Let me take you on a blind date with the Netherlands! Be surprised as I was, when I walked 414 kilometers (257 miles) through the Kingdom. Hiking in the Netherlands: from a landscape of cows and estates in the east, forests and heathlands in the center, to the low grasslands (polders) and sandy coastal areas in the west. The route I followed was diverse and introduced me to the interesting texture of the landscapes that Holland has to offer.
For this blog post, I divided the route into 3 parts: east, middle and west. Each section has its own unique attractions. In between, I share some personal thoughts about how I got hooked on hiking and why!
The trail I walked has a concept, a common thread. Wearing my camera, hiking boots and backpack, I followed the so-called Path of the Migrating Birds (“Trekvogelpad” in Dutch). The Trekvogelpad (initiated in 1999) follows and passes rivers, the North Sea coast and polder landscapes, landmarks often used by migratory birds. Besides flora and fauna, the trail also shows you surprising insights into Dutch culture and heritage. Are you ready for a Dutch hiking cocktail?
My thoughts on why I started hiking
I can hear you thinking: Act of Traveling about hiking? That’s somethings new! Let me tell you why I started hiking in the first place. Like so many, I became a passionate hiker after living in a world of lock-downs where after a while you just have to get out of the house. So I bought a pair of professional hiking boots and hit the road. My first hikes were short (10-12km) but I soon moved on to longer distances: around 30km (18-19 miles) a day.
I became addicted to hiking because these first trips already made me appreciate my own country all over again. I discovered places nearby that I didn’t even know existed or that I had only visited as a child: natural parks, historical monuments, picturesque villages, unique landscapes. This blogpost is about exactly that: how hiking (or traveling slowly) made me consciously witness the diversity of our unique, Dutch landscape.
After a couple of months, I felt I was ready for the big stuff. I picked one of the most popular long-distance hiking trails, the TrekvogelPad. The trail would take me across our country, from the eastern border with Germany to the west coast. 414 kilometers of being by myself, with nothing more than Mother Nature to accompany me. And I realized I didn’t need anything else…
Hiking the trail: the eastern part
I walked the trail from east to west (both directions are signposted). I live in this eastern part of the country, yet I was surprised by the places I passed. The area is mostly agricultural landscape but it’s filled with beautiful estates, ancient watermills and even castles. Woods and farmland are intermingled where keywords here are quiet, friendly, clean.
This area is not so densely populated as the west, but that is also the charm of this place! In this part of the country, people will always greet you and welcome a stranger to their hometown.
The castles and estates are the highlight of this part of the route, where I was pleasantly surprised by the care taken to maintain the historic estates for future generations. For me, this section is also about the abundance of farm roads with trees on either side. Especially early in the morning, preferably with a little fog, my camera is always ready to take another picture.
My thoughts on hiking alone
Some people asked me: who do you hike with? No one, just me, is my answer. I like to be alone (I’m a true introvert). I feel like I can connect with my surroundings much better when I’m alone. The individual traveler gets different attention from others than couples or groups. But you also have much more attention to the places around you, no distractions, just nature and yourself. Like I experience everything much more intense. More conscious. Does that make sense? Leave your ideas in the comments!
Hiking the trail: the central part
This long-distance hiking route seamlessly strings together different landscapes into a patchwork that reflects the Dutch landscape. On the central part of the route, you move from agriculture landscape to primeval forests in a nature reserve called the “Veluwe”; the sounds of tractors and cows fade away, where the muffled sound of birds slowly becomes hearable in the dense forest.
Part of the Veluwe is a fenced National Park (called ‘De Hoge Veluwe’) where you have to pay an entrance fee. By doing so, you are not only supporting the preservation of nature, but also of some historic buildings, such as the Country Residence Sint Hubertus below, which is considered one of the most image-defining buildings in the country.
