A perfect route amongst tulips, harbour towns and waterways
Yep, we’re heading to The Netherlands, or Holland, never quite sure which is correct. I do know it’s the home of the Dutch, so it’s a friendly affair.
During our ‘Tulips and Cheese’ 9-day road trip itinerary we’ll be touring by graceful windmills, weaving by picturesque canals and passing spectacular fields of fragrant tulips and hyacinth.
A quiet place to walk in Keukenhof Gardens, just ourside Lisse
The Netherlands is a perfect country for a family road trip, the roads are easy to navigate, plenty of places to stop, and it’s well signposted.
Just keep a lookout for the cyclists, they have priority.
A helpful guide
If you're thinking of heading of to the land of tulips and cheese, then grab this DK Eyewitness guide to help with your planning.
I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
The inspiration for our Dutch road trip
Our inspiration was clear, Tulips & Cheese, but we also wanted to see grand Dutch Windmills. All I had to do was peddle.
Tulips – Keukenhof, the spectacular Spring gardens
Cheese – Alkmaar (Plus Edam & Gouda too)
Windmills – Kinderdijk, the incredible UNESCO windmills
Canals – Everywhere!
Fishing towns & villages – Our 4 harbour town trip
Rookworst - I had a lovely smoked hotdog at Keukenhof, but I’m not sure I tracked down the genuine article.
Soft hues in Keukenhof
Our Gateway to Europe from the UK
Most of our European road trips start the same, and our Netherlands road trip was no different. Booked on a 7:50 am shuttle, means leaving home at 6:30 am. All being well we’re hitting the A16 from Calais at 9:30 am after being mugged for an hour as we switch to Central European Time.
Therefore, in my mind, we hit the road at 9:30 – all points start from Calais.
I’ve already completed my 27-point road trip checklist, so fully fuelled & Werther’s on-board.
First stop is the Bloemen Route
A fair wind, some luck around Antwerp and we’ve arrived at Naaldwijk in the Netherlands at 1:15 pm, so around 3 hours 45 minutes to cover the 225 miles/362km.
Now for the signs for the ‘Flower Route’ – Mmmm did we miss them, not sure. We certainly didn’t see any, so we headed through The Hague, and onto Leiden, following the N44.
The swathes of colour we’d expected to see were absent, and it wasn’t until we journeyed closer into Lisse that we spotted a few of the fields full of flowers in bloom.
Those in the know
Next stop Haarlem
The Windmill De Adriaan in Haarlem
After checking in to the Carlton Square Hotel, we stroll the 10-minute walk into town, where we enjoy the rest of the day and evening getting our bearings around the attractive city of Haarlem.
Haarlem is a great town to explore, we were looking forward to spending a full day discovering Haarlem further.
Our total mileage for the day was around 273 miles (438km).
A day visiting Keukenhof Gardens
Visiting Keukenhof Gardens was one of the main reasons we wanted to embark on a road trip around this colourful region of Holland in spring.
You really don’t need to be a garden enthusiast to be able to appreciate the time, effort and love that is given to this park, it is astounding.
The wonderful designs throughout Keukenhof gardens
Seven million bulbs are meticulously planted and kept manicured and pruned throughout the few months that it’s open.
Every year a new theme is chosen for the park, in 2017, the 68th year that Keukenhof has opened its gardens to the public, the theme was ‘Dutch Design’. Celebrating famous Dutch artists such as Mondriaan & Rietveld.
Try not to underestimate the time spent around the grounds, it is so easy for hours to disappear, enjoy yourself, bring a picnic and take the whole day to explore.
Not only are there a profusion of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in swathes throughout the gardens for you to admire, but the lake and waterways are also equally pleasant to meander around.
A flower from flowers in Keukenhof Gardens
Staying in Haarlem is perfect for visiting Keukenhof Gardens, as not only is it around 10 miles (16km) south of the city. Haarlem is ideal for returning to at the end of the day for its selection of restaurants and cafés.
Our total mileage for the day was around 20 miles (32km).
Buy & print your e-ticket in advance online from the Keukenhof website. It is valid for one day, but you can redeem it on any day during the 8-week window.
So, if the weather is not to your liking, you can opt to go another day.
