The Netherlands is known for many things: tulips, Van Gogh, canals, and a love of bicycles, just to name a few. But did you know that it’s home to one of Europe’s best off-the-beaten-path beach getaways, too? A few hours from Amsterdam, Zeeland province contains sandy coastlines and dunes reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. It’s far from the ever-popular south of Spain and France, so you’ll have fewer crowds to compete with and more euros to spend. By Sydney Baker
Most tourists come from nearby, including the Dutch and Germans who are keen on avoiding a plane trip. Unlike Amsterdam, Americans are a rarity in Zeeland, and the most common language after Dutch is German. Be prepared to use Google Translate for signs and menus. Questions in English often receive German responses, too.
This Netherlands beach destination is something you’ve never heard of
The province is also extremely dog-friendly. So, whether you’re travelling with a four-legged friend or simply enjoy watching pups run along the ocean, this Netherlands beach destination is for you. Note: Dogs must be leashed during the summer season (May through September) and are not allowed on some beaches. Look for a sign at the entrance for each location’s specific rules.
As for where to base yourself, you’re spoiled for options on the “Zeeland Riviera,” made up of Domburg, Westkapelle, and Zoutelande. Boardwalks, cycling paths, and hiking trails follow the coast and connect the three towns, complete with ocean, dune, and countryside views.
Westkapelle is home to the Polderhuis Museum — a great place to learn about the destination and the surrounding area’s history. The much-photographed lighthouse used to be a church tower and now provides one of the best views in the province. The main beach is sandy, next to which there’s a paved section for campervans or those who want to fish offshore. Meanwhile, Zoutelande (aka the sunniest place in the Netherlands) has a sprawling white-sand beach, reminiscent of a private island. And Domburg, one of the oldest resorts in Zeeland, offers up arguably the cutest town. It’s the place to be if you’re learning to surf, with a few shops in the small village. If you prefer to golf, check out the Domburgsche Golfclub with beautiful seaside views.
Oostkapelle is another beautiful option — what began as wealthy merchants’ vacation estates are now rentals for families wanting to enjoy the beach.
Transportation options vary. For those travelling from abroad, the closest airport is in Amsterdam. From there, you can either catch a train to the capital of Middelburg and connect to your destination via bus, or rent a car in Amsterdam and drive. If travelling from within Europe, check the bus and train schedule to Middelburg and then take a bus to your town, or rent a car in town.
If there’s one thing you won’t do in Zeeland, it goes hungry — all the towns have an amazing assortment of cafes and restaurants. Boschhoek is a cafe in Oostkapelle serving up drinks and snacks near the beach with a cute outdoor terrace covered in vines and twinkling lights. If you have kids, there’s a mini-golf next door. Ontbijt in Domburg is a one-stop-shop for delicious lunch and dinner meals, gelato for a hot day, or pastries for a morning treat. Also in Domburg, Pop is an adorable, vegan-friendly cafe with amazing coffees and snacks. It’s also a fair-trade shop if you’re looking for something to take home. Westkapelle’s De Boterkapel is also a can’t-miss for its Asian-inspired cuisine, complete with an open kitchen where you can watch your meal be prepared.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, you’ll have plenty to choose from in this Netherland beach destination. Oranjezon, located on the edge of Oostkapelle, is a rugged option featuring wild horses and winding trails. De Manteling, a nature preserve situated between Oostkapelle and Domburg, runs right up to the dunes (that then give way to the beach) and can be explored by foot, horseback, or bicycle. You’ll also find Westhove Castle in De Manteling, now a youth hostel with a moat. (Only hostel guests can visit the side.)
Besides long walks along the beach and hiking the dunes, there are plenty of other activities in Zeeland. Horseback riding is popular among the Dutch, and numerous equines can be seen galloping along the sand or trotting along the road throughout the day. If you fancy a ride, check out Sophie’s Choice or Manege Duno.
Those who prefer the sea can head to the Sportshop in Domburg, which provides surf lessons and camps. For an interesting experience, visit the famous Oosterschelde storm surge barrier, a perfect example of Dutch ingenuity. And for low-key beach days, most pavilions have kites, boogie boards, and snacks for sale.
Zeeland is truly a year-round destination, but what’s best for you depends on your interests. Like many European beach destinations, the high season here is June through August, when the weather is ideal for laying out on the sand — not always the case in the Netherlands. However, the shoulder season (April to May and September to October) also brings nice weather, with smaller crowds, more dog-friendly rules, and cheaper prices. Winter, meanwhile, is free of crowds and comes with discounted rates, but note that many places and activities close from November through February.
(This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com)