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Exhibition inside Forteiland Pampus
Image from Tony Perez

Fantastic forts and where to find them around Amsterdam

Forts are everywhere, but the Amsterdam region, in particular, is littered with age-old forts that have been revived as surprising attractions. Many of these form part of the Dutch Defence Line – a 135-kilometre ring of 46 fortifications around Amsterdam built between 1880 and 1914 that protected the city from attack. Nowadays, they've been transformed into something else. From subterranean adventures to escape rooms, we’ve searched far and wide to find the most exciting and notable among them.

The eastern outpost: Naarden

Naarden was granted its city rights in 1300 (the only town in Het Gooi with these rights) and later developed into a fortified garrison town with a textile industry. Naarden is the home of the Netherlands Fortress Museum (Nederlands Vestingmuseum).

In a region teeming with fortifications, the Vesting (Dutch Fortress) Museum is a must for those interested in the history of the Netherlands’ defensive might. A fortress itself, it took almost two centuries to design and build. Based in Naarden, explore the grounds, green ramparts and underground passages – and be sure to stop by on the third Sunday of any month for Canonneers Day, where the +200-year-old cannons are fired.

Fortress Museum | Westwalstraat 6, Naarden

The artist’s hideout: Kunstfort Vijfhuizen

The defense wall of Fort Vijfhuizen in the Haarlemmermeer.
Image from Koen Smilde

Once a fort, now a contemporary centre for art, Kunstfort Vijfhuizen is another example of Amsterdam’s Defence Line, which now has UNESCO heritage status. Home to curated exhibitions, a restaurant and gardens that produce artisanal honey, this water-ringed museum makes for a gorgeous afternoon out.

Kunstfort Vijfhuizen | Fortwachter 1, Vijfhuizen

The spa: Fort Resort Beemster

Image from Mirte Vreemann

As one of the most luxurious wellness resorts in the country, Fort Resort Beemster has a long list of facilities to suit every pampering need. Located deep in the countryside behind the decades-old walls of the beautiful Beemster Polder. From unique saunas and salt baths and elegant hotel rooms to wholesome food and relaxing face and body treatments, guests can enjoy top-notch gastronomy, hospitality and wellness in stunning surroundings. Although only 20 minutes from Amsterdam, you’ll feel like you’re a world away from the bustle of city life.

Fort Resort Beemster | Nekkerweg 24, Zuidoostbeemster

The secret lair: Fort Pampus

Pampus is a fortress island in the part of the IJmeer that belongs to the municipality of Gooise Meren. The artificial island was constructed in 1887 as part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam to defend the shipping channel Pampus against attacks from the Zuiderzee
Image from Samuel van Leeuwen

Seen across the water, the tiny island of Pampus looks like any other island. But take a closer look, and you’ll see that this is no natural land mass but a submerged sea fort built in the 1890s to protect Amsterdam from enemies. After a restoration in 2007, you can now visit Fort Pampus by boat and explore its secret tunnels, which are also a popular location for events. Embark on a culinary adventure as you soak up the vistas and atmosphere of this mysterious fortress island. Boats depart from IJburg or Muiden, and every season has its own activities and events on the island.

Fort Island Pampus | Pampus Island

The labyrinth: Fort bij Edam

Image from Fort bij Edam

This UNESCO-listed fort outside Edam was operational during both World Wars and, at one point, housed 255 soldiers. Roam through the dark passageways, encountering hands-on exhibits dedicated to military history and local wildlife, or join a guided tour by one of the volunteers eager to answer your burning questions.

Fort bij Edam  | Oorgat 10, Edam

The quiet escape: Fort Ossenmarkt

Image from Frank de Winter

Picturesque Weesp exudes old-fashioned charm with its church towers, old windmills and canal houses, and unsurprisingly, you’ll also find a fort here. Fort Ossenmarkt was built between 1859 and 1861 to defend the Vechtoevers and the Amsterdam-Amersfoort railway. Whether it was due to the enemy or the steely defence, like many forts, no shot was ever fired from it. The fort is not open to the public (except on Open Monument Day) and is used for artillery sheds, a garden shop and exhibition space. Either way, it’s a visually stirring sight and a great starting point for a walk through Weesp.

Fort Ossenmarkt  | Ossenmarkt, Weesp

The escape room: Fort Uitermeer

Sign of the fortress Uitermeer, part of the Defense line of Amsterdam.
Image from Koen Smilde

If you’ve got a bike or a boat, sail down to Fort Uitermeer in Weesp. Other than being an impressive building in itself, the fort grounds are home to an old-school escape game dubbed Escape de Kist (Escape the Chest) located in an adjacent building. The game is simple: open a chest (closed with six locks) within an hour. Solve puzzles and riddles just like in an escape room, but with the added bonus that history is all around you; ideal as a family outing for six to eight people. Afterwards, stop by the waterfront restaurant Porterhouse for a bite.

Fort Uitermeer | Uitermeer 5, Weesp

The legendary island: Fort Island IJmuiden

People walking at the Amsterdam Beach Forteiland Ijmuiden -Bunker
Image from created by for amsterdam&partners

An island fortress located near the town of IJmuiden, in the mouth of the North Sea Canal, this is one of the Netherlands' most notorious forts. Constructed in the 1880s to help defend the surrounding area and restrict shipping traffic heading for Amsterdam, this iconic post is actually half underground and is the largest building in the Defense Line of Amsterdam. The island is often used as a rental space for team-building excursions and parties, while smaller groups can visit the island on 'public days' held on the first Sunday of every month (March - November). Alternatively, head to the IJmuiden Bunker Museum nearby; this WWII fortress was used to defend the IJmuiden harbour mouth and access routes to the port of Amsterdam. The museum consists of six underground bunkers filled with enormous military collections varying from a German canteen to a two-person submarine. Don’t miss tickets for the Outdoor Tour, where an expert guide will lead you through the dunes towards the Olmen anti-aircraft battery.

Fort Island IJmuiden | Forteiland 10, IJmuiden
IJmuiden Bunker Museum | Badweg 38, IJmuiden

To discover the story of the Dutch Defence Line (Hollandse Waterlinies) and for more information about forts and the cycling and walking routes surrounding them, head here.