The best things to do in Gouda include the most beautiful town hall in the Netherlands, historic windmills, a cookie factory, a cheese museum, historic courtyards, and so much more.
This enchanting Dutch city is steeped in history and culture. Here, you’ll discover splendid monuments and streets steeped in history, alongside trendy hotspots and charming boutique stores. It makes Gouda the ideal destination for an authentic city trip in the Netherlands. In this blog, we’ll tell you about the best attractions in Gouda. And who knows, we might just persuade you to add this cozy city to your travel itinerary!
Is Gouda worth visiting?
Gouda is the perfect choice for an enchanting city trip in the Netherlands. This quaint town in South Holland might not immediately rank high on your travel itinerary for delightful weekend escapades in Europe, but that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Steeped in history, Gouda boasts captivating streets adorned with a photogenic old-town allure and an abundance of historic landmarks. It’s no coincidence that this town boasts a legacy of over 750 years! The pièce de résistance undoubtedly lies in the exquisite town hall, characterized by its distinctive Gothic architectural style. It’s no exaggeration to proclaim this building as the most splendid town hall in all of the Netherlands.
Beyond its rich history, Gouda offers a plethora of activities and sights to behold. From leisurely boat rides along the picturesque Gouda canals to guided tours through an authentic cookie factory, the city promises a diverse range of experiences. This makes it a particularly family-friendly destination, although we’ve explored Gouda on previous occasions without our kids and found it equally enchanting.
What is Gouda known for?
Of course, Gouda is the city where the famous Gouda cheese originates from. Among foreign tourists, Gouda has gained recognition for this very reason, making it a well-known destination! The tourist cheese market comes to life here every Thursday morning during the summer, an absolute must-see that isn’t limited to tourists alone.
Craving more delectable treats from Gouda? How about indulging in the renowned ‘stroopwafels’, another delight the city is celebrated for?
Where to stay in Gouda
The best place to stay in Gouda is the historic city center. It boasts several great options, ranging from a historic residential tower and to elegant hotels, cozy bed and breakfasts, a former orphanage, and more. We highly recommend opting for accommodations within the old city center, placing you conveniently close to all of Gouda’s attractions. However, if you’re planning a day trip to Gouda, considering one of the charming holiday parks in the vicinity is also a viable choice.
#1 Baartje Sanderserf was established in 1687 as a housing complex for the less fortunate, and today, it houses an incredibly charming and stylish bed and breakfast. The hospitable owners have lovingly and creatively transformed the deteriorated cottages into trendy lodgings, complete with the convenience of private kitchens and the luxury of a garden.
#2 Relais & Châteaux Weeshuis Gouda stands as a luxury boutique hotel within the walls of Gouda’s former orphanage. Nestled within a picturesque courtyard, this exquisite hotel offers spacious suites adorned with elegant interiors, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a coffee, cocktail, and champagne bar.
#3 Goudse Watertoren presents a unique lodging experience within the former water tower of the Royal Plateelbakkerij Zuid-Holland, dating back to 1920. Transformed into a cozy residential tower, this accommodation boasts tasteful décor, room for two guests, and the conveniences of a fully equipped apartment. At a height of ten meters, the bedroom with a queen-sized bed awaits.
#4 Landal De Reeuwijkse Plassen, situated just outside Gouda near the picturesque Reeuwijkse Plassen, offers direct access to this stunning natural area from the holiday park itself. The park features water residences, wooden vacation cottages, luxurious villas, and wellness lodges complete with saunas and hot tubs.
15 best things to do in Gouda
#1 Gouda’s Town Hall
Gouda’s Town Hall undoubtedly stands as one of the most impressive attractions in the city. Proudly gracing the central Markt square in the heart of Gouda, this magnificent building often claims the title of the most beautiful town hall in the Netherlands, and we wholeheartedly concur.
With its distinctive front turrets, red shutters, sculpted artwork, and an elegant stepped gable at the rear, the town hall immediately captures one’s attention. Its location adds to its allure, positioned right in the heart of the Markt, where it would be less susceptible to the ravages of a devastating city fire.
