Crowds got you down? This post is part of a series of 10 European Discoveries for 2019 — off-the-beaten-path gems where you can escape the tourist rut and find a corner of Europe all your own.
I love Amsterdam. But it’s a shame that so many travelers to the Netherlands visit only its most famous and hedonistic city. (Plus, Amsterdam has gotten so crowded that it’s becoming the poster child for “overtourism.”) Some of my favorite Dutch trips have used Amsterdam as a launch pad for touring a string of towns that line up just to the south.
Hop on the train at Amsterdam Centraal Station, and in about half an hour, you can hop off in Leiden — a charming, sleepy, historic university town that feels like Amsterdam without the tourist-baiting sleaze. Strolling Leiden’s dreamy canals, it’s easy to understand how this little burg could be called home by both Rembrandt and the Pilgrims (just before they shipped out to the New World).
Back on the train, and just 20 minutes later, you’re pulling into Delft — the hometown of Vermeer, exquisite blue pottery, and one of the biggest, stateliest squares in the Netherlands, crowned by the burial church of the Orange dynasty. Delft’s canals — wider and more workaday — are another fine place for a quintessential Dutch stroll.
And finally, just 10 minutes farther is Rotterdam — the urban, modernist counterpoint to time-passed Leiden and Delft. Rotterdam, constructed almost entirely after WWII, is the Dutch answer to Manhattan. Join an architectural bike tour to make sure you see all of Rotterdam’s wildly creative experimental architecture, from its unique “Cube Houses” development to the buildings nicknamed “The Pencil” and “The Manhole Cover”.
For a day — or several days — of Dutch contrasts, invest just one hour in riding this train from downtown Amsterdam.
Want to expand your horizons beyond Amsterdam? Be sure to check out this episode of Rick Steves’ Europe, and pick up a copy of the Rick Steves Amsterdam and Netherlands guidebook. (Or leave the planning to us, and explore the Low Countries on a Rick Steves tour.)