Both Amsterdam and Hoorn are known for their historic inner cities with beautiful monuments from the Golden Age (17th century). It is often forgotten that the largest monument from this Dutch Golden Age is located between these two cities. This fascinating polder landscape (Unesco World Heritage) with its many dikes, windmills and historic villages got its current appearance in the 17th century thanks to the reclamation of inland lakes using traditional Dutch windmills. Much of this beauty cannot be seen from the motorway. That’s why I’d like to take you on an exclusive private tour through the real Netherlands. Below you will find some ideas for an Amsterdam – Hoorn countryside tour. Contact me for more info!
1. Waterland and Edam
Directly north of Amsterdam we find Waterland. This is a beautiful polder landscape that has been inhabited for 1000 years. The landscape is characterized by the small height differences between the land and the water. In some places there are cycle paths and roads only 15 centimetres above the water in the adjacent ditches. The land is too marshy for arable farming but suitable for cattle farms. The small village ‘Broek in Waterland‘ is a hidden pearl with more than 80 national monuments and a church dating from the 14th century. In Waterland we also find some beautiful historic places like Monnickendam and Edam. And all this less than 20 km from Amsterdam.
2. De Beemster, De Rijp and the waterline of Amsterdam
Nowhere else are you going to understand the polder landscape between Amsterdam and Hoorn better than around De Beemster (Unesco World Heritage). In the 17th century (400 years ago!!) people had had enough of the regular flooding and there was a need for more agricultural land. With the money that rich Amsterdammers earned in trade, the various inland lakes were closed off from the sea by dikes and dried up by windmills. These new polders were then used for agriculture. The structure of De Beemster has hardly changed since the 17th century. There are still a few gentlemen’s farms from the 17th century to be found. Around De Beemster there are a few historic villages of which De Rijp is the most beautiful.
On the edge of the Beemster there are old forts that are part of the ‘Stelling van Amsterdam’. This is a line of defence that has been built around the city of Amsterdam since 1880. The most important element of this defence line was an ingenious system in which parts of the land could be flooded in order to stop enemy armies. Some old forts can be visited. Both from Amsterdam and Hoorn we are within 20 minutes by car in the middle of the Beemster!
3. Historic windmills around the Schermer
Tourist information about the Netherlands always contains nice pictures of windmills and tulip fields. Very often those pictures are so beautiful that I started to doubt if those pictures were real. Thanks to my cycling husband I’ve now discovered that these places really exist and that they are also close to Amsterdam and Hoorn. And even more fun is that the most beautiful places are very quiet because they are difficult to reach by train or coach. But by car (or bike) we can make a beautiful tour along rows of historic windmills where we can take pictures that are even more beautiful than the ones in the guidebooks. A tour along the windmills around the Schermer can be done in 1.5 hours, but in practice we need more time because we will disembark regularly!
4. The (second) lowest point of the Netherlands
Between Amsterdam and Hoorn there are several places along the Markermeer that are worth a visit. A very special place is Etersheim. This is a small village of which a part is 6 meters below sea level. The village was founded around 800 and has been flooded regularly over the centuries. The original village was swallowed up by the sea around 1200 and then rebuilt on its current location. Close to the village we can easily climb the old Zuiderzee dike. Then we can see at a glance how big the difference between land and water is. Also in Etersheim there’s an original watermill that regulated the water level until 1920. Etersheim can be seen in combination with one of the other attractions between Amsterdam and Hoorn.
5. The Zaanse Schans
Once upon a time the Zaanse Schans was known as a paragon of innovation. Czar Peter from Russia came to this region especially to learn how windmills are used in the industrial production of wood, paint and oil. Nowadays the Zaanse Schans is a beautifully maintained neighborhood on the river Zaan, with old wooden houses and original windmills. You can visit a museum and visit several windmills. But just walking around is actually enough (free entrance!). I myself often find it too crowded but it is certainly worthwhile to drive by for a quick look. From Amsterdam we can reach the Zaanse Schans in 20 minutes by car.
6. Infinite tulip fields
The most beautiful tulip fields can be found in the countryside between Amsterdam and Hoorn. The location differs every year because the tulip growers only grow tulips once every 4 years on the same piece of land. They do this to prevent diseases in the crop. Because I regularly explore the whole area by bike and car, I know in time where the largest and most beautiful tulip fields are. Almost every year we find beautiful tulip fields less than 15 minutes drive from the centre of Hoorn. The flowering season runs from the end of March to the beginning of May. In mid-April the tulip fields are the most beautiful. Visiting the tulip fields can easily be combined with a visit to other beautiful places between Amsterdam and Hoorn.
Practical information Amsterdam – Hoorn countryside tours
A tour through the countryside from Amsterdam to Hoorn is always tailor-made. Together we discuss how much time we have available, where we can start and what exactly we are going to see.
– Departure: from Amsterdam or Hoorn
– Route and highlights to visit: in consultation
– Duration: 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours or 8 hours
– Number of persons: 1 to 8 persons
– Lunch / dinner: in consultation
– Costs: depending on programme, group size and transport choice.
Taxi bus, car or bike?
If we want to move quickly and see many different things, it’s handy to take the car or a taxi-bus. But for experienced cyclists it is also possible to make a bicycle tour. It will also be possible to cover a distance of 50 to 65 km by bike.
Amsterdam – Hoorn countryside with guided tour Hoorn
The best travel tip for foreign visitors to Amsterdam: visit the countryside above Amsterdam and take a day trip to Hoorn. The tourist centre of Amsterdam is beautiful but also very busy. A day trip to Hoorn is therefore a welcome break and turns out to be a highlight of the trip. Hoorn is a small version of Amsterdam and has a beautiful historic city centre. A tour of Hoorn can be combined with a visit to the countryside between Hoorn and Amsterdam. Click for more information about guide tours and city walks in Hoorn.
History of the landscape between Amsterdam and Hoorn
The area between Amsterdam and Hoorn has largely been reclaimed from the water by people. It is a chain of polders, where the water level is regulated by dikes, constructed canals, locks and pumping stations. In this low-lying country the ‘polder model’ was invented with which water from low-lying land could be pumped away. This was only possible through cooperation between the various communities.
Yet this has not always been the case. Originally, it was a marshy peat bog that lay well above sea level. This peat area was intersected by winding peat rivers such as the Bamestra, Ye and Gispe, which carried the water to Almere. That was the sweet inland lake at the spot where the Zuiderzee was later formed (now the IJsselmeer and Markermeer).
The land only came to lie low when the pioneers of the 11th and 12th centuries mined the peat: they dug ditches to drain away the water, to make the land suitable for arable farming. As a result, the peat oxidised and the soil fell sharply. At the same time, the sea level rose. It became increasingly difficult to get the (rain)water out of the land. Every storm resulted in a storm tide.
To keep their feet dry, the inhabitants had to build dikes along ditches and lakes, construct dams and floodgates in peat rivers. And then the technical possibilities increased: building locks to let boats through the dams, building mills to pump the water away. From the 17th century onwards, development gained momentum and a large number of inland lakes were emptied in a relatively short period of time. Later, new land was reclaimed at the expense of the Zuiderzee.