One of the Netherlands’ best kept secrets is the country’s amazing beaches. To be fair, the Lowlanders and the Germans have been aware for more than a century that the coastline is spectacular but most British travellers and those from further afield seem to be completely in the dark about the magnificence of the Dutch coastal landscape.
Running from the Wadden Sea Islands down to the Belgian border, Dutch beaches are incredibly wide and sandy and here’s the killer bit – they are also incredibly hip.
As well as being a haven for kids and kite surfers, the beach is a place where the fraternity set, hipsters and savvy locals flock when the cities are getting steamy in the midst of Summer or even on dark and drizzly evenings when cool kids head beachside for a warm and cosy vibe.
Unlike British beaches, the coastline here is characterised by rows of spectacular pavilions. More like beach clubs than cafes, these large semi-permanent structures are the place to spend a chilled out day or night hanging out, eating, drinking, dancing to the hottest DJ’s, soaking up the sun and meeting friends. Some are open year round, others just for the season (from about March through to October) though it’s hard to believe how many are completely dismantled and rebuilt when you see how substantial they are.
Inspired by Ibiza, Spain, Cape Town and more recently Mexico and Bali, the decor is often luxe, the ambiance chilled and the living good.
Expect fire pits, wind breakers, large sofas, serious beachbeds and restaurant tables and menus that range from standard burgers and borrel to Asian delights and creative cocktails.
Pavilions are also popular choices as wedding venues, which gives you an idea of how different they are from many of the UK’s coastal cafs!
Although we have never had a bad beachside experience, those in the know wander past the regular pavilions and head instead to something even more fabulous.
So grab yourself the very best and freshest herring or fried mussels (my favourite) from one of the beachside fish trucks and then check out these stunners for a memorable day at the beach.
The promenade in Zandvoort is nothing special and the overall vibe is probably the least upmarket of The Netherlands’ beaches but don’t let that put you off! The beach is the closest to Amsterdam (just half an hour on the train from Central Station) and if you pick the right pavilion you’ll step into a different world.
Ubuntu (an African word meaning humanity and compassion) has a bit of a reputation for being the place the beautiful people hang out. But on a recent rather grey day the kids and I headed here and had one of the most relaxed afternoons of our trip.
Outside by the sofas and tables there were buckets and spades as well as the most Instagrammable swing in town. But when the drizzle arrived, we headed indoors and that’s when things got really cosy.
Settling down with some paper and pencil games we kicked back by the fire tables serenaded by a soundtrack of cool French ‘chansons’ and enjoyed hot chocolates, apple pie and a seriously comfy sofa.
If Soho House did beach pavilions it would be a little bit like this.
Owned by the same people as Ubuntu, Hippie Fish opened a few years ago and quickly topped the Zandvoort hipster chart. With the tagline “slow down, stay a while” and an interior to match, this is another place where you’ll find it easy to while away an afternoon or more.
I had dinner here on a rainy evening. The food was great (the Thai beef salad was excellent) and the style as chic as their other pavilion down the road – this time styled with bamboo furniture and hanging plants.
Designed as so many places are now, with Instagram in mind, I’m looking forward to the next time I can ‘slow down and stay a while…’
Other recommended options at Zandvoort include Tent 6 which has a laid-back Mediterranean vibe and is popular with expat families and Thalassa which is more basic but often packed with kids due to its extensive playground on the beach.
Bloemendaal has a reputation for being cool and having more of a party scene than its close neighbour Zandvoort.
In the past we’ve hugely enjoyed spending the day at George No 5 in Bloemendaal which has now been taken over by Bernie’s Beach Bar.
Best described as the “Nikki Beach” of The Netherlands it has a reputation for attracting beautiful people with money to burn. Very unusually for the Netherlands, this pavilion has two pools, as well as a cool restaurant (run by a former michelin chef) and a hip vibe. You will have to pay for a deck bed here but its a worthwhile investment.
It’s a great place to head on a sunny day (though don’t expect to have it all to yourself!)
Noordwijk may just be my favourite beach, More spread out and less hectic than Zandvoort and Scheveningen but not as ‘chi-chi’ as Bloemendaal, I have fallen in love with a number of the pavilions here.
Close to the lovely town of Leiden, and not far from The Hague there are lots of chilled places to hang and enjoy a lovely stretch of beach.
There are 3 ‘blogger favourite’ pavilions that are always highly recommended in Noordwijk. I did some digging and on closer inspection it turns out they are all owned by the group who run Ubuntu and Hippie Fish in Zandvoort.
We hung out at Tulum one day in the Summer and found it hip and full of the ‘beautiful people’ but it was an afternoon at Branding one sunny Easter that really stole our hearts. Great music, lovely setting, awesome food… I was tempted to move in and stay for a week.
Looking for something that isn’t bleached wood, then Beachclub O might be worth checking out although its a lot more upmarket. A favourite for weddings, it does have a rep for being a bit snobby, but you might be able to forgive them once you’ve seen the plush interior and significantly fancier building.
Or head to Breakers Beach House which bills itself as “The Netherlands’ finest beach house’ – it’s part of the 5 star hotel Huis ter Duin (house on the dunes) and if the prices are a little eye-watering, the view of the sunset from the ridiculously comfy sofas (shielded from the wind and perhaps with a G&T in hand) should soften the blow.
But if the latter two sound a bit too upmarket, I’m planning on heading to Nomade on my next visit. This place looks seriously FABULOUS.
No list of beaching Dutch style would be complete without a section on Schevening. The upmarket residents of The Hague are lucky enough to enjoy this beach just 15 minutes from the city centre and come Summer, boy do they make the most of it.
Once again the necklace of pavilions right at the centre around the Aquarium are all perfectly good and we’ve enjoyed some lovely afternoons there after yet another morning at Madurodam, but they are also more touristy, busier and less unique than many of the places just a short stroll further along so if you want something a little more hip, check out the selection below:
The names that come up time and time again include:
Oriental food and a bit of a party scene
Bit more chilled out, good for kids and surfers
Just off the main boulevard. One of the most beautiful bits of the beach and pretty relaxed vibe.
Perennial favourite. Casual, stylish, hip. Good for kids. A great option all round. We loved our recent visit on a grey day in July. Many of the pavilions looked a little deserted but Barbarossa was buzzing. Fabulously friendly staff and excellent food (my flamkuchen with raw tuna and wasabi mayonnaise was dreamy)
Amazing pizzas from their woodfired oven. Super kid-friendly with a great children’s menu, but not too shabby for the grown ups either – goats cheese and truffle honey pizza anyone…
Relaxed, down to earth, unpretentious. What’s not to like?
And still there are more – other, quieter beaches with their own wonderful places to hang.
Places like Bergen aan Zee with its lovely Blooming Beach
Castricum with Club Zand
So don’t limit yourself to the cities of the Netherlands – head to the coast. Just watch out – you may never want to return…