We were booked for a one-week house sit in Amsterdam (covered in the next post) but thought we’d like a little more time in that city. We either left it too long or Amsterdam is crazy expensive (or both) because any AirBnBs or hotel rooms there for a late-June week were prohibitively expensive. Since part of staying extra time in Amsterdam was to enjoy some day trips to other towns, we chose, instead, to stay at towns on both coasts of the province of North Holland, and to rent a car to visit those day trip locations.
We were using AirBnB to try to find a place to stay somewhere outside of Amsterdam, but not too far away. I’m not sure why it happens, but AirBnB now promotes split accommodation, suggesting pairs of places covering the time that you are looking for. We aren’t usually interested, but this time we reviewed the options since it would give us a chance to stay several days in two completely different areas.
The first one we chose was a fantastic historic home in IJmuiden. (For non-Dutch-speakers, this almost definitely is not pronounced the way you just read it to yourself. For a lesson in place-name pronunciation, including IJmuiden, check out this video. ) The home was built as a customs house in 1875. It has a lovely big farm kitchen, floors that are tiled to look like rugs, and exposed wooden beams.
The mouth of the North Sea Canal is right outside the window, viewable from both the interior lounge and the exterior front porch. There are multiple locks on the canal, including the world’s largest sea canal, which just opened in January 2022. Just outside the door, you can begin a two-kilometer walk to cross and view all the locks and the SHIP museum, which explains the construction of the sea lock (it is only open four days a week and we missed out). Boats and ships of all sizes come through the different locks and provide never-ending entertainment. The full trip across all the locks is temporarily closed to cars but open for bikes and pedestrians.
A quick walk to the west is the IJmuiden port where ferries to the UK and cruise ships dock. Next to that is a fishing boat harbour, which was built to relocate fishing boats from the main canal to keep it clear as a shipping passage.
On either side of the North Sea Canal are beach areas, each framed by incredibly long piers. We drove around to the north beach and walked out onto the pier. These are not your usual pier strolls. The north and south piers extend, respectively, 2.2 and 2.9 km into the sea from long, sandy beaches. As we walked we passed by occasional fishers trying their luck, but we didn’t see any of them catch anything.
Our host let us know about the one-day herring-season-opening festival at the restaurant across the street from the house. They were offering all-you-can-eat herring, traditional street food in the Netherlands. Depending on the locale, it can be served whole with tail on or in pieces, but always with raw onions and pickles. Though ours came with the Netherlands flag toothpick, apparently if it is served whole (split with the main bone removed) you are supposed to pick the fish up by the tail and start eating from the opposite end. I’m not sure how you eat it with the onions and pickles if you do that. We both enjoyed it–the fish was fresh and moist and mild flavoured. I’m not a raw-onion eater, but I did like the pickles with it. To add to our snack, we ordered bitterballen, another traditional bar treat that our son had introduced us to while we were in The Hague. Bitterballen are like a round croquette filled with a creamy meat-based mixture, breaded and deep-fried, and typically served with mustard.
Haarlem (on the ground and from the water)
You can visit Haarlem from Amsterdam, but we were closer to it while in IJmuiden so we planned to see it from there. Our AirBnB host, Frank, sent us a note offering to take us on his boat around Haarlem. We were thrilled at the prospect. Since we had only allowed one day for Haarlem, we headed into the town early to visit it on foot for a couple of hours before our boat ride.
We then met Frank at the marina where he was preparing his sloep. We offered to bring lunch, but he had come prepared with a great variety of sandwiches, some grapes, and a bottle of wine. He toured us on a circle through Haarlem, popping into little canals here and there, sometimes under bridges that required us to pull out the flags and duck, and then out into the countryside. It was a wonderful three-hour tour with delightful company, and we were very grateful for his generosity.
Our next stop was on the other side of the North Holland province, but we knew we would have a few hours before we could check in there. Frank came through once again with a suggestion to stop at Zaanse Schans.
