Our self-appointed quest to discover and explore the smaller cities and towns in The Netherlands, following our recent visits to both Utrecht and Leiden, last month saw us head to Gouda located in South Holland. Our journey to The Netherlands started like all the previous couple of dozen or so before it, on the P&O ferry crossing from our hometown of Hull on the North East Coast of England. Unfortunately, for us, the Beast from the East made the journey across the North Sea less than pleasant but it did not dampen our excitement one iota.
The bus from Europoort dropped us off right outside Rotterdam Centraal station, which has recently been renovated and is one of the most serviced in The Netherlands. There is now even a direct Eurostar line from London, meaning the journey from England just got even easier. Almost everywhere in the country can be accessed from Rotterdam and Gouda is possibly one of the closest. €5,10 each and 20 minutes later our train pulled into Gouda train station.
Gouda is not the biggest of cities, therefore, there are only a handful of hotels. We had the pleasure of staying at the Best Western Plus City Hotel Gouda, the only four-star accommodation in Gouda located a mere 500 metres from the city centre. It was the perfect place to base ourselves for our weekend trip as it was also only 850 metres from the train station, meaning we didn’t have far to lug our luggage. We were welcomed warmly, making us feel at home instantly. We had a lovely spacious room on the 3rd floor of the hotel overlooking the beautiful canal below. It also had all the amenities you would expect from a four-star hotel including free wifi, air conditioning, flat screen television, safe, refrigerator, coffee and tea facilities and hairdryer.
We only spent one night in the clean and modern hotel but we had a lovely stay and an undisturbed and peaceful nights sleep followed by a great breakfast. The bar and restaurant area were transformed into a foodies delight and we found everything we wanted and more on offer at the breakfast buffet. Even though we are not particularly breakfast people at home we always ensure we have a hearty one when travelling as there is more often than not a lot of walking and exploring involved and our trip to Gouda was no different.
We were eager to see what the city had to offer and looking back on our trip now, we were certainly not disappointed. There was so much to see and do and here are our reasons why you too should visit. You’ve got to go to Gouda………
If You Love Scenery & Architecture
Gouda has a lot of traits that make it a traditional Dutch town including beautiful canals, bridges lined with bicycles and quiet side streets which are perfect for wandering around together with the obligatory windmills of which there are three. A lot of the buildings including houses, bars, restaurants and shops in the city are built in the usual Dutch architectural style, that we love so much, that you will find throughout the country. As Gouda isn’t the most touristy of places, we found that we could explore to our heart’s content relatively undisturbed.
The Markt, which is the beautiful market square in the centre of the city, is home to the breathtaking Town Hall, which was built around 1450 in late Gothic style making it one of the oldest Gothic stadhuizen in The Netherlands and stands on its own in the centre. During the summer of 1438, a devastating fire reduced the then town of Gouda virtually to ashes. Therefore it was decided that the town hall would be built freestanding with nothing around it to reduce the possibility of it being damaged or destroyed should something similar happen again. In 1961 the carillon with mechanical puppets was added on the right facing wall. For two minutes every half hour, the carillon provides a lovely spectacle, as the puppets begin to move.
Another great example of fantastic architecture in Gouda is the Sint Janskerk (St John), the patron saint of Gouda, church. The current church was built in 1552, however, there is a reference to the church in documents dated back to 1280. The church is 123 metres long, making it not only the longest church in Gouda but also the longest in the whole of the Netherlands. It is also on the UNESCO list of Dutch monuments specifically for its stunning stained-glass windows.
The ‘Gouda Windows’ (Goudse Glazen) were made and installed between 1555-1571 by the Crabeth brothers, and were spared during the Reformation and several following wars. In order to find out more about the glass, we took an audio tour around the church, which was a great way of learning not only about the beautiful glass windows, how they were made and what they represent but also the history of the church itself. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will know just how much we loved this, as massive fans of history and religious buildings. At €7 per adult (payable locally) for entrance and the audio tour, it was a great informative way to spend an hour or so.
If You Have A Sweet Tooth
One of Gouda’s most famous exports are stroopwafels (Siroopwafels). Now if you have ever tried one from your local supermarket or even elsewhere in The Netherlands and thought they tasted great, the ones in Gouda will simply knock your socks off, like they did ours. If you are not familiar with stroopwafels, they are waffles made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle and they are absolutely divine and incredibly moreish. The story of their creation involves baker Gerard Kamphuisen making them using the leftovers from his bakery back in 1810. They were a great cheap treat for the poor people of the city. In the 19th Century over 100 stroopwafels bakers were churning out the delectable little delights. However, there is only a handful left in the city now and we had the pleasure of visiting two of them during our trip.
Our first stop was the newly opened Kamphuisen bakery in the Markt. As soon as we walked through the door the smell of the stroopwafels hit us like a big mouth-watering sweet smelling truck. Hidden behind the bakery is the factory where the stroopwafels are actually made and we had the pleasure of taking a tour of it. Of course, the recipe is a secret but we saw everything from how the mixture is made all the way through to sampling the finished product. It was actually, Mr ESLT’s first ever stroopwafel and he instantly fell in love with the chewy goodness, so much so, we bought a couple of packets to bring home with the intention of sharing them but like I said earlier they are moreish, too morish in fact! The tour lastest around 45 minutes and was a great insight into how one of our favourite snacks are made. It is also fun for all the family, but I won’t give away the secrets of the factory, you will have to visit yourself to find out what they are.
