Southeast of Amsterdam city centre, the Castles & Gardens region offers romantic surroundings, picturesque villages, untouched green expanses and beautiful lakes. It is particularly famous for its castles and country estates, most of which were constructed in the 17th century and were the homes of wealthy merchants. Many of the castles and exquisitely manicured gardens are open to the public. They all come with their own unique story and form a fascinating part of the Dutch history. Located in Muiden, Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot’s dates back to 1280 and is part of the UNESCO-listed Defense Line of Amsterdam. This enchanting castle and its surrounding gardens are truly breathtaking.

Whether you’re exploring heather, forests, estate parks, rivers or leisure lakes, nature is abundant in the region. Winding its way between Amsterdam and Utrecht, the River Vecht flows past seven beautiful towns and an enchanting background of castles, country houses and quaint tearooms. The Vecht begins in Oud-Zuilen, famous for the impressive Slot Zuylen Castle, and further along the river you’ll find Maarssen and Breukelen, which is the inspiration for New York’s Brooklyn after Dutch immigrants settled there in the 17th century. Delve into the military history of Nieuwersluis before enjoying the laid-back pace of life in Loenen, Vreeland and Nigtevecht.

Amsterdam’s most famous river, the Amstel, winds its way south to some of the most beautiful parts of the Dutch countryside. Along the way there’s Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, a village that dates back to the 12th century and is located on the bank of the Ouderkerkerplas lake. In the 17th century, famous artists would head to De Ronde Hoep polder to try to capture its wild nature in their paintings.

Besides rivers, the Castles & Gardens region is also home to many lakes. Experienced boaters will love the narrow channels between the tiny islands of the Westeinderplassen. The area to the south east of Amsterdam is also home to five interconnecting lakes known as the Loosdrechtse Plassen. The lakes are dotted with islands and picturesque beaches, and offer plenty of opportunities to take part in water sports.

With its massive fortresses and castles, the region once provided protection against the Netherlands’ enemies. Now, visitors can roam the bastions and imagine life hundreds of years ago. As well as Muiden, Naarden is one of the most remarkable examples of a fortified town, with its centre encompassed by two elaborate star-shaped moats and stonewalls, and Weesp’s forts and windmills offer up a taste of the 17th-century. All of these towns are fantastic starting points for exploring De Stelling van Amsterdam (the Defense Line of Amsterdam), a 135-kilometre-long ring of fortifications around the Dutch capital. If you’re looking for an even greater adventure, take the ferry from Muiden to the fortress island of Pampus. This man-made stronghold once helped protect the harbour of Amsterdam and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

With its castles and estates, lush nature, historic villages and beautiful lakes, there is so much to discover in the Castles & Gardens region.