My quest to discover hidden Holland continues. Next up: a visit to the tiny, time-capsule canal city of Delft, Dutch master painter Vermeer’s hometown, in south Holland, between Rotterdam and The Hague. My trip was timed with the opening of the biggest-ever show of the master’s work at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Vermeer*, and made an easy and refreshing side trip from the big city, opening my eyes to life outside Amsterdam.

A day trip to Delft

Seeing as I had such a good time, I wanted to share my itinerary for one day in Delft with you. Call it a hunch, but maybe you’re planning a business trip or weekend in Amsterdam or a trip across the Netherlands and need some tips. This itinerary for one day in Delft introduces you to Vermeer’s hometown, and the city sights associated with the Dutch master painter. It also includes a few suggestions for where to eat, drink, and shop. Let’s explore…

Things to do in Delft

It’s ridiculously easy to travel from Amsterdam to Delft by train. I arrived feeling fresh on a bright and crisp February morning. I noticed how easy its crowd-free cobbled streets were to navigate compared with bustling Amsterdam. Only 100,000 people live in Delft after all. I knew I was going to like it here.

Other than a tiny bit about Vermeer’s heritage, I knew little about the city. Without preconceptions or a guidebook, I let my instinct and curiosity take over. Out of the train station, I dodged an oncoming tram and several bikes, and headed in the direction of the old town, a maze of narrow canals and streets lined with chocolate-box townhouses, stylish shops and historic bars.

My first stop: the Museum Prinsenhof Delft, inside a former palace built in the Middle Ages. On show, Vermeer’s Delft, a complement to the Rijksmuseum’s art-centric blockbuster. Here, I learned about Vermeer’s life in Delft. He was born in 1632, his father was an innkeeper, he had 15 children, lived with a bossy mother-in-law, was comfortably off but died in poverty in 1675. The twist? Surprisingly little is known about his artistic life. No one knows, for example, who taught him to paint, or how many paintings he created. Vermeer it seems is a mystery.

shop with yellow facade and striped canopy

Lunch on the run in Delft

Mind a boggle, I went searching for a snack. I wandered and found Hummus Delft, a daytime cafe specialising in … hummus and salad. I ordered a heaped bowlful topped with oven-roasted aubergine, yoghurt, pomegranate seeds, mint served with pitta, and sweet-potato fries. Delicious, but admittedly not particularly Dutch. I make up for this at Stadbakkerij, a sweet-smelling old-fashioned bakery with a cheery yellow-and-white striped canopy and corner setting, which caught my eye and enticed me in to buy sticky stroopwafels.

Scoffing said stroopwafels, on the way to my next activity, I spotted a blue and white tiled wall along a narrow street. It reminded me I was also in the home of Royal Delft blue pottery, world-famous earthenware produced here since the 17th century when rich families bought collections to show off to one another. You can still visit the original Royal Delft pottery and see how it’s made, and even have a go at painting your own.

Discovering Vermeer’s Delft

I spent the afternoon following a self-guided walk of Vermeer’s Deflt (I picked up in the Vermeer Centre here). It brings the mystery Dutch painter’s biography to life. Starting in Markt (market place), which looks as it was in Vermeer’s day, except for the tourist shops set on its cobbles. This where most of the sights associated with Vermeer’s life are clustered, starting with the old church (Oude Kerk) where he and some of his children and mother-in-law are buried.

I followed the walk to nearby Voldersgracht Street, to discover the site of his father’s former inn where Vermeer was born, The Flying Fox at number 26 – now a private house – and further on along Voldersgracht Street to the site where Vermeer painted The Little Street, onwards to the house in which he lived at Oude Langendijk; and further at Kolk Harbor, or De Kolk, depicted in Vermeer’s View of Delft. Vermeer, it seems, didn’t stray far from home in his 43 years.

vintage shop Delft

Shopping and eating in Delft

Delft’s old town is filled with speciality shops and boutiques to browse tucked in between pretty townhouses and rubbing shoulders lovely squares and long canals. Guided by the buzz of locals, I found myself tucked into this dimly lit brewery called Delft Brewhouse, enjoying borell, an early-evening pre-dinner glass of wine or beer and Dutch finger food like crispy bitterballem – breaded meatballs – served with a fiery mustard dip. I made sure to save room for dinner, of course, at a new place called FLOW outside the old town before catching my train back to Amsterdam.

I hope you enjoyed your day trip with me to Delft!

*The Girl with a Pearl Earring is on display at the Rijksmuseum until 1 April when it returns to its home at the Mauritshuis in the Hague.

Disclosure: I travelled to Delft with the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, but the pick of what appears here was entirely down to me.

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