Windmill

10 days in Holland: an Itinerary

What started as a lunch-time read about an exhibition on Hieronymus Bosch evolved into a 10 day, multi city Dutch adventure. Right before we left, I was very, very excited and told everyone a few co-workers about our trip. They were bemused at the crazy American chatting away in the lift again, confused that we weren’t flying and surprised we decided to go to Holland for so long and explore outside of Amsterdam. So, can you have a great holiday in Holland beyond a city break to Amsterdam?

Travel details:

  • Train from London to Brussels, Brussels to Amsterdam booked via Eurostar website
  • Local train from Amsterdam Centraal to Den Bosch
  • Hotel ‘t Keershuys, Den Bosch
  • Local train from Den Bosch to Amsterdam
  • Hotel: Conscious Hotel, Museum Square
  • Bus from Amsterdam Centraal to Edam (312 or 316)
  • Hotel: Hotel De Fortuna, Edam
  • Walk to Vollendam
  • Return ferry to Marken
  • Walk to Edam
  • Bus to Amsterdam
  • Booked via Eurostar website: Amsterdam to Brussels, Brussels to London

Top 10 must see and do

  • Try bossche bollen in Den Bosch
  • Go to The Bosch Experience
  • Explore the canals
  • Climb to the top of St John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch
  • Explore Amsterdam’s museums, windmills and brown bars
  • Eat Bitterballen
  • Eat Edam cheese in Edam
  • Attempt to read aloud in Dutch.
  • Discover Edam’s history in its museum
  • Try Kibbeling in Marken

Arrival

After finding a good deal, we booked a train from London to Amsterdam via Brussels. We had an early start at King’s Cross and just a few hours later, arrived in Brussels. While the scenery wasn’t spectacular, it was a nice journey (I dozed) with a quick transfer in Brussels. The fleeting glimpse from the train and a teasing view from the platform firmly placed Brussels on my ‘must visit’ list.

The train from Brussels to Amsterdam had much more interesting scenery and I enjoyed getting texts at each border from my mobile carrier. 4 countries in 8 hours was a personal record for me. Finally, a text read “Welcome to the Netherlands” and just to seal the deal, I immediately spotted a windmill! The Scot became progressively less amused as I screamed “Windmill!” each time we saw one.

Once at Amsterdam Centraal, it was easy to use a ticket machine to book a train to Den Bosch. We bought a snack of Febo (it’s sort of like a room of vending machines but with amazing fried snacks) and departed on our final train of the day.

Den Bosch

Day 1: Arrival in Den Bosch

Den Bosch is just over an hour away from Amsterdam on one of Holland’s efficient double-decker trains. This line was surprisingly busy but we were happy standing out of the way with our cases. At this point I was banned from shouting about windmills.

We exited the station to see an amazing dragon fountain and banners celebrating Hieronymus Bosch. We walked over the first of many, many canals into Den Bosch and entered into lovely, winding mediaeval streets bordered by leaning narrow houses to the hotel.

We stayed at hotel ‘t Keershuys. It’s a very old building that used to be the gatehouse for Den Bosch and was recently refurbished with lovely exposed brick walls and ladder-like stairs. It has its own bar and restaurant, but if you want to eat somewhere else, it’s located perfectly on a street full of restaurants and bars. The staff were all amazing and friendly; one of whom (very) patiently taught me a few words in Dutch. After we checked in, we got a free welcome drink in their bar and a tasty snack of the local delicacy bossche bollen (cream filled pastry liberally coated in chocolate) and made a dinner reservation.

After attempting to get our bearings in the maze of streets and canals and tasting the local beer, we went back to our hotel for dinner and the food was delicious (especially after tasting many of the local beers).

Making a reservation is an absolute must. I don’t know if it was due to the extra number of visitors for the Bosch exhibition, but we would not have had a table anywhere without booking in advance.

Day 2:

We woke up early and had a delicious breakfast at our hotel. I love a country where cheese for breakfast is not only acceptable, but encouraged. We had smoothies and (cheese) omelettes too!

Today was exhibition day and I was beyond excited. (This culminated in a sneezing fit in front of a triptych.) Called Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of genius at Het Noordbrabants Museum. The exhibition had been hailed in major newspapers here in the UK and lauded by the Royal Academy. I couldn’t wait, but not because of the hype. Bosch has always been one of my favourite artists.

We had scoped out how to get to the exhibition in the Noordbrabants Museum the night before and easily found it (everything seems to be about a 5 minute walk from everywhere else, if you don’t get lost). We joined the queue, waited what seemed like an age to put our stuff in the cloakroom and we entered the exhibition. It was worth the ticket and the whole trip. I saw the Bosch pieces I love and learned more about the wider context of his work, not only geographically in his home town where the exhibition was, but in the wider context of his competitors and followers.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town, exploring the canals half buried by houses and bridges. It seemed like around each corner there was a new statue of one of Bosch’s monsters lurking in some shadow or another. There is an amazing local brewery (‘t Kolleke) and we spent a lot of time at the cafe Bar le Duc.

