Experience the best Holland has to offer! The picturesque yet lesser-known cities of Leiden, Delft, and Gouda include all the quintessential Dutch characteristics: cheese markets, famous painters, canals, rich history, churches with beautiful stained glass, windmills, lovely squares, and ancient cobbled alleys. In addition, these smaller cities have a laid-back but lively atmosphere. End the trip in Amsterdam which is, of course, a much larger city but very much worth a visit.

Highlights

  • Explore charming 17th century cities
  • Taste the local speciality at Gouda’s cheese market
  • Admire beautiful Delft blauw pottery

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Leiden Arrival and Bike Tour Leiden
Day 2 Leiden - Delft, Delftware Pottery Tour Delft
Day 3 Leiden - Gouda, Gouda Cheese Markert Gouda
Day 4 Gouda - Amsterdam, Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Day 5 Amsterdam - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Leiden Arrival and Bike Tour

Start the day by taking a direct train from Amsterdam to the historic city of Leiden, about 30 minutes of travel time. Leiden is an atmospheric university city with countless beautiful museums, charming canals, and inner courtyards called ‘hofjes’. Leiden University, founded in 1575, is the oldest university in the Netherlands. 

In the afternoon, your private guide will pick you up from your hotel with, of course, bicycles. The bicycle is the most practical and favored means of transportation in the Netherlands, as you will surely notice. Cycling lanes are usually separated from car lanes to improve safety, and all of the cycle paths are conveniently flat. Your local guide will bike with you around the city and show you all the highlights of Leiden such as the canals, de Burcht (a centuries-old fort), historic buildings, the bridges, the hofjes (courtyards), and beautiful churches. He can also give you tips on where to spend your free time in Leiden.

The rest of the afternoon is free for you to visit any of the many museums that Leiden has to offer. The Lakenhal Museum hosts a collection of paintings from the past four centuries including several Rembrandts. You can also choose to visit the Museum of Archeology or the Museum of Ethnology, both located in the city center. In addition, Leiden has many other options such as Museum Boerhaave (science and medicine), Naturalis (flora and fauna), Corpus (human body), Hortus Botanicus Leiden (flora), Museummolen de Valk (windmills), and the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. Whatever may appeal to you, Leiden has it! Alternatively, if you are interested in experiencing a taste of the natural beauty of the Netherlands, you can e-bike to nearby Noordwijk on the Dutch coast.

Day 2: Leiden - Delft, Delftware Pottery Tour

Start the day by meandering through the city center and its cobbled alleys, taking a stroll through one of the parks or forested areas surrounding Leiden, or visiting any of the museums you did not make it to the previous day. Afterward, make your way back to the railway station where a train will take you to the city of Delft in only 20 minutes. Along the way, it is also possible to make a stop in Den Haag (known in English as The Hague), the seat of the Dutch government, and home to one of the most magnificent paintings in the country: Johannes Vermeers ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’.

Delft is a charming city with many canals and characteristic buildings and courtyards and is famous for being the home of the painter Johannes Vermeer during the Dutch Golden Age. Slightly more affordable than a Vermeer painting, Delft is also famous for its typical blue earthenware. This blue-on-white pottery was introduced in the 17th century as a cheaper alternative to porcelain imported from China and is still being made today. 

Located half an hour’s walk from the center of Delft, the Paauw factory is a small family-run business that still produces Delftware pottery according to ancient techniques. A guide will show you how the pottery is made, and take you to see the atelier where painters decorate these works by hand as they have for centuries. Delftware makes a great souvenir, and it is even possible to join a workshop to paint your own! 

A leisurely stroll back to the center along the canals and through cobbled squares will take you to the Vermeer Centre, where you can learn all about this painter who spent his life in Delft (1632-1675). He only made 37 paintings during his lifetime, and at the Vermeer Centre you can see reproductions of all of them, including the Milkmaid and View of Delft. Have a look into his studio and allow yourself to be taken back in time to the 17th-century Delft.

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Day 3: Leiden - Gouda, Gouda Cheese Markert

It’s time for yet another charming city in the west of the country: Gouda! Of course, all over the world, the name of this city rings a bell: the famous Gouda cheese originates here. From Delft, a train ride of about 45 minutes will bring you to the center of Gouda. Just a small hint so you can blend in with the locals: the name of the city is actually not pronounced “Gooda” but rather “Howda”.

Gouda’s city center is characterized by many small canals and is, therefore, best explored on foot. Start your stroll at the market square, which was founded in 1198. In summer, there’s a cheese market held here every Thursday. Even without an actual market going on, the square is still a wonderful place to visit. Large cheese wheels used to be weighed here at De Waag, or weighing house. Today, this building houses a museum where you can explore the history of Gouda’s cheese market. Then, head to the impressive St Jans church and be dazzled by its beautiful stained glass windows. Along the way, you will surely spot many cozy restaurants, so make a mental note to return here in the evening!

If you’re interested in seeing another Dutch icon, a windmill, then head a little to the south across one of the canals to see De Roode Leeuw (red lion). This windmill dates back to 1727 and is still a working mill which grinds the grains that supply local bakeries in the area with fresh flour. If you have a sweet tooth, the Kamphuisen siroopwafelfabriek (syrup waffle factory) is the place to go. They still make stroopwaffels (traditional Dutch cookies) according to a recipe dating back to 1810, and the smell alone is enough to make a person drool! 

In the afternoon, a local guide will pick you up with bicycles to experience some of the typical green countryside surrounding Gouda. It’s all flat and thus, easy cycling. This typical ‘polder’-landscape is marked by many green pastures with livestock and hundreds of small canals. You might also spot a windmill here and there. After your tour, you will return to Gouda, where the day-trippers have left by now, and the entire historic square will be just for you and the locals!

Day 4: Gouda - Amsterdam, Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum

Today, you will take the train back to the capital, Amsterdam (roughly 1 hour travel time). Your hotel will be located in the city center, which is an amazing labyrinth of canals and small streets, dotted with historic houses and other buildings. The center of Amsterdam is relatively small, so most places can be easily reached on foot or by bike. For longer distances, you can alternatively use the city’s tram network or taxis. We will arrange a public transport pass for today in case you would like to travel by tram.

Start exploring Amsterdam at the Anne Frank House. This is a city landmark where you can familiarize yourself with the world-famous life story of a young Jewish girl during the Second World War. The museum is built around the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for over two years before their tragic discovery and arrest.

If time permits, you could also pay a visit to one of the museums of Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum is the most famous museum in the Netherlands, which houses the country’s most important painting, The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn. Besides this gigantic painting, you can also see The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer and many other 17th-century works by Dutch Master painters. 

Right next to the Rijksmuseum you will find another Dutch highlight: the Van Gogh Museum. Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) was a dutch post-impressionist painter who created over 2,000 paintings in just over a decade. The Van Gogh Museum houses some of his most famous works, like The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, and one of his very last works, Wheatfield with Crows. In case your time is limited today, you can also save a visit to this museum for tomorrow morning before your departure.

If you are interested in seeing more of the city, we recommend taking a stroll through the picturesque neighborhood of the Jordaan. Situated on the west side of the city center, the Jordaan is full of beautiful arched bridges, cobbled streets lined with trees, and numerous Dutch “bruin” cafes, where you can spend a cozy evening enjoying the typical Dutch pub snack “bitterballen” and an assortment of local beers.

Day 5: Amsterdam - Departure

After breakfast, return to the railway station for your trip to the airport or onward to your next destination.

Map

Map of Highlights of Holland - 5 Days
Map of Highlights of Holland - 5 Days