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Oostvaardersplassen Fighting Stags National Park Nieuw Land
Image from Paul Klaver

Where to see Dutch wildlife in the Amsterdam Area

The Amsterdam Area boasts dozens of national parks and nature reserves which reflect an impressive array of land types, including beaches, dunes, forests, fields and polders. They’re hospitable to a multitude of bird species, fish and aquatic animals, deer, bison, foxes, hares and rabbits. Wildlife watching is a family-friendly activity, perfect for travellers preferring to spend time outdoors and escape the crowds. Ready to see Dutch creatures in the wild? Get in your car or hop on your bike, then let your eyes do the roaming.

The tiny islands and lakes of the Flower Strip

Aalsmeer is world-famous for its flower auction and horticultural history, though its name translates to “eels’ lake” – a clue about the local appreciation for water and aquaculture. After exploring the greenhouses at the Aalsmeer Historical Gardens, book an organised boat tour of the Westeinderplassen (Westeinder Lakes) by Westerinder Rondvaart from the neighbouring jetty. During this fascinating 1-hour cruise, a knowledgeable skipper will float you through a network of channels and tiny islands teeming with local plants and wildlife. Tours can be booked from May to October. On the edge of the lake also stands the iconic Aalsmeer water tower. Open on the second and fourth Sunday of every month, the 50-metre tower is an ideal bird-watching look out across the landscape where Peregrine falcons nest every year.

The sweeping dunes outside of Haarlem

Flanked by the North Sea and Haarlem, National Park Zuid-Kennemerland is a popular wildlife-spotting destination because of its protected dune landscape. The area is home to Highland cattle, Konik horses, fallow deer, and European bison, and it is said to be the only place in the country where bison can be seen roaming freely. Guided tours are available, or you can follow the cycle paths for those moving on two wheels. The Visitor Centre offers bike rentals, hiking maps, cycling routes and information on the landscape and history of the area.

The marshy meadows of Old Holland

Just a short bike ride northwest of Amsterdam is Het Twiske, a polder region converted into a recreational area in the 20th century. The marshy land is coveted real estate among winged creatures, including water birds (bittern, shoveller, bearded reeling, wigeons) birds of prey (hawks, buzzards and kestrels), great spotted woodpeckers and nightingales. Amongst the reedy marshes and meadows, you might also spot some resident Highland cattle, foxes or short-tailed weasels. Nearby, the reed-lined channels and islands of the Ilperveld meadows are a protected area inhabited by rare birds and plants. You can observe these species from the water by renting boats or taking a guided nature cruise.

The lush riverside and heathlands of Castles & Gardens

For a real just-around-the-river bend experience, head south along the Amstel into the Castles & Gardens region. Whether you travel by bike or boat, you might see ducks, coots, geese and the occasional swan. As you reach the city’s southern border, pause at Amstel Park, where, depending on the season, you might cross paths with pheasants, hares, moles or rabbits. Further afield, Gooi & Vecht is a beautiful area for walking, with various marked routes through the forests and across the heathlands. En route to Hilversum, the Naardermeer nature reserve comprises swampy forests, marshy meadows and clear waters. This varied landscape protects rare species such as otters, purple herons, and other waterbirds.

The coastal stretches of Amsterdam Beach

The Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen is a dune area beloved by Amsterdammers for its sandy splendour and its service: the water catchment supplies two-thirds of the Dutch capital’s drinking water. Between the cities of Zandvoort and Noordwijk, this protected nature reserve has the largest population of fallow deer in the Netherlands. You might also spot bittern flapping amidst reed beds, little mammals such as foxes and pine martens or, in warmer weather, a kaleidoscope of dragonflies and butterflies. Or head to the pier at IJmuiden to spot birds rarely sighted at other places on the Dutch coastline. Look for sandpipers, seagulls, plovers, rock pipits, turnstones, cormorants, gannets, and red-tailed godwits. Check the Bird Protection Society’s guide for all the species to spot.

The man-made habitats of New Land

National Park New Land is one of the many magnificent results of the massive land reclamation programme that created the province of Flevoland. This area serves as the last stop or a layover for birds migrating along the East Atlantic Flyway. Getting around on foot or by car, you might see geese, ducks, buzzards, kestrels and, if you’re lucky, a sea eagle – the park’s mascot. Heck cattle, foxes, hares and Konik horses are also at home here. Further North, Marker Wadden is a unique nature reserve still in development. The small islands are constructed of sand, clay, and silt from the Markermeer. As new plants blossom under and above water, it has quickly become a natural paradise for fish and birds. Check out the Experience Tour - boarding from either Lelystad or Almere for a deep dive into the area.