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Castles & Gardens Amsterdam Area – 2-Day Itinerary

A red brick castle with a small bridge crossing the moat amongst trees

Castles & Gardens Amsterdam Area – 2-Day Itinerary

The city of Amsterdam welcomes nearly 20 million visitors per year, but surprisingly most don’t venture outside of the centre. The iconic canals and narrow houses offer a lot of culture for first-time tourists. But few people know the nearby ‘Castles & Gardens’ Amsterdam Area.

Beyond the densely crowded city, lies a gateway to a beautiful and much less trodden side to the Dutch capital. This hidden gem is known as ‘Castles & Gardens’ and does exactly what it says on the tin and more!

A red brick castle with a small bridge with a man standing on it set amongst trees

Castles & Gardens

Castles & Gardens is located to the south-east of Amsterdam city and is one of six unique locations included in the Amsterdam Area. The others being ‘Flowers of Amsterdam’, ‘Authentic Haarlem’, and ‘Amsterdam Beach’ to the west, ‘Old Holland’ to the north, and finally ‘New Land’ to the east.

Map of the Amsterdam Area marked with the regions Amsterdam Beach, Authentic Haarlem, Flowers of Amsterdam, Old Holland, New Land, and Castles & Gardens

All of the areas lie just 30 minutes away from the city. Before we dive in to the 2-day itinerary, let’s talk about the places you’ll be visiting: Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen.

A lake with thin islands of trees in straight lines

Gooi & Vecht

Despite being close to one of the busiest tourist cities in all of Europe, the surrounding region of Gooi & Vecht draws few foreign visitors. Unsurprisingly, it’s much more popular for the local holidaymakers who are more aware of what it has to offer.

Gooi & Vecht is one of the most charming and picturesque regions of the Netherlands. You’ll find stunning green scenery, dotted with charming villages, grand castles, canals, lakes, and the meandering river Vecht. The river offers views of ancient villas, parks, and quaint Dutch meadows.

Nearby, the villages of Naarden and Bussum effortlessly combine old-world charm with world-class hospitality. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll along the village lanes or a boat tour along the canals, the Gooi & Vecht area has something for everyone.

Amstelveen

Amstelveen is a beautiful and vibrant town and while not as famous as its bigger neighbor there’s plenty of attractions for tourists.

Colourful riverside houses in a classic Dutch style

Whether you’re looking for culture, picturesque parks, or even a shopping trip, Amstelveen has it all. What’s more, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in the country here, so if it’s fine dining you’re after, then look no further.

Castles & Gardens Amsterdam Area – 2-Day Itinerary

A red brick castle set amongst the trees with a small bridge crossing the moat

Day 1 – Castle and Lake

Due to some of the opening times, the best time to visit is on a weekend (Saturday/Sunday but Friday/Saturday is also possible) between March and October. Since we’re venturing to the Castles & Gardens area, we think it’d be a good idea to start with a castle on Day 1! But a great place to line your stomach before exploring is the idyllic little village of Vreeland.

Brunch at Restaurant Hendrik

Outside of a restuarant named Hendrik in Vreeland, Netherlands

Restaurant Hendrik is a family run restaurant just off the river Vecht who pride themselves on using locally grown produce. Even the flour in their famous pancakes (which you must try!) comes from the local windmill.

They offer both sweet and savory options for their pancakes, and they come with a huge jug of ‘stroop’. Stroop is the Netherlands’ answer to maple syrup and arguably just as good! They can also make the pancakes vegan, and have a wide variety of fruit options for a fully vegan meal. As well as their traditional pancakes, they serve breads, sandwiches, soups, salads, and more.

It’s best to get here early to give yourself time before the castle. They’re open from Midday on Friday or 11am on Saturday.

Loenersloot Castle

The keep at Loenersloot Castle has existed since the early 13th century but there have been many additions and renovations over the years. The last major restoration happened in the 18th century – a time when many wealthy families were buying country houses and estates in the area as residences or summer houses.

The castle is now owned by Utrechts Landschap, an organization who aim to protect and manage cultural heritage and nature in the region. After almost 750 years in private hands, the castle is now open to the public.

The castle gardens are free to visit and open all year round but the castle itself is reserved exclusively for guided tours. The tours run from 11:00am – 12:30pm and 13:30pm – 15:00pm on Friday and Saturday and cost €8.50 for adults.

Inside the castle you get to see the fully furnished rooms with painted walls and ceilings, the cellars, a large attic and even take the stairs up the tower for a wonderful panoramic view of the area. The passionate tour guides will fill you in with the history of the castle and its various owners.

Note: If you’re coming on Friday, it might be better to do the earlier tour and then lunch at Hendrik due to timings.

Boating on River Vecht or Loosdrechtse Plassen

A lake with straight lined islands of trees and a lake house

A boat journey on Loosdrechtse Plassen was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. The friendly and knowledgeable staff at Uw Salonboot can give you more information and tailor a trip around exactly what you want.

There are many options including dining and drinks packages as well as where the journey starts and the amount of time on the water. We started at the western edge of the lake area and finished at the Flora Batava Hotel ready for our evening meal.

