A MUSEUM RAIL TRAIL IN HOLLAND - How to get to Dutch Museums by Convenient Rail

by Geri Anderson

According to the Dutch, The Netherlands has more museums per capita than any other country -- 800 or so, they say. And it's probably true. Since there's not much room to bury trash in this small country reclaimed from the sea, it makes sense that they display rather than throw away "stuff."

Whatever the reason, Holland is heaven to museum buffs and collectors of every ilk. Traveling through the country, you'll see "Musea" signs everywhere; in side alleys, in town squares, across from railroad stations, along canals. Themes range from Rembrandt and organs to bottleships and gable stones.

Since train travel is easy in The Netherlands, I ferreted out little known, and unusual museums by rail. Even if you aren't a seeker of salvage, mapping a museum 'rail trail' is a good way to explore the country's outlying villages.

Any town or city can serve as your trailhead. Once you learn the rail system, you can easily toot round by train. Each depot displays the train schedules (yellow signs for departures, blue for arrivals). Trust the times indicated. Trains are prompt, and they stop in the station only a few minutes.

Following is a sampling of museums easily accessible by train and foot:


In training.



Here you'll find more than 40 museums. A practical way to visit them is by MuseumBoat, docked near Central Station. For less than $20, you can ride the canals all day, getting off and on as you please. Stops include famous museums, such the Anne Frank House, Rembrandt House, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Technology Museum, and MadameTussard's Scenerama. In addition to the famous ones, I hunted for lesser-known, tucked-away places.

Within minutes from Central Station, I stumbled upon the Wooden Shoe Factory. Here, owner Bruno Jonker was at work making wooden shoes, while his pet rooster strutted around underfoot. He'll explain the Hindelopen technique -- the Rolls Royce of wooden shoes. Bruno, who has run a 10K race in wooden shoes, features special exhibits of antique shoes from time to time. Location: Nieuweizids Vorburgwal 20.

A combination museum and theater school, the Theatre Museum, provides a glimpse inside a merchant's mansion that dates to 1638. The building features a miniature theater, magnificent wall coverings, and a gift shop of masks and theater paraphenalia. Location: Herengracht 168 (across the canal and to the left of the Anne Frank House).

An intriguing museum is "Our Lord in the Attic." Within walking distance from Central Station, this is what its name suggest -- a church in an attic. It was built in 1578 during the Reformation. Tolerant city fathers looked the other way and allowed small Catholic churches in private homes. Location: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40.


Just about every town in Holland has a museum. From Amsterdam, you can make day trips by train, riding comfortably, while watching the scenery of canals, tulips, windmills, and stretches of green pastures. I headed to Alkmaar, known as cheese-town -- famous for its cheese museum and reenactment of a 16th century cheese market. This pageant is held in the square of the Weighhouse on Fridays from 10 'til noon, April through October.

If you want to avoid the crowds, visit Alkmaar during the week. Inside the weighhouse is a wonderful array of antique cheese making tools and equipment, a gift shop and cheese sampling cafe.

My favorite "find" in Alkmaar is the Municipal Museum, proud of its 16th and 17th paintings and antique doll collection. If you wander into the back courtyard, you can rest on patio chairs, surrounded by gables taken from torn-down buildings. These chipped and weather artifacts are an example of the don't-throw-it-away-but-display-it Dutch habit.
Location: Doelenstraat 3 - 9.

The Hans Brinker Museum, Voordam 6; Gaslight Museum, James Wattstraat 27; and National Beer Museum, Houttil 1 are also in Alkmaar.

To get to Alkmaar: It's about a 40 minute train trip from Central Station in Amsterdam.


The first museum you'll spot in Hoorn is the Steam Engine museum (Museumstoomtram). You'll notice it adjacent to the railroad station. You can make a trip by steam tram to Medemblik. There's a ticket office and mini-tourist office at the museum.

A "great find" in Hoorn is the 20th Century Museum (M Anno XX). A 30-minute light and audio show gives you a peek into Hoorn's Golden Age of trading and shipping. The narrated trip through times instills a real feeling for all of Holland. Four floors of displays range from antique kitchen items and 1980s computers to a 1950s Easter bonnet and early vacuum cleaner. Location: Bierkade 4.

To get to Hoorn: This town is a six hour walk from Amsterdam, according to historians. By train, it's about two-thirds of the way between Amsterdam and Enkhuizen on the same line -- a 45 minute ride.


This small fishing village has two unique museums, the Zuiderzee, a living village museum, and the Bottleship Museum. In the latter, you'll find one of the world's largest collections of bottles containing ship models. This folk art is a full time hobby of Jan Visser, owner of the museum. He has never made a bottleship himself, but traces his fascination to a romance novel he read as a child. Having stashed bottleships in his attic for years, he opened a museum and now shares his hobby with people from all over the world.

Location: Zuiderspui 1, a short walk along the harbor from the train station.

The Zuiderzee Museum is a restored 17th century fishing village. Workers in period costumes staff some of the 130 buildings -- baking bread, smoking fish, and selling crafts in canalside shops. During your visit, you'll walk along narrow cobblestone streets, through the schoolhouse, chapel, farmyard, and small homes. Location: You can walk about a mile from the train depot, or take the ferry, about 20 minutes through the harbor.

To get to there: Enkhuizen is at the end of the line by train from Amsterdam -- about an hour's ride.


