It’s not hard to like Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands—a city with tree-lined canals, beautiful architecture (from medieval to contemporary) and expansive parks. It’s an old city with an edgy, modern sensibility. It has world class museums and performing arts venues, trendy boutiques, international restaurants and sizzling nightlife.
Many Americans don’t venture beyond Amsterdam, staying just a few days there before moving on to other European countries. And that’s a shame because nearby are smaller, less frenetic cities just waiting to be explored. Utrecht and Delft are two worth getting to know, each less than an hour from Amsterdam by train.
Utrecht is a youthful, university town with a rich medieval past. It’s the fastest growing-city in The Netherlands and dubbed “the bicycle capital of the world.” In fact, over 100,000 cyclists commute to and from downtown Utrecht daily. There’s much to appreciate about Utrecht’s historic city center. The Domtoren, more than 600 years old, is the tallest church tower in the country. Also unique are Utrecht’s canals bordered by street-level thoroughfares and, just below, a wharf promenade whose medieval warehouses have been converted to trendy restaurants and boutiques. At night, colored lights beautifully illuminate bridges, buildings and tunnels. Here also is the Rietveld Schroder House, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the finest examples of architectural design from the early 20th century De Stijl movement. To learn more about Utrecht go to visit-utrecht.com.
Delft has some of the best-preserved medieval-thruough-17th -century architecture anywhere in the world. Fortunately, it’s all within a compact, pedestrian-friendly historic center interlaced with lovely canals. The city was home to 17th-century artist Johan Vermeer. You can visit his studio and learn about his life here. And in the outstanding Mauritshuis museum (mauritshuis.nl), only minutes away in The Hague, you can view original paintings as well as those of other renowned Dutch artists: Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent Van Gogh and Frans Hals, to name a few.
Delft is also home to Royal Delft, the last surviving producer of Delftware—the beautiful hand-painted blue and white ceramics appreciated worldwide. At Royal Delft, visitors observe pieces being made according to traditional methods, view the royal collection donated by King Willem III, and browse the museum and store. Select shops in the historic center of Delft also sell new and antique pieces. For more information about Delft visit delft.com.