The Randstad Hostels, Eurail Passes, and Backpacking Tips– Part 1


The Netherlands' most densely populated region, the Randstad (literally, 'Urban Agglomeration') spreads in a circle from Amsterdam, incorporating The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, and smaller towns like Haarlem, Leiden, Delft and Gouda. A compact area, its many sights are highlighted by the bulb fields which explode into intoxicating colors between March and May.


Less than 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam (3 €, every 15 minutes), Haarlem is a small but vibrant town, close to the wealthy seaside resort of Zandvoort.

The Frans Hals Museum, Groot Heiligland 62, features portraits by Frans Hals, the town's favourite 17th-century artist. The Teyler Museum, Spaame 16, is the country's oldest museum, with a curious collection including drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo. Worth a look is the St Bavokerk church on Grote Markt - it houses the Muller organ which Mozart played as a youngster.


Near the town of Lisse between Haarlem and Leiden, the Keukenhof, the world's largest garden, attracts a staggering 800,000 people in a mere eight weeks every year. Its beauty is something of an enigma, combining nature's talents with artificial precision to create a garden where millions of bulbs - tulips, daffodils and hyacinths - bloom beautifully every year, perfectly in place and exactly on time. It's open from late March to late May but the exact dates vary each year, so you should check with the VVV at Leiden or the Keukenhof (0252-46 55 55). Admission costs 10 € (concession 5 €).


Home to the country's oldest university, Leiden is an effervescent town .with an intellectual aura generated by the 15,000 students who make up a seventh of the population. The university was a present to the town from William the Silent for withstanding a long Spanish siege in 1574. A third of the townsfolk starved before the Spaniards retreated on 3 October, now the date of Leiden's biggest festival.

Things to See & Do

In summer canal cruises leave from near the bridge at Beestenmarkt. To tour the town's many hofjes (almshouses), pick up the walking tour booklet from the VVV.

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities), Rapenburg 28, tops Leiden's list of museums. Its striking entrance hall contains the Temple of Taffeh, a gift from Egypt for the Netherlands' help in saving ancient monuments from inundation when the Aswan High Dam was built. It's open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Friday, from noon on weekends (4 €).

The 17th-century Museum De Lakenhal (Cloth Hall), Oude Singel 28, houses works by old masters and period rooms (4 €).

Leiden's landmark windmill, De Valk (Falcon), Binnenvestgracht 1, is a museum that will blow away notions that windmills were a Dutch invention (closed Monday and Sunday morning; 3 €).

The Hortus Botanicus, Rapenburg 73, Europe's oldest botanical garden, dates back 400 years (closed Saturday in winter; 2 €).




The Randstad

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