All Hail the Day Trip – Seeing the Netherlands by Train

Betsy Barthelemy
November 22, 2019
NS Train Arrives at Centraal Station

I’ve taken six international trips this semester, and have plans for two more; that being said, leaving Amsterdam doesn’t necessarily mean having to leave the Netherlands. For a country only slightly larger in area than West Virginia, there is an incredible amount to see past windmills and tulips (which, because it’s fall, are only found in souvenir shops). Because of its comparatively-minuscule size next to the massive country that I come from, the longest possible train ride from Amsterdam is less than two-and-a-half hours. So, with no class on Wednesdays and open weekends in my calendar, I’ve made an effort to get to know this country as much as possible in these past few months. Now having taken five in-country excursions, I feel much more comfortable saying that not only did I study abroad in Amsterdam this semester, but was a resident of the Netherlands. I absolutely recommend doing the same, wherever you are – as much as I've loved inter-Europe travel, hopping on an NS train on a free day is a favorite pastime of mine.

It’s been interesting to see the parallels between the Dutch cities and neighboring international cities I’ve also visited as I train-hop from place to place. For example, Eindhoven (the farthest South I’ve been within the country — the ticket to Maastricht is just a bit too pricey) housed similar chains, such as Coffee Fellows and Five Guys, that I saw in Antwerp, Belgium, and Munich, Germany. Haarlem, a biking distance westward of my home city, had none of those, but an architectural aesthetic that tied the quieter town to Amsterdam. Rotterdam was the most unique, especially given its newness, but the American-esque layout of the city by no means erased its Dutch setting.

I enjoyed my days in each city uniquely and fully, and hope that my short accounts of my experiences provide a more holistic picture of this beautiful country I’ve called home for the past few months. I’d never heard of any of these cities in August, and I’m so happy that I chose to seek them out. Here they are, in the order I visited them.


My trip to Delft was with my IES Abroad program as a part of our orientation week. While there, we toured the internationally-known Royal Delft pottery factory, tried our hands at painting our own tiles in the iconic Delft blue paint, and wandered the brick roads for a few hours under the August sun. This was the tenth day in the Netherlands for most of us, and while still getting used to Amsterdam itself, we were collectively struck by the sudden transition to a quieter town with the same affinity for bicycles and canal house-style buildings.

My grandmother has some Delft pieces in her home, so it was comforting to see some familiar art that I didn’t even know was Dutch. The work of master Delft painters is truly something else. In the factory, they have a life-size replica of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, arguably the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum, painted on a series of tiles in one standard hue of Delft Blue. I couldn’t believe the detail they were able to extract from a single color, several paintbrushes, and a puddle of water. My own sorry attempt was met with shaking hands and splotched shades, but overall turned out better than I’d anticipated. Some of my friends’, on the other hand, were in contention to get them hired as painters-in-training.

Though we didn’t have a ton of time to explore, even just walking through the downtown area to get ice cream was enough to show us the quainter side of the Netherlands. With fragments of Delft tile in the sidewalks to remind us of the city’s history, we were surrounded by cafes, shops, and even a couple canals. Bikes continued to whizz past us at every intersection, teaching us a bit about what is Dutch versus unique to Amsterdam. With such wonderful weather and company, I definitely enjoyed our relaxing excursion to a historic area of the Netherlands.

Unpainted Ceramic at the Delft Factory



Travelling to Rotterdam was my first experience with trains in the Netherlands, and I quickly learned to love travelling by rail. For only 16 euros and 45 minutes each way, I’m able to get across the country with very little planning involved. With NS, as long as you buy your round trip for the correct day, your journeys can come at any time: whenever you feel like waking up, you can take the next train out, and whenever you’re tired, you can take the next train home. Plus, I keep my tickets in the app, with a schedule of trains between the two cities attached to it. In-country travel really couldn’t be simpler, and as I watched the rural Netherlands fly by from the top of the double-decker intercity train for the first time, I was incredibly content.

Rotterdam was almost entirely destroyed by bombs during World War II: it was the event that forced the Netherlands into German control and made it necessary to build a new Rotterdam from the ground up. Because of this, the city is more modern than any other place in the Netherlands, complete with a skyline and American city feel that comforted the September homesickness I was feeling for Chicago. The city is known for its architecture, from the Erasmus bridge to the Cube Houses, and its numerous museums, of which I visited four. I would’ve visited more, but Rotterdam is still a Dutch city at heart, which means they all closed around 17:00.

I visited the Rotterdam Museum, a small museum documenting the history of the city through the decades; the Cube House museum, which is one of the famous cube houses staged to present what living in one of these unique structures would look like; the Nederland Fotomuseum, a photography museum that was exhibiting work by Ed van der Elsken; and the Kunsthal, a unique art museum without a permanent collection, meaning each exhibit is unique, temporary, and incredibly engaging. Each was well worth the time I spent there (and free, thanks to my Museumkaart), but the latter two were definitely my favorites. I spent so long in the Kunsthal, I ended up being one of the last visitors out before they closed for the day.

