It’s no secret that Hubby and I love to travel. Delicious exotic foods and friendly new faces on a busy street or a calm beach, surrounded by sights, sounds, and smells that you simply can’t find at home, gorgeous architecture and nature, fascinating cultures and history—we just can’t get enough. Prior to the tragic global COVID outbreak, we had the privilege (and the paid leave accrued at work!) to take multiple trips per year—some to visit family, yes, but virtually annually we were also fortunate enough to take at least one out-of-state or international vacation, be it by plane, cruise ship, or car. I think that our record is seven trips in one year, including relaxing-albeit-brief weekend getaways with our dog.
If you’ve been following the Amarvelous Honeymoon blog, then you already know all about our epic six-week honeymoon around the world, during which we made unforgettable memories at some of the best experiences that England, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan have to offer. If you haven’t read our award-winning 21-part series about Hubby’s and my honeymoon yet, then you can find the posts here.
So it’s no wonder that when it came time to celebrate our first-year wedding anniversary, we had to choose a trip almost as amazing as our honeymoon—and this time, we decided on Europe. Over the course of two weeks, we took an unbelievable road trip across four countries: Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The next few weeks of Amarvelous Honeymoon blog posts will commemorate the unbelievable time that we had on this particular trip, and this week we’ll be covering the charming and adorable harbor town of Volendam in Holland.
Admittedly, when I began research on the Netherlands to see where we would visit during our road trip, Volendam wasn’t on the list. Most posts I’d seen online suggested the more popular cities of Amsterdam, Delft, Utrecht, The Hague, and Rotterdam. However, my oldest and dearest friend happens to be from the Netherlands, so I picked her brain about the best places to see, activities to do, and food to eat, and she provided exceptional recommendations.
Volendam was a destination she knew well, as her aunt and uncle lived in the town, and her family had spent holidays there growing up. She coined it as her number-one recommendation for a city to visit other than Amsterdam. She noted that it is an adorable town, super close to Amsterdam, doesn’t require a lot of time to see, offers amazing seafood since it’s a fishing town, and though it’s gotten more touristy in the past few years, that hasn’t spoiled its charm.
Based on that assessment, I was in. Of course, we’d planned to also spend time in some of the more popular cities of the Netherlands, but if one of my best friends thought this small town was worthy of mentioning, then I was definitely going to find a day to fit it in.
The Best Time to Visit
Did you know… the Netherlands is world famous for its colorful tulip fields? Around two billion tulips are exported every year, making the Netherlands the world’s largest exporter of flowers. Tulip season is around April 10th to May 5th. The exact week depends on when the last frost of winter takes place, because this affects when the bulbs can be planted. However, if you visit the Netherlands around this window of time, you are bound to see tulips. It was a dream of mine to frolic through tulip fields (stay tuned for our next post haha), but it was pure luck that our wedding anniversary falls on this exact date range!
How To Get There
Flying into the Netherlands is amazing. If you fly in during daylight, definitely snag the window seat because you’ll be in for a treat. There are green rectangles of farmland, water systems, wind turbines, and you’re in the Netherlands, so you’ll have the pleasure of flying over fields of colorful flowers. The bird’s-eye view of these strips of colors was really astonishing.
Volendam is only a 40-minute drive north of the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Hubby and I flew into Amsterdam and rented our car right from the airport. We immediately hit the road for Volendam. If by chance you wanted to visit Volendam and did not plan on renting a car, there are public transportation options that take about an hour and can bring you from either the airport to Volendam or Amsterdam to Volendam.
It was a quick and scenic drive. Most of the view was greenery or water in the form of channels and canals. Along the way, we spotted tulip fields, several windmills, and local farms that produced cheese and wooden clogs. As we got closer to Volendam, there were more waterfront canal homes with small boats to get around instead of cars. Very neat way of life.
One thing I wish we would have considered was time of arrival in Volendam. We usually like to go with overnight flights, so you arrive in the correct time zone and aren’t jet lagged, and it also saves you on a hotel cost for that night. However, arriving in Amsterdam, we landed in the late afternoon. By the time we rented the car and drove to Volendam, it was starting to get dark out, and everything in this small town was closing.
