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A Lovely Day-Trip: Gouda, the City of Cheese

Posted on Apr 6, 2022 by

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Dutch Provinces: Zuid-Holland

”Discover the Netherlands, Province by Province” project – each month of 2022 is dedicated to one Dutch province.

Gouda is a lovely town in the Zuid-Holland province, known for the cheese with the same name (pronounced How-da). It’s an old city, featuring some centuries-old, impressive buildings. This year is special for the city, because it’s the celebration of 750 years of existence. From April to September 2022, there will be celebrations in Gouda, from city walks to exhibitions, theatre and sport.

The area where Gouda stands today was originally a marshland, and it was the place where, in the Middle Ages, the Van der Goude family built a fortified castle alongside the banks of the Gouwe River, from which the family and the city took their names. Gouda received city rights in 1272, and from then on, it continued to develop. Its history is tormented, with fires that destroyed the city a couple of times, plagues, and more periods of economic decline than of prosperity. In the 19th century, with the openings of the candle making factory and spinning mills, Gouda economy improved, and the city prospered.

Sint Janskerk

The Gouda Castle was totally destroyed along the years, and today only cellars and tunnels remain from what it used to be the castle. They are, however, under houses that are private properties, and can be visited only during the Heritage Days.

Today, Gouda is an important tourist attraction and a charming city to visit. A day-trip to Gouda would revolve around cheese and stroopwafels, a bit of history and a lot of relaxed walking around. It was the first destination from Zuid-Holland I chose to visit this month, because I’ve never been there before (and I’ve seen all the other big cities of the province, some of them more than one time).

Gouda is easy to reach by train – only about 55 minutes from Amsterdam. It took me longer to get there because I went from Alkmaar, and because on the day I traveled there was work on the train lines, so I had to make a few stops. It was worth it, though. I went to Gouda on a Saturday, when the Main Square (Markt) was hosting the weekly market. The place was buzzing with people buying their fresh vegetables, flowers and knick-knacks. I love the weekly farmers’ markets, and I love exploring them in each town I visit. They are a way to get to know the town and the entire area. The downside was that I couldn’t get a proper photo of the Stadhuis building, which stands in the middle of the square and was surrounded by the market stalls on that day.

The moment you arrive in Gouda, you are enveloped in that cosy, small city feeling. The city center is small and only ten minutes walking from the train station. It’s a pleasure to wander those streets, admire the canals and the old buildings. In the narrow streets you’ll find interesting boutiques, chocolate and cheese shops, old liquor stores, and more.

What to see and do in Gouda

The Stadhuis (City Hall)

This iconic building in the centre of the Main Square was built between 1300 and 1450. It survived the destroying fires and it can be seen today in all its glory. You can visit the interior of the building, and I recommend you do it, because it’s splendid! The wedding hall was my favourite, with the stained glass windows in the second place, but the entire place emanates history and offers a glimpse into the past life of the city.

The Cheese Market

This is the main attraction of the city. It happens during April and August, every Thursday morning. However, you should know that it’s merely a show, and the cheese sellers are actors dressed in traditional clothes, who re-create the traditional selling and weighing of the cheese. Still, a fun thing to experience.

Gouda Cheese

Sint-Janskerk

Sint-Janskerk is one of the largest, oldest and longest churches in the Netherlands. Built in 1278 and restored in the 15th and 16th centuries, the church is famous for its beautiful and well preserved stained glass windows. The Gothic style architecture is also impressive.

Kaaswaag

This beautiful building close to the city hall was the place where the cheese was weighed and traded in the old days. Today, you can find a small cheese museum here, that teaches you about Gouda’s cheese history.

Kaaswaag

Museums in Gouda

To learn about the city’s history, visit Museum Gouda. It has an original collection, from 16th-century altarpieces, 17th-century militia group portraits, to French and Dutch paintings from the 19th century; also, you can learn about the famous Gouda pottery. To see a collection of old ships, go to Museumhaven (Museum Harbour), just outside the city center.

Gouda Cheese Experience

Although there are cheese shops all over the city, you can choose to visit the Cheese Experience – an interactive journey through the making of cheese (including virtual milking and cheese tasting).

See the windmills

There are two beautiful windmills that you can see in your walk around the city: ‘t Slot Mill and the De Roode Leeuw (the Red Lion).

Visbanken

This is the former fish market of Gouda, on the Lage Gowe street. It comprises two covered galleries from 1588 with two rows of nine natural stone columns of the Doric order, covered by hipped roofs, on either side of the water. I’ve seen something similar in Amersfoort, and I think they are an interesting sight.

Vrouwetoren

This tower looks odd, standing by itself at the beginning of a street. It used to be part of a church that was demolished, and, for some reason, they kept the tower. Nowadays the tower has no religious function.

Have a taste of Gouda Stroopwafels

The stroopwafels, or the syrup waffles, seem to have been originated in Gouda before they spread around the country. They are traditional Dutch cookies, made of two round waffles that are held together by a layer of caramel. You must have a taste if you go here (try the ones at the weekly market, if you go on a Saturday). You could even see how the waffles are made, and the Syrup Waffle Factory.

Browse the antique stores

The antique and curiosa shops are filled with many unique items, and they definitely worth a visit. You might go home with some pieces of Gouda pottery, but don’t blame me for that!

Gouda Pottery

First fair trade street in the Netherlands

You can check out the Lange and Korte Groenendaal, the first fair trade street in the Netherlands, where you’ll find shops offering delicacies, clothes, furniture.

Have lunch in beautiful courtyards

Have a tasty lunch or a high tea at Hofje van Jongkind, Relais & Châteaux Weeshuis Gouda or Museum Gouda’s Cafe. These are cosy places, indoors and outdoors, where you will enjoy your meal in a pleasant atmosphere.

Gouda Museum's restaurant

Gouda is now on my list of places where I want to return, simply for their lovely atmosphere and relaxed pace of life. Maybe one day I will see the Gouda Candle Night (Kaarslicht), one of the oldest light festivals in the country, when 1500 candle are lit behind the windows of the Stadhuis. It’s combined with various Christmas-related activities, and I’m sure it’s a great Christmas trip. Put it in your calendar for December 😉

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