Visiting South Holland, Netherlands? Here are ten famous landmarks and sights-to-see in The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, Leiden and Gouda.
THE HAGUE… also known as Den Haag or more formally ‘s-Gravenhage in Dutch, has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages, although it never officially received city rights until 1806. Today The Hague is an international city with over 525,000 residents, making it the second largest city in the province of South Holland (in Dutch Zuid-Holland) and third largest city in the Netherlands (after Amsterdam and Rotterdam). It is the seat of the national government and home to the Dutch royal family. It is referred to as the ‘City of Peace and Justice’. The Hague is also the only major Dutch city located along the North Sea coast.
10 Sights to See in The Hague…
Binnenhof – A magnificent palace-like building in the center of The Hague, dating back to the mid-13th century. It is home to the Dutch government including the Prime Minister’s office. On the north side is a scenic pond (‘Hofvijver’). Hanging over the west end are 13 flags (the 12 provincial flags plus the flag of The Hague). In the building’s courtyard (accessible to the public), is the majestic Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights).
Mauritshuis – This 17th-century estate is now a museum. In its collection is the famous “Girl With A Pearl Earring” painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, as well as several works by another painter from Holland, Rembrandt. The large square diagonally in front of the building is Het Plein. In the center is a large bronze statue of William I, Prince of Orange.
Noordeinde Palace – The working palace of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima. When the House of Orange flag is hoisted, it indicates the King is in attendance. On the property are the the Royal Stables and the Palace Gardens. Only the gardens are open to the public.
Passage Shops – This ornate building is the oldest shopping arcade still operating in the Netherlands (built 1882-1885). Check out the glass dome at the midway point.
Grote Kerk – This enormous church dates back to the early 1400’s. It’s bell tower stands 92.5 meters (28 stories) high, making it the most visible and identifiable landmark in the old-town center. The church is open to the public in summer.
Peace Palace – This grand building is home to the International Court of Justice (World Court) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The idea for such an international palace was raised at The Hague Peace Conference (1898) and its construction was funded by a grant from the Scottish-American entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie.
Plein 1813 – In the middle of the square sits the ‘independence monument’, made of stone and adorned with bronze statues, which celebrates Dutch freedom, the victory over Napoleon and the introduction of the Dutch constitutional monarchy.
Kurhaus Hotel – This monumental hotel in the Scheveningen district is perched above the beach and North Sea. Built in the late 1800’s, it is one of the most recognizable coastal landmarks of The Hague.
The Pier – Like the Kurhaus, the Scheveningen Pier is also one of the most recognizable coastal landmarks of The Hague. The bi-level, 382-meter long structure has 3 offshoot ‘islands’. On the north west island stands a 55-meter high bungee jump tower while on the north east island is the Skyview Ferris wheel, the first in Europe to be built completely over water.
Scheveningen Harbour – The harbour is the epicenter of the local fishing industry and home to the Dutch coast guard. The inner marina offers mooring for day-trippers plus a wide range of water sports activities and seafood restaurants.
ROTTERDAM… is the largest city in South Holland with over 620,000 residents (second largest in the country after Amsterdam). It is also one of the oldest, having been granted city rights in 1340. But despite its age, it is the most modern Dutch city, the result of 75 years of reconstruction following its bombardment in May 1940, at the start of WWII. Today Rotterdam is a city of high-rise buildings, wide streets and an extensive underground metro system. Its nickname is ‘City of Modern Architecture’. The Maas river plays a key role, physically dividing the city into two distinct sections – Noord (which includes the Centrum) and Zuid.
10 Sights to See in Rotterdam…
Museumpark – located in the city center, this is where several of Rotterdam’s top museums can be found including the Kunsthal Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Chabot Museum, Sonneveld House and Het Nieuwe Instituut
Markthal – is an architectural wonder and the largest indoor food market in the country. Here you can find stalls selling fresh baked breads and tarts, fish, produce, flowers and cuisine from all parts of the world. Inside the walls of the uniquely-shaped 11-story building are condominiums and rental flats. The ceiling is covered by tiles that combine to form the largest mural in the world.
Kijk-Kubus – a series of attached cube houses designed by famed Dutch architect Piet Blom. One model home is open for public tours. The tall building on the north side of the cube houses, which resembles a giant pencil, is the Blaaktoren, also designed by Piet Blom.
Erasmusbrug – the swan-shaped, 800-meter long suspension bridge was opened in 1996 and connects the city center on the north to Wilhelminakade and the south part of the city over the Maas river. There is a dedicated bike lane and pedestrian walkway in both directions. The bridge is named after one of Rotterdam’s most internationally renown sons, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536). You can find a bronze statue of him on Grote Kerkplein.
Diergaarde de Blijdorp – the Rotterdam zoo is one of the largest in the country with animals representing every continent on display in their natural habitats, including elephants, giraffes and alligators. It also offers an aquarium and aviary.
