Between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, many tourists miss out on smaller Dutch cities such as Gouda thinking that there’s little to see or do other than sample some of local kaas. However, look beyond the obvious, and there are some excellent reasons to visit Gouda (other than the cheese!).
But before we delve into the hidden gems hiding in the hofjes of the city, meander along the postcard-perfect canals or peek inside the house which is actually a hidden church, there’s one crucial thing you should know before visiting Gouda: you’re probably pronouncing Gouda wrong! Contrary to popular belief, the city’s name is not pronounced ‘GOW-da.’ Instead, the correct pronunciation is ‘HOW-da’.
All of Gouda’s history
The history of Gouda dates all the way back to the 12th-century when the place where the city now stands was a peat forest. At this time, small rivers crisscrossed the plains, including the River Gouwe, the waterway for which Gouda is named today.
Along the River banks, a small community started to form which served to harvest the peat and ‘Gouda’ was originally attested as a name in 1139. By the 13th-century, Gouda began developing rapidly, including a castle, walls, and a wider community.
Here’s why you need to visit Gouda, the cheese city of Holland, the Netherlands on your next Dutch adventure. How to visit the city of Gouda and what to do once there; admire the canals, enjoy the cheese culture, visit the town museum, and more!
Unfortunately, tragedy was to strike and fires ravaged through the city in the 14th and 15th-centuries, destroying many of the medieval buildings. Gouda suffered from the Plague throughout the 15th and 16th-centuries. At this time, it’s thought that up to 20% of the population died from the Plague.
The 19th-century marked a turn in the economic tide for Gouda. With the demolition of the city walls and new companies moving in, the city became more prosperous and was well on its way to becoming the city you see today. Now, when you visit Gouda, you can expect to find a beautiful blend of ancient walkways, historic streets, and plenty of pretty canals.
The cobbled lanes and picture-perfect canals
Straight out of a storybook (or, at the very least, a history book from the 18th-century), Gouda still retains the historic charm of a small town, rather than a city of over 70,000. Some of the best secret spots and hidden gems of Gouda include the Hofje Van Letmaet and visiting the Oud-Katholieke Kerk Gouda, a Catholic Church that’s hidden behind an unsuspecting Dutch house front.
Of course, no guide on the best reasons to visit Gouda would be complete without a nod to the city’s namesake cheese, Gouda. Found throughout the city, Gouda accounts for well over half of Dutch cheese exportation each year, making it a must-taste for any foodie lovers visiting the Netherlands.
Some of the top cheese experiences to be had in Gouda include paying a visit to the cheese market each Thursday during the summer months. This world-famous affair is known as Kaas en Ambachtenmarkt. Another must-see cheese-focused attraction in the city is the ‘t Kaaswinkeltje store, which sells Gouda cheese blended with just about everything you could possibly think of. From pesto to truffle, to chilli, this shop truly stocks all the cheeses (with free samples for you to taste test, of course!)
Gouda Siroopwafels (Syrup Waffles)
If you thought that the only culinary delight to be found in Gouda is its famous cheese, then you would be wrong! Instead, another of the city’s most famous exports is the form of stroopwafels (also known as Siroopwafels). Sold in markets and stores across the city, this sweet treat is made from two cookies with a sweet syrup filling.
Gouda Town Hall (Goudse Stadhuis)
Pretty and dating all the way back to the 15th-century, it’s hard to miss the Stadhuis (or town hall as it is so-called in English) freestanding in the very heart of historic Gouda. In 1438, a fire ravaged through Gouda, destroying much of the city and leaving the rest in near ashes.
As a result, the decision was taken to construct the town hall in a freestanding manner, away from the rest of the buildings in the city. The result is the beautiful Gothic structure that you can see today. When there are no events taking place and the doors of the Stadhuis are open, you can wander inside and enjoy delights like the beautiful Mayor’s Office.
Even if the town hall is closed, one of the best hidden gems of the Stadhuis can be found on the right-hand side of the building, when facing the structure head-on. For there, perched high up on the wall, a Carillon clock not only announces the hour, but displays a mechanical puppet show two minutes after each half hour.
The Red Lion Windmill (Molen De Roode Leeuw)
For those in search of Holland of old, you need to look no further than the still functioning Red Lion Windmill on the fringes of Gouda’s historic old town. Dating all the way back to 1727, head there and you can witness history in action. A flour shop next door sells flour ground directly by the mill itself.
The Erasmus Connection
While many maintain that Erasmus Desiderius was born in Rotterdam during the late 15th-century, others speculate that the great Dutch scholar was actually born in Gouda! Though there is, of course, an Erasmus statue in Rotterdam, there are also plenty of Erasmus connections in and around Gouda. Highlights of the scholar in the city include a wall bust by Hildo Krop.
The Christmas Market
Each year, one of the best Christmas markets in the Netherlands is held in the very heart of the city. Other Gouda Christmas highlights include a massive ice skating rink illuminated by a thousand twinkling lights decorating the Stadhuis.
Nearby, stalls sell mulled wine, soup, and hot chocolate. Nearby, a gigantic Norwegian Christmas tree provides the backdrop for festive events, including free concerts in the world-famous Sint-Janskerk (St. Jan’s church).
How to visit Gouda
Easy to reach as a day trip from the Hague or a day trip from Rotterdam, it’s also worth visiting Gouda in its own right and exploring over the course of several days. Full of hidden gems, little bars, and pretty alleyways, aside from food, the city is well-known for its shopping scene and wealth of museums. To get to know Gouda on a more local level, check out this two-hour Gouda monument walking tour.
If you’re planning on spending a little longer in the Dutch city, then you’ll want to book your accommodation in advance, particularly if you’re planning on visiting during Christmastime or in the summer when a cheese market is taking place. After all, space is limited and the best places fill up fast! this two-hour Gouda monument walking tour.