Delft vs Amsterdam

ABOVE A busker plying his trade outside a pavement café – a more palatable side of life in Amsterdam
ABOVE A busker plying his trade outside a pavement café – a more palatable side of life in Amsterdam

With none of the big-city problems associated with Holland’s capital city, Delft offers a succession of charming canals edged with cafés, cobblestones, and historic grandeur


LOCATION Delft is in the province of South Holland (Zuid Holland), 8 miles (13 km) from The Hague and 9 miles (15 km) from Rotterdam

POPULATION Around 100,000

VISITORS PER YEAR Around 850,000

DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 37°F (3°C); Apr: 61°F (16°C); Jul: 64°F (18°C); Oct: 61°F (16°C)

Delft is often referred to as “Mini Amsterdam,” and it’s easy to see why. Pretty stone bridges straddle tree-lined canals, and Gothic and Renaissance-style houses rub shoulders with flower-clad convents, ancient monasteries, and ornate church spires. The market square (the largest in the Netherlands) is hemmed with dozens of cozy restaurants and pavement bars, while floating cafés on the canals provide views of the historic 700-year-old center.

But the similarities largely end there. Unlike Amsterdam, Delft is one of Europe’s most serene cities, unblemished by the noise, crowds, street- crime, drugs, and prostitution that take the edge off the country’s capital. It’s a sea of bicycles that weave, wobble, race, and screech around the puzzle of passageways and bicycle paths. Delft’s cyclists favor battered Dutch-built boneshakers (their counterparts in Amsterdam opt for sleek, streamlined models), and these trademark single- gear Omas, with their solid handlebars, thick tires and industrial-sized padlocks, are available to hire from the tourist office in Hippolytusbuurt. Simply ring your bell loudly to pass as a local.

Delft was put on the map for art-loving romantics around the world by Tracy Chevalier’s international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring. Set in the household of the 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer, it’s the story of a peasant maid who becomes the artist’s assistant and then his model.

In the film adaptation of the book, several scenes were shot against the blood-red window shutters of Delft’s Stadhuis, and there are guided walks (see right) that center on Vermeer’s status as one of the best-known artists of the Dutch Golden Age.


Royal Delft Blue-and-white Delft ceramics with Oriental-inspired patterns have been an important export for over 400 years. In the mid-17th century, the city had around 30 potteries. Today, Royal Delft is the last remaining ceramics factory. It’s open to visitors.

Museum Nusantara Like Amsterdam, Delft boasts a 400-year link with Indonesia, and the fine range of exhibits at Museum Nusantara depicts a fascinating shared history and culture. Founded by the colonial Indische Instelling company, the museum houses exotic collections of artifacts from all over Indonesia, including pottery and artworks, which chart an evocative relationship from the era of the Dutch East India Company.

Vermeer Cube Walk Having painted all his masterpieces in Delft, Vermeer is honored in grand style throughout the city. You can follow a succession of rotating cubes along a dedicated Vermeer Cube Walk that travels back to the artist’s birth in 1632 and then chart his works, life, loves, and death en route.

Nieuwe Kerk The crypts of the Nieuwe Kerk, on the market square, are testament to Delft’s historic ties with the Dutch royal house. The mausoleum of the assassinated William of Orange (1533–84) – considered the founding father of the Netherlands – is to be found here.



Dubbed the “Venice of the North,” Amsterdam is world-renowned for its extensive canal system: its waterways are cruised by tour boats and moored with brightly painted barges. Big on outrageous clubs and wild nightlife, Amsterdam is also a cultural and historical center of great acclaim – its galleries, museums, and exhibits attract discriminating art-lovers, romantics, and shoestring travelers alike. The city’s leafy parks are popular with picnickers in the summer.


But not that far from the art galleries, canalside cafés, and flower-filled gardens, there’s Amsterdam’s red-light district, which can be a distasteful reminder of why many visitors come here. Adult-themed pubs, clubs, and bars take sleaze to another level. It’s an ugly world far removed from the city’s sophisticated beauty.


To get the most from Amsterdam, rent a bicycle from any of the many MacBike Bicycle Rentals shops. Then pick up a map of the dozen bicycle routes that weave their way around the city and hit the roads.


The quaint cobbled streets, winding canals, and grand buildings hark back to an affluent medieval era when, as a thriving textile center, Ghent was Europe’s largest city outside Paris. Today, it offers visitors a pleasing mix of past and present, with waterways lit by fairy-lights, gilded guild- houses, and street stalls of trinkets and hippy kitsch.


Like Delft, Antwerp has a pottery tradition, but it fuses its enthusiasm for tin-glazed tiles with an abundance of urban grit. This down-to-earth city, which has a rich mercantile and cultural past, is undergoing a spirited regeneration, seen in its trend-setting architecture and lively restaurant and pub scene.


The third- largest city in Holland boasts a buzzing energy like never before. Characterized by medieval cobbled streets, The Hague boasts handsome 18th-century mansions, paved courtyards, opulent palaces, and an eye-popping collection of clock towers and spires.


Getting There and Around

Delft’s nearest airport is Schiphol, near Amsterdam. A frequent train service links the two cities. The journey time is 50 minutes.

Delft city center is compact and easy to walk round, but if you’d like the real deal, hire a bike.

Where to Eat

There’s something for everyone in Delft – from fast food to gourmet cooking. For the city’s best pancakes, served on huge plates, head to Café Wapen van Delft.

Where to Stay

Blessed with 18th-century charm, the Hotel Coen Delft is crammed with Delft pottery and antiques, and it’s within walking distance of most attractions.

When to Go

June, July and August often bring sunshine, but don’t bank on it.

Budget per Day for Two

Around US$275.

Leave a Comment