1. Cycle along the River Vecht
The winding River Vecht between Amsterdam and Utrecht is a wonderful place for a cycling tour. The bank offers an open view of imposing castles (such as those at Breukelen and Muiden), picturesque villages, as well as magnificient country estates and their accompanying tearooms. The rich Golden Age merchants that once spent their summer months here 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 only a short, scenic ride from Amsterdam city centre.
2. Go boating
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.
3. Marvel at the extravagant country estates
Enjoy the grandeur of the beautiful country houses and estates dating from the Golden Age, 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 and boat past these historic houses and their beautifully manicured gardens on the banks of the Amstel River and the River Vecht. Some of the estates are also open to the public.
4. 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 armoury, 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.
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. Here you can lose yourself in swaying reeds, green meadows and historic villages, including Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Touring this region will make you feel just like a famous Golden Age artist might have, and to really emphasise that feeling then take a romantic stroll and enjoy dinner in one of the area’s many quality eateries and cafes.
6. Visit the architectural jewels of the Fortress Stretch
Step back in time along the Fortress Stretch. 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 own forts and windmills offer up a glimpse of life during the Dutch Golden Age. All of these towns are fantastic starting points for exploring De Stelling van Amsterdam (the Defence Line of Amsterdam), a 135-kilometre-long ring of fortifications around the Dutch capital.
7. Check off all the hotspots along the Amstel river
Amsterdam’s most famous river played a central role in the city’s development: the river was worked into a network of dams and dikes which came to be known as Amsterdam. Follow Amstel through the city past the Hermitage Museum, the beautiful Royal Theatre Carré and the iconic Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) and you’re on your way to see some of the most beautiful Dutch countryside. Travelling south, watch as the buildings fade away, replaced by swaying reeds, green meadows and historic villages. Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is a village that dates back to the 12th century, located on the bank of the Ouderkerkerplas lake. Its churches and windmills are well worth a visit, as are its several exceptional restaurants. In the Golden Age, famous artists would retreat to De Ronde Hoep polder to try to capture its wild nature in their paintings. As you continue southbound on or alongside the river, you’ll encounter remnants from the Defence Line of Amsterdam, such as the Fort aan de Drecht, located just outside Uithoorn.
8. 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. The town’s Grote Kerk is among the country’s oldest churches and also hosts organ concerts and a bi-annual photo exhibition. In addition, Naarden is home to the Weegschaal Museum and The Netherlands Fortress Museum (Vestingmuseum).
9. Fort Pampus
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 land mass at all, but a submerged sea fort built in the 1890s to protect Amsterdam from its enemies. After a restoration in 2007, you can now visit Fort Pampus by boat to explore its secret tunnels - and it’s also a popular location for events. The island fort was once part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam and makes for an interesting day out for visitors of all ages, with historical artefacts to discover around the island.
10. 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.