Here are some exceptional day trips within an hour or so that are filled with all that’s quintessentially Holland, including tulips, Delftware, and even a Dutch auction. Plus, you’ll see other surprises like windmills and lush flower fields along the way.
Although I took all these excursions in the spring, two out of three are perfect for any time of year. For each trip, plan to spend around €20 to €30 for transportation and admissions.
Landscaped in 1857 and turned exhibition in 1949, Keukenhof’s 70-plus acres of gardens are ideal for seeing Holland’s famous bulb flowers. The grounds and many indoor pavilions showcase countless varieties, including orchids, daffodils, hyacinths, and of course, tulips. Every year, a new tulip variety is christened, and this year’s pride is the Rembrandt tulip in honor of the Dutch master’s 400th birthday.
Because I visited just one week after opening, I caught only the crocuses in bloom, which were nevertheless spectacular in sheets of purple lawn carpet. The other flowers come later; however, several indoor pavilions and outdoor “inspiration gardens” offer colorful floral displays throughout the park’s short season.
Keukenhof is open from late March through the third week of May. From Amsterdam Centraal Station, take the train to Leiden, then bus #54. (Keukenhof admission costs €12.50.)
If you can’t make it to Keukenhof at the height of spring, Aalsmeer Flower Auction is the best place to see blossoms year-round. This international marketplace for fresh-cut flowers, the largest in the world, is a co-op owned by Dutch and international growers, and is not your average tourist attraction. Few other tours allow you to see the buying and selling of tens of millions of a single commodity, much less one with such an aesthetic.
Endless buckets of fresh flowers move on tracks laid over one million square meters of warehouse, where they are viewed, sold, given a barcode, distributed, and sent off to delivery trucks and ultimately your coffee table. Visitors can also see, in real time, export companies bidding on flowers Dutch style, in which the price starts high and works down until there’s a buyer. The entire process breeds excitement, since thousands of transactions take place in what seems like a millisecond.
The best times to visit are before 9 a.m. and early in the week before most of the flowers are auctioned off. Take the #172 bus from Centraal Station. (Aalsmeer admission costs €4.50.)
The town of Delft, known for its famous blue-and-white earthenware and artist Johannes Vermeer, preserves its 15th-century past with old churches, almshouses, and classic Dutch canals, while offering delightful shops and restaurants. High points include the Royal Delft factory and a town square called the Beestenmarkt, which has a handful of fine restaurants.
Although the town hosts several factories making Delft blue, Royal Delft is one of the originals (since 1653) and remains highly acclaimed. All its earthenware is 100-percent hand painted, which you can see demonstrated firsthand by several of the 19 staff painters. Not to be without its own claim on Rembrandt’s anniversary, the factory has produced a true-to-size replica of the painter’s famous “The Night Watch,” as well as a commemorative plate with the artist’s likeness available for sale. (Royal Delft admission costs €4)
For a hearty evening meal, Spijshuis de Dis serves an excellent rendition of classic and innovative Dutch cuisine. Sample dishes include large portions of redfish, salmon, mackerel, smoked ham, and brie, all baked in an oven, and for dessert, ice cream sundaes with warm cherries and marinated pineapple served in a wooden shoe. Entrées cost around €20.
Take the train from Centraal Station, which travels direct during the week and via The Hague on weekends.
For more day-trip ideas, visit Holland.com.
You can read about Amsterdam in my Escapes Under $500 column.