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Explore the wider horizons of Amsterdam – there’s more to the city than stag dos

Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans

I’M not too far from Amsterdam and I’m pretty high.

But before you tut disapprovingly, I should explain I’m in the back seat of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a plane flying 1,000ft over the Dutch province of Flevoland.

All pre-flight wobbles have been swiftly hushed by the therapeutic views – long stretches of neat green fields, orderly rows of white wind turbines, the gentle curve of the Houtribdijk dam.

It’s the picture-postcard version of the Netherlands. The vision we all had as kids before sordid tales of red-lit stag parties trampled all over the tulips and windmills.

So I’m here to discover a more wholesome side to a destination often perceived through its underbelly. To reclaim it, if you will.

Reclamation is a word I frequently hear at my first port of call, the Gasterij De Oostvaarders in Almere, a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

This restaurant, which serves locally-sourced organic produce, overlooks the Oostvaardersplassen, a stunning nature reserve populated by red deer, sea eagles and konik horses.

It’s hard to believe that just 50 years ago this park, like much of the area, was marshy swampland. In fact, I’m six metres below sea level with my feet planted firmly on the ground. No goggles required.

Over hunks of steaming hot rye bread layered with salty smoked salmon, I learn about how the land was reclaimed from the sea.

In a feat of engineering often referred to as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, a clever system of dams, dikes, pumping stations and polders helped push back the water of the Zuiderzee and create the province of Flevoland.

The Nieuw Land Museum in nearby Lelystad delves into the history and construction of the area, with plenty of interactive elements to keep kids entertained (and skeletal remains for big kids like me).


Just as interesting is the Batavia shipyard, where you can hop on board a reconstruction of the port’s eponymous 17th Century ship. I’m completely captivated by lively tour guide Evert-Jan, who leaps around the deck animatedly regaling us with stories of the ship’s colourful past.

Taking a stroll along the Lelystad harbour is a treat when the sun sets, the yachts on the Markermeer lake silhouetted against a pink sky. It’s a view I continue to soak up while dining at the award-winning restaurant t’Dijkhuysje where I savour every bite of my beer-marinated Mangalitsa pork.

The feast sets me up well for an exhilarating RIB boat ride the next morning across Holland’s biggest lake, the Ijselmeer.

The air is crisp, the sun bright, the spray refreshing.

We speed past fishermen at 80kph towards Exposure, an impressive 85ft-tall steel sculpture of a crouching man by artist Antony Gormley (the components of which, it turns out, were fabricated by pylon manufacturers in East Lothian).

After an hour on the water I’m back on land en route to Naarden, a centuries-old fortified town that lies 20km east of Amsterdam.

Quiet and quaint, its cobbled streets are lined with chocolate-box houses and boutique shops.

It’s easy to explore on foot, and if you can hack a 235-step climb up the tower of the Gothic Grote Kerk, you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the star-shaped town and its double ring of ramparts and moats.

My appetite whet for all things historic, I pay a visit to the ominous-sounding medieval castle of Muiderslot, located halfway between Naarden and Amsterdam at the mouth of the River Vecht.


Happily, the most sinister thing I encounter is an evil glare from an otherwise majestic Eurasian eagle-owl in the grounds.

The castle, with its moat, drawbridge and five towers, is a fairy tale sketch come to life.

As the Vecht is so close by, it seems fitting to end my stay with a canal boat trip, admiring the country manors and tea houses nestled on its banks along the way.

I used to view Amsterdam as nothing more than a long-weekend destination, but I was wrong.

There’s much to explore in this beautiful region – so make sure you venture outwith the coffee shops next time you go.

KLM fly from Glasgow to Amsterdam Schiphol daily.

I stayed at Hotel De Lange Jammer in Lelystad and the Fletcher Hotel Nautisch Kwartier Huizen.

An I Amsterdam City Card costs from 49 euros and provides free public transport in the Amsterdam region plus entry to several attractions.

For more info, visit