Spending my summer holidays in The Netherlands countryside is not really what I had in mind for 2020, but as this crazy year unfolded, we decided that spending time with our families, in our home countries was the most sensible thing to do. And in truth I didn’t expect doing much. Like many, I thought about The Netherlands in terms of tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and well … drugs!
I had already visited Amsterdam a few times, but I didn’t know any places in the countryside. But thanks to my better half (who is a Dutchy!) I discovered how much The Netherlands countryside has to offer, especially for nature lovers! Did you know that this tiny country has no less than 21 National Parks for example, while we only have 11 in France.
We visited 4 places that I particularly liked: Zaanse Schans, Giethoorn, Kinderdijk and Biesbosh National Park. If you are planning a trip to The Netherlands countryside, make sure to check them out!
If you are in Amsterdam and want to see some windmills, the easiest is to go to Zaanse Schans. A 20 drive north of Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is a neighbourhood known for its historic windmills, traditional houses and numerous workshops. Out of the 100 windmills that once dotted this industrial area, 8 are still standing, perfectly preserved on the banks of the Zaan River. Most of them can be visited offering a glimpse into the country’s industrial past. There are also a few souvenir shops, including one demonstrating how the wood clogs are hand-made in a matter of minutes! On the other side of the river, the traditional green Dutch houses are gorgeous.
The area is easily explored on foot. Other options include renting a bike or taking a boat trip on one of the many routes along the river Zaan.
How to get to Zaanse Schans:
- By car: Zaanse Schans is located 20km north of Amsterdam, and it should take around 30 min to reach from the city center.
- By train: From Amsterdam Central to Zaandijk station – 15 min (8 USD both ways)
- By bus: Rnet-bus 391 runs from Amsterdam Central Station every fifteen minutes to the Zaanse Schans station every 15 mins. The trip is also included in the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket.
If you make your way toward the southern Netherlands countryside, you can’t miss Kinderdijk. A Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, Kinderdijk is famous for its 19 windsmills, an impressive complex built in 1740. It is the largest concentration of windmills in Holland!
Kinderdijk can be visited on foot or on bike for free. Purchasing a ticket will allow you to enter 4 of the windmills and take a couple of boat tours.
The peaceful view of the windmills and its reflection in the river is an idyllic sight in itself. But visiting some of the windmills actually gives an interesting perspective into the Dutch water management history and the strenuous life of the windmill’s operators and their families. I couldn’t believe that 14 out of the 19 windmills are still inhabited and operational today!
Kinderdijk is very close to Dordrecht, Holland oldest city, so it is easy to combine both on a day trip from Amsterdam.
One of the most famous destinations in The Netherlands countryside, Giethoorn is a small, car-free village with canals winding around century old thatch-roof cottages. Because of these unique features, Giethoorn is nicknamed the Venice of the Netherland and is a top touristic attraction for foreigners (while a lot of Dutch have never been themselves!)
Naturally, the best way to discover Giethoorn is on a boat. Hop on your own small boat and wander through the village, admire some of the 170 historic wooden bridges and navigate all the way to the lush and peaceful Weerribben-Wieden National Park. There are no license required to rent a boat and it can easily be done on the spot.
Unfortunatelly Giethoorn has become a victim of its own success, and there is not enough waterways to accommodate the thousands of tourists the town welcomes every day. The navigation throughout the village is mostly a “traffic jam” situation, that can take up to 45 min! But once you have crossed the village and reached the lake Bovenwijde, you can finally enjoy some space! Cross over the lake and enter the De Wieden Natural Reserve and discover the richness of fauna and flora of this beautiful area.
Based on my experience, I recommend renting a boat for 4 hours if you just want to navigate around the village and the reserve, and a couple more if you want to swim, picnic and really take the time to enjoy the lake and the reserve.
There is a Herring House close to the boats rental area, so while you are there, why not try one of Netherlands’ delicacy: a raw herring sandwich!
How to get to Giethoorn:
- By car: Giethoorn is a 90 min drive northeast of Amsterdam.
- By public transport: Take the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Steenwijk (90 min), then hop on bus 70 or 270 to Giethoorn (12 min, every hour).
BIESBOSCH NATIONAL PARK
Not necessarily on the tourist maps, Biesbosch is one the largest national park in the Netherlands. Imagine 8,000 hectares of freshwater rivers, creeks and streams, that can be explored walking, biking or by boat! We chose the boating option once again to explore the park at our own pace and it was so such a peaceful afternoon. The park is very special for bird enthusiasts as hundreds of different species breed there, or for beavers lovers, the icons of the park. But it is our encounter with wild water buffalos that struck me the most!
There are endless routes to discover Biesbosch National Park, so I would recommend dedicating it a full day. It is also possible to moor on the bank of some of the canals to take a walk, lay down a picnic etc. Pack some food, drinks, water, your bikini, and go. If you haven’t prepared anything (like us!) there is a very convenient SPAR supermarket nearby, perfect to pick up some food and drinks last minute.
How to get to Biesbosch National Park:
- By car: Biesbosh is located 27km south east of Rotterdam (around 30 min drive) and 90 km from Amsterdam (around 1h drive)
Here you go these are 4 beautiful places you should visit if you decide to explore The Netherlands countryside. If you speak / read French, I recommend you to check out WorldElse, one of my favorite travel blogger. She recently visited some gorgeous places in The Netherlands countryside and I am sure her pictures will make you dream of it.
Are you a nature lover? Then you might enjoy these posts:
- Tanzania itinerary: 10 days following the Great Migration
- Oman itinerary: Desert, canyons and mountain: 1 week in the Sultanat of Oman
- Hortons Plains hike: All you need to know before hiking this National Park in Sri Lanka
Thanks for reading. If you have any question or comments, please drop me a line in the comments section below !
Much love, Emma