Despite being among the most urbanised countries in the world, the Netherlands has more than its fair share of epic destinations, including ancient forests, hidden beaches and towering Neo-Gothic castles. Although most of these places are easily accessible via public transport or even bicycle, many are particularly under-explored, making them perfect for crowd weary travellers.
For most of its history, Marken was separated from the Dutch mainland by the IJmeer sea until 1957 when it was connected to Noord-Holland by a causeway jutting out from Waterland. Even after becoming a peninsula — rather than an island — the village has maintained its historic charm and is renowned for its rustic wooden houses and picturesque harbour where dozens of fishing boats still berth every day.
Kasteel de Haar
In 1892, Pierre Cuypers was commissioned by an aristocratic Dutch family to design an elaborate castle in northern Utrecht upon the foundations of an abandoned medieval fortress. Much like Cuypers’ earlier masterpieces of the Rijksmusem and Centraal Station, this gigantic castle homaged classical Dutch architecture whilst playing with motifs drawn from Northern European Gothicism. Today, the castle and its surrounding estate are open to the public.
In the 16th century, the Dutch military built a star-shaped fortress on the western limits of the Netherlands, to control the trade routes flowing between Germany and Groningen. This impressive feat of engineering is now completely open to the public and houses a charming, rural village called Bourtange. It is actually possible to spend the night inside Bourtange’s fortifications, as there are several accommodation options available within the stronghold.
Although Kijkduin is reasonably well-known amongst Dutch day-trippers, this wonderful seaside resort is somewhat overlooked due to its proximity to the most popular beach in the Netherlands, Scheveningen. Despite being considerably smaller than Scheveningen, Kijkduin has plenty to offer eager beachgoers and might even surpass its larger counterpart when it comes to golden sands and pristine coastal scenery.
During the late 19th century, over 40 fortifications were raised around Amsterdam in order to protect the city from potential invaders. Although most of these strongholds were built inland, one was constructed offshore on an artificial island called Pampus. This oval sea-fort acted as a gateway to Amsterdam’s eastern docklands and kept a watchful eye on naval traffic entering the city. In 1990, Pampus was converted into a museum, accessible via a ferry service that departs from IJburg and Muiden.
Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park
The province of Utrecht’s only national park is located upon an ancient glacial ridge that formed during the Saale cold period. The park’s sloping landscape features several diverse terrains, including heathlands, forests and dunes, which are inhabited by a rich variety of fauna and flora. Besides its natural beauty, Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park also contains many villages and country estates such as Kasteel Amerongen.
De Koningshoeven Brouwerij
Like all Trappist Breweries, de Koningshoeven Brouwerij in North Brabant brews its beers according to strict, historical regulations and is directly managed by an order of monks. Although De Koningshoeven Brouwerij is located inside the walls of an active monastery, it is possible to sample beers at its taproom or even delve into Trappist history by taking a tour through the brewery’s halls.
The Caves of Mount St. Peter
The earth beneath Mount St. Peter in Maastricht is riddled with thousands of manmade caves that were originally evacuated to extract valuable material from the land. This subterranean labyrinth also provided shelter to locals during wartime and runs underneath a nearby fort. Many of these winding, underground pathways are currently accessible, including a large World War II era bunker and several ancient mines that date back to the medieval period.