On a sunny summer day, Amsterdam may just get a little too hot. And you may start to long for a refreshing dive in the sea. If you look at a map, you may notice that Amsterdam is not too far removed from the North Sea beaches. You may also notice that there is a direct train from Amsterdam Central Station/Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station to Zandvoort beach. Smart! However: You. Are. Not. The. Only. One!
Is Zandvoort an off the beaten track destination?
No. On a sunny day, especially in the weekends, and during Dutch and German school holidays (roughly July and August) Zandvoort beach is packed. Half of the population of Amsterdam pick up their towels & beach gear and move towards the nearest beach: Zandvoort. The city marketeers of Amsterdam have even started calling that beach “Amsterdam beach”. This is kind of insulting towards Zandvoort I guess, because this is an independent town, that doesn’t even border Amsterdam. Yet it is true that the place is more or less taken over by people from Amsterdam on sunny days.
Does Zandvoort/Amsterdam beach offer a local experience?
Yes. If there is a bit of an anthropologist hidden inside you, get on that train to Zandvoort! You may find yourself squeezed between picknick baskets, dogs, screaming children, beach gear, ghetto blasters, footballs, volleybal sets and many over excited Amsterdammers, looking forward to a day at the beach. After arrival in Zandvoort, this crowd will move towards the beach collectively. It is almost impossible to get lost.
Once on the beach, this crowd settles down on the first available spots. Everyone will mark their space with beach towels, install the kids, dogs, picknick baskets, ghetto blasters and what more, change into sometimes quite minimalist bathing gear and start chilling out. Chilling out means: sun tanning, going for a short swim, having a drink and do some more sun tanning. Just grab a spot between the crowd. You may have to let go of your normal sense of personal space here. (Please pay attention to pickpockets)
You may also spot people with shovels digging pits in the sand. These are the German tourists. They like to dig pits. Nobody understands why. Zandvoort is very popular with German tourists. In Zandvoort town you may see signs saying “Zimmer frei” (which means “rooms available” in German) on many houses. Zandvoort is a touristic town that attracts many Germans, more than any other nationality.
Do you need more personal space than Zandvoort Beach can offer?
You may not feel very attracted to the picture I just painted. If you need some more personal space, I have the following suggestions:
1. Go to Zandvoort very early, or late
Going to Zandvoort beach early
On sunny days, the big crowds will start arriving in Zandvoort/Amsterdam beach after 11.00 AM. After all, it’s a holiday, and most people like to take it easy, before collecting all their gear and moving towards the seaside. If you are an early bird, why not grab an early train to Zandvoort, so that you arrive on the beach before the crowds do. Bring breakfast, have a picknick, go for a swim, and leave the beach when it gets too busy. You will find that trains returning towards Haarlem or Amsterdam are almost empty at this time.
Going to Zandvoort beach in the late afternoon/early evening
The crowds will have left Zandvoort/Amsterdam beach by 5.00 PM. Most Dutch people have dinner early, around 6 in the evening. Especially families with kids will start leaving well in advance of this time. After 6.00 PM the beach will be much quieter than before. This is a great time to go, especially in summer, when the days are long. You can do some sightseeing in town during the day, and move towards the beach by the end of the day to cool down, watch the sun set and perhaps have dinner in one of the beach restaurants.
2. Be prepared to walk away from Zandvoort
Most beach bums are a little lazy. They will grab the first spot available after entering the beach. So the areas close to train stations, bus stops and parking places will be very crowded. You will find that once you walk on a bit, you will get to much quieter stretches of beach.
Moving south from Zandvoort
Coming from Zandvoort Station I would advice you to move south. Move even beyond the stretch of nudist beach towards beach restaurant Fosfor. There is no road or train station over there, so the only people who get to this place are cyclists and hikers. Dutch people like cycling, so don’t expect a desolate beach here. It will be much more quiet than in Zandvoort/Amsterdam beach. Fosfor is about 45 minutes walking from Zandvoort.
Moving north from Zandvoort
You could also move along the beach in northerly direction instead, towards IJmuiden. Here you will pass two other crowded spots: Bloemendaal beach (popular with those who like to party) and Parnassia (popular with young families), before things get more quiet. Parnassia is about one hour walking from Zandvoort.
3. Go to IJmuiden beach instead
IJmuiden is an industrial town and the departure point for the ferries to Newcastle in Britain. This may not sound too attractive, but IJmuiden does have a quite impressive beach. It is much wider and more spacious than in Zandvoort. Another pro is that from IJmuiden, walking in southerly direction, you will get to the quiet stretch much sooner than when coming from Zandvoort.
How to get to IJmuiden beach from Amsterdam?
To get to IJmuiden you will need to catch a bus from Amsterdam. This is a bit more complicated than catching the train to Zandvoort, which is exactly the reason why it is less crowded! The bus departs from Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station. Check your schedule at the public transport information website 9292.nl. Use IJmuiden aan Zee as your destination. Travel time will be about 45 minutes. The bus stop is right behind the beach.
You could even start your day in IJmuiden, walk along the beach towards Zandvoort and catch a train back to Haarlem or Amsterdam. This is a 2 hour walk (if you don’t take a break or go for a swim).
4. Rent a bike in Haarlem and cycle to the beach
My final suggestion is that you rent a bike, and cycle through the dunes to one of the beach entry points in Kennemerland National Park. Cars are not allowed into the park, so these spots will always be quieter. There is a good network of bicycle roads in the dunes and there are parking places for bikes at the spots where you can enter the beach. You will get to see the amazing dunescapes as a bonus.
I have no experience with bike rental in Zandvoort myself. Online reviews seem pretty critical when it comes to the quality of the bikes. So I guess the best thing to do is rent a bike in the city of Haarlem. From there it is about 10 kilometers to the beach.
Or try something completely different…
If you are not that much into salt water, and prefer a sweet water lake to swim in, head towards the Hemmeland area in Monnickendam or the Twiske recreational area just north of Amsterdam.