This enclosed former convent dates from the early 14th century. It’s a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard. The Beguines were a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who cared for the elderly and lived a religious life without taking monastic vows. The last true Beguine died in 1971.
Contained within the hof (courtyard) is the charming Begijnhof Kapel, a ‘clandestine’ chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dogleg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, stained-glass windows and paintings commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.
The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees – the Pilgrim Fathers worshipped here – and still serves as the city’s Presbyterian church.
Also note the house at No 34; it dates from around 1465, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country. There’s another entrance to the Begijnhof near this structure: look for a wooden door on the Spui’s north side, east of the American Book Center.