(Editor’s note: It’s suddenly summer, with already temperatures topping 30 degrees Celsius in the Netherlands. So we’re updating our original list of the 5 best beaches in the Netherlands into simply the best beaches, which will be updated as we discover new destinations. Terry Boyd and Alex Dijkstra also contributed to this post.)
Amsterdam, canals, tulips, cheese, football and … beaches?
This might come as a bit of a surprise, but the Netherlands is one of the best places in Europe to go to the beach if your vision of beaches doesn’t require palm trees and tropical heat.
If you’re willing to settle for a mix of broad stretches of soft sand, unspoiled dunes and lively destinations, have we got a list for you!
All these destinations welcome visitors, so let’s give our friends in Amsterdam a little space this summer …. they need it.
Just so you know: The Netherlands – like most of Nothern Europe – is a communal society where the locals tend toward the shared experiences. So it’s a bit more difficult to find that lonely stretch of beach a la St. John’s in the Caribbean, the Sea Islands in Georgia or Patara in Turkey. But you can ….
This year, we’re going to rate each beach destination as “touristy,” “natural” or “mix.”
Let’s start with The Big One, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands. Scheveningen is just on the northern edge of Den Haag (The Hague), the political heart of the country.
The beach in Scheveningen is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a sightseeing trip to Den Haag. Go for a stroll on its famous boardwalk and the pier, take a ride on the Ferris wheel and grab a meal at one of more than a dozen beach restaurants.
Make sure to pay a visit to the Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus. This grand, impressive hotel was built early in the 19th century and has since hosted several famous guests. Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn and Bon Jovi are among the celebs who have stayed at the hotel.
Eleven million people visit Scheveningen each year, but if it is up to the city council, this number will rise to new heights in the years to come. City officials are spending 25 million euros to improve the boardwalk and access to the beach over the next few years.
Rating: TOTALLY touristy
Scheveningen next door is totally commercial, with shops and restaurants. Keep walking toward the expat center of Wassenaar, and you’re in the unspoiled dunes of Meijendel.
Which is in every way the opposite of Scheveningen.
Meijendel is the largest interconnected dune area in South Holland and is primarily open dunes, lakes, forests and kilometers of long, sandy beaches.
In the centre of the nature reserve is a visitor center owned by drinking water company Dunea, Meyendel pancake house and Monkeybos playground.
Biking, hiking and riding paths make the dunes at Meijendel the perfect place to escape, and you’ll forget major cities are just a few kilometers away.
Rating: VERY natural
Other than some uninhabitated islands and sandbars in the Frisians, this is as close as you’ll come to a desert island in the Netherlands. And it’s just 50 kilometers north of Amsterdam.
Pronounced “tessel,” Texel is the largest of the Waddenzee (Wadden Sea) Islands, and weirdly is a place many visitors – even Dutch travelers – seem to overlook. The 20-kilometre-long island is part of the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site and has its own dunes national park, De Slufter nature preserve and (for the Netherlands) lots of empty beaches.
That said, there are towns with amenities for visitors. You can rent bikes, paddleboats and even catamarans. (The wind blows hard here in the summer, so this is a kitesurfing destination.) And you can sail out for some seal watching, or try to catch shrimp.
It goes without saying Texel has its own brewery.
Rating: The best of natural and commercial – nature preserves along with quaint towns.
Our Dutch friends kept telling us we’d skipped over one of the coolest things about the Netherlands – water sports. There are in fact dozens of sailing schools and kitesurfing schools from Zeeland on the south to Terschelling on the north.
But the center of the water sports scene is Mirns south of Workum on the IJsselmeer, a large inlet of the North Sea north of Amsterdam.
Workum has schools where experienced kite surfers can rent equipment and beginners can get started with lessons. There’s also windsurfing and sailing. It’s also yet another quaint, ancient Dutch town with lots of things to do and places to stay.
Rating: Touristy, but in the Dutch style, not the Disneyland definition.
The beaches on this small island in the Waddenzee in far north of the Netherlands are some of the cleanest and whitest in the country and are among the widest sand beaches in all of Europe.
Thanks to the shallow waters, it is a perfect and safe area for swimming.
