10 Things to Do in Naarden

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Author:  Caroline

From tranquil boat rides along the cities’ double moats to fine dining inside repurposed military barracks or sweaty climbs up the church spire that will leave you catching your breath, from the view that is. Do not let the size fool you, there are plenty of things to do in Naarden. Time to delve in!

Naarden is a charming fortified town located a mere 30 minutes from Amsterdam. While it may not have the picturesque flower-lined canals that have catapulted the capital of the Netherlands to international fame, it has something much more interesting: A star-shaped fortification dating back to the 14th century. Yep, you read that right the city is built in the shape of a star!

I have been lucky enough to visit Naarden twice, and it has utterly bewitched me. This tiny town can easily be explored as a daytrip from Amsterdam and offers a much-needed respite from the hordes of tourists that plague the capital.

On my second visit, I opted to book a few nights in the neighboring city of Weesp, rented a bicycle there, and cycled to Naarden for the day. One day in Naarden will give you enough time to explore the sights at a leisurely pace and get a grasp of what makes this hamlet and its kindhearted inhabitants tick.


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Short History of Naarden

The strategic location of Naarden near the Zuiderzee made it an important settlement as early as the 10th century. Naarden gained prominence in the 14th century when it received city rights from Count William IV of Holland in 1350. This marked the beginning of its development as a fortified garrison town, a role it would play for centuries.

During the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648), Naarden’s fortifications were significantly enhanced to withstand sieges and attacks. The town became one of the key defensive strongholds of the Dutch Republic. Its star-shaped layout, designed by the famous military engineer Menno van Coehoorn, is a classic example of the Renaissance-era bastion fortification system. This design included a moat, double walls, and strategically placed bastions, making it one of the most well-preserved examples of a star fort in Europe.

Naarden’s history is also marked by tragedy. In 1572, Spanish forces massacred the town’s inhabitants during the war, a dark chapter remembered in its historical narrative. Despite such events, the town rebounded and continued to thrive.

In the 19th century, Naarden’s military importance waned as the Amsterdam Defense Line became all but obsolete due to changes in warfare technology. During the 20th century, the town was relatively poor and very much off any radar, tourist or local. That is until famous Dutch designer Jan des Bouvrie moved his store to the fortified city of Naarden in 1993.

As socialites of Amsterdam and the rest of the country flocked to Naarden to shop in des Bouvrie’s store, the town suddenly became the place to be. Housing prices soared and have continued to do so. Here, dear reader, you will rub elbows with both long-term inhabitants and the nouveau riches of the Netherlands.

FUN FACT | Naarden is part of the Dutch Water Defence Lines. An impressive 200 km stretch of land designed to keep intruders out by means of flooding and with the help of no less than 100 forts and two castles. It’s not just me who thinks it’s impressive, in fact, this little feat of ingenuity is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Vestingmuseum Naarden

10 Things to Do in Naarden

1. Visit the Netherlands Fortress Museum (Vestingmuseum)

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 am – 05.00 pm
Entrance Fee: Included in the I amsterdam City Card; Alternatively buy tickets for €12.5

What sets Naarden apart from the other towns in the country is the fascinating star shape of the historical center (also referred to as a fortified city). This star shape was created by a set of bastions, castmates, and ramparts. To really understand the military history of Naarden, why it was of such strategic importance, and how the heck this star-shaped business turned out to be a vital defensive stronghold in the Dutch Republic a visit to the Vestingmuseum is a must!

As we walked into the museum, all I could see was a set of verdant rolling hills and a few canons sprinkled around for good measure. What I had not grasped at that first glance, was the fact the museum was in fact mostly underground.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR VISIT: The museum is housed within the actual bastions and casemates, providing an immersive experience of the town’s defensive structures. As you head inside the casemates (beware they are pretty cold and damp), interactive displays provide an insight into the daily life of the soldiers stationed here.

AUDIO GUIDE: Upon purchasing your ticket, you are presented with a little plan of the layout of the museum as well as an audio guide (available in a variety of languages). The audioguide works by scanning the various QR codes dotted around the museum. Unlike some other museums, you cannot skip the audioguide here as there are little to no information panels.

