Delft is often referred to as “Mini Amsterdam,” and it’s easy to see why. Pretty stone bridges straddle tree-lined canals, and Gothic and Renaissance-style houses rub shoulders with flower-clad convents, ancient monasteries, and ornate church spires. The market square (the largest in the Netherlands) is hemmed with dozens of cozy restaurants and pavement bars, while floating cafés on the canals provide views of the historic 700-year-old center.
But the similarities largely end there. Unlike Amsterdam, Delft is one of Europe’s most serene cities, unblemished by the noise, crowds, streetcrime, drugs, and prostitution that take the edge off the country’s capital. It’s a sea of bicycles that weave, wobble, race, and screech around the puzzle of passageways and bicycle paths. Delft’s cyclists favor battered Dutch-built boneshakers (their counterparts in Amsterdam opt for sleek, streamlined models), and these trademark singlegear Omas, with their solid handlebars, thick tires and industrial-sized padlocks, are available to hire from the tourist office in Hippolytusbuurt. Simply ring your bell loudly to pass as a local.
Delft was put on the map for art-loving romantics around the world by Tracy Chevalier’s international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring. Set in the household of the 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer, it’s the story of a peasant maid who becomes the artist’s assistant and then his model. In the film adaptation of the book, several scenes were shot against the blood-red window shutters of Delft’s Stadhuis, and there are guided walks (see right) that center on Vermeer’s status as one of the best-known artists of the Dutch Golden Age.
MAIN CITY SIGHTS
Royal Delft Blue-and-white Delft ceramics with Oriental-inspired patterns have been an important export for over 400 years. In the mid-17th century, the city had around 30 potteries. Today, Royal Delft is the last remaining ceramics factory. It’s open to visitors.
Museum Nusantara like Amsterdam, Delft boasts a 400-year link with Indonesia, and the fine range of exhibits at Museum Nusantara (www.nusantaradelft.nl) depicts a fascinating shared history and culture. Founded by the colonial Indiscreet Installing Company, the museum houses exotic collections of artifacts from all over Indonesia, including pottery and artworks, which chart an evocative relationship from the era of the Dutch East India Company
Vermeer Cube Walk Having painted all his masterpieces in Delft, Vermeer is honored in grand style throughout the city. You can follow a succession of rotating cubes along a dedicated Vermeer Cube Walk that travels back to the artist’s birth in 1632 and then chart his works, life, loves, and death en route
Dubbed the “Venice of the North,” Amsterdam is world-renowned for its extensive canal system: its waterways are cruised by tour boats and moored with brightly painted barges. Big on outrageous clubs and wild nightlife, Amsterdam is also a cultural and historical center of great acclaim – its galleries, museums, and exhibits attract discriminating art-lovers, romantics, and shoestring travelers alike. The city’s leafy parks are popular with picnickers in the summer
But not that far from the art galleries, canal side cafés, and flower-filled gardens, there’s Amsterdam’s red-light district, which can be a distasteful reminder of why many visitors come here. Adult-themed pubs, clubs, and bars take sleaze to another level. It’s an ugly world far removed from the city’s sophisticated beauty.
Nieuwe Kerk The crypts of the Nieuwe Kerk, on the market square, are testament to Delft’s historic ties with the Dutch royal house. The mausoleum of the assassinated William of Orange (1533–84) – considered the founding father of the Netherlands – is to be found here.