2020 was due to be our 10th consecutive trip to The Netherlands. Unfortunately, world events and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that. Rather than dwell on what might have been, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at our previous trips to The Netherlands.
In 2013, we returned to The Netherlands for our second trip to Duinrell. We’d been there in September 2012 and really enjoyed it, so we were really keen to return and see more. As with the previous year, we took the tunnel over to France, then drove up through Belgium to get to The Netherlands.
Rather than going late summer, this time we chose to go mid-spring in May, partly so we’d be there for tulip season, more on that later. If anything, the weather seemed a little better at this time of year. In subsequent years, we tended to go around May/June time, mainly to fit with school holidays, though we’ve found the weather tends to be reasonable.
The weather in The Netherlands is very similar to back home in the UK. While it’s usually warm around May/June time, the weather can be quite changeable. Usually over a two week period, we’ll get spells of mainly sunshine, with maybe a few days of cloud or rain. We’ve learnt to plan well, make the most of the sunny days and have some ideas for rainy days.
We were greeted with sunshine when we arrived at Duinrell, so decided to make the most of it and head to the beach. The closest beach to Duinrell is at Wassenaarse Slag, it’s just a 3.4km walk or cycle to get there, along a very pleasant route through the dunes.
This was our first time going to Wassenaarse Slag, the previous year we rode the much longer route to go to the beach at Scheveningen, just outside The Hague. We didn’t think to go to the beach just down the road for some reason!
The route to Wassenaarse Slag across the dunes is really very pleasant. There’s a traffic-free path for walking and cycling, which is wide and smooth (it’s been resurfaced since). There’s actually one or two small hills on the way, which catches people out, “I thought Holland is flat” they say! I covered the route to the Wassenaarse Slag in more detail in these posts from 2017 and 2018.
Our youngest was now old enough to sit in a child seat on the bike, so we didn’t need to bother with a trailer this time. This meant I had him on my bike, while our eldest was attached with a Trail-Gator to my partner’s bike.
Arriving at the beach, there appears to be lots of cycle parking, though it’s nowhere near enough for busy days. If you’re not there early enough on a sunny day, expect to struggle to find a parking space. Though, compared British beaches with their miles of car parking, it’s a much nicer problem to have!
We had a lovely time at the beach. Wassenaarse Slag doesn’t feel too busy or built up, but there’s a decent selection of amenities like cafés, bars and restaurants. Being there with a young family, the balance felt about right. After a great day at the beach, we were back on the bikes to Duinrell, following the route we came.
As the weather continued to be nice, we returned to Wassenaarse Slag a couple of days later, riding the same route from Duinrell. A route a that would become all too familiar over the years!
During our stay, we wanted to go and see some more places we’d not been before. One of those places was the city of Haarlem. Located to the west of Amsterdam, Haarlem is about 32km north of Duinrell, along the North Sea coast.
Haarlem is very much your archetypal Dutch medieval walled city, though its history can be tracked back to pre-medieval times and the walls are now long gone. It’s a beautiful city though and very typically Dutch. It also lends its name to the New York neighbourhood Harlem, dating back to when New York was known as New Amsterdam.
I think we might have driven to Haarlem on the day, so we could tour the tulip fields on the way, though I don’t quite remember now. If so, I’d imagine we’d have used the park and ride.
We spent the day wandering the streets of Haarlem and taking in the sights. We started off at the Botermarkt and took in views of the city from La Place that was in what used to be the V&D department store. We then wandered many of the quiet narrow streets, with little or no traffic. As with the best Dutch cities, Haarlem is very walkable.
At the time, there were fairground rides in the Grote Markt, which the kids were pleased about. So we spent a bit of time hanging round there. We also found a toy shop with a cafe called Meneer Paprika, which we were all pleased about, as the kids could play while we enjoyed a coffee!
We didn’t have a huge amount of time in Haarlem, but we’d decided it was somewhere we wanted to come back to again. We did this the following year in 2014, when we camped nearby in Castricum.
As we’d travelled to The Netherlands in early May, we were there just in time to catch the end of the tulip season. Returning from Haarlem gave us the perfect opportunity to tour the main tulip growing region, to the south of the city.
It was wonderful passing through the tulip fields, such a riot of colour! We’d love to see them again and tour them on bikes, but unfortunately, we’ve never been back at the right time of year.
While we were there, we decided to take our bikes out and explore the wider area around Duinrell and Wassenaar, as it’s something we’d not done before. Wassenaar itself is pretty good for cycling, with plenty of protected cycleways to ride on, as you can see in this post from 2018.
Once we got a bit further away from Wassenaar, the protected cycleways gave way mostly to very quiet rural roads and the odd cycleway. Some of this route I returned to a few years later in 2018, on a trip to Zoetermeer.
Another on the list of places we’d not been to before and really wanted to visit was Rotterdam. We knew from its reputation that Rotterdam was quite different to your typical Dutch city.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in The Netherlands and dates back to 1340, when it first received its city rights. Much of the city’s character today though is due to heavily bombing during World War II, when it was all but flattened.
In the rebuilding following the war, city planners took inspiration from the US in providing for motor traffic, with many wide multi-lane boulevards. This unsurprisingly led to high dependence on cars and a relatively low modal share for cycling, compared to other Dutch cities. Though it’s still way higher than any cities in the UK.
Rotterdam does have a very distinctive and unique style. It’s famous for its massive container ports and harbour with its huge cruise ships. Much of the city feels on that scale, big and bold, with many distinctive modernist and post modernist buildings, such as the famous Cube houses.
The city is also has the first pedestrianised shopping precinct, the Lijnbaan, which opened in 1953 and replaced the original bombed-out shopping district. This became a model for many British pedestrianised shopping precincts, from Stevenage to Stockport.
I think we must have driven to Rotterdam, making use of park and ride facilities, like we did when we went to Haarlem. We found that many Dutch cities have pretty good park and ride facilities that are well integrated into the motorway network and local public transport.
While using the excellent national rail network is best if you can, it’s not always convenient. Park and ride is a much better option than driving into city centres and parking.
After arriving and grabbing something to eat near the shopping precinct, we headed out on foot to have a wander. We spent a while at Oude Haven, one of the oldest ports in Rotterdam and now a popular entertainment district. This is a lovely area and it really does feel like it’s from a very different era and scale to the rest of the city.
We then headed to the Nieuwe Maas waterfront, which is on a much larger scale, with the Erasmusbrug and the Willemsbrug bridges, huge cruise ships and many large and distinctive buildings. The Erasmusbrug bridge is particularly distinctive and has become a landmark of the city, since its completion in 1996.
After some more wandering, we were back near Oude Haven to have a look at the Cube Houses. These are amazing looking buildings, both inside and out. They’re actually available to rent on Airbnb, something I’d love to do some time.
We stopped off at the Maritime Museum on the way back, but we were a little too late to go into the exhibition. It looked interesting and we said we’d like to return there, but unfortunately, we haven’t.
We’ve not returned to Rotterdam either and I’m not really sure why. It’s such an intriguing place and somewhere we’d certainly like to see more of. Maybe we’ll see about staying there on our next visit in 2021.
A lot has happened in Rotterdam since we were there, as the city has started tackling that dominance of motor vehicles. This has accelerated tremendously since the coronavirus outbreak as the city pushes ahead with making space for people, rather than cars.
It was now the end of the week and the end of our second time at Duinrell. We had a fantastic time during our stay and the opportunity to experience more of The Netherlands. There was still plenty we wanted to see and much more cycling we wanted to do, so we’d return to The Netherlands again in 2014 for two trips, in May and August.