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The city is famous for its Gouda cheese, stroopwafels, many grachten, smoking pipes, and its 15th-century city hall. Gouda's array of historic churches and other buildings makes it a very popular day trip destination.
In the Middle Ages, a settlement was founded at the location of the current city by the Van der Goude family, who built a fortified castle alongside the banks of the Gouwe River, from which the family and the city took its name. The area, originally marshland, developed over the course of two centuries. By 1225, a canal was linked to the Gouwe and its estuary was transformed into a harbour. City rights were granted in 1272.
- Old City Hall at the Markt square - built between 1448 and 1450, one of the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands.
- The Waag (weigh house) - built in 1667 across from the Old City Hall, this building was used for weighing goods (especially cheese) to levy taxes. It now is a national monument. It currently hosts a small cheese museum.
- Grote or St. Jans Kerk (Great or Saint John Church) - longest church in the Netherlands, famous for its stained glass windows which were made between 1530 and 1603, considered the most significant stained glass collection in the Netherlands. Even in the 17th century, it already was a tourist attraction.
- Museum Gouda - museum about the history and arts of the city.
- Verzetsmuseum - museum about the Dutch resistance during World War II.
- Museumhaven Gouda - small harbour with historic ships.
- Goudse Schouwburg - large theatre.
- Waaiersluis (Waaier Locks) - a historic lock on the Hollandse IJssel just east of Gouda.