Constructed in the fifteenth century, the town hall bears the hallmarks of Gothic architecture typical of its time. This is evident in the intricate details and pointed arches, evoking the likeness of a grand cathedral.
#2 The Gouda Cheese Market
Gouda’s cheese market, a historical symbol of the city, mirrors the rich cheese culture for which the Netherlands, and particularly Gouda, are globally renowned. While Gouda itself doesn’t produce cheese, it has always been a pivotal hub for trading in this quintessentially Dutch commodity.
The history of the Gouda cheese market dates back to 1395, and for centuries, the trading of this regional product was done through traditional handclaps. And we’re talking about millions of kilograms of cheese changing hands. Historical records reveal that in the year 1937 alone, a staggering 4.5 million kilograms of cheese were traded!
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the cheese industry underwent significant transformations. Production became increasingly mechanized, leading to the eventual decline of the traditional cheese market.
The last official cheese market was held in 1987, but today, a tourist version takes place on Thursday mornings during the summer months. This revival brings the market back to life, complete with individuals dressed in traditional attire.
Despite the hustle and bustle and its touristy nature, the cheese market still offers a remarkable experience. The stalls, abundantly laden with a variety of cheeses and local products, create an inviting atmosphere.
#3 Gouda Cheese Experience
The Gouda Cheese Experience, established in 2020 within a former cinema and barracks, stands as one of the newer attractions in Gouda. This unique attraction takes visitors on a voyage through the traditional cheese-making process, from milk to the cheese cubes the Dutch are crazy about.
The experience is an interactive adventure that particularly appeals to children. Across several rooms and halls, the cheese-making process is explained using interactive technologies and videos. A particularly fun feature is that visitors can dress up in traditional attire at the end of the Cheese Experience and take a fun (family) photo.
However, the true highlight awaits at the conclusion: a tasting of various ages of Gouda cheese. After learning about the cheese-making and aging processes, visitors can savor the flavors of cheese, from mild and young to aged and sharp.
You can buy a ticket at the entrance, or you can buy a ticket online in advance.
#4 The Syrup Waffle Factory
An great and family-friendly attraction in Gouda visit is the Kamphuisen Syrup Waffle Factory located at the Markt. Gouda is globally renowned for both its syrup waffles and ‘stroopwafels’.
Curious about the difference between a Kamphuisen syrup waffle and a regular ‘stroopwafel’? While both contain syrup, they differ in their cookie construction. A stroopwafel consists of a single waffle sliced in half and filled with syrup. On the other hand, a syrup waffle comprises two separate wafers bonded together with syrup.
Here too you can buy a ticket in the store, or online if you want to be sure of a spot.
Visit Kamphuisen to delve into the 200-year-old syrup waffle tradition from this factory. Behind a modest façade on the Markt, you’ll find not only a store but also a factory where visitors can enjoy guided tours.
Your visit begins with a sort of film detailing the cookie’s extensive history. The recipe dates back to 1810, preserved in a sealed envelope since then and remaining unchanged. Afterward, you’ll journey through the factory, ending with tasting authentic syrup waffles.
#5 The Historic City Center
The historic city center of Gouda exudes a rich history, which is unsurprising given its age of over 750 years. As early as 1272, the city was granted its municipal rights! Strolling through the cobblestone streets, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the most exquisite monuments, townhouses, and canal-side mansions.
Almost everywhere, you’ll spot the emblem of historic significance adorning the facades. Particularly interesting are the information plaques on almost each building, making it effortless to delve into the history behind each structure.
Within the historic city center, there are several must-visit sites to include in your wanderings. The “Zakkendragershuisje”, nestled next to the imposing Sint Janskerk (Saint John’s Church), stands out as a remarkable remnant. This house is the sole remaining wall house of the thirty that once lined the church.
The Visbanken, covered galleries dating back to 1588, offer a fascinating insight into Gouda’s trading past. One side was designated for Gouda’s fish merchants, benefiting from lower tax rates, while the other side was reserved for traders from outside the city.
