Last week my partner and I spent a wonderful week in the city of Delft in The Netherlands. This was our third visit to one of our favourite cities in Europe and I’m sure it won’t be our last.
Delft is located between the larger and better-known Dutch cities of Rotterdam and The Hague and is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. It’s famed for its Delftware (Delft Blue Pottery) and also for being home to the artist Johannes Vermeer who painted ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. It also has a large student community thanks to the Delft University of Technology which makes it a young and vibrant place.
But the main reason I love Delft is because of the canals. The town centre is made up of street after street of tree-lined canals criss-crossed by bridges. The canals give Delft a sense of tranquility. Water taxis potter up and down and tourists take canal cruises. But apart from that, the canals are home to the ducks and lotus leaves.
The buildings lining the canals in the Old Town are mostly of 17th and 18th Century origin and the architecture is typically Dutch i.e. tall, narrow houses with gables, prominent front doors and large windows – perfect for peeking in as you walk by.
What also makes Delft such a calm place is that most people ride bicycles. There are few cars on the cobbled streets, so less noise and pollution. In London I’m used to hearing police and ambulance sirens day and night, lorries thumping over the speed bumps outside, aeroplanes passing overhead and the occasional helicopter hovering. But in Delft those sounds were replaced by the clackety clack of beat-up bicycles on cobbled streets and bicycle bells signalling for me to get out the way.
You see people of all ages and descriptions on their bikes – young children, students, pensioners, businessmen. People ride their bikes with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding bags of shopping, mobile phones, I even saw one man dragging a suitcase behind his bicycle! As a result of a lifetime of cycling, people look fit, healthy and slim.
Cafes, Bars & Restaurants
It’s impossible to walk for more than a few metres in Delft without coming across a bar, cafe or restaurant. Even the occasional ‘coffee shop’ which doesn’t sell coffee – nudge nudge. Delft also has several squares which are lined with restaurants and filled with tables and chairs for outdoor dining. The Dutch do really good coffee, served with cream! And while Holland may be famed for pancakes and cheese when it comes to food, the restaurants in Delft offer fantastic modern European cuisine. There’s a variety to choose from including several Greek and Indonesian restaurants.
The Dutch seem to love markets and in Delft there’s a flower market each Thursday and on Saturday most of the town centre is given over to a market selling antiques, flowers, food and bric-a-brac. There’s a wonderful festive atmosphere with many people coming in from surrounding areas for the day.
Woods, Lakes & Sea
If it all gets too much, nature is close by. On one of the days we hired bikes and rode ten minutes outside of Delft to the woods and the lake, where we hired a rowing boat. And the beach at Scheveningen is just a forty-minute tram ride away where you have a choice between sand dunes or amusement arcades.
I feel as if I left my heart in Delft. This week, back at my desk in London, I keep on imagining strolling along a canal, stopping for a coffee, and watching the world go by. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in Delft, it’s that it’s good to slow down, chill out and appreciate the simple things in life.