I hadn’t planned to spend one week in the Netherlands this January, but when I booked the flight to Japan, the cheapest option was the one flying from Amsterdam, and I said to myself, “why not.”
Traveling in the Netherlands by train is really pretty cool, meaning that trains run every few minutes into any town, and you can show up at the station at any time without checking the schedule and waiting no more than two or three minutes. Unlike in Italy…
Almost all trains in the Netherlands provide free wifi and working heating. To access/leave the platform, you have to pass through turnstiles. Only at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport or larger stations such as The Hague (Den Haag) or Utrecht, the turnstiles are replaced by infrared-reading columns validating your ticket when you walk around them. The stations are always very well organized and even in the historical ones as Haarlem there are shops, restaurants, and bars.
To travel by train in the Netherlands, you have several options: a simple magnetic ticket called OV-chipkaart, to be purchased at ticket machines or directly online through one of my favorite apps, SNCB Europe (using the app, the QR Code must be zoomed in for its correct scanning at the turnstiles). The price always includes an additional 1€ fee per trip.
The other option is the anonieme OV-chipkaart, an anonymous 7.50 € keycard to be purchased at the machines and charged with money when you need it (minimum balance is 20 €). The card is also valid for metro, buses, trams, and ferries, but only to travel in second class.
For the sporty travelers, there is always a coach for bikes, and the ticket costs 6 € per day.
Visiting the Netherlands by train, one week itinerary
Let’s see my itinerary in the Netherlands. First of all: in hindsight, I would suggest staying in Leiden the whole week and visit the other towns on day trips, which is definitely what I’ll do during my next trip to Holland!
However, I did this because I really wanted to sleep on a yacht in Rotterdam and at the De Hallen in Amsterdam …
The Netherlands by train: day 1
Morning discovering Haarlem (15 minutes, return ticket € 9.80), starting from the impressive Grote Markt, surrounded by ancient typical houses, by an absolutely remarkable city hall, the Museum De Hallen, and the towering church Grote Kerk, which really is worth a visit (2.50 €). In addition to a stroll through the quiet cobbled streets, if you love painting, I also recommend the Museum Frans Hals (12.50 €), housed in the hospice of charity where the same Hals painted his last works and died in absolute poverty. Warning! Haarlem museums are closed on Mondays!
In the afternoon a long walk in Amsterdam, between its stunning channels, passing through the beautiful courtyard of the convent of the beguines, the Begijnhof, by the central Dam square, with the Royal Palace and hordes of tourists and pigeons, then by the beautiful Spui, the partially floating flowers market and finally the house of Anne Frank (Anne Frank Huis). I do not want to influence you with my own emotions, I leave everyone to his own, but I wholeheartedly recommend visiting it slowly, especially if you have children. I also recommend you book your ticket in advance (€ 9) if you want to go in the morning or be there at 3 p.m. to visit it from 3:30 onwards without reservation.
The Netherlands by train: day 2
A day dedicated to the beautiful Leiden (35 minutes, € 8), a small town where I would happily live, for the charm of its canals, the cobbled streets, the beautiful seventeenth-century palaces, the many museums, the poems painted on the facades of the houses, the cool youth and I could go on with endless details. Leiden won me over!
I recommend you walk quietly through the center, visit the mill that stands over the city and the many museums. My favorite one is the archaeological one (9.50 €), the Rijksmuseum van Oudhen, even only for the Temple of Taffeh …
The Netherlands by train: day 3
A day in Rotterdam (30 minutes, € 6.40), a city that I actually did not like immediately, cause its excessive modernity rejected me at first. But the more I looked around, the more its architecture started to enchant me. A strange feeling and certainly a very personal one.
Here, too, the museums are worth a visit, and if you love shopping there are countless alleys and streets for you! However, my pick is the futuristic central market, the Markthal Rotterdam! Also perfect for your meals and snacks at any time.
The Netherlands by train: day 4
Morning in the beautiful Delft (15 minutes, return ticket € 5.60) to fully enjoy the views and the light of Vermeer, but also the traditional ceramics and the original seventeenth-century architecture. Unlike Rotterdam, with Delft, it was love at first sight, and I could actually spend lots of lazy days in this town. I loved the narrow canals, the colorful market square, and the Vermeer Centrum Delft (8 €).
In the afternoon, I stopped in Den Hague (15 minutes, return ticket € 4) to see the birthplace of the modern State. Visiting the Binnenhof, a former hunting house, with a passionate guide was a real pleasure. Walking through the downtown streets, seeing the modern architecture alongside the historical one, admiring the Parliament reflected on the frozen pond (Hofvijver) at sunset are so many small emotions that I won’t forget.
The Netherlands by train: day 5
Back to Amsterdam (40 minutes, € 11.30) to enjoy its many beauties repeatedly and re-visit the legendary Van Gogh Museum (17 €) open till 10 p.m. every Friday. To me, this is an essential visit that deserves time… I grew up with Van Gogh’s myth, and during my teens, this became almost an obsession, taking me on a sort of pilgrimage to the places of his life.
The Netherlands by train: day 6
Morning in Utrecht (30 minutes, return ticket € 16.40), to see if it really is as beautiful as they say … well, yes, it’s an amazing town! Dominated by the central Domtoren and dotted with quaint shops and restaurants, Utrecht is pleased and has you feel carefree. If by any chance you’re an old-style candy-lover like me, don’t miss the historical grocery at Hoogt 6! The choice is impressive, and it really is very cheap (the street signs say Museum voor het Kruideniersbedrijf).
The Netherlands by train: day 7
I had a flight to Tokyo at lunchtime, so that I could do nothing. Still, otherwise, I would definitely opt for yet another stroll around Amsterdam (15 minutes from the airport, return ticket € 7.40), to enjoy the atmosphere and maybe visit some of its beautiful museums over again…
Accommodation and food & beverage tips
In Amsterdam, I stayed at the De Hallen Hotel (65 € / night during the week), a fantastic hotel housed in an ancient red brick tram station, and at the CitizenM (110 € / night on weekends) at the airport, nice and very cool, but not for everyone …
In Leiden, I stayed at the Hampshire Hotel Fitlad (€ 63.90 / night), just behind the train station. Very convenient, but quite noisy. Next time I will opt for a small boutique hotel on a canal.
In Rotterdam, I stayed on a yacht in the downtown marina (140 € / night for the exclusive use of the 18 meters). I booked the Dutch Yachthotel on Booking, but I found the service very poor, and it was also quite uncomfortable …
* I traveled with my partner – yes, a few times a year I’m a good traditional girl traveling with her boyfriend! – and hotel prices are therefore based on double occupancy in double rooms.
For lunch, in Haarlem, I recommend the Chocolate Company, just steps from the train station! Delicious sandwiches and heavenly chocolate!
For the Amsterdam dinner, I recommend the FoodHallen, both for its architectural beauty, the atmosphere, and the wide choice of bars and restaurants.
For lunch/dinner in Leiden, I loved the Lot & De Walvis on the marina’s main pier: a few mouth-watering freshly cooked dishes and a lovely atmosphere.
I heartily recommend the Kek for lunch in Delft, a bar-shop-restaurant around the corner from Vermeer center, serving smoothies and other goodies at any hour. I liked it so much!
P.S. I’ll be writing about my love for Leiden again.