Let me tell you a story about some of the best kept secrets of the Netherlands, located in Noord-Holland. Just 30 minutes driving from Amsterdam you will find yourself surrounded by nature, tranquility, stunning country estates, castles, quaint villages, as well as wide beaches and tough harbors!
This is Velsen, a municipality in the province North-Holland, divided by the North Sea canal. A very diverse area with several historic estates and nature reserves to explore and the location of a somewhat raw city of industry by the sea called Ijmuiden, which is quite underrated.
As the largest fishing port of the Netherlands, main harbor for many ferry and cruise ships and well-known as the location of one of the biggest steal producers of Europe, it generally has a lesser reputation, causing it to be highly underestimated, also by me!
However a few weeks ago I explored this city by the sea myself, and found out that Ijmuiden and surroundings are actually some of the best kept secrets of the Netherlands and worth visiting for many reasons!
In this blog I will tell you which, as always through many of my own pics, of all the things I explored here myself!
What to do in Velsen?
As you could have read in my previous blog we stayed near Ijmuiden in the classy and historic Castle Hotel and Estate Duin & Kruidberg, located on the edge of a very special nature reserve.
We had a rental bike for 3 days, so we were able to explore much of the Velsen region and of course we started with the stunning nature area:
National Park Zuid-Kennemerland
First de Kennemerduinen National Park was founded in 1950, mostly characterized by sand dunes. And in 1995 the current Zuid-Kennemerland National Park was established, a total of of 38 square miles, consisting of de Kennemerduinen, several nature reserves but also some estates, forests and coastal beaches.
These dunes used to be a special watershed for Haarlem city. Now it’s a protected nature reserve west of Haarlem in between Ijmuiden and Zandvoort. It has a big variation of walking and cycling routes, leading you past stunning landscapes and a big variation of nature and wildlife.
It was my third time here and shows me something new every time. Wildlife spotting is easy and in my opinion the reserve is best explored by bike, to see even more of the beauty and variation of the National Park.
From here it's just a short drive to another stunning nature area, and one of the most classy estates of Velsen! A few centuries ago the dune areas outside Amsterdam were in high demand among merchants for building a country house to escape the busy city.
Beeckestijn, Velserbeek, Waterland and Schoonenberg are some of the remaining estates, now accessible as public parks.
Beeckestijn dates back to the 18th-century and used to be a summer residence of an Amsterdam regent. Now you can visit it freely to enjoy a walk around the stunning gardens, unique in the Netherlands.
2 historically important styles can be seen here side by side. A tightly geometric part according to the French baroque style and a more natural English landscape park. But it also has as a big vegetable garden, located in front of the restaurant.
The gardens are always open and freely accessible. The main building is now a museum where you can marvel over the beautiful period rooms, open from Friday -Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm.
We had a delicious and healthy lunch at the Brasserie here, situated in the side building, formerly the coach house and stables. I can highly recommended to stop over for a meal here in a lovely setting, both in and outside, as you can see in this gallery:
Ruins of Brederode
On the edge of Velsen near Bloemendaal you can find these very interesting Medieval Castle Ruins, built around 1355 by the Lords of Brederode on the foundation of an older castle.
Unfortunately Spanish soldiers looted and burnt the castle in 1573, after which it stayed in ruins. The castle however remained in possession of the Brederode family until 1679.
Now it is cared for by a foundation and open to the public for a fee of €6, incl.free parking, from Wednesday until Sunday from 11 am - 5 pm, until end of October.
Make sure to buy your tickets in advance and get an impression in this gallery:
There's also a tea garden and plenty to do for kids. And several exhibits and special events are held here throughout the year, about which you can read more on their website: Ruins of Brederode.
Another country estate, next to Beeckestijn Estate, is Landhuis Waterland. Inhabited since 1717 by the Munter, Corver, Trip and Hope families. The estate comprises 26 hectares of land and the stylish mansion is currently used as an eco-hotel with just 11 rooms and suites.
The hotel embraces sustainability and slow living with many lovely seating options both inside and outside to completely relax and enjoy this pure setting.
You can also have lunch or dinner at stunning in-house restaurant. This time we only stopped by to marvel over the beautiful building and interior, which is highly unique and a must visit, see for yourself in this gallery:
One of the oldest villages of Noord-Holland, surrounded by the North Sea Canal and several country estates. Velsen is now a quiet rustic village with a tumultuous past.
