Amsterdam is so much more than the city center only. Do you know that the area around Amsterdam has many castles and gardens, forts, beautiful old mansions and lakes? Some of these castles and fortified towns were part of the New Dutch Waterline; a unique historical system of defence lines. Other historical mansions were owned by wealthy merchants. It’s definitely worth to spend some time and explore this area. By car, by bus, by boat or even by bike. This is an overview with some of the most remarkable things to do around Amsterdam. Get inspired with places to visit near Amsterdam in this article, including gardens, castles, the Gooi and Vecht area and fortified city Naarden.
Places to visit near Amsterdam
Sailing in the lake district
People in the Netherlands often go sailing for a day or weekend, especially when the weather is nice. And the area around Amsterdam has a lot of suitable places. Many foreign people who visit Amsterdam don’t know that there is a big lake district just south of the city. It’s one of the best things to do around Amsterdam, if you want to unwind from the busy city center and enjoy a day in the Dutch countryside.
I always love to go on boat trips when I’m abroad. It gives you the possibility to experience places from a completely different perspective. But, I almost never do it in my own country. Such as shame! These are some of the best places to visit near Amsterdam, if you want to go on a lovely boat trip.
Sail on the Loosdrecht Lakes
My international friends compared the surroundings of the Loosdrechtse Plassen (Loosdrecht lakes) with the Kerala wetlands in India. I haven’t been to that part in India, but when I look at it, I understand the comparison. Loosdrechtse Plassen consists of several lakes that are separated from each other by dikes and islands. It is located around the town of Loosdrecht, 30 kilometers away from Amsterdam. The area has been designated as a special protection zone for birds and plants and includes polders and ponds.
Loosdrechtse plassen (the Loosdrecht lakes) are famous for watersports such as sailing, rowing and canoeing. The best thing to do is to make some Dutch friends who have a boat and head out for the day. But of course there are many companies offering boat and SUP services as well, such as Jachthaven Kortenhoef. Check out the page of Gooi and Vecht for the best rental boat companies. I made a tour with the Antonia lounge boat. It’s the perfect boat if you want to navigate in style with a group of people.
You can reach Loosdrecht by car. Or take the train from Central Station to Hilversum station and continue by bike (30 minutes).
Tip: Have a delicious dinner along the water at Restaurant Docks
Do you like to eat fish, just like me? In Restaurant Docks you will find the most delicious fish dishes, including wild oysters, prawns, salmon, monkfish and lobster. The restaurant is idyllically located in the marina in Kortenhoef, where you have a beautiful view of the water. In summer you can sit outside on the terrace. Recommended!
Discover beautiful mansions along the Vecht river
Another nice trip is a cruise on the Vecht river, through the Vechtstreek (the name of the surrounding area). Along this river you will find 17th and 18th century “buitenplaatsen”, mansions of the former rich Amsterdam merchants and administrators. It’s a lovely and pieceful area to fully relax and observe the surroundings.
The Vecht is a branch of the Rhine river in the Dutch province of Utrecht. This river originates in the city of Utrecht and flows into the Ijmeer some 42 km further near the town of Muiden. The best place to start your sailing trip is in Nieuwersluis. From here you can choose to sail in the southern or northern direction. The southern route takes you through historical towns such as Breukelen, Maarssen and Oud-Zuilen. The northern route brings you along Loenen aan de Vecht, Vreeland, Nederhorst, Den Berg and Nigtevecht.
If you want to sail in style, there is the option of going with a originally restored saloon boat from the beginning of the last century, with rederij de Kampioen. In summer they have daily departures and in winter you can sail on a weekly base. If you are planning to go with a private group, make sure to enjoy a lunch, high tea or afternoon session, with bites & drinks.
Tip: Spend the night along the Vecht
Logement aan de Vecht is a place where you immediately think: I want to spend the night here. The historic country house has been transformed into a luxury hotel and exudes history on all sides, due to its authentic interior. The country house is located on the Vecht, between Oud Zuilen and Breukelen and is surrounded by a large garden. It is a great base for exploring the area, by bike or by boat.