Dordrecht is Holland's oldest city, situated on the busiest river junction in the country. Because Dordrecht dates back to the 14th century, walking around the small, compact village takes you back 600 years. The city boasts 800 historic buildings. For an inside view of a Louis XIV style patrician house, visit the Simon Van Gijn Museum. Allow several hours to view the tapestries, furnishings, antique toy displays, and collection of 21,000 paintings.

The best way to see Dordrecht is to take a before-breakfast stroll as the masts of fishing vessels poke through the early morning mist. You'll see old men feeding peanuts to the pigeons, fishermen dangling their lines into canals, and young people bicycling through the quiet city streets.

To get there: It's less than an hour by train from The Hague to Dordrecht.


This modern, industrialized city has two personalities. I headed for old town in search of one of Holland's most colorful and exciting exhibits - the National Museum, which offers a tour of perfectly restored dance hall and street music machines. If you visit here on Saturday, the display is made even sweeter by groups of children stomping and swaying to the music. Color and sound mix magically in this 15th century church-turned-museum. Plan to spend several hours. You can view the organs from a balcony, but to get up close, you need to join a tour, conducted hourly. Location: Buurkerkof 10.

Also in Utrecht, you'll find The Dutch Railway Museum -- famous for its outdoor antique train display, moving models, and films tracing history from iron horses to spaceships. Location: Maliebaan Station.

To get there: Utrecht is a 45 minute train trip from The Hague.


Start your Delft visit with a 45-minute canal boat through Old Delft. After the boat ride, I wandered about and found an Indonesian Museum, packed with carvings and hand-woven clothing. You'll find a great collection of tiles, paintings, and period furnishings at Lambert & van Maaarten Museum, at Oude Delft 199.

A number of Dutch towns offer solid tour boat tours.


To get there: Delft is about 15 minutes by train from the Hague. I visited on my way to The Hague, checking my luggage at the depot.

The Hague

There's so much to see and do here, you'll probably want to stay a few days.

The Ridderzaal or "Hall of Knights," is in the the Binnehof, the center of politcal life and seat of government. It includes the Mauritshuis, the Royal gallery of Paintings.

By tram, you can visit Panorama Mesdag. This 360 degree mural, a forerunner of today's IMAX, depicts the old fishing village of Schevenigen in the1800s. The artist, Henrik Willem Mesga, assisted by his wife and two other painters, created an illusion of "being there," by merely painting the walls.

To get there: Take tramway 7 or 8 or bus 4, 5, 13 or 22.

Billing itself as "The World's Largest Miniature City in the World,' Madurodam is The Netherlands in a nutshell. Within its five acres, just about every major building and attraction, modern and ancient, in the Netherlands is reproduced on a miniature scale. I walked there -- quite a distance from Parkhotel. Instead, take Bus 22 on line 1 or 9.

To get to The Hague: From Amsterdam, you'll have to change trains. There are several ways to do this. Consult the schedule boards in Central Station. Or, you can fly directly to The Hague.

In Holland, by poking around side streets and following "musea" signs, you'll uncover many silly, funny, and interesting collections on your own because, it seems, the frugal Dutch throw nothing away.

If you go: Lodging and Restaurants:


Amsterdam Renaissance Hotel, Kattengat 1.
Restaurant, spa, central location. Tel: 020-621 22 23.
Fax: 020 627 52 45.

Cafe Americaine, built in 1882, and refurbished in 1990. A nook of English magazines and newspapers and a talk-to-the-guy-next-to-you atmosphere attracts Parker House. Leideskade 97. The Five Flies, named for five brothers with a last name of Flie, this multi-level restaurant is a museum in itself. It's decorated with antiques throughout. Reservations suggested.

Cafe Hoppe, a brown (bruin) cafe (so-called because the walls are brown from smoke and aging) dates to 1670. Great Happy Hour gathering place. Absence of music and shoulder-to-shoulder standing
that sometimes overflows onto the sidewalk encourages conversation. Spui 18-20.


Hotel Bellevue is located at the entrance to the old city where the rivers intersect. Boomstraat 37. Tel: 078-137900.
Fax: 078-137921. Casual and fine dining in elegant ambience of arches and leaded windows.


Hotel Smits, Vredenburg 14 across from outdoor weekend market. Centrally located, clean, modest lodging. Tel: 030 331232, Fax: 030-328451.


Delft Museumhotel, Oude Delft 189, is one of the oldest hotels in Holland in immacuately restored buildings in old Delft. Tel: 015-14 09 30 Fax: 015-14 09 35.

Koffiekelder de Nonnerie, St. Agathaplein. A sign directs you to this nunnery-turned-restaurant, located in an alley near Delf Museumhotel.

The Hague 

Parkhotel, Molenstraat 53, Tel: 070-362 43 71, Fax: 070 361 45 25. Centrally located, old-world ambience.


Des Indes Inter-Continetal Hotel. Ask to see the "brag gallery" of photos of famous people who have visited the hotel. Excellent international cuisine. Lange Voorhout 54-56, Tel: 31-70-3632932, Fax: 31-70 345172l

For more information: Netherlands Board of Tourism, 355 Lexington Ave., 21st floor, New York, NY 10017. Tel: 212-370-7360. Or, Netherlands Board of Tourism, 9841 Airport Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045. Tel: 310-348-9339.
In the country, tourist information offices are located near railway stations. Look for VVV sign.

The Netherlands Department of Tourism has some web sites, in English. There's an "incomplete" list of museums on it, plus other info.