PRACTICAL INFO | The main tourist information center is located in a bright yellow building that goes by the name Gele Loods. Tickets for many of the activities in Naarden are to be purchased here. It might be worth heading here if it is your first time in Naarden. Check the official website for more info.

2. Head out on a boat ride

Once you have visited the Vestingmuseum, I highly recommend the next thing to do in Naarden is hop on a boat to explore the fortifications from a different angle. The Vestingvaart takes you on a one-hour boat trip through the double moats surrounding the fortified city. Along the way, your guide provides insights into the various structures of the fortification as well as the history of the city itself.

We absolutely lucked out and had the kindest skipper for our boat ride. My partner is Italian and does not speak Dutch, it turned out our guide had studied Italian many years ago and our tour was given in a mixture of English, Dutch, and Italian. Such a wholesome experience.

FUN FACT: The inner moat once housed sweet water (and was used for cooking) while the outer moat was salty seawater. Nowadays no water from the sea reaches Naarden anymore thanks to a robust dike that was built in 1925 in the vicinity of Amsterdam.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Boats leave from the docks at Het Arsenaal and depart 4 times daily. Departure time depends on the season. Boat rides are only available from April to October. Book and pay for your tickets via the tourism office of Naarden (De Gele Loods).

Grote Kerk Naarden

3. Pop into de Grote Kerk Naarden

Visiting Hours: Daily 11.00 am – 05.00 pm except on Sunday when visiting hours start at 01.00 pm
Entrance Fee: Included in the I amsterdam City Card; or alternative purchase a ticket for €4.50 at the entrance

It’s no secret that I absolutely love visiting churches. It is not that I am religiously inclined, rather it is the artwork and the architecture that attracts me. And boy, did I almost drop my camera when I walked into the Great Church of St. Vitus (Grote Kark Naarden).

This magnificent Gothic structure dates back to the 15th century and was originally a Catholic church, until it was converted to a Protestant church in the late 16th century, during the Reformation. It is one of the few buildings to have remained intact during the brutal massacre of the Spanish as it was still catholic at the time of the invasion.

Now, what makes this church utterly breathtaking are the high vaulted ceilings, tall windows, and intricate wooden roof structure adorned with painted biblical scenes. Head to the middle of the Church, here a set of laminated papers are laid out with close-ups of the various biblical scenes and a bit more explanation on what they represent.

GOOD TO KNOW: As you head inside the church, you will find a wooden box with laminated A3 pages in different languages. Make sure to take one with you inside as it provides a great explanation for the various images on the wooden vaulted ceiling.

4. Climb the belltower of de Grote Kerk Naarden

Visiting Hours: Every Saturday and Sunday at 02.00 pm and 03.00 pm
Entrance Fee: Included in the i amsterdam City Card; or purchase tickets at de Gele Loods for €5

The very first time I visited Naarden, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the bell tower of the St. Vitus church of Naarden, colloquially known as the church of Naarden. Built in the 14th century, the tower has been a defining feature of the town’s skyline for centuries. It is in fact older than the actual church itself! We biked from Weesp to Naarden and the clocktower can be seen jutting out from many kilometers away.

After clambering up 235 steps, you are however rewarded with a beautiful view over Naarden and the various ramparts. The church tower used to double as the watch tower of the fortified city and thus no building was allowed to be higher than the tower. This is not a climb for the claustrophobic traveler or those suffering from vertigo as the staircase is pretty narrow and windy.

Inside the tower, you make a couple of stops before heading to the very top. During these stops our guide took the time to explain the history of the town as well as the clock mechanism with its medieval engineering. You will not see the famous star-shape of the city, however, for that, you would need to get a lot higher up.

GOOD TO KNOW | The bell tower can only be visited with a guide. Tours are normally in Dutch, but if you mention you are an English speaker in advance, guides can accommodate (at least they did for us!)

