What would you say if I told you Holland, or as we call it more often “the Netherlands”, is a country built beneath sea level?
Did you know that over one third of the country is man-made and beneath the level of the harsh waters of the North Sea.
Don’t worry, I didn’t either. So it was a fascinating coincidence that the tourism board from the Netherlands invited me to come and explore their country for three days, and in that time I discovered a new side to this famous European country.
See, to be honest, I mainly knew about the Netherlands because of its cheese and famous international hubs like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, etc. But for Belgians like us, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump north. We packed up in a car and headed out on a road-trip to explore Holland land of water!
Our journey began in Zierikzee, which is 95 km from the city of Antwerp.
This quaint little town is on an island in the south western part of the country and has a rich history dating back to great sea battles waged here in the 14th century!
We kicked off the trip with lunch at Proef Zeeland, which is, by the way, an awesome place to have lunch.
We were treated to fresh fish right out of the sea, literally.
People from around the country come here specifically for the fresh seafood that they catch early in the morning right off the coast of Zeeland, the island municipality Zierikzee is a part of.
Deltapark Neeltje Jans
With our bellies full, we drove to Deltapark Neeltje Jans, which is not only an amusement and water park, but also an educational stopping point.
We had a guided tour where they explained why and how they use the storm surge barrier. Often called a dyke, to protect all the villages that are in what they call Holland.
They explained that as recently as 1953 a large part of The Netherlands was washed away by a massive flood from the North Sea during a storm.
To prevent for that ever to happen again they have spent the last fifty years building lots of water management systems where they can control the water levels surrounding the area.
The park even has it’s own storm simulator. So you’ll have an idea what happened in 1953 and understand why they work so hard to keep improving their systems to keep their people safe.
After a great experience at Delta park Neeltjes Jans we head out to town.
In Zierikzee, you can still see how high the flood came at some points, and the sheer volume of water is staggering. I wouldn’t have believed the stories unless I’d seen the
markers with my own two eyes. Luckily, this little town has recuperated and it’s a lovely, cosy place to visit.
With its narrow streets and beautiful buildings, you really do feel like you’ve been transported in time to the old Europe our Grandparents don’t even remember.
The buildings themselves offer a quirky insite to the area as well.
The local church has an unfinished tower next to the sanctuary that still sits unfinished due construction conflict. Turns out it was not possible to connect the tower and the
church as the builders had originally planned!
Also the upper side of many houses leans forward at an odd angle. Apparently this was all the rage for a while because as it leans forward it creates an optical illusion. Which makes the house appear bigger, giving you a higher social standing in the community!
Hotel Hampshire: Our Hotel in Zeeland, Renesse
Because we had to travel into the country, our first day was short because our day started quite late.
Having packed as much as we could into what we had left in the day, we checked in at Hotel Hampshire in Zeeland Renesse for a relaxing evening and dinner.
The restaurant in the hotel, named Arc en Bleu, serves excellent dinner and has a great wine selection to choose from.
The nice thing about the hotel is that It’s only 5min from the town center by foot, so after dinner some of us left for a nightcap.
I thought it would be a ghost town by night but I was wrong. This town is alive and super cozy to have a drink.
Best of all, if you don’t feel like eating in a hotel than there are plenty of choices when it comes to restaurants.
Once we got back to the hotel, we split off to our rooms for the night.
The hotel itself looks charming and has all the facilities that a decent hotel should have. A clean room with a comfy 2 person bed, a small dining table and a clean bathroom with a
My bathroom itself felt cold, but was clean which is by far the most important thing.
Personally I do feel like there was a lack of personality in the room’s decor but that’s a personal opinion and didn’t affect our sleep in the slightest.
Also, the staff was friendly and outgoing, and check in was super smooth as was check out.
All in all, it was a good hotel with its own coveted parking if you are passing through Zeeland.
Lelystad Airport a flight over Flevoland
This was the highlight of our road trip!
Airport offers unique business meeting location with a view of the runway stretching out into the Netherlands and beyond.
From here, we had the opportunity to fly in a 4-person plane over Flevoland and that was fantastic!
As you gaze down at the countryside you can tell the difference in the natural landscape and the sections that are man-made.
They’ve done this to continue expanding their land mass over the centuries.
Truly Holland is a “land of water”, they were even building an island while we were flying over it.
You know those islands in Dubai? Well you can sorta compare it to that.
Once down in the airport again, there’s much more to do. Everything from viewing exhibits in the showroom to taking a flight simulation in any corner of the globe.
Why visit Batavialand
There are mainly two reasons; Firstly, it’s near an outlet shopping center Walhalla. But secondly, if some members of the family don’t like shopping, there is
a pretty awesome museum that tells a story of over 2,000 year of Dutch ships and maritime history.
They have a replica of an old ship called the Batavia ship which was the pride and joy from back in the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch sailing.
One of the things that stuck with me was the ‘Flevowand’, an embroidery that is 60m long and 50cm high. It tells the history of Flevoland how it became land of water and was made by
twenty-five women taking them over fourteen years to sew. Talk about girl power!