Euromast – the tallest tower in Rotterdam and key identifying element of the city’s skyline. In the ‘pod’ located approximately halfway up is a restaurant, two hotel rooms and two outdoor viewing decks, one on the restaurant level and another above it. On the upper deck is the entrance to the Euroscoop, a circular-shaped elevator with glass windows which rotates as it climbs to 185 meters, offering the best 360-degree aerial views of Rotterdam.
Beurstraverse – often referred to as the ‘koopgoot’ (shopping gutter), this open-air shopping center in the city center is below street level, crossing under one of the city’s busiest streets, the Coolsingel. The complex also has two indoor sections, Beurspassage and Beursgallery.
Laurenskerk – this large church was built between 1449-1525 is the only building still remaining from the city’s Medieval period. Both the church and its 65-meter (20-story) tower were heavily damaged when the city was bombed by the Germans on 14 May 2940 at the start of WWII. Considered for demolition during the planning stage of the city’s reconstruction, it was eventually saved and following a 20-year restoration, was re-opened in 1968.
Stadhuis – the majestic Rotterdam City Hall building was completed in 1920 and was one of the few structures in the city to escape major damage during May 1940 bombardment. The building mixes Byzantine, Romanesque and Art Deco design styles. It is built around a large courtyard accessible to the public through an entrance on Stadhuisstraat.
Port of Rotterdam – the modern port receives some of the biggest cargo ships in the world and uses some of the biggest cranes to offload the containers. The port operates 24 hours a day. In order to handle the expected increase in freight in the coming century, the port authority is building an extension out into the North Sea on reclaimed land. The project is called Maasvlakte II. Boat tours of the port leave from the city center.
DELFT… has an even longer history, having been established in 1246. It became one of Holland’s richest and most influential cities during the Dutch Golden Age, when it was home to a branch of the powerful Dutch East India Company. During that time, it became the center of the Dutch porcelain industry with its iconic Delftware. TU Delft, a top Dutch science university, was founded in the city in 1842. Today, more than 13,000 students are enrolled. Delft has a population just over 100,000 residents.
10 Sights to See in Delft…
Nieuwe Kerk – the ‘New Church’ which sits at the east end of the main Markt square, isn’t as new as the name would indicate. It was completed in the late 1400’s and the bell tower at 108.8 meters (33 stories) high, is the tallest in South Holland. The church is open to the public and you can even climb the tower for a splendid view of the city and its surroundings. Members of the Dutch Royal Family are buried in the church.
Stadhuis – the ornate former Delft ‘City Hall’ building was built in the early 1600’s and sits at the opposite end of Markt square from the Nieuwe Kerk.
Oude Kerk – the ‘Old Church’ in Delft dates back to 1246 and is where the Dutch painter and Delft resident Johannes Vermeer is buried. An interesting element of the church’s bell tower is the noticeable kink in its profile. During construction, the ground under the tower began to settle, causing it to lean in the direction of the canal. Instead of rebuilding from scratch, engineers fortified the base and the upper part was completed at the correct 90 degree angle from the ground. This resulted in the top of the tower being more than one meter off-center from the base.
Oostpoort – the original ‘East Gate’ entrance into the walled city of Delft dates back to the early 15th century.
Royal Delft – Delft is world renown for the blue and white porcelain ‘Delftware’ objects produced in the city’s factories during the Golden Age. Royal Delft is the only remaining factory still operating today where objects are still hand-painted.
Windmill De Roos – the last remaining windmill in Delft dates to the late 1600’s. It is open to the public on Thursdays and Saturdays when the sails are turning. Located in the base is a small store which sells flour produced by the mill.
Prinsenhof – in Delft’s largest museum, you can view paintings and objects which tell the history of Holland, the city of Delft and its most famous residents, and of the Delftware porcelain industry which for centuries spread the city’s name around the world with iconic blue and white patterned tableware items.
Vermeer Centrum – The Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, who created the famous painting ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’, lived his life in Delft. This center is located in the guild building where Vermeer trained painters. The center has on display reproductions of all 27 of Vermeer’s works and also uses multi-media presentations to explain Vermeer’s unique qualities.
Beestenmarkt – Located a short distance from Markt, is the city’s former cattle market, a cozy square popular with locals. It is lined with restaurants and cafes and in the middle is one large terrace.
Delft Station – the new Delft train station opened in 2014 and is beautifully constructed contemporary building with a grand main hall. The vaulted ceiling is covered by artwork depicting a map of the city and its surroundings from 1877. Strategically placed translucent floor tiles allow natural light to filter down as far as the train platform two levels underground.
LEIDEN… was officially established in the year 1266. Like Delft, it too became an important center of trade during the Middle Ages. It played an important role in Dutch history when it withstood a year-long siege by the Spanish army from 1573-1574. Eventually the city was liberated by William I, the leader of the Dutch rebellion, but not before thousands perished from disease and starvation. A year later, in 1575, the first university in Holland was established in Leiden (which today has nearly 25,000 students). Leiden is nicknamed the ‘City of Discoveries’.
