Situated in the province of Utrecht (not to be confused with the city of Utrecht, its capital), Amersfoort is a mid-size Dutch city of about 150,000 residents and countless unique characteristics that make it special for its 1.2 million annual visitors. The bishop of Utrecht awarded Amersfoort city status in 1259, and the medieval city center remains intact to this day, with an atmosphere and architecture - such as the iconic muurhuizen, or "wall houses" (see below) - that enchants tourists with its window into a distant past.
But Amersfoort is also firmly entrenched in the modern world - a fact that's clear from its contributions to modern art. Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, perhaps the most famous member of the early 20th-century De Stijl ("The Style") movement, was born in Amersfoort; his works - in particular his series of "compositions" in the primary colors of red, yellow and blue - are cherished fixtures at major museums worldwide. In addition to the Mondriaanhuis (Mondrian House), which focuses on its namesake artist, the Kunsthal KAdE (KAdE Art Hall) also presents temporary exhibits of modern and contemporary artists.
How to Reach Amersfoort
Several trains per hour connect Amersfoort with Amsterdam Central Station; travel time is 40 to 50 minutes. See the Dutch Railways' Journey Planner for timetables and fare information.
What to Do & See in Amersfoort:
Amersfoort is an ideal city for a unplanned stroll, since one of its most impressive attributes is the fantastic architecture that is everywhere in the city center. Even the most spontaneous travel, however, should be sure to include some of Amersfoort's most treasured monuments on his or her route. Chief of these is the muurhuizen ("wall houses"), a series of houses that are literally embedded into the first city wall from the late 13th century. The wall – and the houses it contains – encircle the historic core of the city.
In the west of the medieval core, the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwetoren (Our Dear Lady Tower) rises above the skyline – a lonely tower whose attached church was converted into an ammunitions factory, then demolished in the wake of a laboratory explosion at the turn of the 19th century. The late Gothic tower, styled after the famous Domtoren in Utrecht city, is open to the public from April to June; visitors can ascend its 98 meters for splendid bird's-eye views of Amersfoort. (See the Tijd voor Amersfoort site for visitor's information; Dutch only.)
The construction of a second, outer city wall, completed in the mid-15th century, resulted in two more examples of medieval defensive architecture that stand to this day. To the south of the city center, the Monnikendam arches over the point where the Eem River enters the city; the river, formerly called the Amer, lent the city its name (the foort in Amersfoort refers to a "ford" in the river). To the northwest of the city center, the beautifully preserved Koppelpoort is situated at the spot where the Eem leaves the city.
For visitors who wish to explore the city in depth, Amersfoort has several excellent museums that plumb various facets of the city, its history and culture. The Museum Flehite, just south of the Koppelpoort, is dedicated to the history of Amersfoort and the wider district of Eemland; far from a dry historical museum, Flehite's broad collection of local art and artifacts and adventurous temporary exhibits are set in a phenomenal location – three of the historic wall houses that trace the city center.
Modern art lovers will be in their element in Amersfoort, between the Mondriaanhuis and the Kunsthal KAdE. The birthplace of modern art icon Piet Mondrian (born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan – with double a!), the canal-side Mondriaanhuis contains a "treasure room" (Schatkamer) devoted to the artists' early oeuvre, an exhibit on the man behind the art, and a full-scale reproduction of his Paris studio. The architecture of Kunsthal KAdE stops passers-by in their tracks, while its temporary exhibits – which have been known to spill outside the hall's confines, as in the 2010 retrospective of Dutch sculptor Tom Classen – lure them inside. For military history enthusiasts, the Cavalerie Museum (Cavalry Museum) follows more than four centuries of the Dutch cavalry and their transition from horses to tanks and other armored vehicles.
One of the latest additions to the Amersfoort art scene is LAKMA, the Latin American Art Museum of Amersfoort, the only museum of its kind in the Netherlands, spans the breadth of Latin American art from lesser-known artists to household names like Salvador Dalí.
Guided tours of Amersfoort can be booked via Gilde Amersfoort, which offers 1.5- to two-hour tours of the historic inner city by foot for only € 4 per adult, € 3 per child. See the Gilde Amersfoort web site for further info.
Where to Eat & Drink in Amersfoort:
- De Eetstee - No one will miss the meat at De Eetstee, whose attractively plated meals showcase the fresh, vivid tastes of seasonal produce. The only items not produced from scratch at the restaurant are sourced locally from Utrecht province, such as beer from De Leckere microbrewery in Utrecht city, coffee beans roasted in Baarn, and bread baked in Harmelen.
- De Pastinaeck - Smack in the middle of Amersfoort, De Pastinaeck ("The Parsnip") takes the ordinarily down-to-earth Dutch cuisine to new levels of refinement. While the menu differs with each season, look out for dishes that incorporate rarities like black salsify and root parsley, so-called "forgotten vegetables" that have recently re-attained a niche popularity in the Netherlands.
- Wereldrestaurant Dara - Across the street from Kunsthal KAdE, a two-tone "fairy-tale castle" - with the year 2009 stenciled on its facade in a comically dry typeface - harbors a restaurant that's as full of character as its exterior. "World Restaurant" Dara offers a broad variety of mezzes (small dishes, like Spanish tapas) and entrees from all over the world, from North African tajines to Thai curry dishes, amid its playfully eclectic décor – or, if weather permits, on the restaurant's outdoor terrace beside the Eem River.
- Brouwerij de Drie Ringen - Amersfoort has its own microbrewery that produces several different brews, some available year-round, others only seasonally. Stop by their pub to sample some artisanal beers, or see their website for local cafes and restaurants that serve their products.
Visitors who want more time to explore the city and its environs can compare hotels at Kayak.com.
Amersfoort Tourist Information
Open Mon. 11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Tues. - Thurs. 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. From April - October also open Sun. 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.