Another interesting place to visit in the Veluwe National Park is the Kröller-Müller art museum. This museum houses the second largest collection of Van Goghs paintings and drawings in the world! The museum is also located in one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe. So, if you are tired of walking, or just want to take a few extra days to explore the Veluwe, rest ensured that there will be plenty of entertainment for you!
Soon after walking through the Veluwe you will be treated to another great National Park: ‘De Utrechtse Heuvelrug’, the second largest forest area in our country (Veluwe is our absolute number one). The area is hilly (created 150,000 years ago during one of the last ice ages) and offers great views of the nearby Rhine river. Thousand-year-old villages like Amerongen and Rhenen are fun to stroll around in, they offer many historic buildings, a picturesque castle, nice restaurants and a few hotels.
My thoughts on what hiking has made me realize
Being outside in nature is soothing to the body and mind. At least that’s what I realized during all those trips. And I don’t think I am the only one with that: hiking in nature is like a remedy: a cure for work stress and relief from pandemic worries. When I feel down or overwhelmed, a hiking trip in nature quickly relieves me from all those depressing feelings. The magical early morning sunlight in the forest, an unexpected appearance of a deer, the fantastic variety of mushrooms, and so much more. For me the forest also offers great photography opportunities too! Check my Instagram feed if you like.
The Netherlands offers a variety of long-distance hikes, you can check them out via this Exploring Holland website. It also answers the question: Is it safe to hike in the Netherlands? The answer is obviously: yes 🙂
It’s safe to hike in the Netherlands!
Hiking the trail: the (final) western part
Starting in the east, you have experienced the agricultural part, stood in front of historic castles and estates, beautiful National Parks and maybe even a deer or two. Now it’s time to visit the western part of the Netherlands. Here you will find the traditional (fishing) villages, the flat grasslands or polders and windmills at the Zaanse Schans. Everything our country is world famous for.
Everywhere in our country you find lovely villages and windmills, but this part in the west is different. It’s mainly built on reclaimed land (polders) where the former inhabitants of the villages engaged in fishing and even whaling. The houses are hundreds of years old and the atmosphere is so different from nearby cities. If not for the many cars, it’s almost like stepping back in time.
Walking from village to village through the flat grasslands, sometimes having to stick my boots deep into the mud, I enjoy the sounds of the many birds living here. During the breeding season (March to July) parts of the trail are closed, so you have to take that into account. Same goes for some of the small ferries on route, they might be out of service due to high water or maintenance. Please check this before you head out!
So when you visit the Amsterdam area, try to escape the urban jungle and visit villages like Durgerdam, Ransdorp, Broek in Waterland and De Rijp. Places you will all visit when you walk the Trekvogelpad. De Rijp is a perfect example of a historic village full of national monuments. From the 17th to the 19th century, this village was doing very well because of fishery and whaling. Dozens of green-colored, wooden houses, typical of this area, makes this an unforgettable destination.
End of the trail
The trail ends on the beach. What a way to end this trip, drinking an ice-cold beer with my feet resting in the warm sand. It’s a special moment. You remember all the places you passed, the people you met. This trip has made me realize three things. First, I don’t always have to travel far to be surprised and inspired. Second, our little country has a stunning network of long-distance hiking trails of some 12,000km (7,500 miles), so for the next few years (or decades for that matter) I’ll be fine. Third, we really need to protect nature. Nature is fragile and very sensitive to change. The Netherlands is also subject to loss of biodiversity and deforestation (to name a few). Let’s respect the nature that is still there and accept that we, humans, do not own it. We are allowed to use and enjoy it. For example, watch the Netflix documentary Fantastic Fungi and I promise you will never look at mushrooms the same again! Or read ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wholleben, again an eye opener I can tell you.
Every path invites you to go further. There is always another place to discover and it will surprise you. And if you look closely, that place might be right next door.
The website Wandelnet offers a total overview of the Trekvogelpad, including downloads of GPX files and descriptions of each single legs (23 in total). It took me 4 months to finish the route.