While exploring the city center, the grand Gouwekerk (Gouwe Church) is a must-see. Rising to a height of 80 meters, this masterpiece claims the title of the tallest tower in the city. Another striking structure is the old Catholic church from 1630, concealed behind residential buildings. Once a secretive haven for Catholics during the Protestant era of the Netherlands, this church holds historical significance.
The Jewish Poortje (Jewish Gate), marking the spot of the former Jewish cemetery, now stands as a memorial to the Jewish victims of World War II.
#6 The St. John’s Church
The St. John’s Church is an iconic landmark of Gouda and is celebrated as the longest church in the Netherlands. Stretching an impressive 123 meters in length, was built from 1552, although earlier churches also stood on the same site. The church stands out not only for its immense size but also for its exceptional stained glass windows.
One of the most striking features of the St. John’s Church is its collection of 72 stained glass windows. During the reconstruction of the new church in 1552, wealthy clergy and nobles, including the Bishop of Utrecht and William of Orange, donated these stained glass windows to Gouda. These windows often depict the donors themselves, ensuring everyone knew the generous benefactors.
Twenty years after the church’s construction, the Dutch Revolt against Spain erupted, leading to a predominance of Protestantism in the Netherlands. The once-Catholic church now fell into Protestant hands. Despite the iconoclasm and destruction that many churches endured during that period, the St. John’s Church remained largely untouched.
Remarkably, 61 of the original stained glass windows still grace the church, a testament to the extraordinary efforts to preserve this cultural heritage. During World War II, these valuable windows were safeguarded in bank vaults and even in the shelter of dunes and local farms. You can buy tickets and audio guides at the entrance or online in advance.
Tip: in December, the St. John’s Church hosts the Winterfair Gouda, one of the best Christmas markets in the region.
#7 The Gouda Weigh House
One of Gouda’s most renowned landmarks is the Gouda Weigh House, a historic icon proudly standing on the Market Square. As one of the oldest buildings in Gouda, the Weigh House, dating back to 1668, carries a rich history.
For centuries, this structure served as the bustling heart of the now-famous cheese trade in the region. Farmers would gather here to trade their loads of cheese. This vibrant atmosphere around the Weigh House is still tangible in the summer months, when the historic cheese market is recreated for visitors.
What makes the Gouda Weigh House so impressive and monumental is its stunning façade. Particularly striking is the white relief that narrates the story of cheese trading in times past. Carved figures are shown weighing the cheese and writing down notes, paying homage to Gouda’s famous cheese tradition.
Directly in front of the Gouda Weigh House stands a prominent signpost adorned with a plethora of pointers to monuments and attractions. To us, this sign is a symbol of the many activities and sights Gouda has to offer.
Tip: buy a ticket with an audio tour to learn even more about this historic building.
#8 Gouwestrand at GOUDasfalt
A hidden gem among Gouda’s attractions is the Gouwestrand at GOUDasfalt. This former asphalt plant site has undergone a significant transformation and now serves as the home of GOUDasfalt.
GOUDasfalt is an artistic hub where creative entrepreneurs have established their workshops and stores. What was once an industrial site has now become the epicenter of festivals, markets, and events in Gouda.
Be sure to explore the ‘city beach’ of Gouda next to the Gouwestrand restaurant. This addition to GOUDasfalt provides visitors with a summery oasis of relaxation. Surrounded by sand and partially covered by tents for shade, the restaurant beckons for leisurely drinks on sunny days and delightful dining on warm summer evenings. An unmissable suggestion is to try the ‘loaded sweet potato fries’ with vegan satay; it comes highly recommended!
Moreover, Gouwestrand is not exclusively a summer destination. Indoors, there’s a delightful space for the colder months, ensuring that Gouda’s city beach can be enjoyed year-round.
#9 The Hidden Courtyards of Gouda
Gouda’s hidden courtyards are the city’s true hidden gems, waiting to be discovered by those who know of their existence and where to seek them out. These enchanting spaces are the result of generosity and compassion shown by Gouda’s affluent residents, who utilized their inheritances to provide shelter for elderly ladies and widows.
