In earlier times, the territory southeast of Amsterdam was a place of strategic importance, as evidenced by the grand military constructions still standing today, such as the 13th-century Muiderslot moated castle in Muiden and the star-shaped fortifications of Naarden.

Muiden

13km (8 miles) SE of Amsterdam

A 14th-century, fairy-tale-princess castle, with a moat, turrets, and stout crenelated walls, Muiderslot, Herengracht 1 (tel. 0294/256-262; www.muiderslot.nl), perches on the bank of the Vecht River just outside the small IJsselmeer harbor town of Muiden, a handsome place with gabled waterfront houses. Count Floris V of Holland, who in 1275 granted toll privileges to the vibrant new Aemstelledamme (Amsterdam) settlement, built the castle around 1280, and was murdered here by rival nobles in 1296.

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The poet Pieter Cornelisz Hooft served here as castle steward and local bailiff for 40 years in the early 17th century, and the castle is furnished essentially as Hooft and his artistic circle of friends -- known in Dutch literary history as the Muiderkring (Muiden Circle) -- knew it. You'll find distinctly Dutch carved cupboard beds, heavy chests, fireside benches, and mantelpieces. The castle is open April to October, Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from noon to 6pm; November to March, Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 6pm. Admission is 15.50€, 9€ for children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under. The castle is also included on many Amsterdam attractions passes.

By car from Amsterdam, take the A1/E231 east. Or take the train to Weesp. At Weesp Station you can take bus 110 to Brandweerkazerne Muiden and walk 10 minutes to the Muiderslot. By bus you'll leave from Amsterdam Amstel Station,  andtake bus 320, bus 322 or bus 327 to P+R Muiden. From there you can walk (30 minutes) or take bus 110 to Brandweerkazerne Muiden (walk 10 minutes to the Muiderslot).

Naarden

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19km (12 miles) E of Amsterdam

This small town doesn't have too much to recommend in it, but it does have one of Holland's best-preserved rings of old military fortifications.

Getting There -- Trains depart every 15 minutes or so from Amsterdam Centraal Station for Naarden-Bussum station; the trip takes around 25 minutes. By car from Amsterdam, take the A1/E231 east.

Visitor Information -- VVV Naarden, Adriaan Dortsmanplein 1B, 1411 RC Naarden (tel. 035/694-2836;  www.vvvhollandsmidden.nl), is located inside the old town's walls. 

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What to See & Do -- Much in the spirit of locking the barn door after the horse was gone, Naarden erected its star-shaped double fortifications after Don Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo and his Spanish troops brutally sacked the town in 1572. The fortifications were begun in 1580 and completed in 1730, and since the inner ring wasn't completed until 1685, the French were able to storm the works in 1673.

Beneath the Turfpoort, one of six bastions, visit the casemates (artillery vaults) which house the Nederlands Vestingmuseum (Dutch Fortification Museum), Westwalstraat 6 (tel. 035/694-5459; www.vestingmuseum.nl), filled with cannons, muskets, accoutrements, and documentation. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30am to 5pm. Admission is 9.50€, 5.25€ for children 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under.

Also take in the town's 15th-century late-Gothic Grote Kerk (Great Church), Marktstraat, noted for its 45-m (148-ft.) tower, fine acoustics, and annual pre-Easter performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Admission is free.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.