Want to trade Amsterdam’s stately streets and canals for a day trip to the Dutch countryside? Did you know that the cow-filled pastures and quaint little villages of Waterland are only a short bike ride away? We recently spent a day outside the city navigating a small boat through the lakes and canals that connect the villages of Broek in Waterland, Monnickendam and Zuiderwoude. We loved how the farmlands and fishing villages seemingly haven’t changed over the centuries. Check out practical tips for making your own day trip to Amsterdam’s countryside at the bottom of this travel story.
With a switch on the dial, we turn off the engine and let our boat slowly float towards the edge of the canal. In the sudden absence of the electrical engine’s buzz, the sounds of Dutch summer are amplified against a backdrop of lush green meadows. Sunlight is reflected in sparkles on the water’s surface. Squealing swallows chase bugs high up in the sky. As our boat softly bumps against the meadow’s edge, young waterbirds call from their nests in the reed. A bumble bee languidly hovers near and in the meadow lambs stare at us with some surprise. Humans are a rare sight in this patchwork landscape of pastures and waterways. We have found a perfect place for a picnic.
Cycling to Waterland – Amsterdam’s countryside
It would be hard to believe we are so close to Amsterdam if we didn’t see some of its most sizeable structures popping out of the horizon in the distance. Yet, Waterland, as this area is aptly called, is less than an hour’s bike ride from the capital’s bustling Central Station. And it is a lovely bike ride, too. The transition from city to countryside starts as soon as you board the free water shuttle from the station to Amsterdam Noord. The city seamlessly morphs into an ever greener space.
Within minutes of leaving the ferry you’ll encounter your first traditional windmill as well as rows of cute little cottages. More than the stately canal houses in the city’s center they are reminiscent of the simple lives of the people who lived and worked at the city’s edge, on the borderline between trade and cultivation.
Leaving the borders of the municipality, you’ll soon find yourself cycling on near empty roads through the flat and green countryside.
Amsterdam has always been surrounded by countryside. In fact, five centuries ago the city consisted of just a harbour and a handful of streets surrounded by swamps and meadows. Over the course of centuries, it expanded into this countryside by adding layers of canals lined with new streets. Waterland is evocative of these past times. Boating through its myriad of waterways, with no people in sight, it’s hard to tell if we are in the 21st century or in the 1500s.
Broek in Waterland
The small villages dotted around Waterland complement this sense of time traveling.
First call on our boat ride is Broek in Waterland. This is a village made of canals, bridges, farmhouses and merchant houses with wooden fronts in pastel colours. Most of these houses pre-date the 1800s. Floating through the village is a joy. Children squeek as they jump off jetties and bridges, looking for some refreshment on this warm summer’s day. Their parents read or work in the gardens that border the water. Each home has its own little boat docked.
At the town’s center, a wooden pavilion juts out into the water and tea houses line the waterside. Broek in Waterland used to be the summer retreat of wealthy Amsterdam merchants, who flocked to the village to escape from the hustle and smells of the city. Their summer homes are still beautifully kept. The village remains a wonderfully quiet refuge for anyone wanting to experience some serenity during a day trip from Amsterdam.
As waterside homes become increasingly sparse, we leave Broek in Waterland behind. Soon we are back in the world of green pastures, waterbirds and ruminating cows. From time to time we meet other small boats, mostly captained by local kids on their way to their favourite swimming spot. Most of the time however, we are alone. The network of waterways and lakes is a lot of fun to navigate. These are places that can only be reached by boat. The absence of cars and other motorized vehicles really add to the sense of a true countryside escape.
Zuiderwoude is the oldest village in Waterland. In fact, it is older than Amsterdam itself. It dates back to around the year 1000. Its few hundred inhabitants live in old farmhouses on dikes that diverge at the edge of a lake. We boat past its church, with its striking white wooden spire. It is lovely to spend some time in villages like these. The traditional architecture and quiet small streets a reminiscent of a time long past; of a more simple life that many of us living in today’s modern cities feel nostalgic for from time to time.
Soon we are out in the green again. After finishing our picnic in the quiet of the meadows, we make way to the last village on our boating itinerary: Monnickendam. This 14th century fisherman’s town is larger than Broek in Waterland and Zuiderwoude. Before the Dutch enclosed it with a giant dam, the Southern Sea had its shores here. Monnickendam was built by traders and fishermen. Its marina still holds a number of traditional fishing boats. Cute shops and houses line the narrow streets.
At the end of the day, we turn in our rental boat and hop on our bikes. Within 60 minutes, Amsterdam’s Central Station and the city’s low skyline of church spires and canal houses come into sight again. Stepping on the ferry back to the city feels like getting into a time machine. How wonderful to know that the peace and quiet of centuries ago is just around the corner.
Going on a day trip to Amsterdam’s countryside
Exploring Waterland by boat
Renting a boat is by far the best way to get around in this area. The secluded waterways provide a sense of adventure and isolation, as you are able to explore parts of the countryside where no car or bicycle can come. We rented our electric (and therefore very quiet) boat at Theehuis Overleek, which is a beautiful tea house in the middle of the pastures. Before or after your boat trip you can enjoy some tea and cake or a lunch at their waterside outdoor seating area.
They can provide home-made picnics lunches on request that you can enjoy somewhere along your boat trip when you find a quiet spot to disembark. They also rent out kayaks if you prefer to use muscle power to get around. Along with the rental of your boat, you will be given a map of the area’s lakes and canals with easy instructions for getting around and visiting the different villages.
The tea house cannot be reached by public transport. It’s a 40-minute walk to the nearest town. You’ll need a bicycle or a car to get there. From Amsterdam Central Station it takes 1 hour of cycling to get there.
Day trip to Amsterdam’s countryside by bike
Waterland is super easy to reach on bicycle and the ride to get there is pleasant and rural. Behind Central Station, take the free ferry to ‘Buiksloterweg’. After that you pretty much cycle straight for about 20 minutes and you’ll find yourself in the countryside. Set your GPS to Broek in Waterland and you’ll end up in the middle of Waterland with a number of cute villages all around that you can explore.
Reaching Waterland with public transport
It is quick and easy to get to some of these beautiful little villages by public transport. The buses listed below depart from the backside of Central Station.
Bus 314 (Edam-Hoorn) and bus 316 (Volendam-Edam) pass by both Broek in Waterland and Monnickendam. They take 15 and 20 minutes from Amsterdam’s central station, respectively.
Zuiderwoude is not easy to reach by public transport. Boat or bike are really better ways of getting there. The nearest bus stop is a 15 minute walk from the village.
Of course the villages can also be reached by car.
Other places of interest near Amsterdam
Other interesting villages in the immediate area that are worth visiting because of their historic architecture and quiet atmosphere are Ransdorp, Holysloot, Marken, and Uitdam. All are easily combined on a daytrip from Amsterdam.