
Stuffed, head back towards the Central Train Station, and, in less than an hour, you’re unloading at Centraal Station in Amsterdam. Or, if you have a long layover at Schiphol, think about making a 30-minute dash down to Delft rather than heading up toward Amsterdam, the airport is right on the same line and extremely easy to navigate.
Delft! Such a great place. Check it out, it’s much more than the typical cliche trip from Amsterdam, it’s a life-changing experience!