Things to do in Castles & Gardens
The Castles & Gardens region of the Amsterdam Area perfectly combines, culture, history and superb natural scenery. Explore picturesque villages and harbours, climb the ramparts at defensive forts and be wowed by the former country retreats of Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants - all within an hour’s journey of Amsterdam city centre.
Marvel at the extravagant country estates
Enjoy the grandeur of the beautiful country houses and estates dating from the 17th-century, when Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants would leave their homes in the heart of Amsterdam and retreat to their rural estates during the summertime. You can still bike or boat past these historic houses and their beautifully manicured gardens on the banks of the Amstel River and the River Vecht.
Snoop around elegant home and gardens
One such estate is the magnificent Kasteel Museum Sypesteyn, built by Henri van Sypesteyn (1857-1937) to preserve his family’s 500-year lineage. Located in the middle of the Vecht region, the museum houses a fascinating art collection and exhibition on the family, while the beautiful garden is perfect for an afternoon walk.
Travelling on the water is still one of the best ways to explore the countryside, offering splendid vistas and the chance to truly relax away from the hustle and bustle. A great way to do this is by hiring a boat in Uithoorn to explore the Amstel River Countryside. The charming city of Muiden is also a great place for boat lovers to visit, with countless ships sailing in and out of the historic harbour.
Unleash your inner knight or damsel
Home to many old castles, fortified towns and ruins, the picturesque fortress stretch offers a chance to glimpse what life was like during the medieval age. Muiden is one of the most spectacular destinations. Its grand Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, built around 1285 by Count Floris V, looms over the mouth of the picturesque River Vecht. With a drawbridge, five towers and preserved battlements, Muiderslot is a true medieval stronghold. Take a tour through the impressive knight’s hall, towers, dungeon and armory, enjoy the fantastic views from the ramparts or stroll through the beautiful herb and vegetable gardens that still retain the atmosphere of the Dutch Renaissance.
Admire modernist masterworks
At the end of the 19th century, the quiet, picture-perfect beauty of Laren attracted artists like Jozef Israëls, Anton Mauve, Albert Neuhuys and Hein Kever - to become known as the Laren School of Painting. Situated in a former villa built in 1911 by two collectors, the Singer Laren Museum houses an impressive art collection and sculpture garden. Art lovers should also head over to Amstelveen, where the Cobra Museum of Modern Art and Museum JAN host changing exhibition programmes of contemporary art and photography.
Test out your sailing legs
The Loosdrechtse Plassen (Loosdrecht Lakes) are perfect for water sports: sailing, rowing, canoeing, waterskiing and speedboating are all possible here. If taking a boat out yourself is not your thing, then join a sailboat or speedboat excursion, or just relax on a terrace and admire the view from dry land.
Visit the architectural jewels of the Fortress Stretch
With its massive fortresses and castles, the region, known as the De Stelling van Amsterdam (The Defense Line of Amsterdam), once provided protection against the Netherlands’ enemies. Now, visitors can roam the bastions along this 35-kilometre-long ring of fortifications and imagine life hundreds of years ago. Both Muiden and Weesp are fantastic starting points for exploring the area with special bike routes that take you past the most beautiful highlights, among them Fort aan de Ossenmarkt and Fort Uitermeer. The latter of which can be viewed from the delightful restaurant, Uit & Meer.
Cycle through stunning countryside along the Amstel
For a local cycle route that offers a little bit of everything, follow the River Amstel south from Amsterdam into some spectacular Dutch countryside. Watch as the buildings fade away, replaced by swaying reeds, green meadows and historic villages. Touring this idyllic region will make you feel just like a 17th-century artist might have and you'll find plenty of flat and accessible cycle routes through the area.
Relax on the riverside terraces of Ouderkerk
Featuring some of Amsterdam’s most breathtaking rural views and bustling riverside terraces, historic Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is a charming spot to spend an afternoon. The village dates back to the 12th century and has various churches and windmills that are well worth a visit. You’ll also find Beth Haim, the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands filled with ornate marble gravestones featuring beautiful inscriptions.
Visit a perfectly preserved fortress town
With its town centre still encompassed by two elaborate star-shaped moats and stone walls, Naarden is one of the most remarkable examples of a fortified town in Europe, and a perfectly preserved piece of Dutch defensive history. As well as its unique layout, it is also home to charming cafés, shops and attractions including the Weegschaal Museum and Dutch Fortress Museum.
Marvel at Naarden’s historic church
Naarden’s Grote Kerk is among the country’s oldest churches and also hosts organ concerts and a bi-annual photo exhibition. Step inside to admire the impressive architectural details of the church, including the famous barrel-vaulted ceiling above your head.
Explore a mysterious fortress island
Seen across the water, the small island of Pampus looks like any other island. But take a closer look and you’ll see this is no natural landmass at all, but a submerged sea fort built in the 1890s to protect Amsterdam from its enemies. Visit Pampus by boat to explore the various secret tunnels, battlements and historical artefacts dotted around the island. The fortress was once part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam and makes for a fascinating day out for visitors of all ages.
See stunning contemporary photography
Located in a 250-year-old town hall, Museum Hilversum has a special focus on new media arts and photography. On top of a changing programme of roughly 10 exhibitions a year, the museum hosts both World Press Photo and De Zilveren Camera - the most important journalistic photo competition in the country. Its one of the many reasons why this dynamic town is regarded as the 'Media City' of The Netherlands.
Take a break at a romantic tea garden
You’ll find the romantic Bakkersschans tea garden in one of Weesp’s former bastions. Built in 1674, the bastion was once a part of the town's fortifications but has now been transformed into an oasis of calm surrounded by lush greenery. Garden enthusiasts will love the tranquil atmosphere and can enjoy some Dutch delicacies in the adjoining restaurant, housed in a building that was once used to store munitions.