Lifestyle & Culture

Dispatches’ Staycation series: Jackie Harding takes us to the Netherlands’ hidden jewels


(Editor’s note: The lesser-known Netherlands is the next stop for our Staycation series as the pandemic limits travel in some European countries. You can see other staycation destinations across Europe here.)

If you are like me and love to travel, then this seemingly endless pandemic is putting a crimp in your style. Travel in and around Europe doesn’t seem wise or, frankly, appealing. So I am going to share with you some of the lesser-known towns and places in the Netherlands that I enjoy.


This old town, given city rights in 1265, is close to Utrecht and was one of the original 12 members of the convention that laid down the foundation of the Netherlands, as we know it. The historic city centre is a perserved “monument” and along the canals you will find beautiful old, protected houses, one of which is literally a weighing house for witches!

HEKSENWAAG: This beautiful old building became popular in the 16th century during the period of witch hysteria as it could prove you were or were not a witch just by weighing you on its scales! Many people traveled from all over Europe to be weighed and be given a certificate to prove their innocence, which prevented them being burned or drowned. How do you know what a witch weighs?

Apparently if you are lighter than your body size would suggest you are a witch…. as witches have no soul, therefore are lighter! That would also explain their ability to fly on a broomstick I guess. You can still be weighed if you want to prove your innocence.

Safe to say I am most definitely not a sorceress!

Oudewater was once an important part of the Dutch hemp industry and the
legendary East India Company sailed with Oudewater ropes. There is still a rope manufacturer in the town, which is the oldest family owned business in the Netherlands. To learn more, you can visit the Rope Museum.

This is knot mandatory though! Museum de Baanschuur is a fun visit for kids, who can learn how to make rope on their visit. The local VVV also has information on canal tours and walking tours of the city, after which you can wander around the little stores and hopefully find a bench by the canal to eat your picnic lunch and take-out coffee.

Silver Museum


Schoonhoven, or “Silver City,” is located on the Lek River and is not far from Oudewater. It dates back to around 1247 and the once fortified town is now famous for its silversmiths, the International Silver School and the Dutch Silver Museum. Its old castle is long gone, as are the bastions, but there is a beautiful medieval gate called the Veerpoort or Ferry Gate on the river side of town. It no longer protects the town from marauders but from flooding.

The small town has two shopping streets with a fair number of jewellers to explore, a canal (of course!) and a riverfront where you can sit and relax with your cheese sandwich or with some take-out coffee and frietjes met (chips & mayo to the non-Dutch residents) from the cafeteria next to the ferry whilst watching the barges and cruisers pass by.

Zilver Museum has a large collection of silverware, from the past to present day.

The area has some beautiful countryside to cycle around, with slow-running streams and cute houses alongside the roads.

Photo by Jackie Harding

Ouddorp, Goeree-Overflakkee, Zeeland

This little town of Ouddorp is close to one of our favorite beaches in Zeeland. Okay, all Dutch beaches look pretty much the same … wide sandy beaches, backed by huge areas of dunes. This area isn’t close to a big town, and there are some nice spots around the area to wrap into your day.

The beach is 18-kilometers long, so it has plenty of room for social distancing and is easy to find … just look for the lofty, square fire tower which can be seen for miles. There are several parking areas to choose from and of course lots of cycle paths through the countryside or along the dijks of the Grevelingenmeer.

BROUWERSDAM: This the water sport enthusiast heaven which has several super beach restaurants, strandpaviljoen, (not open at the moment of course) and water sports clubs. There is plenty of parking along the dam, or dijk, which provides an opportunity to watch the hordes of kitesurfers that assemble there, like a flock of tropical birds.

It’s also a great place to watch the sunset. If you are lucky you might even spot one of the harbour seals that like to hang out near one of the sluices linking the North Sea and Grevelingenmeer, on Brouwersdam.

Grevelingenmeer, also a popular spot for sailing, watersports and bird watching, was formed as part of the Dutch flood defence, the Deltaworks, and is the largest saltwater lake in Europe.

If you are interested in the Deltaworks or the wildlife that can be found in the area the theme park, Deltapark Neeltje Jans, has seals, a water playground, boat trips, a waterslide and hurricane experience. You can also learn about the technology behind the all important, especially to a country that is one third below sea level, flood defences.

Photo by Jackie Harding

Loonse Drunense Duinen

This national park, between Tilburg and s’-Hertogenbosch is known as “The Sahara of the Netherlands” and is about 3,500 hectares of shifting sand dunes, heathland, forest, nature and wildlife. Hiking, horse-riding and mountain bike trails are scattered throughout the park and you can guarantee you will find a peaceful spot to enjoy, away from other people! You might even spot a deer or see the local shepherd tending the large flock of sheep that roam the park. There are cafes/restaurants on the edge of the park and in “normal times” you can take tours.

Author’s note: At the time of writing due to the Coronavirus restrictions, many activities are closed, as are restaurants and bars in the Netherlands. I suggest checking ahead of time before travelling, packing a tasty picnic and reserving any tickets needed online.

NOT a witch

About the author:

Photographer/Writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past ten years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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