EuSEM 2014

Amsterdam Waterland

Walking, cycling and whisper boating through an ancient landscape

Just above Amsterdam you will find an idyllic Dutch landscape, characterized by the fact that it was created by man. Nowhere else is Holland as typically ‘Dutch,’ with its straight canals, winding ditches, draw bridges, ancient wooden houses, windmills and pyramid shaped farms. Juicy meadows with grazing cows, sheep and horses, and a church tower always present somewhere on the horizon. This is the land of Hans Brinker, the hero of the 19th century children’s novel who saved the Netherlands from a flood disaster by sticking his finger into a hole in the dike.

‘Amsterdam Waterland’ has two landscape pearls: Broek in Waterland with villages and cities surrounding it, and the 17th century polder De Beemster that was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Both landscapes offer a surprising World of tranquillity and nature that lies in beautiful contrast with the nearby bustle of Amsterdam. 

Broek in Waterland

Almost half of the total Waterland area consists of water (a splashing 5,000 acres). For foreign visitors, this is ‘the land of Hans Brinker’. Nearby Amsterdam you will find this typically Dutch polder landscape full of ditches, canals, draw bridges, windmills, historic villages and above all: wooden houses. Typical villages include Durgerdam, Zunderdorp, Holysloot and especially Broek in Waterland. From Amsterdam this area can easily be reached by bike in less than 30 minutes.


Broek in Waterland

Broek in Waterland is one of the most picturesque villages of the Netherlands. First mentioned in the 13th century, it flourished greatly in the 16th and 17th century. Testimony of the great prosperity are the many richly decorated wooden facades alongside the waterfront of the Havenrak, at one point in time a natural harbour. The late Gothic reformed church was set on fire by the Spaniards in 1573 during the Eighty Year War, after which the church was rebuilt in parts. Beautiful homes can be found primarily at De Laan, Roomeinde, Leeteinde, Havenrak and Zuideinde. In 1971, because of its cultural heritage, Broek in Waterland was declared a protected village.



Nowadays it’s hard to imagine, but at one point in time Ransdorp was more important than Amsterdam. This town started to flourish during the 14th century because of navigation. Some of the original ambition of the village can still be found in the colossal foundation of the 1530 church tower, made of walls wider than two metres. Due to limited funding, this 32 metre high tower was never completed. In the summer months this tower can be climbed daily, providing magnificent views of Waterland. Worth a visit are also the former town hall, dating from 1652, and the Westside of the cemetery.



The tiny village of Holysloot is picturesquely located on the Holysloter Die, a water that resulted after a dike collapsed. In the 11th century Holysloot was a village of peat mining. There are primarily wooden homes, mainly dating back as far as the 17th and 18th century. The simple, white church dates from 1847, as a successor to a medieval church.


Land van Leeghwater as World Heritage

The Land van Leeghwater consist largely of polder land, land located below sea level. It is named after Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater, Holland’s most famous hydraulic engineer. Under his supervision

several lakes in the province of Noord-Holland were drained, including De Beemster. Construction and living in this polder landscape is only possible due to the dikes and the artificial manipulation of the water level. In the past this was done by hundreds of windmills, nowadays with state of the art pumping stations. Typical for the Beemster are the beautiful 17th century bell farms and windmills in a geometric landscape. The attractions include the picturesque villages such as Grootschermer and De Rijp.


De Beemster: a 17th century polder as World Heritage

De Beemster is one of the best kept preserved ‘reclamation areas’ of the Netherlands. Since the 17th century, the typical landscape with straight subdivisions has barely changed through time and is unique in the World. The landscape with ditches, canals, meadows, and locks was built and dug by human hands over the course of a thousand years. This provided enough reason for UNESCO to place this area on the list of World Heritage in 1999 as a creative masterpiece, in which the 17th century ideal of harmony between people and their surroundings can still be discovered.

At one point in time the Beemster was a great lake, created by floods that took place in the 12th and 13th century. To prevent the further loss of valuable agricultural land, rich merchants from Amsterdam decided to drain the Beemster in 1607. With the help of a stunning 43 windmills the lake fell dry in 1612.

During the Dutch Golden Age, the Beemster had a great number of estates built by rich merchants. The residences Boschrijk located on the Jisperweg and Rustenhove on the corner of the Volgerweg and Middenweg, give a great impression of what these estates looked like in former days. Directly across from Rustenhove is the most famous bell farm of the Beemster, De Eenhoorn, dating from 1682. The Beemster still houses over 300 bell farms, with their typical pyramid shaped rooftops.

The village the Rijp is often referred to as the ‘most beautiful village of the Netherlands,’ with its meandering waters and historic buildings. Diagonally opposite the museum Betje Wolff is the Beemster Information Center. Located in the front home of the Westerhem, built by the 19th century village mayor. The agricultural museum (Agrarisch Museum Beemster) is located in the building behind this.


Walking, cycling and electro boating

Both Waterland just North of Amsterdam as the Beemster are very popular with cyclists and hikers. You can rent rowing boats, canoes and electro ‘whisper boats’ at various locations.

A great place to start you cycling or boating trip is in the picturesque village Broek in Waterland. The name says it all: here you will find more waterways than roads. Nearby villages include Holysloot, Ransdorp and Durgerdam. One hundred percent rural, this area is located is just a 30 minute bike ride from the centre of Amsterdam.

At the Beemster Infocenter visitors can find maps and directions. You can also rent bikes and boats here, to start your journey of exploration of the flat polder landscape with its old farms and wide fields, its meandering dikes, beautiful views and farms shaped in the traditional pyramid form. For centuries the inhabitants of this area fought the water. Nowadays, we can enjoy the water. This area has dozens of cycling and hiking routes. There are also wonderful boat trips available with a silent whisper electro boat or a canoe. 

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