Dutch destinations: enjoy the beach at Katwijk and Noordwijk

The beach at Katwijk. Photo: Brandon Hartley

You’ll find these two charming coastal communities a few kilometres northwest of Leiden. Head to either to avoid the larger crowds that typically flock to Scheveningen and Zandvoort on busy summer weekends.

The histories of Katwijk and Noordwijk date back a few millennia. The Roman Empire used Katwijk as an outpost along its northern border. Its proximity to the Rhine River made it a suitable port back in those days and it was often used as a departure point for voyages to and from England.

Noordwijk was officially founded in the 13th century. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, fishing gradually became the primary source of revenue for both towns. Tourism has largely supplanted it in recent decades, but their maritime heritage still echoes through the ages in the historical displays in the Vuurbaak, the lighthouse in Katwijk.

Noordwijk from the air. Photo: Depositphotos.com

The fishing crews have been largely replaced by beachside cafes and businesses that offer kite surfing lessons. Both communities can be incredibly busy during the summer months but they’re well worth visiting any time of the year, especially for those who enjoy brisk strolls along the sea during the off season.

Five things to do

Hit the beach…
Let’s get the most obvious attraction out of the way: the coastline itself. Beachcombers and dog walkers flock to the shores of Katwijk and Noordwijk regardless of the season unless they’re getting pounded by heavy winds and rain. Even then, you’re bound to find a few diehards out there.

The two towns are close enough that you can walk from one to the other. The trek typically takes an hour or so if you stay on the sand, provided you don’t get distracted by kite surfers, seashells, and/or the lure of snacks and drinks at a beachside terrace. Feeling more adventurous? Contact Beach Break, which offers lessons and more for those who want to learn how to surf or kite surf. They’re in Noordwijk.

Katwijk’s Oude Kerk from the shore. Photo: Brandon Hartley

…or wander through the dunes
The Duinmeertje Coepelduynen nature preserve runs alongside the coast between Katwijk and Noordwijk. Along with rare mosses and mushrooms, it’s home to a variety of birds including nightingales and warblers. There’s also a chance you might get a glimpse at a more elusive deer or fox. Certain areas are closed to the public during breeding season, though.

Gaze into the future at the Space Expo
If the weather isn’t behaving, head to the Space Expo a family-friendly museum located at the The European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) between the two towns. Devoted to the history and future ambitions of space exploration, the exhibits include a walk-through model of the International Space Station and astronaut André Kuipers’ original Soyuz space capsule.

Children will also get a kick out of Expedition Space Expo, an ‘interactive mission’ that will earn them a astronaut diploma if they complete all the activities.

Step into the past at the Vuurbaak lighthouse
This lighthouse in Katwijk dates back to 1605 and is the second oldest one in the Netherlands. It was phased out in 1912 and was never equipped with a flashing electric light. Nevertheless, the Vuurbaak served as a watchtower during WW I and a machine gun post during WWII when much of the surrounding community was literally torn apart during the construction of the Atlantic Wall.

The lighthouse is one of the oldest in the country. Photo: Brandon Hartley

Displays about the history of Katwijk and the tower itself will lead you all the way to the top where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the sea and the town below. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Europoort in Rotterdam.

Get a bit comical
The Museum of Comic Art (MoCA) in Noordwijk is another option if your plans to hit the beach get rained out. It’s devoted to the work of American and European comic book and newspaper artists.

Where to eat
There are plenty of beach-side cafes in both Katwijk and Noordwijk. Strandpaviljoen Paal 14 in Katwijk has a casual beach shack vibe complete with a bar built out of an old Volkswagen van. They primarily serve steak and fish. Strandclub Witsand in Noordwijk is a bit more posh with a large menu featuring poke bowls, black truffle risotto, and even Peking duck. The cafe also has its own furniture line.

Those travelling with fussy eaters, especially ones under the age of 10, might want to aim for Katwijk’s Pannenkoeken & Grill De Beslagkom. They have pancakes as well as meat and grill dishes.

Beach pavilion Paal 14. Photo: Brandon Hartley

If you’re more interested in spending time on the sand than in a cafe, Harteveltvis is an outdoor stand along the main boulevard of Katwijk with fried seafood including kibbeling but the crowds can be brutal during the summer months.

The same goes for Pistacchio, an ice cream stand further down the boulevard. The proprietors have been cranking out scoops both there and at Vivaldi’s in Noordwijk since 1995. As the name implies, WinterLodge in Noordwijk is open year round. Along with seafood and burgers, they also have pizza.

Where to stay
The four star Hotel Alexander is a short walk to the sand in Noordwijk and guests can use the Azzurro Wellness Centre next door for no additional charge.

If you don’t like getting woken up early by families heading to the beach with their sand buckets and coolers, try Hotel Hogerhuys. Also located in Noordwijk, they have an adults only policy. B&B de Cley is another option if the kids will be spending a weekend with opa and oma.

The family-owned Hotel Zee en Duin Katwijk has been going strong since 1928. It has great views of the sea and over 500 types of whiskey in its lounge. Travelling with a tent or caravan? Try Camping Zuidduinen. They offer safari tents and camping huts, too. 

The Volkswagen bar. Photo: Brandon Hartley

How to get there
The drive down from Amsterdam typically takes around 50 minutes to Noordwijk, a few minutes longer to Katwijk. Going via public transport is a bit tougher. Your best bet is to head to Leiden Centraal and take a bus over to either town. You can also get to them via Voorhout Station.

Anything else?
If you like beer, try a Tulum Cerveza Blanca. It’s a Mexican-inspired microbrew that’s available in several beachside cafes and elsewhere as well as Tulum itself. Located in Noordwijk, it’s a cafe that also has its own furniture line. What’s with all these beachside eateries that have their own furniture collections? Your guess is as good as ours.

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