Other fun activities on the island include yoga lessons on the beach, horse riding through the dunes and the sea and kitesurfing.
On top of that, the entire island has since 1989 been listed as a National Park because of the endless beaches, green forests, sand dunes filled with colourful flowers, and the more than three hundred birds living on and around the island.
Note: Schiermonnikoog is a car-free island reachable only by a ferry. Once on the island, there are taxis, buses and, of course, bikes for transportation.
Rating: A mix of touristy and natural, with lots of activities at the Dutch equivalent of Cape Cod or Montauk.
On a large peninsula between Antwerp on the south and Rotterdam on the north, Domburg is the oldest seaside resort in Zeeland.
Like most Dutch seaside resorts, Domburg is both busy and picturesque. The wide, clean beaches of Domburg are the main attraction. There are beach pavilions and cabins everywhere. Boardwalks along the beach ensure that the warm sand is accessible to everyone. And if you would like to fly a kite, go to the Oosterstrand or Westerstrand.
The scenic city of Middleburg is just a few kilometers away.
Rating: A mix of touristy and natural.
Vlissingen is one of the biggest cities in the province of Zeeland … a vibrant, lively town next to the beach.
Go for a long walk on the beach or along the boardwalk which is always filled with people on a good summer night. And unlike many of these destinations, especially the islands, there is nightlife here.
You can eat and drink the night away at the many restaurants and bars on the boardwalk, many of which offer a sea-side view.
Vlissingen is also home to lots of festivals and events in spring and summer including Bevrijdingsdag, Dutch Independence day when music festivals are held all across the country.
Vlissingen is one of the 12 Dutch cities to host the national festivities with a fun line-up of our country’s best-known artists.
Another fun-filled event is the yearly Color Run, which is held on a Friday night in June and which turns the city centre and beach into a colorful festival.
Rating: More like Den Haag – a city with a beach. Touristy.
Do you love the island life?
Head to Terschelling, yet another of the small West Frisian islands in the Waddenzee.
The white, clean and spacious beaches on Terschelling cover a length of 30 kilometres across the island. Terschelling lives off tourism; there are three times as many people living on the island in summer compared to other months of the year.
To get to the Island, catch one of the ferries from Harlingen. In just under two hours you will reach the island.
If you like, you can bring your own bike or car, or hire one when you get to Terschelling. Cycling is a great way to explore all the island has to offer.
There are bike lanes all across the island. If you like keeping active, you can bike more than 70 kilometres across Terschelling! And if that’s not enough of a thrill, this is a great place for kitesurfing. The wind (supposedly) blows harder on Noorderstrand on Terschelling than anyplace else in the Netherlands.
Rating: A mix of touristy and natural.
Zandvoort is one of the Netherlands’ most famous beaches for several reasons, including its auto racing history and its proximity to Amsterdam and Haarlem.
This is a mass tourism destination more akin to Scheveningen, with lots and lots of activities, shops, cafes and restaurants.
Zandvoort has a famous motorsport complex where Formula One races were once held.
And you can camp next to the sea.
There’s always something going on, from go-kart racing to pop-up American-style drive-in movies.
Circuit Zandvoort, where the Dutch Grand Prix Formula One race used to be held, is just off the beach. Though Formula One is gone, there are still races nearly every weekend throughout the summer.
All the activities make this a top vacation destination for the Dutch themselves.
Sounds like a perfect day?
It’s how you spend your time during your vacation in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.
This area in the South of the Netherlands in Zeeland is one of our country’s most popular holiday destinations. Small beach towns such as Cadzand, Breskens and Nieuwvliet are located along the coast.
If you want to spend a few nights in the area, you can sleep right on the beach!
In recent years, a series of cottages were built on the beach, at just a short walk from the sea.
Wake up with a view of the North Sea and watch the sunset from your own little house on the beach!
Rating: More commercial than natural.
About the author:
About the author: Willeke van Doorn is a Dutch journalist and graduate of Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, Netherlands.
Her experience includes an internship at National Geographic Traveler in Amsterdam. But she began her professional career at Dispatches Europe. She now works in Germany.
Willeke has lived in the U.S. and Australia and loves to travel the world.