1) Cycle along the River Vecht

The winding River Vecht between Amsterdam and Utrecht is a wonderful setting for a cycle route. The bank offers an open view of the imposing castles (such as at Breukelen and Muiden), picturesque villages, ambitious country estates and accompanying tearooms. Rich merchants from the Golden Age once spent their summer months here. The holidaymakers ‘only’ needed five to seven hours to reach their rural residence. Thankfully, it’s much quicker today – many of the best attractions around the Castles & Gardens are an enjoyable bike ride from Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Amstel river countryside Restaurant Kalfje Geert Snoeijer 
Restaurant Klein Kalfje | Image credit: Geert Snoeijer

2) Go boating

Much like in the olden days, travelling on the water is still one of the best ways to explore the countryside, offering splendid vistas whilst being a meditative mode of transport close to nature. For example, you could hire a boat in Uithoorn and explore the Amstel River countryside. Meanwhile by the River Vecht, the charming town of Muiden is a must for boat lovers, with countless ships sailing into and out of the historic harbour.

Muiden town boats 

3) Marvel at the extravagant country estates

Enjoy the grandeur of the beautiful country houses dating from the Golden Age, when Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants would leave their primary residence in the heart of Amsterdam and retreat to their rural estates in summertime. South-east of Amsterdam, on the banks of the Amstel River and the River Vecht, you can still bike and boat past these historic houses with their acres of beautifully manicured gardens. Some are open to the public while others leave you dreaming of an aristocratic life by the water.

4) Unleash your inner knight or damsel at the medieval fortress stretch

Home to many old castles, fortified towns and ruins, the picturesque fortress stretch offers a vivid window into medieval times. Muiden is one of the most spectacular examples, with the grand Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, built around 1285 by Count Floris V, looming over the mouth of the picturesque River Vecht. A square castle with a drawbridge, five towers, battlements and embrasures, Muiderslot is a true medieval water stronghold. As well as providing a historic snapshot it’s a fun-filled museum for all the family: you can take a tour through the impressive knight’s hall, towers, dungeon and armoury; stroll through the beautiful herb and vegetable gardens that still retain the atmosphere of the Dutch Renaissance and enjoy the fantastic views from the ramparts.

Muiderslot Mike Bink fotografie 
Muiderslot | Image credit: Mike Bink fotografie

5) Feel like a Golden-Age painter

Not far from Amsterdam, going south alongside the River Amstel, you will find a stunning, peaceful spot of countryside: lose yourself in the swaying reeds, green meadows and historic villages, such as Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, which dates from the 12th century. In the Golden Age, famous artists would retreat to the area to capture its wild nature. Take a romantic stroll and then have tea or dinner in one of the many quality eateries and cafes along the way.

 Vecht River CC BY 2.0 Arjan via Flickr

Find more things to do and places to stay around Amsterdam's Castles & Gardens area