Zandvoort aan Zee
Zandvoort is one of Netherlands’ most popular seaside resorts with a long sandy beach, beach bars and water sports (kite surfing, windsurfing, surfing and stand-up paddle boarding). It is also very well known for its race circuit (Circuit Park Zandvoort).
After the opening of the railway in 1881, the old fisherman’s village Sandervoerne became more accessible for visitors and was transformed to a tourist attraction as wealthy businessmen started investing in hotels and bathhouses. Back then bathing meant taking baths in indoor pools, with salt water that had been brought by horses and carriages from the nearby ocean.
Already in 1939 an international race was held in Zandvoort. This first race course involved the streets of Zandvoort and was so successful that the mayor decided to build a permanent circuit. WW2 delayed the realisation of the plans, but in 1948 the first race was held in the now permanent race track. The circuit had its glory days from the mid 50s to the mid 80s when Formula 1 GP-races were held there 30 times with international star drivers such as Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
Mainly due to restrictions against “sound pollution” the circuit was taken out as a F1 racing track. However, upgrades have been made and it has been announced that the Dutch F1 GP will be held at the circuit again in 2020.
Getting to Zandvoort from Amsterdam city centre was surprisingly simple and quick. We just hopped on the train (the “Sprinter”), that runs every half hour, from Amsterdam Main Station and 30 minutes later we were there. Our hotel, NH Zandvoort, was located only a 10-minute walk from the railway station on the vast beach.
In addition to the long beach and the beach walk, Zandvoort is a small and cosy, yet a bit sleepy, village that lives off tourism (most of them either Dutch or German). Along Kerkstraat you find some lovely restaurants and cafés and the typical set of tourists shops selling souvenirs and beach related items.
Circus Zandvoort is a “Familyland” in the city centre with three departments; Fun & Games, Cinema & Theater and Casino. A fierce Air Hockey game was played there one evening- with me as the champion! (I was not as skilled driving a race car or racing with a motorcycle 😱).
The “Vis van Floor” fish carts along the Zandvoort Boulevard sell fish and seafood in every shape and form. Here you can buy fish burgers, fish sandwiches, kibbeling and more. I had a portion of fish nuggets from the mobile beach cart- very tasty but be ware of the seagulls! They have their eyes on you! 😳
As everyone knows, Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. It is a city with about 840 000 inhabitants, but more than one million bicycles (!). It is also well known that the city has many canals (165), bridges (1281) and coffee shops (173), as well as an area called the Red Light District, where you find prostitutes working in window brothels and other erotic entertainment establishments. However, did you know that the XXX sign of Amsterdam, that can be spotted all over the city- on flags, buildings and poles, stands for St Andrew, who was a fisherman that was tortured on a cross in the shape of an X in the first century, or that the reason most canal houses look very small and narrow is that, back in the days, they only had to pay taxes for the size of the facade of the houses?
The day trip
The main reason we took the sprinter from Zandvoort to Amsterdam was to attend the Max Weinberg’s Jukebox Show in the beautiful venue Paradiso in the evening (read my concert review here). However, we arrived to the city quite early to have a look around. What struck me about the city, as we strolled around and sat down for an occasional beer, is that it is very beautiful, that there are bicycles everywhere (you’ll be run over if you’re not careful) AND that it reeks of marijuana 😖.
Haarlem is a mediaeval city situated between Amsterdam and Zandvoort. It is the capital of the province of North Holland with about 145 000 inhabitants. It is located on the river Spaarne and it has its nickname Bloemenstad (Flower city) from being the centre of tulip bulb-growing for a long time. The Haarlem railway station, built in 1906, is one of the oldest train stations in the Netherlands.
The day trip
Haarlem actually looks a bit like Amsterdam. It has canals, many bicycles, many beautiful buildings and a lot of shopping. We went strolling around the city and discovered a large market and an abundance of restaurants and cafés around the square, guarded by the huge cathedral (Grote Kerk). We also found a great selection of unique shops on the cobblestoned lanes and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in this cute city. Haarlem was a perfect goal for a day trip.
It’s easy to understand why the Netherlands is such a popular country to live in and to visit. I’m happy I just didn’t go to Amsterdam, but got to see other parts of the country. Like with every trip I take around the world, I’ve learned new things. I had, for example, no idea that there were beaches and beach resorts in the Netherlands (next time I plan to go to Scheveningen). I knew there were a lot of bicycles, but not that there were more bikes than people in the Netherlands and that walking on a bike lane is a life-threatening experience.
One thing has left me puzzled; although I’ve read (and seen) that Dutch people are the tallest in Europe, it is also the country where I have spotted the smallest cars. 🤷🏻♀️
Until next time!
Photos: Oliver Schertl, Vis Van Floor and myself