A great example is the Swanenburgh Courtyard, established in 1692 as a haven of compassion. Elisabeth Nathans Bars, widow of Mr. Swanenburgh, stipulated in her will that a plot of land should be purchased from her inheritance to construct twelve cottages for elderly spinsters or widows. This courtyard still holds a social purpose today, aiding individuals dealing with societal and psychosocial challenges.
Another of Gouda’s courtyards is the Sincq Courtyard, founded in 1700 and named after Cornelis Cinq. This courtyard, funded from his estate, provided sanctuary for the less fortunate and stood as one of the city’s most opulent courtyards of its time.
The Jongkind Courtyard, established in 1702, also originated as a courtyard of compassion. Notary Jongkind, who had no children at the time of his passing, bequeathed his fortune to establish a courtyard for destitute elderly widows and childless spinsters. Today, this courtyard has been repurposed into a charming café with a terrace.
The Letmaet Courtyard, established in 1616 and named after Harman Letmaet, was founded by the namesake’s mother. His will permitted his mother to perform a charitable act with his money, leading her to commission the construction of six homes on a plot by the Nieuwe Haven. While the houses have vanished, a magnificent gateway still graces Nieuwe Haven 274.
Contributing to Gouda’s courtyard heritage – though strictly not a ‘hofje’ in the official meaning of it – is the former Weeshuis (orphanage), now a boutique hotel. With its picturesque courtyard and cozy terrace, it’s a delightful spot for a meal or a drink.
#10 The Former Orphanage
The history of Gouda’s former orphanage stretches back to the year 1599. This was the year when the orphanage opened its doors to provide shelter for the less privileged orphaned children of the city. While more prosperous orphans found their home in the Holy Spirit Orphanage, the Almoners’ Orphanage cared for those who had been less fortunate.
Since its inception as an orphanage, the monumental building has undergone various transformations. After its early years as the Almoners’ Orphanage, the building experienced periods of vacancy, served as a public library, and even endured periods of neglect.
Today, this historic building has grown into an iconic establishment of Gouda. It now houses one of the city’s most beautiful hotels. With its cozy courtyard, picturesque red shutters, and inviting entrance, the former orphanage exudes a romantic ambiance. As a boutique hotel, Relais & Châteaux Weeshuis Gouda offers visitors a unique experience, from luxurious rooms to a restaurant that boasts a Michelin star.
#11 A Canal Cruise
One of the most fun things to do in Gouda is exploring the city center through a captivating canal cruise. Gouda stands as one of the Netherlands’ most beautiful canal cities, with historic waterways intersecting its core.
A notable feature is the Turfmarkt, where the quaysides have been built unusually low. As the city gradually subsides, the water now nearly kisses the quaysides. Particularly in early summer, the Turfmarkt is one of Gouda’s loveliest spots, adorned with cheerful water lilies on the canal.
Several cruise companies offer a canal cruise experience, but we embarked on our journey with “Bootje Kaas”. These unique flat boats are perfectly designed to glide beneath the low bridges, allowing you to traverse all the canals. As you cruise beneath the bridges, you might need to duck or even sit at the bottom of the boat. This provided immense joy to our toddler, who enthusiastically pointed out the bridges and consistently ducked her head, even when unnecessary for the taller bridges.
#12 The Central Market Square
The Market Square is an unmissable attraction in Gouda. Centered around the Gothic town hall, this expansive square forms the vibrant heart of the city. With its somewhat triangular shape, slightly curved on the north side, the Market Square is distinctive and stands apart from many other marketplaces. The iconic structures that encircle the square, including the renowned town hall and of course the famous Gouda Weigh House, make it a picturesque locale.
Along the edges of the Market Square, you’ll find various shops and inviting terraces. An outstanding presence on the square is Van Vreumingen, a tobacco shop that has stood for over 185 years. This authentic store is a local legend. Once, the family lived above and operated their shop on the ground floor. The former alcove has become a humidor, a storage place for the finest cigars.
