When it comes to cities, the Netherlands has much more to offer than just Amsterdam. The Randstad is the stretch of land in the northwest of the country encompassing its largest cities (Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam) and is one of the most densely populated areas in Europe. We didn’t get to The Hague or Rotterdam on this trip, but we did get to see some other cities in the Randstad (Haarlem, Leiden and Delft) and they all had unique draws.
We visited Amsterdam for a 4-day weekend a month prior to this trip, so check out our other post for details on that. We were inspired to visit again not only because it was a convenient 15-minute train ride from our home base Haarlem but also because we wanted to see the city in bloom (and we needed to have some more cake from Corner Bakery!). We were not disappointed as we were blessed with another day of great spring weather. From Centraal station we wandered down Oudezijds Achterburgwal, the little sister of central Amsterdam’s primary canal Oudezijds Voorburgwal. While the latter is absolutely packed with visitors, the former is much more relaxed and charming. We made our way south to the Canal District, one of the most exclusive (and picturesque...and expensive) neighborhoods in the city, where the best thing to do is zig-zag through the canals and side streets. We zig-zagged northwest to Jordaan, another picturesque, canal-laced neighborhood that served as our home base during our previous visit.
Westerpark is a short ride on the tram (a very convenient and inexpensive method of transport in the city) and we wanted to check it out as we did not get to it last time. Our visit to Amsterdam inadvertently fell on Liberation Day, celebrating the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi Germany, so the park was absolutely packed and buzzing with music and events. There was a collection of food stands in the center of the park which worked out well as it was approaching lunch time! We grabbed some food (a pulled pork sandwich for Rico and a falafel wrap for Britt) and took a seat on a dock by the water to enjoy our meal. While our hunger for food was satisfied, our hunger for more time in the park was not, so we switched venues and grabbed a tram to the jewel in Amsterdam’s park crown—Vondelpark. We took a big loop through the park, appreciating how much more green and alive it felt this time around. We wrapped up our visit with apple pie and carrot cake at Corner Bakery (which still holds the title of best cake of our lives) before hopping on the train back to Haarlem.
Utrecht is the home of the Netherlands’ largest university and is considered by many to have the best of what Amsterdam has to offer (culture and canals) without the worst (hordes of tourists and irresponsible visitors). The Domtoren and Domkerk tower majestically over the city’s Domplein. The 465 steps of the bell tower can be climbed for a panoramic view of the city and its environs, but only under supervision of a tour guide—we made the mistake of not booking ahead, so unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for our feet) we missed out. Our favorite part of our visit was walking down the canals (creatively named Oudegracht and Niewegracht) and the side streets toward the south of the city (especially around Geertekerk). Our lunch at TALUD9, an eatery tucked neatly in a row of small buildings along the old canal, was also noteworthy (salami, goat cheese and pesto sandwich for Rico and tuna and apple sandwich for Britt). We had hoped to visit the Rietveld Schröder House as well, but we made another mistake by not pre-booking…Oh well, we’ll just have to go back!
Before heading back to Haarlem from Utrecht, Rico wanted to surprise Brittany with a small detour. Theehuis Rhijnauwen is a pannenkoeken house within an expanse of countryside only a couple of miles southeast of the center of Utrecht. Rico didn’t know too much about it but had read a recommendation for it online the night before that sang the praises of the location. We took the car, but what’s incredible about this place is how easy it is to reach without a car—it’s a straightforward 20-minute bike ride from Utrecht and some people arrived via the canal that encircles the area. The pancake house is tucked away amongst trees, fields and walking paths and it didn’t take long for us to fall in love. Before sitting down for a bite we wandered around the premises which also includes walking paths through farmland where you can pet and play with sheep. When we eventually did sit down to eat, we snagged some Adirondack chairs outside right by the canal. The setting was absolutely serene. We had apple and cinnamon and sugar and butter pancakes and just sat there enjoying the nice weather and fresh air. We loved it so much that we made time in our schedule the next day to come back even though it was completely out of the way from Haarlem. There are no words to describe how utterly perfect it was. To this day, when feeling down or like we want an escape from the city, we look at each other and longingly ask “teahouse?”
Stay tuned for our last post on the Netherlands, covering our home base of Haarlem and the cities of Leiden and Delft.