10 Sights to See in Leiden…
Pieterskerk – built in the Medieval period, between 1390-1560, St Peter’s Church is one of the oldest and largest basilicas in Holland. It is also a national monument. At one point in history, it had the tallest bell tower in the Netherlands but the tower was destroyed during a storm in 1512 and not rebuilt.
Hortus Botanicus – established by Leiden University in 1590 for botany research, this botanical garden is one of the oldest in Europe. Within it are several gardens and a greenhouse. It is open to the public.
Molen de Valk – ‘The Hawk’ windmill dates to 1743 and was a replacement for windmills which stood on the same spot earlier. Inside the mill is a museum and you can climb the 7-story tall base for a scenic view of the city center.
Morspoort & Zijlpoort – these are two original entry gates leading into the city which at the time was surrounded by a protective wall. The Morspoort dates to 1669 and the Zijlpoort to 1667. Both the gate houses and drawbridges hold monument status.
Koornbrug – The covered ‘corn bridge’ over the Nieuwe Rijn river at the Botermarkt in the city center is from 1834. It sits in front of the Leiden Stadhuis (City Hall).
Almshouses – There are almshouses located throughout the Leiden city center. They were built as retirement homes for the city’s poor elderly residents.
Leidse De Waag – This ornate building from 1659 is where Leiden merchants used to weigh their commodities including cheese. The building has been used for various purposes such as a gallery and concert hall. Since 2015, the building houses a restaurant.
Beestenmarkt – The spot of the original cattle market where traders would buy and sell cows and sheep. It is one of the busiest squares in the city center and one of the points at which you can take a scenic canal boat tour.
Molen De Herder & Molen De Heesterboom – these windmills, built in 1755 and 1804, respectively, were used to cut trees into lumber at sawmills. De Herder can usually be visited on Sundays (when the wheel is turning).
De Burcht – a military citadel was built on a man-made hill in the center of Leiden. Remnants of the structure still exist but today the site is used as a city park which offers scenic views over the historic city center.
GOUDA… received its city rights from Count Floris V in 1272. The name ‘Gouda’ is world-renown due to the cheese which bears its name. It is located in Holland’s ‘Groene Hart’ (green heart), an area defined by expansive flat green fields, polder meadows and dairy farms. Over its 750 year history, it has had periods of prosperity (producing cheese, smoking pipes and candles) and suffering (four plague epidemics between 1574-1673). Gouda today has a population of 71,000.
10 Sights to See in Gouda
Stadhuis – the ornate, narrow Gothic-styled city hall is a must-see for any tourist heading to Gouda. Built in the 15th-century to replace the previous city hall which had burned down after catching fire from an adjacent building, this one sits by itself in the middle of Gouda’s main Markt square, well away from surrounding buildings.
St Janskerk – the Saint John’s Church (Sint Janskerk) in the Gouda city center is the longest church in the Netherlands, measuring 123 meters in length. It is renown for its collection of 72 stained glass windows from the 16th Century.
De Waag – built in 1667, this original cheese weighing house is where farmers would bring rounds of cheese to sell at the market. Each summer, a traditional cheese market is held on Thursday mornings outside De Waag. The Gouda Visitor Center is located inside De Waag.
De Roode Leeuw (1727) & ‘t Slot (1832) are two windmills located in the old town center and easily accessible on foot from Markt square.
Museum Gouda – tells the history of the city through its extensive collection of artwork, sculptures and other items. Over the archway leading to the museums courtyard is an impressive stone sculpture dating from 1609. Inside the courtyard is a the stone sculpture seen above which dates to 1713.
Museumhaven – moored at the south end of the Turfsingel canal are many monumental boats and ships. In addition to the 20 permanent berths, there are additional spaces for visiting ships with monument status. The museum also includes the Mallegatsluis, the lock system which separates the Turfsingel from the Hollandse Ijssel river. Due to different water levels, the lock is used to pass from one to the other.
De Gouwekerk – this church was built at the beginning of the 20th century on the Hoge Gouwe canal. Its tower stands 80 meters high (24 stories), making it the tallest structure in the historic city center. In May 2017 it was sold to a developer who plans to turn it into a hotel along with the adjacent property.
Visbank – these covered galleries with stone pillars on either side of the Lage and Hoge Gouwe canal, date back to from the late 17th century. Incoming fishing boats would offload their catch and the fish would be cleaned and readied for sale. At the end of the gallery on the Lage Gouwe side is the commissioner’s house.
Houtmansplantsoen – located at the south tip of the historic city center is Houtman Park which was created in the early 19th century on space which became available when the city wall was demolished. In the park is a memorial to the Houtman brothers Cornelis and Frederik, residents of Gouda who led the first Dutch expedition to East India in 1595. In 1898 a metal gazebo was added to the park. Both the park and the gazebo are registered monuments.
Jeruzalemkapel – the Jerusalem chapel was built from 1478-1487 by a St Janskerk vicar, Gijsbert Raet, after he returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The designs were based on the chapels he had seen. The Jeruzalemkapel is considered the best preserved chapel of its type in the Netherlands.