Amsterdam's best nature areas
Did you ever expect to find herds of roaming bison in the Dutch countryside? The area around Amsterdam is awash with spectacular recreational areas, national parks and nature reserves. Get inspired with this rundown of day trip ideas with some adventures further afield and others just a short bike ride out of the city.
Amstelland Green Area
Not every city can boast access to open meadows and green pastures of grazing cows just a stone’s throw from the centre. Follow the Amstel River south, and you’ll arrive in the tranquil Amstelland Green Area. The kilometres of dykes and polders are popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists, or you can take a scenic boat cruise upriver. Open-water recreational areas such as Gaasperplas and Ouderkerkerplas are a haven for watersports enthusiasts. Picture-perfect villages like Ouderkerk aan de Amstel are bursting with cosy restaurants and sunny cafe terraces.
Amsterdam Noord is the gateway to the spectacular open landscapes and waterways that make the Dutch countryside so famous. A short ferry ride across the IJ, you’ll find Het Twiske, a green recreational area that plays host to endless activities for outdoorsy types. You can rent canoes or sailboats, windsurf, stand-up paddleboard, and even go diving. If that doesn’t float your boat there are plenty of designated spots to have a scenic picnic or take a brisk dip. Surrounding this are the picturesque villages of the Waterland - a centuries-old polder landscape connected by various cycling, walking and paddling routes worth exploring.
Also to the North, Ilperveld is a vast meadow area intersected by reed-lined channels and hundreds of tiny islands inhabited by rare birds and plants. Of course, the best way to observe these species is from the water by renting canoes and rowboats or by taking a guided nature cruise. If you’d instead explore on foot, pass by the visitor centre to get acquainted with the best walking trails, bird hides or the most scenic spots for a waterside picnic.
National Park Zuid-Kennemerland
Between Zandvoort and IJmuiden, you’ll find the pristine dune valleys, historic estates and rugged beaches of Zuid-Kennemerland. Stretching for over 3800 hectares, this vast area is famously home to herds of wisent (European bison). You can observe them from exceptional viewpoints or follow the 4-kilometre hiking trail. Plenty of other recreational opportunities in the park include cycling, horse riding and lakeside swimming. The park is a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam, a short train ride or just over an hour away on your bike.
National Park Nieuw Land
Owing its existence to the colossal land-reclamation project that built the province of Flevoland, Nieuw Land is the largest man-made nature area in the world. The expansive swampy wetlands and grasslands are now a haven for waterbirds. Flocks of spoonbills, geese, cormorants and the occasional bald eagle can be spotted at observation points around the Oostvaardersplassen. The area also provides a rich habitat for wild horses, foxes, hares, bats and butterflies. For those who like to get wet, Markermeer Lake has facilities for watersports and sailing, or visitors can enjoy numerous walking routes before finding a spot to chill on the beach.
The stretch of coastline between Zandvoort and Noordwijk doubles as the oldest water extraction area in the Netherlands and a unique nature reserve. To protect the dunes, bicycles are not permitted in most areas of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen, but you will find a coastal cycle path and a range of hiking routes. You’ll likely be able to spot the white tails of deer grazing in the forests, and between mid-October and early November, you might even hear the clashing antlers of the males. The area is a tremendous bird-watching location and is regarded as one of the country's best places to spot foxes.
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 reserve can be explored by taking a silent boat tour led by one of the park rangers, walking around the edge of the lake or renting a bike to cycle along the scenic polders. Just a short walk away, you’ll find the fortified city of Naarden. The moats and walls are built in a distinctive star shape and provide a fascinating slice of Dutch history.
Amsterdamse Bos & Nieuwe Meer
Just on the outskirts of the city centre, the lush woodlands of the Amsterdamse Bos were hand-planted in the 20th century to offer a green escape for residents. Today, the area provides the perfect mix of recreation opportunities and natural landscapes to get lost in. The forest has its own visitor centre, a campsite, an open-air theatre, playgrounds, a goat farm, a running track, and places to rent canoes or bicycles. Plenty of paths through the groves of trees are perfect for cycling, dog-walking and jogging. Meanwhile, the lake next door, Nieuwe Meer, is famous for swimming, sunbathing and watersports. This stretch of water is also an essential habitat for the city’s waterbirds, including reed warblers and marsh harriers.
The Westeinderplassen (Westeinder Lakes) just outside of Aalsmeer offer plenty of watersports, from swimming to sailing lessons and boat rentals. The region is famous for its horticultural industry, and the small islands around this sprawling lake complex still grow strawberries and lilacs – just as they did long ago. Book an organised boat tour by Westerinder Rondvaart. During this fascinating 1-hour cruise, a knowledgeable skipper will float you through a network of channels teeming with local plant and wildlife.