The name won’t make much sense until you venture North of Amsterdam. Aptly called for its low elevation (even by Netherlands standards) and tendency to flood, Waterland is home to many villages with colourful histories. Exploring Waterland by bike takes you through the sea-faring and farming communities of long ago. Many of these ancient villages and their monuments still stand, gestures to their former grandeur, and ornaments to their peaceful present.
Average Trip Time:
Around 15 minutes from YourCityBike, and you’ll notice the streets becoming wider, and the houses becoming more impressive. You’re now in Amsterdam-Oost. This neighbourhood began to grow steadily in the nineteenth century, and continues to give a sense of scale and space.
Today, it is home to a vibrant mix of communities, evident from the wide variety of cuisines that can only be recreated with native intuition. Turkish bakeries, Surinamese restaurants, and Middle-Eastern cafes mark Oost out as a place to liberate your taste buds.
Around the buzzing Oosterpark, you will also find the Tropenmuseum for a more ethnographic dedication to modern art than the Stedelijk on Museumplein, as well as Linnaeusstraat’s string of bars with outdoor seating areas and live music. Check out Biertuin’s terrace on a sunny day, and sample their extensive range of beer from Amsterdam and beyond.
After passing Zeeburgereiland, you reach an impressive bridge over the IJ. With miles of lake stretching out on either side, you get the first sense of the appropriateness of the name Waterland. A sharp turn right takes you towards the ancient village of Durgerdam, famous for Herring fishing and naval captains.
As you cycle along the Durgerdammerdijk, spare a thought for the thirteenth century inhabitants of the village. They raised the dam one spadeful at a time: a truly colossal sandcastle. The difficulties were not over for the villagers, as the Zuiderzee silted up to the extent that it became impassable for large ships, conceiving the expression ‘waiting at Pampus’ (voor Pampus liggen) – having nothing to do until the tide rose. The entire village, moreover, was destroyed in a 1687 fire.
Today, Durgerdam stands tranquil against the hardships of its past, a wonderful stop at the gateway to watery Holland.
The first thing you’ll notice as you arrive in Ransdorp is its highly decorated and impressively square church tower. Once a thriving trading post between Holland and the Baltic sea, Ransdorp’s sea-faring prospects declined in the sixteenth century as Amsterdam’s advantageous location boosted its prowess.
It remains a popular stopping point for travellers to gaze out at the impossibly flat fields, buy some local cheese, and explore the history of the city that never was. There’s a couple of places to stay if you’re taking it slow. A traditional Dutch B&B, and the eco-lodge with farmhouse vibes, the Tiny Inn are well off the beaten track.
The sky feels big and the fields broad in this isolated village, largely cut off from the rest of Holland owing to the never-finished Goudriaankanaal. Fuelled by farmers and sailors, Holysloot also marks one of the earliest settlements ever discovered in the Netherlands.
It’s a good point in the journey to pick up a bite to eat. Het Schoolhuis is in the building of a nineteenth-century school. But before your palms start sweating, let me assure you there isn’t a blackboard in sight. Better than that, it has a good wine and beer selection and typical Dutch food. It’s open Thursday-Sunday 11:00-23:00, and on Wednesdays from 11:00-18:00. There’s also a church to tick off the bucket list: dating back to 1875 and complete with whitewashed stone, it drips Protestant starkness.
A meandering path along the Uitdammerdijk brings you to a place of the same name. With the Markermeer on one side, grass on the other, and hardly another sole in sight, you know you are in true hamlet territory. With fewer than 160 inhabitants, you catch a glimpse of the quiet lives still led by Waterlanders.
Marken used to be an island, but became a peninsular when a causeway was built in 1941. Providing ammunition for debates over geographical jargon, and lungfuls of fresh air, Marken popularity is well deserved.
Its remoteness keeps the crowds away, whilst its beauty holds in those who venture there longer than they expected. The old Paard van Marken lighthouse is so named for its apparent resemblance to a horse (if you squint very very hard). It’s equally worth looking further into the history of this once cut-off settlement and it’s seafaring past in the Marker Museum, as it is to wander round the green wooden houses and old marina.
Ferry From Marken To Volendam
This is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. You get a comfortable cruise over the Markermeer with panoramic views of the coast of Waterland, and cut out what would otherwise be a long cycle to Voldendam. The trip takes 45 minutes, and your bikes are welcome on board for a small fee.
Departure times and prices can be viewed here.
Another pretty Waterland town with a little more buzz than some of the smaller places.
There’s a few little beaches, as well as the classic Dutch houses and harbour. The lake front by the marina hosts a strip of places to eat, drink, and be suitably merry. It’s well worth finding an outdoors spot to gaze out over the Markermeer and the distant sails of boats on their journey.
What’s better than Edam? The answer: Edam in Edam.
The village dates back to the thirteenth century, and has since enjoyed a worldwide reputation for cheese-making. The architecture gestures to its prosperity, but the highlight is its cheese market. Once a daily occurrence, the market now runs every Wednesday in July and August. Be sure to time your visit to glimpse the old tradition, complete with cheese carrying, inspection, and of course, tasting and trading.
There’s a small museum in a old house, and a lopsided bell tower dating back to the fourteenth century. The Kwakelbrug – a traditional hand-powered drawbridge – protects against potential invasions and provide excellent Instagram opportunities.
Like many of the Waterland villages, Zuiderwoude enjoyed a boom in the seventeenth century, but its fortunes declined with the rise of Amsterdam as a hub of industry and trade. Another small community – of around 250 residents – Zuiderwoude features a church dating back to the eighteenth century, a couple of shops, and a small elementary school. If you’re feeling peckish, hop of the bike at Theetuin ‘t Einde with its quirky interior, gorgeous garden by the water, and chocolate fudge cake.
Broek in Waterland
You’re now on the home straight, and gradually moving back into populated territory. Broek in Waterland’s population of 2500 might seem staggering compared to the hamlets you’ve passed through, but the small town retains those countryside vibes, with a couple more places to eat and drink.
The IJscafe Antonio is perfect for families who need a sundae to cool them down. De Witte Swan is good for more substantial food, as well as sweet and savoury pancakes. If some of your party are keen to visit Waterland but would rather not cycle, it’s possible for them to take a bus and meet you at Broek. They leave from the north side of Centraal.
The town enjoyed a couple of illustrious visitors, including Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in 1781, and Napoleon in 1811, who wanted to check out their pagoda-sized gazebo. Add yourself to this fine company before you head homewards.
The final stop on your, frankly epic, biking trip around Waterland, is the village of Zunderdorp. Like the rest of Waterland, its inhabitants were engaged in a mixture of farming and naval trade. The latter declined with the prominence of Amsterdam, fixing milk production as the more recent trade of the townspeople, the oldest of whom might still remember the milk boats departing to Amsterdam.
Whilst you might have had enough of churches, it’s well worth having a look at the fifteenth-century tower of the Reformed Church. Less so for its architecture, and more for its macabre tale. in 1925, it was struck by lightening, causing part of the tower to fall on the hapless J.C. Ligtermoed. What had been a pleasant stroll through a storm, became an instant death sentence. You can stand on the very spot if you’re brave enough, but keep an eye out for storm clouds.
Ferry to Centraal Station
A chance to rest your legs and feel a sense of arrival back into central Amsterdam. The three main ferries across the IJ are free of charge and welcome bicycles. The Buiksloterweg route takes only three minutes and brings you to the back of Centraal. Just 10 minutes more pedalling and you’ll be back at YourCityBike, tired, but full of stories of your adventure.