Naarden Netherlands
The gabled façade of the city hall of Naarden

5. Marvel at the city hall & grab a bite to eat

The City Hall of Naarden, constructed in 1601, is built in Dutch Renaissance architecture. Featuring ornate gables, a striking clock tower, and intricate stone carvings, this historic building reflects the wealth and significance of Naarden during the Dutch Golden Age. The City Hall initially served as the town’s administrative hub, playing a pivotal role in local governance and civic life.

In the 18th century, the building underwent several restorations to preserve its architectural integrity and historical significance. Today, the City Hall continues to function as a municipal building, hosting a variety of events, including weddings, cultural activities, and exhibitions. Unfortunately, I keep visiting Naarden during a weekend and thus have never been inside! I do have about a million pictures of the outside, of course.

LUNCH TIP | Vesting Hotel Naarden is located right next to the city hall and has the best terrace in town. On a sunny day, this is absolutely the place to be to grab a bite to eat or something to drink. They have a vegan version of the quintessential Dutch specialty: Broodje Krokket. Worth trying!

6. Visit the Spanish House

Opening Hours: Friday – Sunday 11.00 am to 05.00 pm
Entrance Fee: €7.50 to be paid at the entrance

The Spanish House in Naarden, originally constructed as a medieval town hall, holds a significant yet somber place in the history of the town. In 1572, during the Eighty Years’ War, when Spanish troops captured Naarden they used the building as a stronghold. The site became infamous for the brutal massacre of hundreds of Naarden’s inhabitants by Spanish soldiers, an event that deeply scarred the town and earned the building its name.

Over the centuries, the Spanish House has served various purposes, including functioning as a weavers’ hall and a municipal museum. Today, it is home to the Weegschaal Museum, which focuses on the history of weights and measures.

I have only ever walked by the building to take in the little artwork above the door which is a reminder of its rather horrendous past. As the current interior has little to do with the history of the building, my personal suggestion would be to do exactly that. Unless weights and measures absolutely strike your fancy, in which case, go wild!

7. Explore the fortified city

The age-old saying that size does not matter absolutely rings true for this hamlet. The historical center or fortified city of Naarden is tiny and can be traversed in about 10 minutes. There are however some spectacular feats of architecture crammed into this tiny space.

What I find fascinating about Naarden is the fact the old casemates and barracks are still in use. No longer for military purposes but for just about anything else. As we walked around the outskirts of the fortified town, along a path next to the casemates we spotted a craft beer brewery, a bike repair store an upscale restaurant, and various offices housed inside the former casemats and barracks.

This very route took us to the beautiful Utrecht Gate, located next to the Gele Loods. The gate was built in 1680 and is the only remaining city gate of the fortified town. Further on we bumped into a rather sumptuous 19th century entrance of the Promers Barracks.

Fun fact, these barracks were built right opposite the houses of wealthy merchants. As the merchants did not want to have an ugly view, an obscene amount of money was spent building a “pretty” barrack. These days the barracks house an upscale restaurant (Restaurant Acquavite).

Design lovers will want to pop into het Arsenaal, a concept store for design with a sundrenched interior garden and a little restaurant. Alas, my budget stretched just enough to grab a coffee here, purchasing furniture here remains a pipedream. We ended up traversing the Kooltjesbuurt (great photo spot) and headed into the fortified city from here.

8. Walk along the old fortified walls

Once used for defensive purposes, now the perfect spot to stretch your legs and head into the surprisingly verdant outskirts of Naarden. It was our guide from the boat cruise who suggested we go for a walk on top of the fortified walls.

We opted to simply amble along without an actual route, it is practically impossible to get lost. If however, you are looking for a slightly more structured approach to your hike (I wouldn’t blame you) you can head to the Gele Loods to pick up a walking map or check out the online resources linked below.

PRACTICAL: A variety of different hikes ranging from 3 km to 10 km run across the fortified walls. The routes are color-coded. Find out the exact route here (website is only available in Dutch).

LONGER HIKING ROUTES: If you have a little more time on your hands you could choose to start hiking in Naarden and perhaps head to one of the surrounding villages. A couple of examples of hiking routes can be found here (website is only available in Dutch).