The Museum is fun for both young and old alike, and it’s interactive for kids but also fascinating for the adults attending.
Giethoorn, The “Little Venice of the North”
Giethoorn was actually on my list of things to see near my home in Belgium.
I’d been told a small town called Giethoorn is as pretty as Venice in Italy but slightly different.
It’s similar to Venice in that the entire village is built on a canal system. I was pretty stoked to explore, So right after lunch we had a tour around town.
Pretty as venice Italy
I can tell you that this place is so photogenic, every corner and every bridge is a pretty picture. From canals, canal boats, people walking to and fro past classic thatched homes that look like they belong in a fairy tale. It is truly a must visit,
I understand why they call it the “Little Venice of the North”.
I will say that Giethoorn is quite small and exploring the town doesn’t really take that long, so it’s a great place to spend the morning before swinging by the National
Park. Oh, did I mention there’s a National Park nearby?
Weerribben Wieden National Park
If you’re looking for a really quiet place for the weekend, than Weerriebbe Wieden is the place to be.
I love national parks and this one is pretty unique. You can go kayaking here, ride a bike or just a normal boat tour.
I did the boat tour. I should warn you to have mosquito repellent with you because they were everywhere. But at least in addition to the mosquito’s you can spot different kinds of animals, from deer to a valkier hunting their prey.
You’ll also find beautiful B&B’s here and you can only get here riding a bike cycle or by boat.
In addition, there is a camping sight close by. It’s such a beautiful portion of the country, even the former Queen of the Netherlands had a small house here!
Hotel die Port van Cleve
After an exciting day, we head out to our next accommodation which was located in Enkhuizen, which happened to be the next village we got to explore the next day.
This hotel in Enkhuizen is located in the center of town in front of inland port and is only 5 minutes from the train station.
I really liked my room! The ‘Die port van Cleve’ hotel counts 24 rooms and has a restaurant, lounge, bar and a terrace with a view of the inland port.
I had quit a big room to myself, a double bed with a lounge area, a desk to work at and a mini bar.
My window view was cool too, it had an astounding view of the port.
The bathroom was also amazing! I had a large shower and a hot tub with light
therapy and a TV. I wasn’t expecting that, the rooms look bigger than you’d give the building credit for.
The hotel also offers a continental breakfast and the staff is friendly as can be. Check in and check out went smooth as Chinese silk.
Enkhuizen a Small Port City
Now, what is so special about Enkhuizen?
This tiny city has a lot of history. At one time it was one of the most prosperous cities in Holland.
You can still see it while strolling around the city looking at beautiful old mansions, churches, and the old city walls.
Did you know that the more windows with ‘interruptions’ or checkered pane, (see picture below than you’ll get what I mean) the ‘richer’ you were?
This was because each piece of glass was hand blown into a large bubble and cut out of the side of the bowl by hand to then piece together. It was a long expensive process!
As most towns in Holland tend to be, this city was just like the ones we visited previous, surrounded by water and have a harbor.
You can get fresh smoked fish here and it’s really a pretty sight that reminded me of Lake Garda in Italy.
I think the group I was with all agreed that it was really nice to walk here and take a lot of pictures.
Almost every street has something special to offer you; from the way a house is built to a picturesque canal resting the middle of cosy street.
Visit a Typical Polder Mill in the Netherlands
When we Belgians think of the Netherlands than we automatically think of poldermills, or classic dutch windmills.
I know were not alone in that, most people do, but why is that?
Well here at Schermermolen you can take a look at a typical poldermill.
People actually lived and worked in these things. In fact, some of these windmills in Schermerhorn are over 400 years old and still works.
They were used to put the polder dry and made more land, all before the use of electricity. Talk about water management!
De Rijp, Maybe Even Better than Giethoorn
Save the best for last, they always say.
So we did! De Rijp was actually our last village to visit before we end our road trip.
A village that looks really tiny, the Rijp is located in Alkmaar not too far from Amsterdam.
By this point we know that Holland waterland is man-made and has a lot of history
which they are proud of! So I’m not going into the history again.
but why visit this village?
Instead of narrow Streets, you’ll find narrow canals to get to certain points, and it is beautiful .
Most houses are built on polder islands, so if you don’t want to walk around to get to a point then just take a boat like most of the island’s citizens.
For me, this is way cooler than Giethoorn, I’ve never seen anything like it.
To top it of, the neighbors all know each other and always say hi when you pass
Again a fun fact, you can get from the village (with a bigger boat) to Amsterdam if you like but it will take some time to get there.
This was my favorite village from our whole road trip, friendly people cute narrow canals, what’s not to like?!
Holland Land of water in a nutshell
This article contains our whole road trip in a nutshell.
As you can see, I’ll be highlighting some subject to get into it a little deeper.
It’s amazing how the Dutch were so determined to tame the sea and still are fighting hard to protect their hard won land.
I got to see a different side of Holland and it was an eye opener for me.
I did not expect to learn so much, but I definitely have a different opinion about the Netherlands.
Just like I said in the beginning or this article, I know the Netherlands Holland is fun country to go
shopping and city hopping, but trust me on this one. There’s so much more to it than meets the eye!