The walk to and from the Fotomuseum involved crossing the Erasmus bridge, which is 802 meters long and sits above a beautiful river. On the windy, somewhat rainy day, it was quite the trek at first, but walking back provided a beautiful view of the city. Rotterdam is the biggest port in the country, as well, which meant there were plenty of boats to watch pass by. Supplemented by two trips to Markthal, an indoor mecca of international foods in the heart of the city, my walks through Rotterdam were some of my favorites of this semester. While still surrounded by the Dutch language, I got my Chicagoan fix of busy city intersections, skyscrapers, and street art, and left feeling uplifted and energized.

Street Art Near Rotterdam Centraal Station



Utrecht is a small city east of Amsterdam; it’s not a tall building, tourist-heavy city, but is big enough to earn that title over “town.” It is filled with old stone buildings, small shopping streets, and food markets, like a smaller Amsterdam. At its center is the Dom Tower, a 1300s bell tower that still sings over the city limits. Though the very top is under construction, I got to climb hundreds of stairs to a makeshift lookout over the country, windmills turning in the distance, and stood under the giant bells inside that are older than my home country. Directly in contrast to these historic structures were the new train station and mall, with iridescent windows and modern structures that made Utrecht a happy medium between the two ’dams.

Though hard to compare to how much I loved Rotterdam, Utrecht’s charm definitely made a good impression on me. The Central Museum was an interesting look into the culture of the area, and finally explained the Netherlands’ obsession with the cartoon bunny Miffy, whose creator, Dick Bruna, lived there. My favorite parts of my day, though, were spent wandering the streets, peeking into the shops, and warming up with a cone of fries (a Dutch lunch) from the Friday market. The city was in the midst of setting up for the Nederland Film Festival, too, so it was fun to stumble upon golden giraffes at every other corner.

View Down from the Dom Tower



I went to Haarlem kind-of on accident: I’d spent an early morning at the Nikon service point in Beverwijk, and after an anxiety-ridden few hours trying (and succeeding!) to avoid spending 200 euro on a camera repair I wasn’t sure if I needed, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to exit my train back to Amsterdam early and turn the day around. It had been pouring, and aside from my upper body (thanks to my wonderful raincoat, the best purchase I’ve made this semester), I was soaked. After pouring water out of my Nikes and wringing my socks out in the train station bathroom (I wish I was kidding), I really needed a boost of positivity for my Wednesday.

Haarlem absolutely provided that. Only 10 minutes away by train (with a ticket cheaper than going to the airport), the adorable town is complete with gorgeous boutiques, historic buildings, quaint canals, and a windmill. I visited the Teylers Museum, a museum of artifacts founded on one anthropologist’s personal collection, and studied in a cafe, but mostly explored the streets on foot. Even in the (much lighter) rain, I thoroughly enjoyed my day there, and can’t wait to return for its Christmas market.

A Narrow Dutch Street in Haarlem



After a month of international travel, I recently travelled to Eindhoven for the GLOW festival, which happens for one week every year. I had class during the IES Abroad field trip down south, but that didn’t stifle my curiosity, so I went the next day with a friend of mine. Though the entirety of our time there was after sunset, we loved getting to know the city via the GLOW route. The festival is created in a way that showcases settings throughout the city, from cathedrals to stadiums, parks to museums, office buildings to shopping malls; knowing this is a pull for out-of-towners, the city officials definitely capitalized on the opportunity to show off.

Eindhoven is the birthplace of Philips, and the history in electronics was made apparent from the very first installation we found. The projections were at the top of their class and made me question (several times!) whether the lights were emulating from the buildings’ walls themselves. From an entire street square lit to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, to a clocktower ‘crumbling’ to reveal birds, to a larger-than-life field of sunflowers, I experienced an incredible amount of beauty in a few short hours. Plus, we paid a visit to one of the only Taco Bells in the country, and though it isn’t my favorite food, the taste of fast food was something I didn’t know I needed but really, really did.

Shanela wrote a wonderful post about her trip to Eindhoven GLOW, so if you’d like to know more about it, absolutely give it a read.

A Colorful Eindhoven Square


...and Beyond

I have a few weeks left in the Netherlands and a few more boxes to tick: namely, Den Haag (The Hague), a city on the Atlantic Ocean and famous for its museums and being the location of the government. I also plan on visiting Leiden, a more rural city close in aesthetics to Haarlem, for its famous ‘floating’ Christmas market in the upcoming month. I previously planned on returning to Rotterdam, but we’ll see if scheduling allows for it — after all, Amsterdam is still my favorite place, and I want to capitalize on my time here as much as possible.

When I came to Amsterdam, my to-do list didn’t include travelling the country – it was exclusively full of international destinations. I am incredibly grateful that I was inspired to explore the Netherlands like I’ve explored Europe. For a country with domestic flights few and far between, the accessibility is still astounding to me and definitely a luxury I will miss in the States. It’ll be weird to be car-less in Minnesota next semester, without a feasible way to travel the country for a random day or two. Day tripping is an unexpected habit I’ve developed that I’ll definitely miss, and hope to adapt to my homes in the U.S.

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Betsy Barthelemy

<p>I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to briefly study abroad in Japan (several cities) and do community service work in Riobamba, Ecuador, while in high school, effectively biting me with the travel bug. At school, I major in English and minor in anthropology, but also enjoy taking classes in linguistics, photography, Japanese, and theater. When I’m not in class, I’m probably in a chorale rehearsal, helping edit Macalester’s newspaper, working at the cafe across the street, or baking cookies.</p>

Home University:
Macalester College
Evanston, IL
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