A day discovering Haarlem
The quiet canals around Haarlem
Haarlem is only around 12 miles (20km) from the Netherlands capital of Amsterdam and feels like a million miles away. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Amsterdam; however, Haarlem appears to travel at a gentler pace of life.
Along the banks of the river and canals are some wonderful old merchants houses with their crow-stepped gables.
You may notice that the buildings are leaning forward, the Dutch term for this is ‘op vlucht’- on flight.
The St. Bavo Church in Haarlem
Sailing through Haarlem
In the heart of Haarlem is the Grote Markt, a charming square surrounded by 13th & 14th-century historic buildings.
Haarlem is also home to the Frans Hals Museum, the renowned Dutch Golden Age portrait painter.
Haarlem to Alkmaar via Zandvoort
Why Zandvoort? Well, those who have got to know us via this blog will understand we both love history, and we both love motor racing. Zandvoort was a classic Formula 1 Grand Prix location, known as the Circuit in the Dunes, as it is next to the North Sea.
The roll call of winners at the track is a ‘who’s who’ of the legends of Formula 1. However, it also holds a place in Formula 1 dark days. When safety was barely considered, and so was the last racing venue for too many.
A selection of the famous to have raced at the Zandvoort circuit
So, after soaking up some history and nostalgia in Zandvoort, we head north on to Alkmaar. Even with the detour, we complete the 42 miles (68km) journey in no time.
It’s also worth noting today is Koningsdag or King’s day, so we decided to head to our next destination, Alkmaar our home for the next three nights.
The Amrath Hotel, Alkmaar
We drive straight to Amrâth Hotel Alkmaar to park up the car and partake of the celebrations. You know, ‘When in Rome’, and all that! It also gives us a chance to discover the town.
Our total mileage for the day was around 42 miles (68km).
A day visiting Alkmaar
The Late-Gothic City Hall in Alkmaar
The porters, or kaasdragers, at work in the cheese market in Alkmaar
Now mainly performed for visitors, but it really is a spectacle and an interesting insight into Alkmaar’s history. These large golden cheeses are not sold at the market; however, you can buy a version of its little sister from the stalls around.
When the market has finished, take a stroll around the lanes of this historical centre of Waagsplein, it is full of fascinating shops, architecture and statues. You can even grab yourself some wooden clogs.
A day touring four Dutch Harbour Towns
While based in Alkmaar, we wanted to visit a few of Hollands historic harbour towns. After a little research, we chose to stop at Hoorn, Edam, Volendam & Monnickendam.
This region of Holland is extremely easy to drive around, and each of the quaint towns is very accessible.
Hoorn was our first stop for the day, it only 16 miles (26 km) away from Alkmaar, so we took the scenic route across the countryside to enjoy the lowlands and the fields in bloom.
Hoorn is a charming little city which became wealthy during the 17th century. It was one of the main ports for trading spices with Asia for the Dutch East India Trading Company, during Holland’s ‘Golden Age’.
From Hoorn, we head south picking up a scenic route and take a short hop of around 16 miles (26km) to Edam (home of the famous cheese).
Edam is a reasonably small town and so picturesque. The wealth of Edam can be seen along the lovely canals where the old merchant houses remain and would have overseen the ships loading and unloading their cargo.
The Cheese Market in Edam
In the centre of the town is a lovely square leading off onto an open brick bridge across the canal. Edam is full of delightful cobbled lanes to stroll amongst and keep an eye out for colourful Cheese Market like Alkmaar.
Just around the bay from Edam is Volendam, and literally only a couple of miles away. It’s also within easy access from Amsterdam and a popular destination for day-trippers.
The bustling harbour has plenty going on, with yachts coming and going, when you stroll around the quay you feel like you are at the seaside.
Garb an ice-cream and sit and watch the world pass by.
Looking aout across the Markermeer Lake at Volendam
Our final stop for the day was to Monnickendam, another short hop south of around 5 miles (8km).
Monnickendam was a beautiful little town and was actually my favourite of the four, as it felt so un-spoilt.
Dutch barges were lining the small harbour, there were very few people around, and the little High Street had such charming shops. How often do you see a dolls house shop nowadays?
The quayside at Monnickendam
The town was originally founded by Monks, hence the name, which translates to ‘Monk’s dam’. Like other fishing villages in this area, Monnickendam has some lovely canals to stroll around and are so peaceful.