Where to Stay
We booked the Art Hotel Spaander. It was right on the water, which allowed a view from our room. I figured if we were staying in a harbor town then we might as well stay along the water. In reality, it was super cold that April evening and way too chilly to spend time on our balcony anyway, but it was a nice view when we woke up in the morning.
The hotel itself was adorable. Super beach cottage vibes and loads of cool art hanging on the walls—hence the name Art Hotel Spaander. There was an indoor pool, but we didn’t take advantage of it as it was a chilly April in Europe, and we didn’t pack bathing suits. Upon arrival, we checked in and dropped off our bags upstairs. The room was great with a king size bed and balcony overlooking the water. Above the bed hung a print of two young Dutch children from the town. The bathroom was small but had all the essentials.
This hotel was right off the main road, called Haven, where there are plenty of restaurants and kiosks lining the seaside street literally steps outside the door of the hotel. It was excellent proximity to everything. Once we parked our car, we didn’t need it again until we left. The walk along this street was gorgeous. The architecture of the buildings and chimney-lined houses was beautiful. Then you turn around and you’re looking at a small marina with docked sailboats and the sea behind it. Just so picturesque.
Where and What to Eat
After checking out the room, we went to eat dinner in the downstairs pub. It was quiet as we were one of the only tables. The hubbs ordered a salmon dinner, and I ordered a grilled pork chop. The food was yummy. We were grateful we had arrived before the kitchen closed, because we’d have really been out of luck since everything closes early in this sleepy harbor town. We took a stroll down the street after dinner and confirmed that everything was indeed closed. But that walk helped us map out the area and get a look at the shops so we could plan our day out for tomorrow.
We had decided that since we’d only have half a day to explore the town, it would be nice to get as early of a start as possible. The next morning, we started our day by waking up super early to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant right when they opened. The room was lovely and bright, with windows overlooking the sea. Breakfast was served buffet style and was quite a spread. They really had everything you could want. I highly recommend it. We love buffets as they are great bang for your buck and fill you up for a good portion of the day. We found some funny Dutch foods at breakfast, such as boxes of rainbow or chocolate sprinkles. Growing up, my Dutch friend would eat sprinkles and butter on bread (like a sandwich). I always thought it was just because she had a sweet tooth, but after being in the Netherlands, I see now that it’s simply an offering that many eat.
My friend had recommended that we could find the best gerookte paling (smoked eel) and kibbeling (fried cod) of our lives in this town. Eel (outside of a sushi restaurant) may sound a little strange, but it’s served on a soft roll and is amazing.
You may hear people recommend Netherlands stroopwafel as a must-try desert. Do not be confused (like I initially was) by the Belgium-looking waffles. Although these were also tasty, they are NOT the Dutch syrupy treat my friend told us about. We learned later when we were at a farm that made fresh stroopwafels that we had had the wrong dish in Volendam. Real stroopwafel is more like a chewy wafer cookie made from two thin layers of dough pressed with a thin lining of filling in the middle. Most commonly, you will find a caramel or honey-like substance in the middle, but you can also find fancy stroopwafel with other filling flavors, or dipped in chocolate, or even with additional toppings. This is a MUST EAT in the Netherlands. We actually went to a grocery store and stocked up on a bunch of different flavors and brought them home for coworkers. This was way more affordable than the farms or boutique shops. Although those are super tasty treats for a single serving, it would be too expensive to buy them in bulk.
Something I’d like to note separate from all of the attractions is that a bunch of the stores in Volendam have free or very cheap (a few Euros) experiences. For example, we saw how cheese and clogs are made, walked through a life-size diorama of a traditional Dutch home, and watched a video on the history of Volendam, all for either free or a couple Euros. Keep an eye out for signs that invite you upstairs or downstairs for an interactive experience. Very cool to find so many educational activities, and especially the free ones. Loved this part of Volendam.
Cheese Factory Volendam: This store had a bunch of tasty cheese!! My favorite part is that you can taste everything. There were tons of samples for us to try and find our favorite cheeses. There was a demonstration where you could watch how the cheese is made and how they wax the wheels. Very cool seeing behind the scenes.
