I will break with one of the unwritten rules of travel blogging here. I am not going to tell you that Zandvoort is a one-of-a-kind place that you must have seen before you call it quits. It’s not. As a matter of fact, the greyish cement monsters they built right along the beach are nothing but ugly and in urgent need of at least cosmetic repairs. The small downtown pedestrian area is lined with burger joints and a few uninviting stores and it’s a place that gets overrun by tourists mostly from Germany during the high season.
But if you go there, don’t make the mistake of judging Zandvoort from the errors they committed in architectural choices in the 50s and 60s. For if you step outside of the closest town perimeter, this stretch along the Dutch North Sea coast stuns you with the type of splendid beauty that only the ocean can conjure up.
Even on an afternoon in mid-October, the beach dotted with walkers clad in jackets and rubber boots, most of them accompanied by a dog or two, the coastline doesn’t fail the casual visitor. Freight vessels cross along the horizon, the wind has painted soft wavy patterns into the sand and the backdrop is rich with reed and coastal grass on the dunes. The sun is struggling to push its light through the layers of haziness, yet with its yellow-reddish glow, together with the constant splashing of the waves manages to create a masterful composition onto the beach, like a song that you can’t stop listening to.
This coastal region offers miles upon miles of such magnificent scenery. In fall, the Dutch are busy removing beach furniture and vacation shacks from the beach before the more menacing of the autumn winds arrive. When I visited, the wind was tolerable, but I assume there are days in October and November when you rather would not walk the beach.
The weather is also a factor for the main transportation means used in this country, the bicycle. At least for tourists, it is a factor, while locals wll ride their bikes every day of the week, every month of the year. If you’ve never been to the Netherlands, be prepared to see roads that offer more space for bikes than for cars, be prepared for unlit bicycles crossing the street when you intend to turn and for whole bicycle swarms approaching walkways like a hostile army bataillon. In large cities such as Amsterdam, the whole bicycle thing can be a nuisance if you’re a motorist, but in the Zandvoort area it’s something you should give a try. Many hotels and guesthouses will have bikes for rent, usually simple models that are surprisingly comfortable.
One of the places where bicycling is a lot of fun is the National Park Zuid-Kennemerland which is only a few minutes from downtown Zandvoort. True to the idea of preservation and sustained tourism, they are using sheep, shetland ponies and European bison as lawn mowers here and you encounter these friendly creatures right on the bike path. Biking is easy here, as the terrain is mostly flat and the woods protect you from the winds. You will be rewarded with a number of great viewing points and stunning scenery, including the beach in a largely natural state and a beautiful lake in the middle of the park. The National Park is a great place to spend a day during your vacation, and in particular so if you travel with kids.
Other than the beach and the National Park, there frankly aren’t too many attractions to write home about. They have an arcade-movie theater thing called “Circus” smack in the middle of the pedestrian zone, a protestant church and an unimpressive water tower as well as a car racing circuit that used to be host to Formula One races back in the days. However, I don’t mean to debase the town. Zandvoort is a lovely little place well worth staying at for a few days. It’s basically a tourist town, so don’t expect to find any hidden treasures nobody has seen before. If you stay longer, you might want to consider taking a day trip to Amsterdam, which is an easy 45-minute drive or to Utrecht, which is indeed a beautiful city about an hour away by car.
- Zandvoort, North Sea coast, Northern Holland, The Netherlands
- Traveled there: October 2017
- Stayed at: Appartementen Zandvoort, Bakkerstraat