Autumn is such a beautiful time to visit the Netherlands! Orange leaves, crisp blue skies and quieter cities than in the summer (not that Amsterdam is ever really quiet), plus all the yummy street food like bitterballen and stroopwaffels taste even better in cold weather.
Last November we spent an amazing week exploring western Holland by train - here's how you can do it too, completely car free!
Days 1-3: Amsterdam
If you're coming from the UK, start your trip by catching the Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Amsterdam (about 4 hours) or if you're already in Europe, there are brilliant train links to the Netherlands and Amsterdam from all over the continent.
NB - the London to Amsterdam Eurostar route is being suspended for 11 months in mid 2024. We have more info about alternative travel options at the end of this blog.
Spend your first 72 hours exploring the Netherland's iconic capital city. From leafy strolls along the gorgeous canals to settling into cosy cafes for hearty Dutch cuisine like scrummy pancakes and warming hachee stew, you'll love autumnal Amsterdam!
We'd recommend getting the I amsterdam city card to make the most of your city break (and save a ton on entry fees) - it includes big hitters like the Rijksmuseum, the Heineken Experience and a canal boat cruise, the botanical gardens, lots of really interesting smaller museums plus unlimited public transport like buses and trams! The I amsterdam city card also includes bicycle rental which means you can make like a local and pedal your way around the city.
You might also like to explore some of Amsterdam's other most famous attractions such as the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the leafy Jordaan district, the Niewe Kerk and the Red Light District. For a detailed break down of what to do and see, check out our 3 day Amsterdam itinerary!
Day 4: Rotterdam
Intercity trains between Amsterdam and Rotterdam run twice an hour and can whip you from one city to the other in around 40 minutes.
Rotterdam is a very modern looking, cool city, totally different from the chocolate box centre of old Amsterdam. Heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940, virtually all of Rotterdam's traditional gabled buildings, historic churches and windmills were destroyed, but following a huge reconstruction project from 1946 until the 1970s, Rotterdam is now famous for its skyline of glass skyscrapers and striking quirky architecture like the Cube Houses, Erasmus Bridge, Euromast and Markthal.
Spend a day exploring the city: browse the food stalls at Markthal for lunch and look up at its enormous arched ceiling (it's the biggest artwork in the Netherlands!), gawk at the surreal Cube Houses nearby (you can go inside one for less than €5 - I think it was around €3), head up Euromast for views of the city's skyline and take a boat trip out to the beating heart of industrial Rotterdam - its enormous port! At more than 12,600 hectares, it's the largest in Europe - the stacks of thousands of containers are jawdropping!
To see what Rotterdam looked like before WWII, head to the beautiful 17th-century Delfshaven district, chock full of traditional buildings, antique shops and old gin bars, plus De Distilleerketel, an 18th century windmill that you can go up.
The rest of the trip we remained based in Rotterdam, which turned out to be a great jumping off point for some of the Netherlands' other top highlights, and took the train each day to different place. We stayed at Cityhub Rotterdam for 4 nights: comfortable and perfectly located (less than 20 minutes walk to the Central Station, the Beurs metro station to the Hague and the waterbus to Kinderdijk), this quirky pod hotel combines plush sleeping accommodation with fab communal spaces. It even has its own bar! We've written a full review of Cityhub Rotterdam here.
Day 5: Kinderdijk
A day spent cycling through beautiful protected wetlands past 19 historic windmills is such gorgeous way to explore autumnal Holland. The Kinderdijk windmills have been preventing flooding since around 1740. There is no entry fee to the paths around the windmills, but if you'd like a more in depth insight into the site, the €16 ticket from the visitor centre includes entry into the 2 museum windmills, the pumping station, a film about Kinderdijk and a boat ride along the waterway. If you're happy to do your own thing, bring a picnic, rent a bicycle from the souvenir shop close to the dock (€4 per hour) and spend a few hours exploring the waterways and surrounding farmland.
To visit Kinderdijk, you can actually cycle from Rotterdam (it's about 15km away), but the nicest way to travel there is on the waterbus which leaves from Rotterdam Erasmusbrug. Take line 20 towards Dordrecht and change at Ridderkerk to catch the little Driehoeksveer ferry across the water to Kinderdijk. The journey takes about 40 minutes and the timings line up so that one boat picks up from where the other one drops off.
You can buy a ticket (using a debit or credit card) from the steward on board - we said that we wanted to go to Kinderdijk and he sold us a combined ticket that included the Driehoeksveer ferry. On the way back we had to buy the two parts separately as the little ferry only sells tickets for that part of the journey - you can buy the stretch back to Rotterdam once you're back on the waterbus.
If you have a bike that you're using in Rotterdam, you can bring it on the waterbus and ferry for no extra cost.
Day 6: Delft and Schiedam
Today you'll visit two historic towns, both a really short train journey from Rotterdam Centraal. Buy a return ticket to Delft (14 minutes by train) and on the way back, break your journey at Schiedam, the stop before Rotterdam.
Most famous for its blue and white pottery, Delft is a pretty little town with canals, an impressively pointy Medieval gatehouse, an enormous central square and views all the way to Rotterdam from its church tower.
Take a pleasant stroll around Delft's canals, head to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its magnificent tower views (the endless steps are worth it!) where almost every member of the Dutch Royal family is buried, and pay a visit to the Royal Delft museum, the factory that has been producing iconic Delft Blue pottery since 1653. Your Nieuwe Kerk combined ticket also includes entry to the Oude Kerk, known locally as Old John or Skewed John due it's seriously wonky leaning bell tower, where local boy Vermeer is buried.
What's better than seeing Dutch windmills? Seeing the biggest windmills IN THE WORLD! Schiedam is home to half a dozen of these monsters, measuring up to 33 metres high. 5 of them date from the 18th and 19th century, the 6th was rebuilt in 2011. One of the windmills, De Nieuwe Palmboom, is now a museum. You can follow an easy walking route around the canal ring to see the giants, before cutting inland to the historic centre of the city.
Schiedam is also famous for being the jenever capital of the world, and these windmills were built to grind the grain used to produce the 'Dutch gin'. To try a tipple or two, head to the Jenever museum; housed in an 18th century distillery, here you can learn all about the jenever making process as well as try the malt wine liquor at the tasting bar. If you like jenever, head to Jeneverie 't Spul, a little bar on Hoogstraat with over 400 varieties to try!
Day 7: The Hague
Finish up your autumn trip to the Netherlands by visiting the country's governmental seat, The Hague. Trains whizz from Rotterdam's Central Station to the Hague multiple times per hour, or you could take metro line E from Beurs - both options take around half an hour.
The heart of Dutch politics and international justice (the ICJ and ICC are both based here), the Hague is often overlooked by nearby Rotterdam and Amsterdam which is such a shame as its very walkable elegant city centre makes for a lovely day out.
There's loads to do in the Hague - you could pop into the Mauritshuis gallery to see Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, learn all about the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace's free visitor centre or take the tram to Scheveningen Beach to visit the pier.
For more ideas for your itinerary, check out our full blog about how to spend one day in the Hague!
NB the Eurostar is suspending its direct cross-channel rail services between London and Amsterdam from June 2024 to May 2025 while there is work going on at Amsterdam Centraal Station. If you are planning an autumn 2024 trip (or any other dates within this period) you will either need to fly into Amsterdam at the beginning of the itinerary and catch a normal train into Belgium to get a Eurostar from Brussels to London, or buy a return Eurostar ticket to Rotterdam and do the trip in reverse, starting in Rotterdam and finishing with 3 days in Amsterdam before taking a return train back down to Rotterdam to get the Eurostar home.
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