Whether you have a half day to explore, or are looking for an overnight stay, the following list highlights the best experiences to be had in the Amsterdam Area.
Discover the windmills of Old Holland
A trip to Holland wouldn’t be complete without seeing a windmill. At Zaanse Schans, one of the area’s most visited attractions, visitors can marvel at no less than eight restored windmills. The historic (yet artificial) village allows a glimpse into houses, old factories and the windmills themselves. A wonderful insight into the industrial heritage of Holland, when the area around the river Zaan was a hub for linseed oil, paint, paper and mustard production
Top tip: The Zaan Boat can be caught from behind Central Station (pier 14), for a picturesque route to the village.
Giant landscape art hunt in the New Land
Not so long ago Flevoland, the Netherlands’ youngest province, was just a large body of water. Now reclaimed, it boasts large expanses of nature and entire new cities. Spatial planning has allowed for some incredible futuristic architecture in the cities and modern art hidden in the countryside. An array of six enormous sculptures by artists such as Anthony Gormley, Daniel Libeskind and Richard Serra were made in response to and with the surrounding landscape. They can be discovered by guided tour all in one day.
Top Tip: After a day of art seeing, enjoy the evening at the Big Lake, to sample fresh fish and local cuisine along the waterside.
Do as the Dutch do – take to the water!
Most locals will agree that the best way to see the Amsterdam Area is on the water, to explore its rivers, canals and Leisure Lakes. The Westeinderplassen, in the Aalsmeer territory, is a linked network of waterways, marinas and lakes a 30 minute drive south east of Amsterdam city. Perfect for a unique boating adventure! Whilst the ‘West End Lakes’ are home to many privately owned islands, visitors are welcomed to moor at Starteiland (Start Island), a great point to begin boating from and popular for picnics and barbecuing.
Top Tip: Adrenaline seeker? The Loosdrechtse Plassen’s open water is best for waterskiing and speedboats.
For the Golden Age maritime history lovers
The Bataviawerf, a shipyard near Lelystad, transports visitors back to the golden era of Dutch maritime history, when the East India Trading Company (VOC) would trade exotic spices by grand sailing ships. The infamous Batavia sailing ship has been restored to its 17th century glory, and visitors can wander through its decks. The Bataviawerf is dedicated to preserving the ancient craftsmanship of shipbuilding, allowing insight into the blacksmith’s forgery and wood workshops. The world’s largest reconstruction of a ship, Battleship De 7 Provinciën, is displayed too!
Top Tip: Ship lover? SAIL, the world’s largest free nautical event to celebrate tall sailing ships, happens in Amsterdam every five years.
Surf, sand and sea on Amsterdam’s beaches
Just north west of Amsterdam, where the river IJ meets the sea, is home to the widest stretch of beach in the Netherlands. It catches the brunt of the wind coming in from the North Sea, which makes it perfect for watersports, windsurfing and paragliding for the more fearless. Along the beach at IJmuiden aan Zee, there are dedicated areas to watersports and for sunbathing. So if flying a kite or sipping drinks at one of the many beach bars is your thing, there are quieter spots just for that!
Top Tip: Timboektoe beach bar at Wijk aan Zee is a hidden gem. Cosy fireplaces in winter, sunny terrace in summer and events for all the family.
Enchanting castles right out of a storybook
It’s hard to imagine that a short distance from Amsterdam centre there are numerous castles, fortresses and grandiose waterside estates – but there are! One that epitomises the fairy tale fortress is the medieval castle Muiderslot. It boasts turrets, a drawbridge, battlements and a moat. Now a national museum, Muiderslot’s interior and enchanting gardens have been restored to their former glory. Guided tours are available that give insight into the castles legacy since its construction as a defense post at the mouth of the river Vecht in 1280. Equally as magical and medieval is De Haar Castle, near Utrecht.
Flowers as far as the eye can see
Tulips (along with cheese and clogs) are symbols of Dutch culture and every spring the Amsterdam Area is in full bloom with fields and parades of flowers. Famously, flowers are viewed at the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse. Seven million daffodils, hyacinths and tulips bloom between March and May! Known as the ‘Garden of Europe’, it’s one of the most visited attractions. Do spend time exploring the beautiful sights and smells of the flower fields in the surrounding area too. A bike, car or a boat can be rented to navigate your own way through the flowers.
Top Tip: Secret flower fields? Try these areas in Lisse: Zwartelaan, Essenlaan and Loosterweg-Zuid.
Cycle adventures through the Waterland
Cycling is wonderful in Holland, especially the greener routes through the countryside. Rent a bicycle near Amsterdam Central Station, hop on the free ferry over to Amsterdam Noord and follow the North Holland canal into Waterland, a vast area of farmland, small villages, nature reserves and waterways. Smaller routes to Durgerdam and back take a couple of hours. For a full day of cycling, venture along the dyke all the way to quaint Monnickendam and up to Marken, with its green wooden houses and cafes. A ferry connects Marken to another fishing village, Volendam. Perfect for sampling kibbling or herring, the local delicacies.
Sand dunes and beach bars (Zandvoort)
Zandvoort is a wide seaside area, lined not only by a vast array of beach bars, but sand dunes too. The dunes are an extensive network of sand and nature reserves, great for exploring! Take a stroll though Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland, or through the dunes at Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen. Along the beach, there are over 30 beach bars and restaurants to choose from, and those seeking adventure can try various water sports, such as kite and wind surfing.
Haarlem has it all!
A quieter, quainter version of Amsterdam, the nearby city of Haarlem offers it all! There are windmills, impressive churches and cathedrals, canal cruises, hidden medieval courtyards (or ‘hofjes’) and the Jopen craft beer brewery. Visit on a Saturday when a weekly market springs up around the Grote Kerk, surrounded by quaint cafes and restaurants.
Top Tip: Bloemendaal beach is only a cycle away!