Foto de Boer: This is a place where you can take cheesy (pun intended) pictures in traditional Volendam clothing. This activity is fun for the whole family. There are a couple of stores that offer these fun photos, so I’d suggest you swing by the few shops, see which clothing, props, or price you like best, and then go with that one. And Volendam is the perfect place to take these costumed photos, because many people consider the traditional Volendam dress the most iconic traditional Dutch outfit, as Volendam is the region of the Netherlands whose outfit became the most recognized internationally.
Museum Mondial: This museum features microminiature art made by Mykola Syadristy. The tiny objects of art are barely perceptible to the naked eye but discoverable under a microscope. The example below is a pyramid, palm tree and camels inside of a sewing needle hole. It’s incredible! I found this museum online and added it to our list of fun attractions, but because we didn’t have an itinerary for our day, and we were just strolling along the main street going into every shop, I thought I had seen everything and it wasn’t until we left that I remembered we didn’t go here. It’s actually on Havendijkje and not Haven, which is why we missed it. Literally steps away, and I just forgot.
Souvenir shopping: There is an abundance of souvenir shopping off Haven. We started our Netherlands trip in Volendam and were able to find affordable and unique souvenirs for most everyone back home. The best part was that we had a car, so we weren’t worried that we began our trip with this big haul of gifts. One of our best finds were these delft (blue and white pottery originating from the town of Delft Netherlands) house number tiles that we gifted to my in-laws, who ended up hanging them on their mailbox back home. We also found a bunch of small ceramic clogs that we gifted to all of our coworkers and even turned into a Christmas ornament for ourselves. I found a great pair of polarized sunglasses, and we also got socks, lighters, dish rags, and more. So many goodies can be found on this street.
Wooden Shoe Factory: This shop is a place where you can get sized and buy your own pair of wooden clogs in so many patterns and colors. Upstairs there is a video screen and some stumps where you can take a break, sit down, and watch a video on how these traditional wooden shoes are made.
If you have more than a day, then I would also suggest the following activities:
- Bicycle rentals: This waterfront town is just beautiful. I would have loved to have rented bicycles and ridden around for a few hours to explore the area.
- Volendam Museum: Just a few blocks inland from Haven sits the Volendam Museum with life size dioramas showcasing traditional clothing, artifacts, art, and lifestyle. It truly gives a good sense of the history of the city.
- Rederji Volendam Marken Express Ferry: If you have a full day, or two days, then you can take a ride on the ferry that will bring you to a small island off the coast called Marken. People walk around in traditional garb there, and it’s a cool experience. We didn’t get to take part in this activity, as we only had half a day and filled it with the rest of what the waterfront town had to offer.
When leaving Volendam, we had more of an open schedule and it was only afternoon, so we decided to stop into some of the farms and shops we had passed along the way into town the day before. We first stopped into Alida Hoeve Cheese Farm and Wooden Shoe Factory. They had sheep outside that were friendly and came up close for photos. Inside they had loads of cheese samples. We tasted everything and bought some cheese which we snacked on in our next hotel. This is where we had learned what real stroopwafel was. They had stacks of twelve prepackaged stroopwafel and also samples to try. They also made wooden clogs here, but we had spotted another place along the highway that we planned to stop into next to check out the clogs.
After that farm, we stopped into Irene Hoeve Clogs and Cheese Shop. The painted rooftop advertisement had caught our eye on the way in yesterday, and it did not disappoint. We got a real education and in-person demo of someone making clogs. Super cool. I loved the fun photo opportunities as well. Nothing like sitting in a HUGE yellow clog.
All of the farms along the main roads that sell cheese and clogs have ample room for tour buses and do indeed get buses full of people. It can get crowded, so just keep that in mind if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t have time for cheese sampling or register lines.
We had the most splendid time in Volendam. I am so glad we listened to my friend’s advice. We could have stayed in any town but driving just over a half hour to this cutie harbor town and spending half a day walking around exploring the culture was really a special memory and one of my favorite days of the trip. I’d highly recommend Volendam if you want something a little different out of your own Netherlands trip.
Stay tuned for our next Amarvelous Honeymoon post where we continue our time in the Netherlands and discuss the tulips! Hup Holland!