Located south of Amsterdam within the Netherlands’ South Holland province, Gouda is a historic city that is best known as the namesake of the eponymous cheese, offering weekly cheese market reenactments between April and August.
The earliest recorded mention of Gouda dates back to the 12th century in a message by the Bishop of Utrecht, though it is not believed that the area was heavily inhabited until a canal was dug on the Gouwe River in the 13th century, connecting it to the Old Rhine. As a result of the development of this canal, the river’s mouth at Hollandse Ijssel was developed into a harbor, with a Castle Gouda fortification constructed to defend the harbor area. During the latter part of the 13th century, Gouda received a charter to be recognized as a city, and subsequently, its trade and commerce grew and more canals were created in the region. Major fires in the 14th and 15th century destroyed many buildings within the city, and in the 16th century, the city was captured by Dutch rebels in resistance to the region’s Spanish rule. The region also suffered several plague outbreaks throughout the 16th century. In the 17th century, the area’s economic stability briefly returned, but in 1672, the region was again devastated by war and plague. In the mid 19th-century, the city’s economy flourished due to the rise of industries such as yarn spinning and candle making, and a new railway was constructed to link the town with the nearby city of Utrecht. Growth continued into the 20th century, particularly following World War II.
Today, Gouda is located within the Netherlands’ South Holland province and is best known as the namesake for Gouda cheese, a mild, yellow cow’s milk cheese that remains one of the world’s most popular varieties of cheeses. Though the cheese has never historically been produced within the city, it bears the city’s name due to its association with cheese trading in the city. The city is most noted for its historic cheese market, held at the Medieval-style Markt square, which is open for demonstrations between April and August on Thursday mornings, with the exception of Ascension Day. Cheese is brought to the market on traditional brik wagons, with price negotiation demonstrations held in front of the city’s 17th-century Goudse Waag weigh house. A Cheese and Crafts Museum is also located within the building, showcasing exhibits on the cheese’s development, production, and trade. Cheese tastings are also offered, along with crafting demonstrations related to a variety of historic Dutch crafts and trades.
Gouda’s city center is known as one of the most beautiful city centers in the Netherlands, showcasing a variety of historic buildings and structures. Among the structures within the city’s Markt is the 16th-century Sint Janskerk, a 123-meter church that is the largest of its kind in the Netherlands and features famed Gouda-style stained glass windows that are the only remaining design features of the church left untouched at the church’s conversion to Protestantism in 1573. The Stadhuis, the city’s old town hall building constructed in 1450, showcases spectacular Gothic-style architecture and houses the Gouda Museum, which features exhibits related to the city’s civic and cultural history and displays a large collection of 19th-century paintings from the Hague and Barbizon schools of art. Other exhibits focus on collections of clay pipes, 17th-century altarpieces, and archaeological findings such as historic torture instruments. A carillon connected to the building features mechanical dolls that perform a musical routine at two minutes past every hour and half hour, and an outdoor sculpture garden and fully-preserved historic pharmacy are also showcased. Other historic structures in the city include the De Roode Leeuw, a preserved 1727 windmill that still produces a variety of specialty flours.
A wide variety of craft and tourist shops are located within the city’s Markt square, including boutiques, cheese shops, and ateliers. Self-guided walking tour materials of the city’s Markt and historic downtown area are available from the VVV Gouda tourism office. Seasonal boat tours of the city’s historic canal system are also available, with many featuring onboard minibars or opportunities for onboard high teas or lunches. A number of restaurants located within the city offer outdoor terraces, including Brunel, which offers a terrace under the old fish auction location, and Zalm on Markt 34, which offers great views of the city’s Markt square. Other restaurants within the city include the Dutch-style Scheeps restaurant, the upmarket cafe Etoile, and the Gouda Museum’s Museumcafé, which serves high tea and high cheese.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Biweekly markets are held within the city’s Markt square on Thursdays and Saturdays, along with an antique market held on Wednesdays. In December, the city hosts its famous Gouda By Candlelight festival of light, which brings thousands of visitors to the region to watch performances by Christmas choirs. The festival’s climax is its lighting ceremony, which lights the historic buildings of Markt square by candlelight.