One Dutch Week – The Perfect Itinerary
We constantly grapple with building perfect itineraries. There’s a juxtaposition between trying to ‘experience’ the Netherlands and ‘hitting the highlights.’ Luckily, Amsterdam is an amazing city that oozes Dutch charm. However, it’s sad to see visitors who only make time to see Amsterdam. We so love the Netherlands that we are always trying to get our readers to leave Amsterdam to find the same things that make us love the country. Unfortunately, leaving the confines of Amsterdam means leaving behind extraordinary public transportation, epic food options and world-renowned attractions in favor of excellent public transportation, delightful Dutch food and nationally acclaimed attractions. If you’re visiting Europe for the first time, take in the big cities: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Barcelona, Rome. But if you’ve checked a few boxes and want to make memories alongside the happiest cows on the planet or stand underneath the spinning blades of a windmill, give this route a spin.
We’ve built a 7-night itinerary that links smaller Dutch cities. It’s a compact loop that intentionally leaves out the North and South of the country, instead putting you smack in the middle of the best stuff without long train rides. Of course, Gouda, Leiden, Breda and Maastricht could have made our list – but for lots of reasons we’ve chosen to send you to the Hague (Den Haag), Utrecht, Apeldoorn, Arnhem and Rotterdam. This mix of modern (Rotterdam) and old (Den Haag) perfectly blends history (Arnhem) and culture (Utrecht). Below is just a shell. You’ll find that you can easily fill it in with festivals, market days, fantastic food and rural surprises.
7 Nights, By Public Transport
Day 1: Den Haag. Arrive Schiphol airport in the morning. If you’re hungry, stop at the Albert Heijn grocery store in the main concourse (after baggage claim). It’s a local grocery store with everything you would need at reasonable prices. Descend the escalator to the NS rail platforms and take an Intercity (faster than Sprinter) train to Den Haag Central Station (29 mins, frequent). Spend your afternoon at the Mauritshuis art museum to check out Vermeer and other Dutch masters. Choose a hotel in the historic center of town. Enjoy any restaurant for dinner and try some Dutch specialties: chicken satay, croquettes, bitterballen and any fresh North Sea catch.
Day 2: Den Haag. In the morning, step out for fresh pastries at Het Bakkertje. Enjoy on your walk to the Peace Palace to have a look, before hopping a tram either to Scheveningen to spy the North Sea or back into the central core to visit the Prince William V Gallery and the Museum De Gevangenpoort. For the afternoon, choose between an English walking tour of the Binnenhof (government buildings) or a food tour with Bites & Stories. Both will give you ample understanding of the history of Den Haag. If your kids have had enough history, try the Children’s Book Museum. Madurodam is another great option for the whole family. In the evening, this pizza joint is worth the walk.
Day 3: Utrecht. Train from Den Haag to Utrecht (37 mins, frequent). Overnight here for one night. Go at once to the Dutch Railway Museum and plan to spend the remainder of your day there. The cafe is superb and the attractions range well beyond looking at trains. Kids will dig the rides, videos and playground. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during a special event, you’ll love it.
For a busy day, walk over to the Miffy Museum for an hour of play.
Day 4: Apeldoorn. In the morning, take a Utrecht city walking tour (free) organized through the TI. If you haven’t had enough Utrecht, tack on an hour-long boat ride through the unique canals – or rent your own boat by the hour (no license required). Check out Cafe Olivier for a superb lunch. Hop on the train at Utrecht Central Station for the 40 minute ride to Apeldoorn station. Spend one night in Apeldoorn and pack in both of these activities: Palace Het Loo (bus from center, 20 mins, frequent) and Apenhaul (bus from center, 14 mins, frequent). Palace Het Loo is massive and will give your family a good idea of the Dutch Royal Family, plus it has an excellent cafe and a cool kids playground. Apenhaul is purely Dutch – an animal park where you’ll feel like you’re in Europe. Stay downtown so you can feel the vibe of the city and so you can walk to an excellent dinner.
Day 5: Arnhem. The best way between Apeldoorn and Arnhem is by bus (45 mins, frequent). Spend one night in Arnhem and choose between the Airborne Museum and the Open Air Museum. Let weather dictate your plan as the Open Air Museum is mostly outside. Both core Arnhem attractions are reached by bus or taxi from the city center. The Airborne Museum can be frightening for small children because its basement is a rather dramatic recreation of the region’s WWII battle. The Open Air Museum has opportunities to do nearly everything that is quintessentially Dutch (windmills, wooden shoes, trams, cheese-making, brewery, etc). There is so much to do in Arnhem and the surroundings so if neither of these options are right for your family, it’s not a hard search to find a substitute.
Day 6: Rotterdam. Leave Arnhem at your leisure, but preferably around lunchtime so you can have lunch on the train. Stop at any Albert Heijn, Jumbo or Plus grocery store to pick up lunch to eat on the train. It’s 1:37 hrs from Arnhem to Rotterdam (every 30 mins, change in Utrecht). Spend two nights in Rotterdam aboard the SS Rotterdam, an old cruise liner turned hotel in the city. Book tickets on the pancake boat for a dinnertime cruise, which gives you a good overview of the city and of the Port of Rotterdam. For more city information, stop into Museum Rotterdam for a one-hour overview of the city’s history. Take a walking tour of the city on your own. Include the Markt, cube houses and pencil building.
Day 7: Rotterdam. Take the kids to the Maritime Museum. They’ll love the special play area on the third floor, including the outdoor play space where kids can load containers onto ships. WIth extra time, consider adding another museum in Rotterdam or take a half-day trip to Delft (15 mins, every 7 mins). In Delft, enjoy the Oude Kerk, Nieuwe Kerk and the Prinsenhof Museum. Eat at Bakker Suikerbuik while the kids play in the play room. Kek also has a play space and the best brunch around. If it’s a weekend, stop into the Delft windmill for a free tour to the top then buy some tasty treats in the shop on the ground floor.
Day 8: Leave. Depart Rotterdam Central Station for Schiphol (30-50 mins, depending, frequent). Look for the Intercity Direct train. It’s the fastest but incurs a few Euro supplement. Don’t take the Thalys from Rotterdam to Schiphol (reservations required). Pick up some supplies before security at the Albert Heijn grocery store (no liquids). Take the kids to the terrace overlook where they can walk through a Fokker aircraft outside on the roof. Or look at the Schiphol airport maps to find the small playgrounds, tucked into the food service areas.
There you have it, the perfect 7-night Dutch visit. You’ll notice that we left off the tour-book favorites Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans and Kinderdijk. You could spend years exploring the nooks and crannies of the Netherlands which is why we think this 7-night starter tour is going to have you coming back for more.