Thanks to the Netherlands’ compact size and excellent road network you can easily make day trips to picture-perfect small towns near Amsterdam. The smaller towns in the Netherlands give you the best Dutch experiences while scenic drives take you past windmills and fields crisscrossed with complex waterways and dikes. From the coastal port towns to medieval canal towns, we round up five towns near Amsterdam that offer charm, character, and tranquility.
Naarden is a fascinating town in the north of the Netherlands famous for its star fort – one of the best-preserved in Europe complete with fortified walls and a moat. The Nederlands Vestingmuseum (Netherlands Fortress Museum) is worth a visit as it gives you an in-depth history of the fortifications. You can even take boat trips around the fortifications to get a different vantage point. The town itself is full of buildings from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; a must-see is the Grote of Sint-Vituskerk church. Its wooden painted ceilings are particularly impressive, and you can climb the tower to get a panorama of the town, best viewed from above.
2. Broek in Waterland
This town has pulled in tourists since the 1600s and has a quintessentially old-Dutch atmosphere. The town is centered on a myriad of waterways with beautiful wooden houses painted in pastel hues. Definitely check out the 17th-century Protestant church and if you have time, take to the water in a canoe. When the water freezes over in the winter, the lake transforms into one of the most picturesque ice skating rinks in Europe. Broek in Waterland is only a 15-minute drive from Amsterdam by taking the Nieuwe Leeuwarderweg and N247 to the northeast.
Clogs, windmills, and wooden houses; this historic town is a great way to transport yourself back to Dutch life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Interesting architectural sights include the sensational Stacked House Hotel, a Tetris-like assembly of traditional houses. There is also the historic Czar Peter House, a humble wooden dwelling where Czar Peter I of Russia resided while he was gathering knowledge about the Dutch shipping industry. The house is now preserved in the Zaans Museum.
Oudewater is a short drive from Amsterdam south on the A2 and A12 via Utrecht. The town’s main square is full of registered historical buildings and the canal-lined streets can be explored easily on foot or with a guided boat tour. One of the most fascinating buildings in town is the Museum de Heksenwaag, where suspected witches from all over Europe were weighed to prove their innocence. Today, you too can be weighed on the medieval scales to confirm if you do indeed have a soul; it was thought that witches don’t, which is why they are light enough to fly on broomsticks.
Possibly the quietest small town on our list, Monnickendam is just 10 miles northeast of Amsterdam on the N247. It is a serene fishing town on the Markemeer sea that transports you back in time. The windows are still adorned with lace curtains and the houses are painted in a traditional Dutch style. Monnickendam is also on the route if you are traveling to Marken – a town that used to be an island now reachable by road, with a similarly quaint old-Dutch atmosphere.