For dinner, I forayed into Indonesian cuisine at Kakama for the first time.  We hadn’t made a reservation for dinner (big mistake), and I was starving, so we just walked in this place because it happened to have tables. However, this restaurant deserves to be more than an accident. The food was amazing! My mouth is watering just remembering it.

Day 3

It was cold and raining, but the weather didn’t stop us from exploring. We escaped into the Bosch Experience for a while where there was the most amazing collection of life-sized statues of the monsters from works such as The Garden of Earthly Delights, a recreation of an atrsonomical closk that used to be in the chathral and at the top, a panoramic view of the whole area. We explored the canals and tasted more local delicacies (read: cheese and beer). We climbed to the top of the Church of St. John (Sint-Janskathedraal) and got a panoramic view of the whole area. When we were there, booking tickets ahead was necessary.

That evening (after making reservations), we splashed out a bit for dinner at Christoffel. It looked busy each night and got good reviews. It definitely deserved those good reviews!

Amsterdam

Day 4

Another early start (and amazing breakfast) at our hotel and we checked out. We walked back to the train station feeling sad to leave this gorgeous town behind but excited to arrive in Amsterdam. I continued to be banned from shouting ‘windmill!’ and whispered it instead.

Leaving Amsterdam Centraal to get a tram to the Museum Quarter and our hotel, we were treated to the very special view down the Damrak and the crooked, unique canal houses all piled up on each other.

We checked into our hotel, the Conscious Hotel, and went to the Van Gogh museum to buy a Museumkaart. Last time I was here, The Van Gogh museum was under renovation, so we saw the collection in the Hermitage. Recently reopened, it was lovely to see the collection in its own museum although it was very busy.

Escaping the crowds, we indulged in some Febo and explored my favourite city ending up (purely by accident) in the Scot’s favourite pub: Café Int Aepjen.

Day 5

Foregoing the overpriced (but delicious-looking) breakfast in our hotel, we made our way down to the Rijksmuseum. For a lovely few minutes, we basically had the place to ourselves. This museum too was under renovation last time we were here and it was partly for this reason, partly because I was slightly hungover, it didn’t greatly impress me. This time, however, I understood the Scot’s relatively unbridled enthusiasm. It’s one of the best, not only in Amsterdam, but anywhere.

After a quick breakfast at the café, it was time explore more of  Amsterdam. We walked back towards the centre and into the oldest part of the city, the Red Light district. This area, known for its wild nights, is genuinely nice during the day. The best discovery was the museum of Our Lord in the Attic.  It’s a ‘house church’ built to accommodate Catholics during the 17th century when it, and most other religions, were banned in the public sphere. I expected a small, darkened room with a gaudy (no pun intended) altar, but it was huge. The tour also includes the whole house is open for the tour. It resisted modernisation and is just beautiful.

In the fading afternoon, we then walked back towards our hotel, ending up in the area around the Anne Frank House (which we didn’t go in this time) and recovered in another brown bar. It was lovely and cosy and all things a brown bar should be.

Day 6

Another early start to go to an exhibition advertised at the Van Gogh museum, Easy Virtue: Prostitution in French Art, 1850–1910. I arrived at opening time and there was already a queue (the Museumkaart doesn’t let you skip this one). The exhibition delivered on its promising title with room after room of paintings, objects (including a bed) and some very, very racy photographs.

After a late breakfast / early lunch I was ready to explore, so we walked back to the older bit of town again and went to the Maritime Museum. I wandered around the endless models of ships and looked at recreated photo albums of great maritime journeys. Unfortunately we arrived a bit late (and I spent a lot of time looking at the old photos) so we didn’t get to see it all.

To recharge, we had a drink in Noah’s Arq cafe which I would only recommend because it is in the historic headquarters of a well-known shipping liner company (which I cannot remember the name of). We moved on to have a drink and some Dutch bar snacks in another great brown bar, De Skutswacht.

Day 7

I wasn’t feeling well so stayed in the hotel for the morning while the Scot walked into the centre for another canal expedition (they don’t get old). He came back to pick me up (I have the worst sense of direction) and we explored De Pijp. A formerly working class neighbourhood, De Pijp is now mostly known for its market and eateries. We explored the market and then found a lovely cafe, Geflipt Burgers, where I had an amazing late brunch (not a burger though).

After a very delicious, filling meal, we decided to walk to De Gooyer windmill, Amsterdam’s own windmill (not the one pictured). It is also now home to a brewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ,  and had a very tasty and well-deserved pint before going back to Café Int Aepjen. If you ask nicely, the barman can source bitterballen.

