Eurostar trains will run directly to and from Holland this year. Sustainable, flight free Dutch weekend breaks will now be much quicker and cheaper.
And brilliantly, the new trains will open up even more of Holland to quick weekend breaks from London because they will stop at Rotterdam as well as Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is of course wonderful but also busy and expensive and lots of us have done it, more than once, and are on for something different for a weekend break.
Rotterdam – which is just three hours away on a direct train – has loads to offer in its own right but is also the main junction for a whole heap of strollable little Dutch canal-side towns and super cool cities that are chock full of art and stylish but affordable hotels, restaurants and bars.
So here’s a quick guide to the best Dutch towns to check out for wonderful weekend breaks when Eurostar open booking in February for direct return trains to Holland.
All these towns can be reached by train, with an easy change in Rotterdam, in less time than it takes to get to Edinburgh. And they all have great stuff to see and cool places to stay and eat within very easy walking – or peaceful cycling – distance of the station.
Perfect, in other words, for a relaxing and sustainable weekend away: the greenhouse gas emissions of a weekend break in Rotterdam by Eurostar are 90% less than flying. (Source: Eco Passenger).
And once you’ve picked out where you want to go you can use this list of cool boutique hotels in Holland to find somewhere to stay.
Dutch Weekend Breaks By Train
1. Super Stylish Rotterdam
Regenerated Rotterdam is strikingly stylish.
The old port city, which is actually closer to London than Edinburgh and Paris, offers some of Europe’s most innovative modern architecture – such as the Kijk-Kubus houses and Markethal – plus world standard art museums including Boijmans and the Kunsthal. Modern design hotels have sprung up in the old docks around the amazing Erasmus bridge and the whole city is buzzing with new restaurants.
For children there is a brilliant zoo & aquarium and also an outdoor Maritime Museum. There’s obviously loads of opportunities for boat trips – you can even stay on old barges – and if you’re there for a long weekend you could take a boat bus down to the World Heritage windmills at Kinderdijk or potter around one of the lovely local towns such as Delft or Leiden, (see below).
Rotterdam is a big city but everything you’ll want to see is easily accessible by Metro and tram from Rotterdam Centraal station.
2. Pottering In Delft
The birthplace of Vermeer and famous worldwide for its blue and white pottery, pretty Delft is just 10 minutes on the train from Rotterdam.
You can explore Vermeer’s life at the Vermeer Centre and see Delftware being painted by hand in the 350 year old Royal Delft pottery. There’s also a gem of a little museum – Paul Tetar van Elfen – rather like the John Soanes in London.
But Delft is really about slowing down and enjoying a weekend away from the rush, pottering about pretty canals and watching the world go by at canal side restaurants. If you must tick off more sites, you can nip easily on the train to nearby Den Haag or Leiden for an afternoon.
3. High Art In Den Haag
Just 20 minutes from Rotterdam, Den Haag has grand old buildings and multiple world class museums centred around the Hofvijver ponds. You can culture binge on Golden Age artists at the Mauritshuis (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals), modern art at the Kuntsmuseum (Picasso, Van Gogh & the world’s largest collection of Mondrians) and graphic art at Het Palais (Escher). There’s also the beautiful new Voorlinden modern art museum, a cycle ride away. But if you do overdose on art you can also escape to Den Haag’s very own beach and funfair a quick tram ride away at Scheveningen.
4. Lovely Leiden & The Tulips
Leiden – Rembrandt’s birth place – is one of Holland’s loveliest towns. Strolling by the canals is a pure pleasure in its own right. But there’s also old masters – including Rembrandt – at De Lakenhal, the Young Rembrandt Studio, the National Antiquities Museum, an award winning Science Museum and one of the world’s biggest natural history collections to see!!
And that’s all before we get to the tulips.
For Leiden is also the best base for visiting the world famous flower gardens at Keukenhoef, which you can reach by bus and bike.
Leiden is 35 minutes on the inter city train from Rotterdam and just 20 minutes from Den Haag and Delft so can easily be combined with these on a longer weekend break.
5. Eindhoven Design
Eindhoven is one of Holland’s uber-modern rather than pretty-pretty cities but if design and modern art are your thing, it’s a cool place for a weekend break by train. The Phillips and DAF design museums and Van Abbe Museum of Modern Art (Picasso, Kandinsky & more) are all an easy stroll from the station which is an hour south of Rotterdam.
6. Cycling Around Middleburg
Tucked away on the Zeeland peninsula, Middleburg is 90 minutes by train from Rotterdam and best for a long weekend. There’s no knock out international museum to draw you there but Middleburg provides a chance to explore the Dutch coast and its dikes by bike.
Middleburg itself has some great but affordable boutique hotels and restaurants among it’s cobbled streets and coastal villages such as Domburg, Veere and Westkapelle are 30 to 40 minutes away by bike.
The Zeeland tourist board has a very useful website with details of beaches, tiny, local museums, Michelin restaurants and nature reserves you can cycle your way round. There are cycle routes on top of the old dikes that have protected Holland from the sea for the centuries and you can cycle out to one of the 7 wonders of the modern world: the enormous delta works that have kept the Netherlands safe since the great flood of 1953.
7. Fine Food In Zwolle
The old Hanseatic port of Zwolle is a bit more of a stretch for the weekend being 90 minutes on from Rotterdam up towards the German border, but away from the crowds it has one of the world’s best restaurants – De Librije – with stylish rooms you can stay in and a cool art museum, de Fundatie, with works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Mondrian & Bernini.
And when you’ve eaten you full at De Librije you can cycle it off pottering your way up the river Ijssel to see the other pretty Hanseatic towns of Hattem, Hanselt and Kampem.
8. Dordrecht Wetlands & Windmills
25 minutes on the train – 30 minutes by boat – from Rotterdam, Dordrecht is a pleasant if not the prettiest of Holland’s canal towns but offers something completely different for families and nature lovers as it’s the gateway for the Biesbosch national park.
Biesbosch is one of the last freshwater tidal wetlands in northern Europe and home to beavers, sea eagles and much more. Accessible from Dordrecht by boat, bike and bus you can navigate the park by canoe and even sleep on an eco lodge on the water.
9. Jazz In Breda
Breda is another small Dutch city less than 30 minutes by train from Rotterdam. There are no knock out museums but it is bursting with canal side restaurants and bars and is host every May to one of the world’s oldest and largest jazz festivals.
10. Frans Hals in Haarlem
Haarlem is also a relaxing, and more affordable, base from which to explore Amsterdam itself (15 minutes by train), nearby Leiden (20 minutes) or the pretty cheese market town of Alkmaar (40 minutes). You can also cycle in less than 30 minutes through the dunes to Bloemendaal beach.
So what are you waiting for?
Use the power of your purse to say no to planet polluting planes and book yourself a wonderful weekend away in any of these Dutch towns by train instead.