Although Amsterdam’s popularity is well deserved, travelers who stay only inside the city are missing out on some of the Europe’s most enchanting countryside. And in a country as tiny as the Netherlands, day-tripping is an easy thing to do, wherever you come from. Within about half an hour of leaving Amsterdam’s main station, you can be deep in the Dutch countryside surrounded with tulips, colourful houses, quaint waterways, black-and-white cows and scent of the sea.
One of my favorite day-trip destinations is the aptly named Waterland, being home to three picturesque villages: Edam, Marken, and Volendam, all situated on the coast of the Markermeer.
Waterland from a bike
I’ve visited all three of them, but I decided to start with Marken: a lovely little hamlet lying on a tiny peninsula, my favourite out of these three locations.
Marken was separated from the mainland by a storm in the 13th century. This was followed by centuries of isolation for its population, who made living as fishermen. Floods were regular and often disastrous back then. To protect their belongings and themselves from the water, the inhabitants created artificial dwelling hills on which they built their houses. As fishery became the main economic activity, the population grew rapidly. When the Afsluitdijk was finished in 1932 and the IJsselmeer lake created, access to the sea was blocked and fishery activities almost came to an end. It hasn’t been until 1957 that Marken was reconnected with the mainland and became a peninsula when a dike was built. Nevertheless, the village still has the look and feel of a fishermen’s town and an island, because the Marken’s authentic nature has been preserved and the inhabitants kept many traditions alive.
Please understand that this is a normal village, with people that have been living here all their lives!
Havenbuurt and Kerkbuurt are the two main parts of Marken village. The harbour quarter is the more touristy part and where you will find most of the restaurants and tourist shops. You’ll also find a quite convenient boat connection to Volendam here. Despite the fact that Havenbuurt is nice and picturesque, the beauty of Marken village is in the church quarter. Located on a little hill around the village’s church, its charms are easily seen when you get there. The narrow alleys, the old wooden dwellings, the labyrinth of passageways and the occasional glimpse of “real” (not tourist-focused) life, made Kerkbuurt a mesmerizing place. With the exception of the Marken Museum, there’s not exactly a lot to see in terms of traditional sights, but the quarter’s own very special atmosphere makes it worth the visit. Plus, it’s almost tourist-free, compared to Havenbuurt.
While you may not encounter too many people still dressed in attire that was all the rage in similar fishing communities back in the previous centuries, you’ll find many of its historic homesteads still standing. The houses are built on stilts or poles, or clustered on the hills to provide protection from fluctuating tides.
Even though Marken is more about the atmosphere and the architecture, there is still a number of famous landmarks for visitors to seek out on their strolls:
- The most iconic structure in all of Marken is certainly the so-called Paard van Marken (Horse of Marken), a monumental lighthouse that rises from the easternmost point of the peninsula; the current structure dates back to 1839. The peculiar name stems from its shape, which consists of a 16m high tower attached to two pyramidal-roofed houses. Since it was privatized a couple of years ago, it’s closed to public.
- Most visitors to Marken find that their curiosity is soon piqued by the local culture, and the Marker Museum (Marken Museum) exists to satisfy this curiosity. Spread over six former fishermens’ houses, the museum is devoted to the fine and decorative arts, handicrafts and folk costume of Marken. The traditional dress of Marken is a symbol of “Marker” culture, but now seldom appears save for special occasions – and, of course, at the museum. Visitors can also explore the preserved 1930s interior of one of the houses, which retains the furniture and decorations that its inhabitants have installed.
- The Kijkhuisje Sijtje Boes (Sijtje Boes Lookout House) is, just as its name implies, a little house to peek into to see the period furniture and decor that its owner Sijtje Boes provided it with. It doubles as a souvenir shop, the oldest in Marken, which the entrepreneurial Ms. Boes founded in the early 1900s; even back then, Marken’s distinctive folk culture drew visitors to the then-island.
In addition, Marken also has a wooden shoe workshop (Dutch: klompenmakerij) located at Kets 50, where visitors can observe both the machine-assisted and manual production of traditional wooden shoes, and perhaps pick up a pair of their own.
Because Marken is just a small island, you can easily round it on foot. If you circle the entire island on the dike, the distance is about 9 kilometers.
The best way to reach Marken is by car – then it takes about 30 minutes to reach from A’dam. If you don’t have a car, no worries, you can also reach it by public transport. From Amsterdam Centraal station, just head to the bus terminal (behind the station, on the water side), and take Bus 315 which runs to Marken once an hour. The entire trip will take you about 40 minutes, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Please, forget about all those overpriced group trips to Marken! For the bus you’ll pay only a couple of euros while for those trips about 60€ for each person!
You can stay the night and enjoy the town after the day tourists have left, for example in the nostalgic rooms of Hotel Hof van Marken, which offers a nice view over the harbour and IJsselmeer lake, but staying on the mainland (for example in Volendam, Edam or Monnickendam) is way cheaper.
Marinapark Volendam where we stayed. Sometimes you gotta go for a vacation even though you live like 90km away. Worth it!
As for the dining experience, there’s a handful of restaurants, too. As Marken is originally a fishermen’s town, there’s a lot of sea food around. Hotel Hof van Marken also has a restaurant.
- Restaurant Land en Zeezicht – nice location and a lovely outdoor terrace. The food, however, gets mixed reviews. I had a pretty great experience there but I’ve heard of some people not being contented with their meals at all.
- De Visscher – this pub serves descent food and has a great view.
- Snackbar De Verkeerde Wereld – this cafeteria sells fries and snacks, but also has a range of simple dishes for lunch and dinner. Baguettes and omelets but also fried fish, steaks, spareribs etc. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Or you can just easily enjoy some original Dutch (being sold by a Czech lady, what a paradox) poffertjes!
I’m lactose intolerant, but WHO’D CARE WHEN IT COMES TO POFFERTJES???
Although Marken doesn’t seem as popular as other historical landmarks in the Netherlands (compared to for example Zaanse Schans, Kinderdijk or Keukenhof), it tends to get quite crowdy. Therfore I’d like to recommend you to begin your trip in the early morning, so you can fully catch the town in its biggest beauty and glory.
And don’t forget to bring yourself a raincoat!
HUGE HUGE HUGE DISCLAIMER BY THE WAY: I’M AWARE OF THE FACT THAT THE PHOTOS ARE TERRIBLE, BUT I FORGOT TO TAKE MY CHARGER AND HAD TO TAKE PHOTOS WITH AN ANCIENT PHONE WITH 5MPX CAMERA – I’M SORRY!
Have a great day!