Sail with the Vuurlinie house
Het Vuurlinie Huisje, the Fire Line house, is one of the cutest boats you can imagine. It is a small wooden house that sails on the Vecht, around Weesp. It is named after the houses from the former firing line along the Utrechtseweg, because of its building style. In the house you will find information about Weesp and the surrounding area. The fun part is that you can take a seat on the terrace in front of the house.
While the skipper explains about the history and inhabitants of Weesp, you sail past windmills and typical Dutch houseboats. If you want to give your trip a cultural touch, sail towards Fort Uitermeer. You can get off and walk around the old fort. Even though the fort can also be reached by road, it is still nice to approach a historic place from the water. Check the website for the boat schedule, running from May-September. Read more about Fort Uitermeer below.
Haarlem is a city in the Netherlands, known for its history, museums and art, cultural highlights, boutique stores, many lunchrooms and restaurants. Haarlem is the perfect destination for a daytrip from Amsterdam, or multi-day journey, to escape the busy center of the capital. Read more about what to do in Haarlem in the next article.
Fortresses and castles | Places to visit near Amsterdam
Sypesteyn Castle is a small and almost perfect castle in the heart of Loosdrecht, near Amsterdam. It is located in a green area and is surrounded by an Old-Dutch garden, where you can go for nice little walks.
In the castle you walk through various rooms where you go back in the time of the squire Henri van Sypesteyn. You walk through an old armory, a gothic room and a medieval room, with all its original interior. The highlight of the collection is the exhibited porcelain from Asia and the Netherlands, also known as the white gold. You will even find the famous Loosdrecht porcelain here, 131 pieces with ornaments of roses and birds. Loosdrecht was known in the 18th century for its porcelain factory and played an important role in the porcelain production in Europe (something I learned during my visit).
Tip: Make sure to plan a lunch or tea session in the adjacent lunchroom, during your visit. Tasty rich sandwiches and fresh cakes are served, something that always makes a person happy.
The youngest castle of the Netherlands
What is special is that this castle was only built around the 20th century. It is therefore the youngest castle in the Netherlands. However, stones from the Middle Ages were used for construction. Jonkheer Henri van Sypesteyn was an enthusiastic collector and built the castle to honor his family. Because of his passion for garden architecture, he also had a large garden laid out where he planted special trees. Something that you will certainly notice. In fact, some trees are among the oldest and largest in the country.
Aalsmeer is the village of flowers, located only 30 minutes from the Dutch capital Amsterdam. There are many different places to visit, all related to flowers. From visiting contemporary art, flower fields and greenhouses, to virtual flower experiences, a flower auction, and learning about the history of floriculture. Read more about the ultimate Aalsmeer flower experience in the next article.
History: Castles and fortresses of De Hollandse Waterlinies
Other places to visit near Amsterdam, include the castles and fortesses of De Hollandse Waterlinies, a former defense line of 200 kilometers long. Between 1815 and 1940 this line played an important role in the defense of the Netherlands. In wars, soldiers could quickly flood wide swaths of land, making the area inaccessible for the enemy. Nowadays there are still several fortresses and castles near Amsterdam, that you actually can visit: hidden in the green or completely renovated into a museum. What they have in common is an interesting history of the defense of the Netherlands.
New Dutch Water Line and the Defense Line of Amsterdam
The former defense line consists of the New Dutch Water Line and the Defense Line of Amsterdam and runs from Edam to the Biesbosch. Today there are 100 forts, 6 fortresses and 2 castles of Amsterdam to visit. This makes it the largest national monument in the Netherlands. The Defense Line of Amsterdam has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1996. This New Dutch Water Line is an extension of the Defense Line of Amsterdam and has been nominated by UNESCO. The lines and defenses are a typically Dutch invention. You can find an extensive overview of the different forts of the New Dutch Water Line and stellling van Amsterdam, with their location on the map.
Muiderslot, one of the most famous castles near Amsterdam
The Muiderslot is one of the most famous castles near Amsterdam. It includes a moat and beautiful garden. This 700-year-old castle fortress is located in the medieval fortified town of Muiden and was part of the New Dutch Water Line in the 19th century. Today you can visit the castle and see how the former residents used to live. The castle gardens are my favorite: there are plants, countless beautiful flowers and a herb and vegetable garden. It’s a wonderful place to stroll around.
