While moaning about the bad weather may be a national pastime in the Netherlands, the country has an important and thriving beach culture – as soon as the sun comes out. Here’s our guide to Dutch beach culture and the best Dutch beaches.
The Dutch coast stretches over 1,900 kilometres, from the Wadden Sea Islands in the north to the Dutch-Belgium border in Zeeland. There are naturist areas, surfer hang-outs, family beaches and a wide selection of beach bars, ranging from the super hip to fried fish-bits and beer outlets.
Even on a summer day, that first toe in the water confirms that North Sea waters are brown and cold, and a far cry from the tempting warm, crystal clear blue waters of the Mediterranean.
But this does not discourage the multitude of visitors from braving the waves on summer days. Sea temperatures range from a cold 2 Celsius to an unusually warm maximum of 20 degrees in the height of summer.
Local surf schools recommend wearing a wetsuit all year around to combat the colder water temperatures, especially if swimmers plan to be in the water for an entire surf lesson.
In terms of water quality, the infrastructure ministry follows Brussels guidelines and carries out regular analysis of beach waters during the official bathing season (May 1 to September 30).
Beaches flying a blue flag – the international symbol for a clean and safe beach – have met clean water and safety standards, and are therefore the best spots to hit the waves.
Millions of people
An estimated ten million visitors head to Dutch beaches each year. A large percentage of this figure can be attributed to the 2.5 million German tourists who cross the border seeking a place to plant a deckchair, to sit with toes digging in the sand, and to over-expose white bodies to UV rays.
If horizontal sun worship and sand castles are not enough, numerous beach-side entertainment options are available: taking surf lessons, playing beach football, yoga, indulging in local cuisine, heading into the dunes on bike or foot to explore local flora and fauna.
The Netherlands has some 350 summer pavilions – most of which are only in place for the season. Beach regulars are familiar with the individual services and flavours of each of the pavilions, but newcomers may need to check menus and entertainment listings to ensure the food, music, chill zones and crowd suit them before pulling up a chair.
The seasonal factor is also relevant to general pavilion business: a good summer means more visitors, hence better business. Fortunately the Dutch tradition of charging to use the toilet means there is always some income, irrespective of weather conditions.
Where to stay on a Dutch beach holiday? The usual options of hotels, holiday parks, campsites, B&Bs are generally available. Another possibility is to rent one of the strandhuisjes, or beach huts, that temporarily line some of the Dutch beaches in the warmer months.
This accommodation is suitable for self-catering couples with a maximum of two small children, who don’t mind living close to their neighbours. Many of the strandhuisjes on Zandvoort beach belong to Amsterdam residents, who have the option of living in or renting out the house during the beach season. If you are interested, you need to make early enquiries.
Weather factors aside, Dutch beaches are the place to be on long summer days. Beach fanatics are even seen on the beaches during the winter months – walking dogs, jogging or fighting with the combination of waves and kite surfs. It is all a matter of finding the beach that matches the needs and relaxing requirements of the individual beach-goer.
Here’s our listing of 12 Dutch beaches with something for everyone:
Bloemendaal aan Zee – easy to get to, all amenities and services available, and on a smaller scale than neighbouring Zandvoort. Bloomingdale beach bar is popular with the in-crowd while George Number 5 has a real south of France feel.
Katwijk: Close to crowded Scheveningen, Katwijk boasts the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands, has a delightful promenade and more space to spread your towel.
Bergen: Close to the Schoorlse Duinen, Bergen is popular with nature lovers and artists.
Renesse: 21 kms of beach with only about a dozen café/restaurants, some open all year round. Popular with youngsters in search of a good time and known by some as Lloret de Holland. Close neighbor is Ouddorp beach.
De Koog on the island of Texel, the largest of the Wadden Sea Islands, and a very decent beach with something for every member of the family.
Domburg: Located at the edge of a nature reserve, De Manteling, this is the oldest beach in Zeeland. Wide clean beach with accessible boardwalks, old historic buildings and numerous beach pavilions and cabins.
Zandvoort: Busy coastal town and popular long strip of beach catering to most beach lovers. Some days the drone of racecars can be heard from the local racetrack, possibly a draw for some visitors.
Kijkduin: Family friendly beach, 30-minute bike ride from Scheveningen. Children’s activities on offer include the lighthouse, the ‘Atlantis’ play boat and the artificial crater, ‘Het Hemels Gewelf’.
Cadzand-Bad: Another Zeeland beach close to the Belgian border offering unspoilt beaches and many accommodation options.
Scheveningen: Often compared to Coney Island in NY, critics claim it is too commercial and targeted at tourists. This seems to have little impact on the masses enjoying the beach on warmer days. In addition to the usual beach fare, Scheveningen offers a casino, cinema, bowling alley and a multitude of restaurants, cafes and beach pavilions.
Velsen-Noord: Under the belching smoke of the Tata steelworks, the beach is wide, wild and particularly suitable for surfing. Timboektoe started out as a popular surfers shack but is a great place for a sundowner.