If there’s a large group of you it works out a lot cheaper per person and so it’s easier to be more flexible. However, it can be quite expensive if there’s a small number of you. But there are more wallet friendly options along the river Vecht starting in Vreeland.

Dinner at Flora Batava

A restaurant in a greenhouse style conservatory with hanging plants

Hotel Flora Batava has a 400-year history as part of a country estate. The hotel’s restaurant ‘Bloei’ (which translates as ‘bloom’) is a tip of the hat to the founder of the estate who was a talented botanist.

That botanical history is celebrated in the architecture – the villa style building featuring an enormous glass conservatory – and also showcased in their dishes with the use of seasonal and regional plants and flowers.

Relaxing Stay at Van der Valk Breukelen

Front entrance of Hotel Van der Valk in Breukelen with people entering and exiting through the revolving doors

The Van der Valk Hotel in Breukelen is a 4-star hotel with great train links, making it an ideal choice outside of Amsterdam. The train from Centraal takes under 30 minutes and the station is only 150m door to door.

The hotel boasts over 200 rooms with comfort, deluxe and superior rooms ranging from €95-€135. They also have a few themed, boutique suites with hot tubs like the Miami, Oriental, and Marrakech Suites at very competitive prices (€189-€229).

The hotel also has a classy bar area, restaurant, and pool with sauna and steam rooms. Breakfast isn’t included but at €16.50 is good value. There’s a high-quality buffet with a bit of everything – hot food, cured meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, cereals, and more.

Trivia: Did you know that the borough of Brooklyn in New York was named for Breukelen? There are many other examples of Dutch named places in and around New York such as Harlem (Haarlem), the Bronx (for Jonas Bronk), Broadway (Breede Wegh), and even New York City itself was once New Amsterdam (or Nieuw-Amsterdam).

Day 2 – Biking and Art

Is there anything more Dutch than riding bikes and great art? The country is famed for its legendary painters and their love of cycling. The flat terrain and huge array of cycle lanes make for a perfect biking location and probably has something to do with its popularity.

e-Biking Around Breukelen

You can rent e-bikes from the hotel and it’s a great location to start exploring. Check out the map below for a suggested route (this was the one that we did and it’s about 1 hour of cycling without stops).

Map of Breukelen, Netherlands with a suggested cycle route that follows the edge of Loosdrechtse Plassen and the river Vecht

Here’s a few highlights in the area:

  • Gunterstein Castle – A 17th century castle made from the area’s traditional red brick, right on the river Vecht. It’s the site of an older 14th century castle which was destroyed on multiple occasions. The latest of these being 1672 – the year referred to as the ‘disaster year’ in Dutch history. The park surrounding the castle is open to the public.
  • Scheendijk – A village of long, narrow islands in the Loosdrechtse Plassen lake area. This place looks truly amazing from the air, so if you have a drone with you, be sure to get it out here!
  • Fort Tienhoven – A 19th century fort built on a circular island in the canal coming from the river Vecht.
  • Fort Maarsseveen – Another 19th century fort built under a hill which was designed to be bombproof. Today it’s also a café and a nice stop for refreshments.
  • Buitenplaats Doornburgh – A country house and former nun’s convent with a large park and gardens.
  • Kasteel Nijenrode – An impressive castle with a history dating back to the 13th century. It’s now home to one of the most prestigious universities in the Netherlands.

Lunch at Eetcafé Het Regthuys

A brown brick building with a sign reading 'Het Regthuys'

Het Regthuys is a convenient place to grab lunch on the way back to the hotel. It’s in a great central location in town and they have outdoor seating if the weather’s nice.

They have a variety of foods including hot sandwiches, salads as well as some Dutch classics – uitsmijter, bitterballen, and kaastengels.

COBRA Museum

Colourful abstract artwork with surrealist faces

The COBRA Museum in Amstelveen is an art gallery dedicated to the COBRA art movement. It was a European, experimental movement primarily made up of artists from Copenhagen (CO), Brussels (BR), and Amsterdam (A).

The museum holds an extensive collection of COBRA art and provides interactive art and educational activities for visitors. The permanent collection includes works by COBRA artists like Constant, Appel, and Corneille.

The COBRA movement was an example of international and cross-cultural cooperation. Although the group included artists of different nationalities, they embraced a shared philosophy of informal expressionism.

The artwork they made emphasized spontaneity, freedom of form, and abstraction. Also key to their artistic style was the use of bright colors and organic shapes.

One of the primary purposes of the movement was to break down the traditional boundaries and rigid hierarchies of mainstream art which had dominated much of Europe for centuries.

Fine Dining at SAAM Restaurant

Amstelveen’s SAAM restaurant combines South African and Dutch cuisine in a beautiful location. The restaurant overlooks the Amstel River and sits at the end of Amstelzijde – a restaurant strip steeped in history.

The restaurant was the brainchild of sommelier Koen van der Plas and together with celebrated chef Margot Janse, they’ve been able to create something truly special.