The second bakery we visited was the Bakery Van den Berg, an extremely popular bakery in the centre of Gouda. Here, not only did we see how the stroopwafels are made but we also got to make and eat, of course, our own stroopwafels. Yep, we were welcomed behind the scenes into the kitchen where we saw all the machinery used in the production, together with the HUGE sacks of sugar a butter and the massive vat of syrup just waiting to be slapped between the sliced waffle – so naughty but so nice. We then got to use the hand press ourselves to make our very own sweet treats. Fresh off the press, they were still lovely and warm and the syrup in the middle was the perfect level of gooeyness! The stroopwafels from the different bakeries tasted very different but both totally scrummy and again we bought a couple of packets to bring home with us.
If You Are Interested In History
Gouda is steeped in history and a visit to the Gouda Museum is a must if you are interested in it. Located right behind the Sint Janskerk Church, it is home to over 40,000 items in a mixture of both temporary and permanent exhibitions. One of the most impressive and certainly largest pieces in the museum is the city model, which shows how Gouda looked in 1562. Other pieces and collections which particularly blew us away were the paintings by Rembrandt’s master student Ferdinand Bol depicting the Goudse shooters who defended the city and the Gouda pottery collection. Around 1900 Gouda grew into one of the most important centres for ornamental pottery and now the museum is home to a range of items from art nouveau to Amsterdam school, from classic to modern.
One thing that we did not know Gouda was once famous for before we visited the museum was the production of clay pipes. From the 17th century, clay pipes have been used for smoking tobacco and pipes produced in Gouda can be found all over the world. Working in one of the 349 pipe-factories back in the 17th century was a popular profession with half of Gouda’s population working in one. The museum has an extensive collection. Many of the pipes are very intricate and only by seeing them will you realise how much work and attention obviously went into making them. We spent a couple of hours in the museum as our time in the city was limited, but I genuinely think we could have spent all day in there as there was so much to see and for €10 per adult (payable locally) it’s certainly well worth the entrance fee.
Gouda’s history is also evident around every corner and we spent hours wandering the streets hunting it down. We were given an ‘A Walk Through History’ self-guided walking tour book and loved every second of leafing through the pages and learning about the amazing sites dotted around the city. The book has been put together by city tour guides who certainly know their stuff. From start to finish the walking tour took us around 3 hours and even though it was freezing cold, it was dry, making our tour very pleasant indeed. We do love guided tours but sometimes feel rushed, therefore this was the perfect tour for us as we could stop at each place for as long as we wanted, or at least until we got the perfect photo, and also duck into a cafe for a drink or stroopwafel whenever we fancied.
If You Love Cheese
If you like cheese and are able to eat it, there is no way on earth you can visit Gouda and not at least sample it. Mr ESLT and I are cheese fiends and were in our element. Gouda cheese is a mild, yellow cheese made from cow’s milk and can be found on most menus in the city. So when we saw cheese fondue on the menu at Restaurant Belvédère, an intimate and popular restaurant in the Markt, we could not say no. We were seated in the window and had a great view of the Town Hall lit up, it was the perfect spot for people watching until we were served a huge pot of melted bubbling gouda cheese with an array of bread and brightly coloured veggies to dip in, savour and enjoy. It was a great meal to share with Mr ESLT with a bottle of wine in lovely surroundings and was easily the cosiest Saturday date night we have had in a very long time.
Being in Gouda, it was important to us to find out the history of Gouda cheese. Therefore, we headed to De Goudse Waag (“The Weigh House”), also located in the Markt and also home to the Tourist Information Centre. A beautiful building which was designed by architect Pieter Post in 1668. Originally the ground floor was used to weigh the cheese that was made by farmers in the local area. The building is now home to the Cheese and Crafts Museum where you can learn about the building’s history, how the products weighed and traded and how Gouda cheese is made. Having wandered around the museum and listened to an extremely interesting and informative talk from the in-house guide, it was time to sample some (a lot) of the cheesy delights on sale in the shop and buy enough to last us last us a month with some spare to share with our family and friends.
Also, every year from the beginning of April until the end of August, the Markt is home to the traditional Gouda Cheese Market, which was originally established in 1198 and is now held every Thursday between 10.00am and 12.30pm. Unfortunately, the market had not started when we visited, however, as we love cheese so much, it is a great reason for us to visit again during the summer months.
Even If You Don’t Love Cheese
Yes, the city is famous for the cheese museum, the cheese market, eating cheese, in fact, all things cheese related. However, we had the pleasure of eating at the city’s first vegan restaurant, Curcuma, perfect for vegetarians and of course vegans together with people with lactose or dairy intolerances. I knew that I would not have a problem eating a three-course vegan meal, however, I did worry about Mr ESLT as he loves meat and eats it at most, if not all meal times. The restaurant was bustling and luckily for us, we had a table reserved as I think we would have struggled to get one otherwise, an obvious sign that Curcuma is a popular place, especially with the locals.
We took our seats and were made to feel very welcome. The menu was explained to us and what came after our order was taken could only be described as a feast. It comprised of courgette and coconut soup, a falafel waffle served with cumin hummus and a burger (vegan, of course) both served with veggies, all delicious and all surprisingly filling, followed by a trio of vegan desserts. It was a wonderful meal, and healthy which after the amount of cheese and number of stroopwafels we had eaten was very welcome. It even got a big thumbs up from the staunch carnivore, Mr ESLT.
We had a fantastic weekend in Gouda. When we first considered visiting we were worried that there would not be enough to see and do to keep us occupied for our whole trip. However, we needn’t have worried. In fact, there was more than enough and it was actually a squeeze trying to fit everything in. We walked, we ate, we connected with a wonderful city that, like so many other small cities in The Netherlands, is often overshadowed by its bigger, more popular neighbours. It is a city completely worth visiting and experiencing for yourself.
- Thank you to Welcome to Gouda for hosting our stay in Gouda and providing us with a great itinerary.