9. Explore Naardermeer

Naardermeer is the Netherlands’ oldest nature reserve and spans approximately 1,100 hectares. Established in 1905, it was the first area acquired by the Dutch Society for the Preservation of Nature Monuments (Natuurmonumenten), making it a cornerstone of the country’s conservation efforts.

The reserve’s landscape is a picturesque mosaic of wetlands, lakes, and reed beds, offering a sanctuary for a wide array of wildlife. On my last trip, I stayed in nearby Weesp and rented a bicycle to cycle to Naarden, my path hugged the shoreline of Naardermeer. I sadly ended up running out of time, but I would love to come back and hike around the lakes.

WHAT TO DO: There are a variety of different activities, including hiking or biking around the lake (19 km loop), taking a boat ride on the lake (not always available), bird-watching (spot the iconic purple heron, great egret, and black tern) and popping into a local windmill (Molen De Onrust).

HOW TO GET THERE: Most of the activities start from Gasterij Stadzigt located roughly 2 kilometers from the historical centre of Naarden. The easiest way to get here is by hopping on a bicycle (7-minute bike ride). Gasterij Stadzigt has private parking which can be used if you come by car.

10. Rent a bicycle and cycle to nearby towns

Head to the Gele Loods (the tourism office of Naarden) to rent a bike. Prices start at €10 for a city bike and €25 for an e-bike. Bikes can be rented during opening hours e.g. from 10.00 am to 05.00 pm.

WEESP

The storybook town of Weesp is a 30-minute bike ride from Naarden. The route is utterly bucolic, snaking around Naardermeer and the river Vecht. We took this route on our e-bikes and thoroughly enjoyed it, the route is super well-maintained and easy to follow.

Weesp has been around for over 670 years and was forged on a legacy of beer, jenever, chocolate, and some very well-placed forts to defend the nation’s capital. There are no less than 3 windmills, two forts, one craft brewery in a desacralized church, and a colorful wooden boat built in the shape of a historic 18th-century house.

I have been to Weesp twice and it is my favorite little hideaway from Amsterdam. In case you are planning a visit make sure to read up on the top things to see in Weesp.

MUIDEN

The town of Muiden is a quick 25-minute bike ride from Weesp (7.8 km). The route takes you past the first natural reserve in the Netherlands: Naardermeer. Muiden is primarily known for its eponymous castle.

Muiderslot, a stunning medieval castle around Amsterdam, dates back to 1280, built by Count Floris V. Destroyed in 1296, it was rebuilt in 1370 and played a crucial role in regional defense. Both the castle and the gardens have been beautifully restored and can be visited. Please note the castle is not suitable for travelers with limited mobility as it involves a fair amount of stairs.

Aside from the castle, the little town of Muiden has a few other things to see. Pop into Fort C and watch the very cool little movie on the Amsterdam Defense Line, follow the Belevings Route a set of info points dotted in and around the castle explaining the history of the city, and walk along the completely restored ramparts for the best views over the castle.

PRACTICAL | Tickets to Muiderslot are included in the I Amsterdam City Card. If you do not have the card, simply purchase your ticket at the entrance for €17,5.

TIP FOR LUNCH | There are a lot of tourist traps in Muiden. Upon local recommendation, I headed to Fort H for lunch. The restaurant is a 15-minute walk from Muiderslot.

FORT PAMPUS

Fort Pampus, situated on an artificial island in the IJmeer near Amsterdam, was constructed in the late 19th century as part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam. Completed in 1895, the fort was designed to protect Amsterdam from naval attacks, controlling the strategic Pampus channel, a critical maritime route.

A couple of years back the island was fully restored and has transformed from a slightly eerie and dilapidated fort into a very cool interactive museum showcasing the history of both the Defense Line of Amsterdam and the fort itself.

What is very cool is the fact this island is fully self-sufficient in terms of energy. It is solar and wind-powered! On the island you will find a couple of places to grab a bite to eat, ingrediënts are farm-to-table, many of them grown on the tiny island. The dishes served are Dutch cuisine and vary according to the season.