Often described as a living museum, Zaanse Schans is a lived-in neighbourhood filled with lovingly restored wood buildings, warehouses, and windmills, most of which were relocated to the area in the 1960s and early 1970s. You can walk through the buildings, visit the shops, and view the windmills for the price of parking (or for free if you arrive by bike or on foot). There are about seven museums and experiences that you can visit for a single entrance fee, including a biscuit factory, a time museum and a windmill museum. We used an izi.travel audio walking tour to guide us around the grounds for a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Katwoude is a small village on the coast of the IJsselmeer, an expansive lake that became a sea and after it was a lake. Confusing? About 2,000 years ago, the water was contained in lakes. The lake banks slowly crumbled and about 800-900 years ago storm surges and rising sea levels caused the North Sea to flood the banks and turn what was several lakes into a bay of the North Sea. In 1932, a 32-kilometre dyke was built (Afsluitdijk), closing off the waterway. It was renamed IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel). Over the years, river water flowing into the lake flushed the salt water out, leaving a freshwater lake. Up to 1967, over half the lake was drained, reclaiming almost 2,000 square kilometres of land (called polders).
From Katwoude, we were able to visit several areas of interest over the few days that we were there.
Monnickendam is the closest town to Katwoude–just a short hop over a bridge and you’re there. It is a pretty little historic village. On our first day in the area, we found a car-charging place for our electric rental car and then wandered about. On our last day, we rode the bikes provided by our AirBnB back in to look around a little more. There are cute little canal-side or lake-side restaurants, lots of boats, and quaint lanes and canal bridges.
Hoorn (recommended by our new friend, Frank), was another interesting town to visit. We parked in one of the free parking areas near a park and walked the short way into town. Our first view was of the Hoofdtoren, a 16th-century tower, which appeared to be guarding a number of antique boats floating in the harbour below.
We walked past the main harbour, around a marina and out to a spit of land that had been designated as a sculpture park. The sculptures kept us entertained as we walked along what seemed to be a popular dog-walking area. It is an extra three kilometres out and back to the harbour.
We had earned our lunch so headed to Roode Steen, the main square, which is surrounded by interesting buildings and, on a sunny late-June day at lunchtime, filled with tables, chairs, and umbrellas from surrounding restaurants. The restaurants seem to compete for space, and we had to check the menus on the tables to figure out which restaurant’s seating was where. We chose Ridderikhoff and both had a delicious meal worthy of a recommendation.
The museum on the square was closed for renovations but the buildings there (and as we walked back out to our car) provided plenty of amusement. I particularly liked the old city gate building that clearly had someone living in it, with colourful laundry hanging out on the railings to dry.
We went to Volendam after spending quite a while in the hot sun in Hoorn so, to be fair, we didn’t have that much energy left to devote to this town. We got to the public parking area and managed to grab a spot. It was right near what looked like a family beach/fun park and kids on bikes were streaming into the area, locking their bikes and heading through the gates. A huge lawn and expanse of the beach were fenced off. The park was packed and loud!
It’s a short walk into town and the harbour, which had a few historic watercraft and several tour boats on display. The harbour’s edge was lined with cafes and loads of tourist shops selling wooden shoes, cheese wheels, and other typical souvenir tchotchkes you can find most anywhere. It didn’t feel right for us, so we left fairly quickly, but it’s quite possible that we didn’t give the town a fair try.
Broek in Waterland
A sleepy little village with a pretty lake and narrow canals running throughout, Broek in Waterland seems to be a popular stop for cyclists exploring the Waterland area. We also saw several small groups in shallow boats scooting across the lake. Though we assumed that they were on a tour and that the boats were rentals, we never did discover where they were coming from or going to.
Many of the houses were built before 1850. Walking around the quiet streets and laneways, it was hard to believe that we were only about 10 minutes away from Amsterdam. We saw people sitting at cafe tables outside of a church, but there was no cafe in sight. Then we realized that they were coming out of the church with coffees and treats. We walked into the church (which was rebuilt in 1628) to find not only an area to worship, but a cafe, a bookstore, and a museum. Pamphlets in several languages are available by the door, so we wandered around reading about the history of the church and the various artifacts on display.
- Rental car: We rented through SIXT at Amsterdam Centraal train station where we arrived from Germany (the rental desk is at the station, but you have to walk almost a kilometre to pick up your car). When we booked, anything small was 100% electric, which we had never dealt with before. Since Amsterdam has more charging stations than anywhere else in Europe, the distances are small, and gas prices were through the roof, it seemed a perfect opportunity to give it a go.
- Zaanse Schans: The parking fee is €11 and is considered a contribution to supporting the village. If you wish to visit the museums, a card is available for €23.50 and includes a parking discount.