Gouda is one of Netherlands’ most popular touristic destinations. Famed for its cheeses, syrup waffles and candles, the historic city center is a monumental showcase of a typical Dutch town. For ten days I stepped into the world of Gouda’s century old history, exploring the town’s major sights and hidden treasures including adjacent village Reeuwijk and the nature reserve Reeuwijkse Plassen. A staycation that turned out to be way more interesting than I expected.
Gouda’s old town is very compact thus easy to explore on foot. Signage directs you to all the main monuments and major sights. However, I also love to stroll aimlessly and wander into alleys to discover hidden courtyards or narrow streets with a high curb appeal. Especially during spring and summer the canals and facades are extra photogenic as they’re adorned with blooming flowers.
Sint-Jans Church & Gouda Glass
The Old Sint Jans (Saint John) Church is Gouda’s glory. The majestic church is the longest church of the Netherlands (123 meters) and counts 72 stained glass windows. The church was named after John the Baptist who is the patron of Gouda. A stroll around and in the church makes you marvel at its length as well as the 16th century stained glasses depicting Biblical and historical Dutch narratives. The scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, other biblical scenes, as well as important events in Dutch history are accompanied by an audio tour that is included in the church’s entree fee.
More information about Saint John’s Church: https://www.grootstemuseum.nl/en
The Old Town Hall
The old town hall dates back to the 15th century when it was built (unconventionally) in the center of the market square. Reason for this is that the original town hall went to ashes during a fire in 1438. When rebuilding the town hall, they chose to build it freestanding where it wouldn’t catch fire easily. Main attraction of the town hall is a carillon on the right facing wall consisting of puppets. Every two minutes of each half hour it’ll provide music and the puppets start to move.
The old town hall is also the backdrop of the weekly traditional cheese market on Thursday mornings between April and September. The folkloric spectacle recreates how cheese farmers from adjacent villages would come to Gouda’s market to trade their cheeses. It’s a great photo opp with farmers and traders in folkloric dress, horse and carriages and piles of large cheeses.
Goudse Waag: Cheese and Crafts Museum
Opposite the old town hall is the 17th century Goudse Waag (Historic Weighing House) that functioned as a cheese weighing house in yester years. Now it houses the Cheese & Craft Museum. On the ground floor is the city’s tourist information office and a souvenirs and cheese shop.
The Museum of Gouda
At the Museum of Gouda you can dive into the history of the medieval city and admire the famous Gouda pottery, also known as Gouds plateel, 17th century Dutch paintings and a miniature mock up of the city. The entrance gate to the museum dates back to 1609 and is called the Lazarus gate. www.museumgouda.nl
The Motte (Molenwerf)
This picturesque spot behind the Saint Johns Church used to house a stronghold in the 12th century with around it water and only two bridges to the hill. It is from this very same spot that Gouda developed. Around 1304 the family and their castle were destroyed during a war. Later the hill became home to a mill and miller’s house.
Gouda’s hidden courtyards and alleys
Gouda is packed with hidden courtyards and picturesque alleys. The courtyards used to be almshouses. Like most courtyards, the Hofje van Letmaet as seen in the 2 following photos below, was a charitable institution. Gouda has had 25 such almshouses. The oldest known courtyard dates from 1449, the last from 1887. Usually the houses of the courtyard are simple with only a room with a box bed. The gatehouse could have been a little more luxurious, as could the houses next to the gate.
Other hidden gems are the gateways Remonstrantse Poortje, and the Joden Poortje. On this website you’ll find a fun walking tour past different hidden treasures in Gouda
Erasmus Audio Trail
Explore Gouda through the eyes of one of Europe’s most legendary philosophers who grew up in medieval Gouda; Erasmus. The audio trail takes you past ten Erasmus spots. A scanable QR code at each spot takes you to a narrative by the young Erasmus and his contemporaries. At the backside of the Saint Jan Church, in Vroesentuin (Vroesen garden), you’ll find one of the ten audio trail spots with a bronze bust statue of Erasmus. An interesting fact is that in the 1960s this same statue was stolen from an exhibition in Paramaribo, Surinam and later discovered by the director of the Gouda Museum in the Surinamese ricefields functioning as a scarecrow.
Gouda’s Montmartre Market and brocante shopping
Every Wednesday (only during summertime), the town hall square is transformed into the largest open air antique and brocante market of the Netherlands. Score a vintage tea set, knick knacks and one-off embroidery at this lively market. But also in other seasons antique lovers will find plenty of small antique and brocante shops dispersed through the town’s center. On the Lange Tiendeweg you’ll find Miekje’s Brocante (no 25), Sisters Act (no 42) and Goed Spul (no 6). In the Wilhelminastraat there’s Altijd (no 42), Goudsche Brocanterie (no 35), Het Dorpshuisje (no 37) and Galerie Anderz (no52). More shops can be found on the Lange Groenendaal and the Hoge Gouwe.
Gouda’s Harbour quarter
This charming area is where the fish used to be brought ashore and sold. The side of the Lage Gouwe was for the Gouda fishmongers. The other side – the Hoge Gouwe – was destined for the fish trade from outside the city.
The Peperstraat (pepper street) that is characterized by its historical houses with bridge entryways is another hidden treasure with over 15 national monumental houses. Old signs give away that this street used to be a busy street with bakeries and other artisan workshops.
Gouda Cheese and the famous syrup waffles
Gouda cheese and syrup waffles are common household foods for a Dutchie like me, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. But I can imagine that foreign tourists reading this post would like to get the deeds on it too. Don’t worry, it’s hard to miss a cheese shop in Gouda. ‘t Kaaswinkeltje (Lange Tiendeweg 30), Kaas van Kees ((Korte Groenendal 8) and Gouds Kaashuis (Hoogstraat 1) are just a few to consider visiting.
Syrup waffles are sold at most supermarkets and bakeries but for a real freshly baked one head to Het Stroopwafel Winkeltje (Agnietenstraat) or Patisserie Van Vliet (Lange Groenendaal 32)
For real bio French artisan bread stop by Sam’s Bakery and try his pain du chocolat (Lange Tiendeweg 44). If you’re looking for toys or nice children’s books, head to Jantje Zag eens Pruimen Hangen (Books & Gifts (Dubbele Buurt 7) where they still have those retro wooden toys.
Where to eat & drink
For the best freshly brewed coffee, head to Prego Coffee, just behind the Waag and Cheese Museum. It’s a bit hidden and becauise of that a great spot to rest and rest your feet. Their breakfast and lunch is fresh and tasty with smoothies, panninis and sandwiches. For a real Gouda experience you should try the stroopwafel macchiatto! Brunel at the historic fish market in the old harbour quarter is great for lunch or dinner. Their menu is mouthwatering with a variety of appetizing dishes like duck breast, camembert out of the oven or zucchini soup.
Koeien en Kaas focusses on dinner only and two ingredients for their dishes: cheese and steak. Pick any kind and style of steak you like or dive into the world of cheese with a fondue, or stuffed goat cheese. At Kamphuisen you have a view on a historic canal as you are seated on the terrace next to the fish banks. Here you can enjoy a Burgundian and culinary expereince in a building which was originally a stroopwafel bakery. The menu is a feast with vegetarian paella with fennel, olives, bell pepper and artichoke or sirloin steak from Belgian white-blue beef.