Fort Uitermeer is a former fort where you can walk around, learn more about the history or have a drink in the adjacent Paviljoen Uit & Meer. The fort is located on the Naardermeer and was built to protect the landing entrances between the Naardermeer and the Vecht. Fort Uitermeer, can be reached with the “Vuurlinie Huisje boat” or by car.
Tip: It is possible to spend the night in a floating cabin next to Fort Uitermeer. You wake up with the sound of twittering birds, croaking frogs and experience ultimate tranquility in a historic location, surrounded by nature. All meals can be arranged in the paviljoen Uit & Meer.
Fort Nieuwersluis is located between Loenen and Breukelen. It was not open to the public for a long time, but since it is part of Natuurmonumenten (Dutch nature monuments), it has been opened. Frequent tours around the fort are organised on a frequent base. Within the fort itself you will find a few small spaces that provide some information about its history, but it is the surrounding area that makes the fort interesting to include in your schedule when you are visiting the different places in the region.
Fortress island Pampus
Fort Island Pampus is part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam and was built between 1887 and 1895. The fort was built in the IJmeer to protect Amsterdam. On the uninhabited Fort Island you can wander around or take a guided tour.
Tip: There are different routes you can take by bike to visit Fort Uitermeer, Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot and Fort Island Pampus.
Naarden | Places to visit near Amsterdam
Naarden is a town that you won’t necessarily visit when you live in the Netherlands. I worked in Naarden-Bussum for a few years in my teenage years, and never visited the historic center. I’m very embarrassed to be honest! But if you are in the Netherlands as a foreigner, this is a true photography heaven. You will find beautiful hidden courtyards and streets with countless photogenic houses and facades. Naarden has not yet been discovered by many tourists, so you can still take your pictures here without having to share the place with others. I found the poems that you see on the walls very nice. This reminded me of Polignano a Mare in Puglia Italy, one of my favorite places. You’ll find poems on the steps and walls all over the historic center.
Naarden – a fortified city
Naarden is part of the New Dutch Waterline and one of the best preserved fortified cities in Europe. The fortress is known for its unique star shape, complete with fortified walls and a moat, that is clearly visible from aerial photos. Naarden has 6 remaining bastions that were part of the fortress. The Oud-Molen with the Groot and Klein Arsenaal and the Turfpoort with the fortress museum are good examples of this. In the Dutch Fortress Museum you will learn more about the former fortress. Nearby you can also walk on the old fortifications.
Great or Sint-Vituskerk
Naarden is also known for its cathedral, the Great- or Sint-Vituskerk, from the 15th century. Every year on Good Friday, the Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is performed here. Highlights include the cathedral’s wooden vaults, painted with scenes from the old and new testaments, from the 16th century. These paintings were hidden for many years but were rediscovered during a recent restoration. As these paintings are not clearly visible from the church floor, a special staircase construction has been built and leads to the 25 meters top of the cathedral. Here it is possible to admire the 500-year-old paintings from very close by. The exhibition Hemelbestormers, can be visited until 2021. A unique opportunity and definitely one of the things to do in Naarden!
Best photography spots + things to do in Naarden
- The town hall, known for its double stepped gable.
- The Utrecht gate, the former city gate.
- Spanish House, one of the last remaining medieval buildings in the city.
- J. Massenstraat, one of the oldest houses with an old-dutch facade.
- Nice house on the corner of Huizenpoortstraat and J. Massenstraat
- The old harbor
- The arsenal + peat shed
- Historic houses in the Kloosterstraat
- Former post office
- Kloosterstraat 33, with the courtyard and garden of the Comenius Museum Foundation
Where to stay in Naarden Netherlands
If you want to spend the night in Naarden, make sure to stay at the Boutique Vesting Hotel. It is a small-scale boutique hotel with a beautiful interior and atmosphere. My kind of place for sure. If you do not plan to stay overnight, try to have a lunch or a drink here!
More about the Netherlands
Did you enjoy reading this article about places to visit and castles near Amsterdam? You can find all blogs about the Netherlands in the archive, including an extensive guide with things to do on Dutch Waddenisland Texel, a city guide for Haarlem, with the best things to do in terms of art, culture, boutique shops, lunchrooms & restaurants or the article with tips for a day between the flowers of Aalsmeer.