There are many quaint, historic towns in the countryside around Amsterdam. Many of them can trace their roots back to the 16th century whilst some of them have a history that goes back even further. During the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, when Dutch merchant ships could be found in every sea in the world, these towns flourished on the heels of Amsterdam. Fishing, shipbuilding and trade were the backbone of their economies, and with the greater wealth, beautiful homes and buildings were built. Towns and villages like Marken, Volendam, Edam and Monnickendam, situated north of Amsterdam, rose to importance, the remnants of which can still be seen today. These places in the Amsterdam countryside, north of the city, are easy to reach as part of a scenic drive or bicycle trip.
Explore the Amsterdam countryside
These towns and villages are within a half hour’s drive from Amsterdam, making them perfect for a short scenic drive whenever I have guests visiting. I often drive the loop which takes me from North Amsterdam past the picturesque village of Durgerdam, along the coast of the Markermeer (a huge lake that’s popular amongst surfing and windsailing enthusiasts) to the island of Marken, then further to the towns of Monnickendam and Edam (that’s world famous for its cheese) before heading back to Amsterdam on the N247 road.
A bike route along the historic towns north of Amsterdam
Another option is to rent a bike in Amsterdam and cycle on the dykes along the same route. The advantage of doing this route on a bike is because the bike paths are laid on top of the dykes whilst the roads are behind the dyke. This gives cyclists a much better view of the Markermeer on one side and the gorgeous villages and grassy meadows on the other.
It’s very easy to hire a bicycle in Amsterdam as there are a variety of rental companies scattered around the city. Once you get your bike, make your way to the rear of the Amsterdam Central Station and cross the Ij Harbour to Amsterdam North (the ferries run frequently and are free). Once in Amsterdam North, make your way to the village of Durgerdam, the first village in the Amsterdam countryside north of the city.
You’ll soon notice the beautiful houses that line the main street, all with views of the Markermeer. The village is also a good point to stop for a coffee and a snack before continuing your bike ride. From Durgerdam, the path traces the shore of the Markermeer along a dyke. You’ll enjoy uninterrupted views of the lake and many sailing boats on your right, and verdant fields with cows and sheep, farmhouses and windmills on your left. You’ll also pass various smaller lakes on the land-side, with a variety of bird-life – keep your binoculars ready to spot herons and the odd owl.
The path continues for about 12kms (7 miles) to the Monnickendam-Marken intersection. Turn right towards Marken. The path then follows the road on a causeway that links the island of Marken to the mainland. Marken is a historic fishing village that’s most famous for its wooden houses, many of which were built on stilts. It’s a popular village amongst tourists, who come here to stroll around the picturesque village centre and marina, visit the cheese and wooden shoe factory and have a look inside one of the historic homes. While you’re here, stop at the ‘viskraam’ (fish stall) and try some ‘haring’ (raw herring served with chopped onions) or kibbeling (fried fish nuggets) with remoulade sauce.
From Marken’s harbour, you can take the ferry across the Markermeer to Volendam, another tourist favourite. The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes.
Volendam is a historic fishing village that is especially popular amongst tourists. The lovely harbour is home to beautiful sailboats and is surrounded by quaint homes and shops. Tourists visit Volendam to stroll around the colourful town, see the locals, some of whom still wear their traditional costumes, and taste Dutch specialties such as pancakes, ‘poffertjes’ (mini-pancakes), herring and smoked eel.
If you have time, you can continue from Volendam to Edam, a short distance away, or head back to Marken on the ferry and continue back to Amsterdam via Monnickendam.
This is a loop that would take a full day by bicycle but the mix of gorgeous scenery and historic villages makes the trip absolutely unforgettable. You can also visit Marken, Volendam and Edam as part of a full-day guided tour or a guided tour using public transport from Amsterdam.
View Bike route Amsterdam – Marken in a larger map
Read about other places to visit in the Netherlands
- Twelve day trips from Amsterdam
- A drive around the tulip fields
- Holland at its best
- A weekend in Rotterdam
- Delightful Delft
- Charming Amersfoort