Our total mileage for the day was around 66 miles (106km).
Discover more of Holland, you'll be amazed how easy it is to tour around by car with. You can then visit the iconic towns of Edam & Gouda and also see the 19 traditional windmills at the UNESCO site of Kinderdijk.
Rental Cars will search well-known car hire brands and discover the deals that suit you the best.
Onto Utrecht, but why take the direct route?
It’s just 50 miles (80kms) from Alkmaar to Utrecht. It seems nowhere is that far here in The Netherlands. In fact, Maastricht in the south is just 156 miles/252kms, and Groningen in the far north is 110 miles/177kms.
So, when faced with planning a route, I thought Mmmm, this looks interesting. There’s a road that runs over a lake, quite a big lake, the Markermeer.
The car is not that welcome in Utrecht, it’s very much a cycling city, and I’m fine with that.
After checking in to the hotel, we stroll the short walk into town, where we enjoy the rest of the day and evening getting our bearings around the attractive city of Utrecht.
Our total mileage for the day was around 98 miles (158km).
A day visiting Kinderdijk windmills and Gouda
A Windmill at Kinderdijk
I highly recommend hopping on the boat trip as this allows you to enjoy a wonderful perspective of these pepper-pots stretching into the sky.
The reason I love a road trip is the freedom to explore those towns & villages that give you a bigger picture of a country. Therefore, on our return journey to Utrecht, we visited Gouda another cheesy destination.
The route we chose for this hop of the journey included a short ferry ride. Yay who doesn’t enjoy a cruise. It took a little longer even though it was the shorter route of 16 miles (25.5km), but, hey it was fun.
Gouda is another beautiful city with a historic Medieval market square. Dominated by a stunning 15th-century Gothic town hall with its colourful shutters.
Also, in the ancient square is the traditional Waag the cheese weigh station.
While in Gouda, keep an eye out for ‘stroopwafels’ which are delightful wafer cookies to accompany a coffee or hot chocolate. They are made from thin layers of baked dough with a caramel filling.
So, it was back to Utrecht for us to enjoy the evening unearthing more of the city.
Our total mileage for the day was around 80.5 miles (130km).
A day discovering Utrecht
Such a delightful way to spend the last day of our 9-night road trip was discovering the bustling city of Utrecht and its meandering canals.
Utrecht’s centrepiece is its eye-catching Dom Tower & Cathedral standing proudly overseeing this cultural city. The tower is Holland’s oldest and tallest and dates from 1321.
What is so unusual about the Dom and the Cathedral is that they are no longer connected. They sit opposite each other across the main square, showing very little trace that they were ever built as one.
If you are in Utrecht for an evening, be sure to follow the Trajectum Lumen trail.
Bright lights by Buurkerk,
After nine glorious nights in The Netherlands
Packing up the Audi
One of Utrecht’s most notable residents was Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, a Dutch designer and architect. He was a principal member of the artistic movement called De Stijl.
Not only can large replicas of his famous Red and Blue Chair be seen dotted around the town, his former residence ‘Rietveld Schröder House’, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
We’re now on our way home. It’s grey, there’s a little drizzle in the air, and the GPS is warning me to avoid Antwerp – That’s good, I was planning on doing that anyway.
So, after 4 hours, it’s back to the Calais terminal of the Le Shuttle before the journey back to the UK, and I’m handed back that hour.
Our total mileage for the day was around 228 miles (367km).
As you can see, there’s so much to see without having to cover a huge amount of distance. Get planning.
All in one place
A whistle-stop look at the Dutch road trip highlights
The Soundtrack of the Road Trip
As with any road trip, there is always an album, playlist or single track that seems to dominate.
There was a mix on this trip from Ed Sheeran’s Divide, a little bit of Elbow but the one album that seemed to be on a loop was Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s Human – Wow, that boy’s got some soul.
What we've learned so far is...
Driving in Holland is cool; it's straightforward but, as you'd expect, you need to keep an eye out for the bikes - there's a lot of them, especially in the towns.
A lot of the roundabouts have kerb-like dividers to keep you in a lane. These are a great idea; I'd love to see these in the UK.
Our Netherlands road trip itinerary in summary
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