Many travellers limit their visit to the Netherlands with Amsterdam and perhaps the tulips area during spring season. But I would recommend going beyond touristy Amsterdam. Discover small Dutch towns and enjoy their charming narrow streets, canals surrounded by green trees, weekend markets at town centers, historical buildings, windmills and various museums.
I’m starting a series of short posts on small Dutch towns you must see when travelling in the Netherlands. Public transport is very well developed in the Netherlands and any of these towns will make a perfect one day trip from Amsterdam (whether it is by train or by car).
Let’s start with one of the most famous (at least by its name) small Dutch towns – Gouda.
You may also be interested in my other posts about the Netherlands.
First thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Netherlands is cheese. And who didn’t hear of Gouda cheese – one of the most popular cheeses in the world?! Gouda cheese originated from Holland and is named after Dutch city of… that’s right, Gouda!
Gouda is a town in South Holland’s part of the Netherlands. Direct trains connect it with bigger Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Historic town center of Gouda is only a 10 minute walk from Gouda Central train station and is absolutely worth visiting.
Gouda Town Hall
There is a 15th century Town Hall in the middle of Gouda’s central square (Markt). Gouda’s Town Hall is one of the oldest Gothic buildings in the Netherlands and is a beautiful piece of medieval architecture.
You can go inside the Town Hall (for a fee) to see the mayor’s office and council chamber. We didn’t go inside, but instead walked around to admire the beautiful building. Don’t overlook a clock with figures that move every hour on the side of the Town Hall (if travelling with children – ask them to find it).
Tip: If you want to take a nice picture of the Town Hall on the Markt square don’t visit on Saturday (like we did) when a street market is running on the Markt square. The square will be filled with the stalls that spoil the view of the Town Hall.
Gouda’s central square – Markt – is the place where the famous Gouda Cheese Market takes place every Thursday from April to August. Make sure to come early (cheese market runs from 10.00 to 12.30) to see the scenes from Dutch cheese trading traditions – horse-drawn carts full of cheese, farmers and other workers dressed in somewhat traditional clothes and wooden shoes and old-fashioned way to bargain cheese price by clapping hands. It’s an unique experience and a popular tourist attraction.
Tip: If you want to see a real cheese market, where real farmers are actually bringing and selling their cheese then go to Woerden (yes, market in Gouda is just a tourist attraction and not the real thing). Cheese market in Woerden runs on Kerkplein every Saturday morning from end of April to August).
You can experience and learn about Gouda cheese traditions even if you are travelling outside of the cheese market season. Visit De Goudse Waag – 17th century building that historically hosted the weighting station (to weigh big amounts of cheese and other goods). Now there is a souvenir shop and a cheese museum inside De Goudse Waag. Visit the museum to learn about the cheese history of the region, or simply check out the shop and old scales with the cheese rolls.
Any time you visit Gouda there will be multiple cheese shops open in the town, where you can taste and buy some of the best Dutch cheese. Also, on Saturdays there is a farmers market on the central square with many stalls selling even more cheese.
Stroopwafels (or Syrup Waffles)
You will find Stroopwafels in almost every souvenir shop in the Netherlands, every supermarket and farmers market. This traditional Dutch dessert consisting of two thin waffles with a syrup in between is actually originated from Gouda.
When in Gouda try freshly baked stroopwafels at one of the stalls at farmers market or cheese market, or buy them at one of the shops in the town center.
Living in the Netherlands for the past few years we have tried many types of Dutch syrup waffles and of course we love them. So, when in Gouda we decided to visit Kamphuisen Syrup Waffle Factory to see how the waffles are made, to learn the history behind the popular Dutch food and of course to taste the waffles right from the factory 🙂
Please note, Kamphuisen Syrup Waffles are not the same as traditional Stroopwafels – Kamphuisen waffles are too originated in Gouda and they too have a syrup between two thin waffles, but they’re based on a different recipe and for my taste they are a bit too sweet.
Tip: Visiting Kamphuisen Syrup Waffle Factory is a great experience especially when travelling with children. But even if you don’t plan going on the factory tour, just visit their shop on the central square – kids will enjoy waffle samples to taste inside the shop and the running waffle carousel in the shop window.
Sint-Janskerk in Gouda
Right next to the Markt you will find the church of Sint-Jan, which is famous for its stained glass windows. I would say it’s a must see attraction in Gouda. The 15th century church has more than 50 stained glass windows each showing a biblical or historical scene.
You have to buy a ticket (check their website for the entrance fee and opening hours) to enter the church and see the windows, but it’s absolutely worth it. With the entrance ticket you’ll get an audio tour (available in Dutch, English, German and French), so while admiring the stained glass windows you can also learn about their history and meaning of the displayed scenes.
Tip: The entrance is free with the Museum Card.
If you want to learn more about the history of Gouda, see some 16th century paintings, old pottery and other historical treasures of Gouda visit the Gouda museum. It’s located in the town center right next to the Sint-Janskerk.
Even if you don’t plan visiting the museum, have a walk around it. On the small Achter de Kerk street you will find an old gate – entrance to the museum yard (access to the yard is free) and a cafe with charming old yard and sculptures inside.
Tip: The entrance to the museum is free with the Museum Card.
When you walk past the museum, go around Sint-Janskerk and stop by such historical landmarks as Oude Weeshuis, Jeruzalemkapel and Joods Poortje.
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills and of course when you travel there you want to see one. In Gouda they have not one but four windmills – Haastrechtse Molen, Mallemolen, De Roode Leeuw and Molen ‘t Slot.
Molen ‘t Slot and De Roode Leeuw are both flour mills and are located within walking distance from the city center. You can walk there from the Markt square. Check their website for more information on opening times and guided tours.
Example walking route in Gouda:
Is Gouda worth visiting?
Absolutely! Even if only for the Sint-Janskerk with its beautiful story telling stained glass windows. But also for its cheese stores, compact city center, historical buildings, unique cheese museum in the old weighting house and much more!
Read next in the “Small Dutch towns you must see” series: Leiden – home of the oldest university in the Netherlands.