Are you visiting the Netherlands and looking for an alternative to Amsterdam? Then why not consider a day trip to Delft?
This quintessentially Dutch city, famed for its blue and white porcelain, is described by its 100,000 locals as a “small town”. And therein lies its charm.
Located between Rotterdam and The Hague, this small but perfectly formed city is an easy day trip from either city or even from Amsterdam. To help you make the most of your time there, here are the best things to do in Delft.
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Planning your Trip to The Netherlands
Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to The Netherlands, and explore the country whilst you are there, is a smart move. I highly recommend the excellent Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands, which was my constant companion during my visit.
Is Delft Worth Visiting?
Take a day trip to Delft for its compact historic centre, laced with tranquil canals that could have come straight out of a painting by Vermeer, the city’s favourite son. It is as exquisite as the porcelain that takes its name.
But as home to one of the Netherlands’ most prestigious universities, Delft doesn’t feel like it has been preserved in aspic purely for the delight of visitors. With a youthful vibe, this is no Dutch Disneyland.
Tips for Planning Your Day Trip to Delft
- Delft is compact; walking from one end of its Old Town to the other will take you 15 minutes or so. Therefore, it is very easy to explore on foot.
- At a leisurely pace, taking in these highlights of Delft will take you as little as two hours. However, if you have the time, I encourage you to meander and go off-piste if you see something that captures your interest. This idyllic city is just made for wandering without a specific aim in mind.
- However, Delft is not a well-kept secret. Therefore, I recommend getting there early (or, better still, staying overnight). When arrived around 9.30 am, it was so tranquil. An hour later, the coach groups started to arrive.
- Whilst it didn’t feel mobbed, exploring Delft with fewer people around was better, particularly if you want to capture photographs minus selfie stick-wielding tourists. You know what I mean.
Best Things to Do in Delft in One Day
1. Explore the Markt
Let’s start at the heart of Delft, its main square or Markt.
Delft’s Markt is encircled by over 50 historic buildings and is bookended by the City Hall in the southwest and the New Church at the northeast end. In 1536, lightning struck the spire of the New Church resulting in a fire that razed two-thirds of the city to the ground. Therefore, the buildings that you see today were built after this date.
After another fire in 1618, all that remained of Delft’s City Hall was its tower and some walls. This was rebuilt in 1620 in the Renaissance style of the time, with its highly structured columns and arches.
If you want to take a good look at this building, try to avoid market day (Thursday & Saturday) as the market stalls will obscure your view.
If you are shopping for souvenirs, the shops lining the Markt are good places to buy hand-painted Delftware. Just check that are buying real Delftware and not a Chinese import. Make sure that what you are buying is authentic by looking for the trademark of the Delft factory on the bottom of the piece.
2. Visit the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)
For a bird’s eye view of Delft and to get your Gothic architectural fix, visit Delft’s 14th Century New Church.
But first, let me introduce you to William I, Prince of Orange, more commonly known as William of Orange.
Not to be confused with William III, also known as William of Orange, the founder of the House of Orange was assassinated in Delft 1584. To the Dutch he is the father of the Netherlands, leading the country to independence from Spain.
He is buried in an elaborate, canopied tomb inside the New Church. Most of his descendants are also buried in the New Church which is now the resting place for members of the Dutch royal family.
Are you feeling in good shape? If so, climb the 376 steps of the New Church’s 85-meter-high tower for a panoramic view of Delft. On a clear day can see as far as Rotterdam and The Hague.
3. Wander along Delft’s canals
One of the best things to do on a day trip to Delft is to simply walk along its canals.
In the summer months, the Oude Delft canal is lined with barges that were used to transport goods into the city. Today, they are great places for a spot of al-fresco eating and drinking.
If you fancy seeing Delft from its waterways, take a 45-minute boat tour of the Old Town. From April to October, boats depart daily on the hour (11:00 – 17:00) from the Koornmarkt canal (€9.50). Electric boats and pedal boats are also available for rental.
4. Visit the Old Church (Oude Kerk)
The Old Church has pride of place alongside the Oude Delft canal.
And no; this image does not need straightening. Also known as Scheve Jan (“Skewed John”), the tower of Delft’s Old Church leans at a jaunty two meters from the vertical. I guess a filled-in canal is not the most stable foundation for a large stone structure.
Although less impressive than the New Church, it does have an elaborately carved pulpit. Johannes Vermeer is buried here, his resting place marked by a stone plaque on the floor.
5. Visit the Vermeer Centre (Vermeercentrum)
I confess that I didn’t visit the Vermeer Centre on my day trip to Delft as its collection does not include any originals by the artist. However, if you want to know more about Vermeer’s painting and his life in Delft, you might find it interesting.
6. Visit the Prisenhof Museum
Remember William of Orange from the New Church? The Prisenhof Museum is housed in the former convent where he sought refuge and was killed by a French assassin’s bullet.
Unsurprisingly, the museum focuses on his life but its collection also includes an impressive collection of Delftware.
7. Visit the Royal Delft
Are you interested to learn more about how Delftware is produced? If so, head to the Royal Delft. This is the city’s biggest tourist attraction and one of the best things to do in Delft.
The first pottery factory in Delft was established in the 16th Century and, at the industry’s peak, there were 32 porcelain factories in Delft. Ultimately competition from overseas, particularly from the UK, forced many Delftware factories out of business.
Today, only a few surviving factories continue to hand-paint their porcelain in Delft. Much is now mass-produced in China. Rather ironic when you consider that Dutch artists were first inspired to produce Delftware by the Chinese porcelain that they saw.
How to Get to Delft
- Delft has fast and frequent links to other major Dutch cities. For example, it’s around 15 minutes from Rotterdam or The Hague. From Amsterdam, the train journey will take you around an hour.
- For a more scenic route from The Hague, take tram #1 from in front of the train station. The journey time is 30 minutes.
- From Delft’s train station, it’s a 15-minute walk to the heart of its old town. Just follow the yellow signs for Centrum.
Why You Should Take a Day Trip to Delft
A day trip to Delft demonstrates that there is more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. And thanks to the efficient Dutch railway system, Delft and other historic towns such as Leiden, Gouda, Haarlem and Utrecht, are all easy day trips from Amsterdam.
During my short stay in the Netherlands, Delft was my favourite city. It is an effortlessly low-key city, just made for wandering, daydreaming and munching waffles.
Lastly, is visiting the Keukenhof Gardens and the Dutch tulip fields on your travel bucket list? If so, why not base yourself in Delft to visit the greatest flower show on earth?