Edam

Day 8

We checked out of our hotel (not terribly impressed) and made our way to Amsterdam Centraal to get the bus to Edam. For 10, paid to the driver, we boarded the 312 or 316 bus at the back of the station  and 45 minutes later arrived in Edam. There were more windmills.

It was a 5 minute walk (in pouring rain) from the bus station, over a few canals, into town.  I felt like I had entered a fairy tale. There were tiny houses meandering along with the canals, even in the rain their walls reflected off the water in the canals. We checked into our hotel, the Hotel De Fortuna and were led to our room. It was out the back of the main building and restaurant, along another canal surrounded by more gingerbread houses. After getting settled, we went for a walk and luckily within a few minutes, the weather cleared up to some of the sunniest we had for the entire trip.

The canals glittered and reflected the gingerbread houses lining them. We wandered  just out of town and saw fields stretching to the horizon and it looked like a scene from another time. We found a tree that was home to about 10 herons, nesting and just hanging out looking at us with their dinosaur eyes.

After the walk, it was time to recover in De Harmonie, a lovely bar with an amazing selection of beer (and a very tolerant bar man who let me test out my limited Dutch). Several concerts were advertised, including a David Bowie tribute band for the following night.

After this, we had amazing and well-priced dinner at our hotel. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I had cod with barley and lots of extras like olives and bread. It doesn’t sound like much if you didn’t taste it, but it was fantastic. You’ve got to believe me.

After such a great meal, we went for a walk back to De Harmonie. It was cold and the sky was clear, but there was this atmospheric fog coming off of the canals. It looked like an 18th century ghost story. The moon just managed to light up through the fog and reflect on the water in the canals.

Day 9

I woke up to the most glorious sunshine, one of the only times I did so on this trip and went back to the restaurant for an amazing, varied and cheese-filled breakfast.

Using the museum-kaart to get into Edam’s museum, consisting of the oldest canal house in Edam and the town hall, there was a variety of local history items (including a whale bone) and a floating cellar. I had never heard of one before! Lowering myself into the cellar, it was like being on a boat. Any shift in my weight caused it to rock slightly.

Vollendam is near by and I wanted to see what was described as a traditional clog village.  Neither of us are big fans of buses so when the nice man at the tourist centre said it was only about an hour’s walk to Vollendam from Edam, we decided to set off in the sunshine.

Passing the canals and the bar from the night before, we walked out of town and past Edam’s lovely windmill (pictured). We walked along the sea wall getting blasted by the wind for about 45 minutes and arrived in Vollendam. It was crowded and just had a horrible touristy, Disneyland atmosphere. I’ve never spent a shorter time in a place than it took to get there before.

We immediately bought a ticket for the ferry to Maarkam (10 return) had a 20 minute sail across the bay, getting a lovely view of Vollendam and the sea on our way. Continuing a tradition at every other town, we tried the local bitterballen and got a coffee before we explored the town amid hordes of tourists. I couldn’t help myself. We went to the clog factory, but I did not buy any. (I was sorely tempted). The Scot tried the local kibbeling which was some sort of delicious, spicy fried fish snack.

We got the ferry back to Vollendam and with the wind behind us, made much better time on the walk back to Edam. We had dinner in a local pub with some more local beer and set off for the David Bowie tribute night at De Harmonie.

Day 10

Feeling a bit worse for wear from the night before, we woke up a bit later but managed to get to our hotel breakfast. They had the best bread I’ve ever had. I still dream about that bread.

It was now time to check out and start heading back to Amsterdam for our train. After buying more cheese than is advisable for just two people in one of two shops specialising in cheese, we had a short wait at the bus station for a bus to Amsterdam and got there a lot faster than I thought we would. So we had one last look at the canal houses in front of the station, a long wait for our train and we were off, back through 4 countries and home to London.

What I might do differently

I think if the trip was just a few weeks later, the weather would have been much more pleasant. March could be beautiful but it was a bit cold on most days.

I was really disappointed in our hotel in Amsterdam so wouldn’t stay there again.

I love the trams in Amsterdam (except for one time when I was spooned without my consent.) Next time, I will figure out how to get a pass so I don’t have to pay the driver each time. I think they would appreciate that too.

10 days in Holland, was it worth it?

I realise most longer holidays are spent further afield than Holland or in more traditionally ‘exotic’ locations. Most visitors to the Netherlands spend the whole time in Amsterdam. However, I don’t think you need my undying enthusiasm for cheese or the Scot’s equally passionate stance on beer to enjoy a longer holiday in Holland. The culture is amazing everywhere and there are so many lovely towns. We just scratched the surface; there are still Rotterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag and many more places I want to see.

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