9 great day trips from Amsterdam

You can't really beat Amsterdam for a quick city break just a short hop from London.

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But you might also be surprised at the Dutch capital's convenience for longer stays. When you've wandered past the windows in De Wallen, biked it through Vondelpark, and seen every last painting in the Museum Quarter, there's still a host of places just outside the city that can keep you busy for well over a week – all within day-tripping distance.

Add some of these exciting excursions to your itinerary to make your trip a multi-destination tour of the Netherlands' north.

Visit the Netherlands' second city in Rotterdam

Holland's second city provides a stark contrast to traditional, relaxed Amsterdam, with futuristic architecture forming an impressive skyline that looms over the wide River Maas. Cross the harp-like Erasmus Bridge to visit Wilhelmina Pier, where skyscrapers sit beside traditional buildings like the historic Hotel New York. It's a similar old-meets-new story down at the Old Harbour, where you'll find some charming places to eat and drink overlooking the bobbing wooden boats. This is also where you'll see Rotterdam's unusual yellow Cube Houses, which may look like a modern art installation but are actually residential homes. If you'd like to see inside these odd tilted buildings, one house is open to curious visitors – for a small fee.

Complete the set with The Hague

A 40-minute train ride from Amsterdam will get you to The Hague, Holland's coastal third city, which provides the perfect mix of city-meets-seaside. As home to the UN's International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace, the Binnenhof and Ridderzaal parliament offices, and numerous other government buildings, it has something of a serious reputation. Yet The Hague also has a fun side, with great shopping (hit UNESCO-listed 19th-century arcade De Passage for high-end, and the Grote Marktstraat shopping street for high-street), and a lively nightlife on the pub and bar-lined Grote Markt square. Or, for a totally different vibe, head to the city's seaside suburb of Scheveningen, where you can stroll the seafront boulevard, relax on the sands, or ride the Ferris wheel on the attraction-packed pier.

Hop over to Haarlem

Haarlem, a lookalike city just 20 minutes outside Amsterdam, makes a really easy daytrip if you want to minimise travel time. Buses and trains run regularly to this 'little Amsterdam', which offers a quieter, off-the-beaten-track Dutch experience, complete with the obligatory canals lined with tall, thin wooden townhouses, bicycle-riding locals and even a charming riverside windmill, De Adriaan. Other must-sees in this easily walkable city include the Church of Saint Bavo, which sits on the central Market Square, and Teylers Museum of Wonder (think science meets art, with a quirky twist), one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands.

Browse Alkmaar cheese market

Cheese-fiends won't want to miss a quick trip to the Alkmaar cheese market, which takes place on Fridays from the end of March to the end of September, 1000–1300. You'll find yourself surrounded by orange cheese wheels on the Market Square of this quaint little town, which are ferried to the stalls

on colourful wooden contraptions by 'cheese carriers' in traditional dress. Trains to Alkmaar from Amsterdam run regularly and take from 35 minutes.

Try a regional speciality in Gouda

Alternatively, the Gouda cheese market draws crowds on Thursday mornings from April to August, and the town has plenty more to fill a relaxed day out of Amsterdam. With windmills, canals and a cobbled town square, it's a quintessentially Dutch experience, without the tourist crowds of the bigger cities. The town hall – which takes centre stage in the middle of the square – is photo-worthy, as is the gothic Church of St John, with its colourful 'Gouda glass' windows. Gouda sits between Rotterdam and The Hague, making an easy 20-minute detour from each, if you fancy doubling up on your day trips.

Get medieval at Muiderslot Castle

Probably the most beautiful medieval castle in the Netherlands, the impressively complete Muiderslot provides an escape from the hustle-bustle of Amsterdam, less than 10 miles from the city centre. It's got everything a good castle should have: a moat, towers and pretty gardens that sit beside the River Vecht – plus plenty more besides, including a 'Water Shield' installation and resident falconer. Make your visit extra exciting by arriving by boat on the Amsterdam Tourist Ferry service (1 April to 29 October). A great day out for kids.

Relive Dutch history at Zaanse Schans craft village

Step out of the city and back in time at Zaanse Schans, which is a quaint, traditional craft village featuring a collection of colourful, working wooden windmills. The tiny museums are a bit of a contrast to the grand offerings in Amsterdam's Museum Quarter, but they have a low-key charm of their own. Taste the duivekater sweet bread in the Bakery Museum, clock-watch in the Time Museum and visit the Clog Workshop for a trio of traditional experiences. If the weather's fine, make like a local and ride the scenic cycle route from the city.

See the tulips at Keukenhof Gardens

Nothing says Amsterdam more than colourful tulips, but the best place to see these beauties in bloom is actually around 25 miles outside the city, at the Keukenhof flower gardens. Typically open from late-March to mid-May, these vast gardens can contain over seven million flowers, including 800 different types of tulips, all arranged to fit the year's theme.

Have some fun at Efteling theme park

If you're a theme park fan, then a trip to Efteling could be a fun way to break up the sightseeing and museum trail in Amsterdam. Hiring a car is the easiest way to get to this fantasy- and fairy-tale-themed wonderland, a 75-minute drive from the city. Four zones – Fairy, Adventure, Travel and Alternative – are packed with attractions, including a Fairytale Forest, a wooden rollercoaster, a nail-biter of a drop-coaster and an Adventure Maze. If you're travelling with kids, a day here is a nice contrast to the hours spent trailing around the city sights.