A typical Dutch city, Delft is full of historical charm, pretty canals, medieval churches and lively café culture - and as an ex-resident, I know just the right places to go when you're there
On a recent return trip to Delft, I was pleased to see that little has changed since I lived here a few years ago. In fact, much of this unspoilt city remains as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries, but its inhabitants are young; many are students or young trendy couples. It also has a very cosmopolitan feel, thanks to the many ex-pats and international students who live here.
At the heart of the old town, you will find the old Market Square, which is framed by the twin buildings of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the City Hall, each as impressive as the other. The Nieuwe Church isn't actually that new - it was built in the 14th century, and is the last resting place for both William of Orange and the Dutch royal families going back centuries. For €2.50, you can climb to the top by means of an enclosed staircase, and the rewarding views are definitely worth it! You will be able to see the spires of the gothic Oude Jan (Old Church), which dominates the skyline.
For a bit of culture, head to the Vermeer Centre (21 Voldersgracht; +31-15-2138588; www.vermeerdelft.nl). It was once home to the 17th-century baroque artist Vermeer, most famous for his painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, which inspired the Hollywood film of the same name. The building is beautifully preserved, and you step back in time as you wander from room to room.
If you've worked up an appetite, have a pancake (pannenkoek) at one of the many outdoor cafes that fill this huge cobbled square, which is a popular meeting place with locals and students.
On Thursdays, Market Square is also home to a good market, where you can sample local cheeses such as Gouda and Edam, and browse at your leisure through stalls selling Blue Delft. If you don’t find what you are looking for, you can head to the Royal Delft Factory (196 Rotterdamseweg; + 31-15-2512030; www.royaldelft.com) for a better selection; a guided tour of the factory costs about €4. For serious shopping, stroll over to the Zuidpoort, which houses typical high-street stores.
Delft's cobbled-street centre is almost all pedestrianised, and the favoured mode of transport is a bicycle. You can hire bikes from almost anywhere - one good bet is the main train station, where you can find them from about €7 per day. There are good cycle paths and routes both in the centre and around Delft. If you prefer to look around at a slower pace, you can take one of the canal tours starting from the Koornmarkt.
If you want to go further afield, I’d suggest hopping on the number 1 tram, which can take you on a picturesque journey to The Hague, home to the Royal family, or to the delightful seaside town of Scheveningen. The journey takes no more than 45 minutes.
Where to eat and drink
Delft is a food-lover’s paradise, and has a great choice of restaurants, with everything from Argentinian steakhouses to modern European fine dining, so you'll always find something to suit your tastebuds.
For lunch or dinner, try L’Orage (111b Oude Delft; +31-15-2123629), which serves signature fish dishes from Denmark with French flair. Prices are at the high end of the market - about €50-€60 for dinner.
Restaurant De Zwethheul (480 Rotterdamseweg; +31-10-4704166; www.zwethheul.nl) is a hidden gastro gem just outside the city. It has earned two Michelin stars, and the food is magnificent; it also has a great terrace overlooking the canal. Like L'Orage, it's run by an award-winning chef, and serves great food in contemporary surroundings. Expect to pay about €40 for lunch, while dinner starts at €75.
I also really like the classy Italian Restaurant Bar Artusi (20a Voorstraat; +31-15-2120354; www.restaurant-artusi.nl). They serve great antipasti platters for €12, and a good-value four-course dinner for about €40.
De Wijnhaven (22 Winjhaven; +31-15-2141460; www.wijnhaven.nl) is a more relaxed restaurant, popular with locals. It can be packed at lunchtime, so get here early.
For a late afternoon beer, try the Eetcafe de Ruif (22–24 Kerstraat; +31-15-214 2206; www.fuif.nl). A tiny old bar just behind the square, it has the best terrace, in the form of a floating barge at the rear of the bar. The Oude Jan (Heilige Geestkerkhof 4; +31-15-2145363; www.oudejan.nl) is a typical atmospheric Dutch bar near the Old Church, run by Guido, who has been serving chilled beers here for over 20 years. It has a decent terrace that spills out onto the historical square.
Although Dutch bars generally stay open until the early hours, nightlife in Delft tends to be more chilled and relaxed. For a good selection of beers, the Belgian Beer Café Belvédère (8 Beestenmarkt; +31-15-2123297; www.bbcbelvedere.nl) is a lively spot, as is the Locus Publicus (Brabant Turfmarkt).
Where to sleep
Hotel de Ark (65 Koornmarkt) is a four-star hotel in a 17th-century building in the city centre. It does great breakfasts, especially the pancakes. Bicycles are welcome. A double room is €141.
Bridges House Hotel (74 Oude Delft) is an elegant, historical townhouse, with massive comfy beds. It's worth paying the supplements for the huge luxurious suites. Doubles from about €115.
Best Western Museumhotels Delft (50a Phoenixstraat) is in a perfect central location, near the train station and overlooking a canal. Rooms are generous and all individually appointed, each with its own distinctive atmosphere. Doubles start at €143; suites cost €295.