From the beginning of 700 even until the middle of the 1900’s it was the religious and administrative heart of the area.
Between 1906 and 1969 half of the village was however demolished to make space for the widening North Sea Canal. Luckily during the 1950s appreciation for the historic value of the village grew, and renovation and restoration started.
After which in 1970 the village was declared a protected site by the state.
The remaining village is quite small, mostly with simple 18th-century houses and a few buildings and monuments from longer ago. Like the former town hall in neo-Renaissance style from around 1640.
It makes a stunning mix of quaint architecture, looking out upon the North Sea canal, with the occasional freight ship passing by in between the buildings.
Ijmuiden port & fresh fish
The fishing industry and port have been a huge driving force behind the development of Ijmuiden and what made this city prosper. It’s the ideal departure point for fishermen due to the proximity to fishing grounds, and a must visit if you like fresh fish and seafood.
In the port of Ijmuiden you can find many seafood restaurants to savor the freshest fish of the region, while watching the ships in the Kop van de Haven on a bench or terrace.
Or you can visit one of the many fresh fish shops at the Visafslag Halkade.
For a bit of history and adventure it’s also fun to take a boat from the port to the Unesco Fort of Ijmuiden, located on an island in the middle of the North Sea canal. Formerly part of the Defence Line which was constructed around 1889 to defend Amsterdam.
Nowadays you can explore the underground Fort yourself and there are also many adventurous activities. Special events or company outings can be organized there as well.
Atlantik Wall & Bunker Route
From here you should certainly cycle on to the beach to see a whole different side of Ijmuiden! On your way there you will pass by several remaining bunkers spread out over the dunes.
During World War II a large part of Velsen was turned into 'Festing IJmuiden', part of the Atlantikwall, a coastal defense line built by the German occupiers from Norway to Spain.
As IJmuiden was a strategic point many bunkers, tank walls and other defensive works were set up here to prevent an Allied invasion.
Many of these bunkers are still intact and a route of 2,5 kilometers can be followed past these rough structures, now desolated and often painted in the most creative ways. Free to follow over beautiful nature paths all year. For more info about this grim history you can also visit the Bunker Museum.
IJmuiden has 3 beaches with something for everyone. We visited the main beach for sunset cocktails. The widest beach in the Netherlands with 5 different beach pavilions, open year round.
Easily accessible with plenty of parking space and behind it a small boulevard overlooking the marina with several restaurants and stores.
This beach also offers plenty of wind- and water sports options, such as surfing, kite surfing and blokarting.
Blokarting is a very fun activity which I can certainly recommend and this is one of the few places in the Netherlands where this is possible!
Where to eat?
Of course there are also plenty of beach clubs and fish restaurant to enjoy the local delicacies of Ijmuiden here, but for some of the best marina views I can recommend:
Chef’s Food & Drinks at Leonardo Hotel Ijmuiden
This stylish restaurant is located directly in the Leonardo Hotel Seaport Marina and has just been restyled, looking classy and relaxed. But when the weather is nice it’s even better to eat outside, possible on their boulevard terrace overlooking the marina, and that is just what we did.
We had a delicious 3-course menu, with the steak tartare prepared right at our table according to our taste. The ice cream here is also highly recommend as they make it in-house with a big variety of unique flavors to choose from!
Find out more on: IJmuiden | Chef's! (chefsfoodanddrinks.nl)
Where to stay in Ijmuiden?
As you could have read in my previous blog I can highly recommend Duin & Kruidberg Castle Hotel, just outside Ijmuiden, if you prefer to stay in nature. Or the Leonardo Hotel in the marina if you want to stay in the center of it all!
But this accommodation looked very interesting as well:
A new style vacation park / eco resort, where sustainability and self-sufficiency are key, just across the street from the Leonardo hotel.
Next time I would love to stay overnight in one of their 32 unique Tiny Houses. But you can also rent a workplace or meeting-room here directly in the Kennermerduinen, right next to the beach!
But there is so much more to do in Velsen! Find out more yourself on:
And for more Instagrammable sites and unique things to do throughout the Netherlands, all tested by me personally, check out this page: Dutch sightseeing tips!
These were just some of my favourite activities and hotspots in and around Ijmuiden, which truly surprised me, because of their uniqueness and diversity. But there is still much more to explore here.
Luckily most of these spots in Noord-Holland are still lesser-known, but now you know where to go too! However please don't share them with everyone, so we can still keep these hiddem gems in the Netherlands a little secret😊