A beloved spot on the Market Square is Casa Chow, a vibrant hotspot with an original menu. This street food bar blends flavors from around the world, ranging from Latin American to Asian street food. Offering tapas-style dishes and an array of vegetarian and vegan options, Casa Chow’s diverse menu is a recommendation for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The terrace overlooking the town hall is a delightful space on warmer days. We enjoy a lunchbox containing treats like samosas and Vietnamese spring rolls, along with a vegan rendang made from oyster mushrooms.
During the summer months, the Market Square is also where the iconic Gouda Cheese Market takes place, right in front of the Weigh House.
#13 The Gouda Museum
Located along one of Gouda’s picturesque canals stands the Museum Gouda, the city’s quintessential museum. Housed within the historic Catharina Gasthuis, which dates back to 1367, this museum is an eye-catching gem with its distinctive red shutters. The sight beckons you to explore its extensive collection of over 40,000 art and historical artifacts. The collection is a treasure trove of art and history, offering insights into the city’s past. You can buy entrance tickets at the box office or online in advance.
A seamless extension of the museum is the Gasthuiskapel, located right beside it. Dating back to the fifteenth century, this chapel has served as a Catholic place of worship through the ages.
At the rear of the museum, near the Sint Jan church, stands the exquisite Lazaruspoortje, or “Lazarus Gate”. The original gate dates back to 1609 and used to provide access to the leprosy hospital. Adorned with depictions of lepers holding the characteristic clapper and alms bowls, with an image of Lazarus himself crowning the top, this gate is a true work of art. In 1965, the original gate was relocated and rebuilt here, now granting access to the Museum Gouda’s garden.
#14 The Historic Windmills of Gouda
Gouda houses several operational windmills, each carrying its own history. One remarkable example is Molen ‘t Slot, tracing its origins back to 1581. This corn mill stands proudly over the city since 1832, built upon the foundations of Gouda’s former castle — hence the name. Even today, it continues to grind grains into flour, faithfully upholding its historical role.
Another extraordinary mill is De Roode Leeuw, an impressive circular stone “stellingmolen” dating back to 1727. A “stellingmolen” is an exceptionally tall windmill, often situated in developed areas, that can still harness wind due to its height. It’s one of the oldest corn mills in the Netherlands. After a period of dormancy lasting sixty years, De Roode Leeuw underwent restoration in 1985 and was revived to its former glory. Today, it turns and grinds grain just as it did in times past.
Not confined solely within the limits of the historic center, two other imposing mills stand a bit farther afield. The Mallemolen, one of the largest polder mills in the Netherlands, plays a vital role in draining an extensive area. Its presence is not only historically significant but also crucial for the region’s water management.
Likewise, the Haastrechtse mill contributes to water management by draining the adjacent Beneden Haastrecht polder. This particular mill is one of only three “stellingpoldermolens” (water management mills with a platform) in the entire Netherlands.
#15 The LEGO Store of Gouda
When we mentioned our plans to visit Gouda with our children, an array of kid-friendly recommendations poured in. The most frequent suggestion? That of Playtoday, or as it’s known: Gouda’s LEGO Shop! With pride, this monumental building in the heart of the city houses the largest LEGO store in the Netherlands. Here, you’ll discover all currently available sets, as well as older sets and exclusive collections.
Especially noteworthy are the captivating display cases showcasing rotating LEGO constructions. Picture, for instance, a genuine aquarium teeming with vibrant LEGO creations, forming a captivating underwater world. Iconic in its own right is the gigantic Legotree. The construction of this tree went viral on social media, capturing the attention of news outlets. Thus, the LEGO Shop isn’t merely a store. It’s an extraordinary experience that stands as a destination in itself.
Of course, this isn’t just a place to observe. It’s also a haven for test building and purchasing your newest LEGO additions. Make sure to stop at the block wall, boasting 144 assorted LEGO pieces that you can personally select to fill a LEGO container. A half-liter bucket is available for €9.99, a genuine bargain when compared to other LEGO stores.