They offer à la carte, but we’d recommend the five-course menu or ‘spyskaart’ as it’s known in Afrikaans. The menu uses indigenous South African and carefully selected Dutch ingredients. They offer an excellent wine pairing thanks to their experienced sommeliers and even have non-alcoholic options.

What to do with More Time?

If you have longer and are looking for more sites to explore, there are plenty of other things in the area.

Castles Near Amsterdam

While the area is more famed for it’s tulips and windmills, there are a surprising number of castles in Amsterdam.

De Haar Castle

Girl in a pink dress standing in the rose garden of a huge red castle. De Haar Castle in Netherlands). Framed by pink roses.

De Haar Castle is the largest and most luxurious castle in the Netherlands. It is a medieval-style castle that was originally built in the 14th century. But it was heavily restored and renovated by the influential van Zuylen family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can explore its beautiful gardens, intricate architecture, and grand interiors.

Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot

Muiderslot Castle is a medieval castle located in Muiden. Built around 1280, it is one of the best-preserved castles in the Netherlands. The castle is now a museum, offering tours (including a free audio guided tour), exhibitions, and a variety of events throughout the year.

Inside, you’ll find incredible works of art, antique furniture, and a variety of other artifacts. The castle grounds offer visitors the chance to explore the fortifications and the unique collection of plants.

Zuylen Castle

Zuylen Castle has a long history that dates back to the 13th century when it was first built as a medieval fortress. One of its notable occupents was Belle van Zuylen, a famous Dutch-Swiss writer and aristocrat. Today the castle serves as a museum which offers guided tours.

Groeneveld Castle

Groeneveld Castle is a much later addition to the castles in the Netherlands; it was comleted in 1710. Originally built as a country house for a noble family, it served as a residence to the Dutch royal family as late as the 20th century. It, too, is now open to the public and has a beautiful park with a flower garden.

Pampus Island Fortress

Pampus Island Fortress is a man-made island and sea fortress located in the waters of the IJmeer. It was built in the late 19th century to protect Amsterdam and ward off enemies. The whole defense line of 42 forts has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

Today it welcomes visitors to marvel at its secret tunnels, historical weapons, and battlements. One of the highlights is a virtual balloon flight over the fort, showing you this magnificent site from the air.

Gooi Nature Reserve

If you’re looking for a slice of the outdoors, then you can head to the Gooi Nature Reserve. A wide variety of forests, fields of wild heather, sand drifts, and waterways.

You’ll likely see cows grazing around here in the summer months and if you’re lucky you may spot some of the local fauna including foxes, hares, and even deer.

Amsterdam Bos

The Amsterdam Bos is another option if you’re after nature, although it’s actually man-made. It’s also a patchwork of different environments – forests, open water, grassland, and marshland.

Trivia: At over 1,000 hectares, Amsterdam Bos is one of the largest city parks in Europe and is over three times the size of New York’s Central Park!

Getting to Castles & Gardens

A view of the river Vecht in Vreeland, framed by vibrant pink and purple flowers in the foreground

If you’re coming by car, then it’s around a 20-minute drive to Breukelen from central Amsterdam or around 30-minutes if you’re coming from Schiphol Airport.

The trains in the Amsterdam area are an excellent option to get around and are only 30-minute journeys to Breukelen from Centraal station or 35-minute from Schiphol Airport.

Getting Around Castles & Gardens

An aerial shot of a red brick Dutch castle surrounded by water and a forest

In order to follow the itinerary, the best and most convenient way to travel around the Castles & Gardens region is by car.

It is, however, possible to use public transport but it would require a lot of planning and time management since some of the attractions have limited bus options.

FAQs

Is public transportation available for travelling in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, public transportation is available in the form of buses and trains. You can also take taxis for more convenience.

What is the best way to explore the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Exploring the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas can be done either by foot, bike, or car. You can also take public transportation to get around.

What sights are there to see in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

The Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas are rich in culture and history. Highlights include Dutch castles, nature areas, waterways, and museums.

Are there any walking and cycling routes in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, there is a wide selection of walking and cycling routes available in the area. The Holland Cycling Network has dedicated routes in both the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas.

Are there many places to stay in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, there are plenty of accommodation options available, ranging from hotels to bed and breakfasts, holiday homes, and campsites.

Are there any local markets in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, there are several local markets in Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen. These include the regular market in Laren, the Goyer market at the Amstelveenseweg, and the de Hoek market in Bussum.

Are there any activities available for children in and around the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas have plenty of activities suitable for children. These include visiting the science center NEMO, going to the theatre, ice skating, or exploring the local parks and nature reserves.

Are there any restaurants and cafes in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Yes, the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas have a wide variety of restaurants and cafes. Many of these offer local dishes and specialties as well as international cuisine.

What are the opening times of businesses in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas?

Most businesses in the Gooi & Vecht and Amstelveen areas have regular opening hours, typically between 9am-6pm on weekdays and 9am-5pm on Saturdays, though these can vary depending on the specific business.

Are there many attractions in the nearby city of Utrecht?

Yes, the nearby city Utrecht has plenty of attractions to explore. These include museums, markets, theaters, parks, and other attractions.

Castles & Gardens Amsterdam Area – 2-Day Itinerary

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