GETTING THERE | Requires catching a ferry from Muiden. Pre-book your tickets in advance online. Tickets for the fort and the ferry cost €19.5. Both the ferry ride and the entrance tickets for the fort are included in the I Amsterdam City Card.

Where to Stay in Naarden

Waar overnachten in Naarden

RECOMMENDATION: VESTING HOTEL NAARDEN

A cozy boutique hotel on the main square of Naarden. This hotel is beautifully decorated, has a fantastic location and wonderfully friendly staff. Their on-site restaurant serves some mighty scrumptious meals too.

10 Things to Do in Naarden
Source: Booking.com

LOCALLY RUN: DESIGN B&B NAARDEN

This small, locally run, B&B has but two rooms. Both are spacious and designed for the utmost comfort. Located in a quiet part of the historical center. Guests have the option to run a boat on the premises the cruise around the waterways in and around Naarden.

10 Things to Do in Naarden
Source: Booking.com

MOST TRANQUIL PICK: HUIZE KOEMPOELAN

Travelers looking for accommodation in the middle of nature, within walking distance from the historical center of Naarden, will love the B&B Koempoelan. Wake up to the sounds of the birds and head out for plenty of watersports activities during the day.

Practical Tips for Visiting Naarden

How to get to Naarden

TRAIN | From Amsterdam Centraal you can hop on a train (Sprinter) which takes you to the station of Naarden Bussem in roughly 24 minutes. To get to the historical center of Naarden does require a 30-minute walk from the station.

Alternatively, rent a bike in Amsterdam and take your rental bike on the train with you and cycle from the Naarden Bussem station to the fortified town.

BICYCLE | You can bike from Amsterdam to Naarden. The distance from Amsterdam Centraal to Naarden is around 24 km, each way.

How long to stay in Naarden

There are plenty of things to do in Naarden to keep you occupied for one full day. My recommendation would be to book a two-night stay. That gives you plenty of time to explore the city center on day one and rent a bike to visit nearby Weesp & Muiden on day two.

Best time to visit Naarden

I had the pleasure of visiting Naarden twice, once in Spring, the other in Summer and to be honest it was pretty tranquil during both periods of time. Therefore I would surmise that even during the height of tourist season you could still make a day trip from Amsterdam to Naarden, if only to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

in Naarden

Why Visiting Naarden Is Well Worth It

Nestled just 30 minutes from Amsterdam, Naarden is a hidden gem that promises a delightful, slow escape. It is perfect for a weekend trip from Amsterdam and the quintessential escapade for slow travelers.

Known for its well-preserved star-shaped fortifications, Naarden’s history dates back to the 14th century. This picturesque town played a significant role in Dutch military history, with its star fort design offering a unique glimpse into past defensive architecture.

Top attractions include the Great Church of Naarden, with its stunning frescoes and wooden vaulted ceiling, and the Netherlands Fortress Museum (Vestingmuseum), where history comes alive through interactive exhibits. Strolling through Naarden’s cobbled streets, you’ll find charming cafes, boutique shops, and quaint canals oozing with authentic, Dutch charm. Locals are friendly and the prices are a heck of a lot more affordable than the nation’s capital.

For eco-conscious travelers, cycling from Amsterdam to Naarden is an excellent option. The route, roughly 25 kilometers, takes you through scenic landscapes, including lush countryside and serene waterways. Alternatively, rent a bicycle in Naarden itself and cycle to Naardermeer, Weesp and, Muiden.

10 Things to Do in Naarden

MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING THE NETHERLANDS

Amsterdam: Guide to taking public transport in Amsterdam
Amsterdam: 16 Castles near Amsterdam to visit
Amsterdam: 17 Places to visit near Amsterdam by train
Amsterdam: 15 Weekend trips from Amsterdam
Amsterdam: Day trip from Amsterdam to Brussels
Haarlem: One day guide to Haarlem
North Brabant: Walking in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! My name is Caroline, and I am a full-time writer & photographer. With this blog, I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism, and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. Adventure awaits!

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