Three of the best places to watch wildlife in the Netherlands, great additions to your trip to Amsterdam


There is so much more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, cheese and tulips. Many people visiting the Netherlands, however, won't get any further than those three things. Those that dare to venture outside of the city will probably go to the Zaanse Schans or Kinderdijk (both have windmills) or to the Keukenhof (which has all sorts of tulips). 

Though there is nothing wrong with these touristy things, there is so much more to the Netherlands! Therefore, I have written this post on a whole other and often forgotten side of the Netherlands: its wildlife.

The wildlife in the Netherlands can be very interesting, and its a lot less dangerous than the bicycles of Amsterdam. Wildlife in a crowded country such as the Netherlands is often less scared of people, which will lead to great close encounters. However, in a country where every square meter has been cultivated by humans, you must know where to look. To prevent you from looking for deer in Amsterdam's Vondelpark, I will share some of the best places to watch wildlife in the Netherlands.


Kraansvlak


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Yes, we have them too. You don't have to go to the US to see bison, the European bison is just as impressive. The species was nearly extinct in the beginning of the 1900s and has been extinct in the Netherlands for about 100 years, but a successful breeding program is bringing them back to the European forests. The first of three new wisent herds in the Netherlands was released in the Kraansvlak, a dune area near the coastal town of Zandvoort that is part of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. Apart from bison, you may also encounter a variety of other wildlife here, among which are fallow deer, buck deer, foxes, rabbits/hares and a variety of birdlife.

Practical

Distance from Amsterdam Central Station: About 1 hour.
Getting there: I recommend to take the train to Zandvoort, from where you can take bus 81 to the Keesomstraat stop (plan your trips by public transport in the Netherlands here). From the Keesomstraat, walk east past one row of buildings and you'll be out of town and in the dunes. Follow the paths through the dunes until you reach a paved cycling path, which you then follow towards the train track until there is a small yellow signposted trail on your left.
Further information: Read about the area and the re-introduction of bison here.

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Wisentenpad (Bison trail)
The bison trail will lead you right through the bison area and enables you to enjoy these magnificent animals in their natural environment. Keep in mind, however, that you don't approach the bison closer than 50 meters, as wild animals are unpredictable when spooked (and bison are 800 kilograms of unpredictability). This trail is closed during the breeding period of birds, which is from 1 March to 1 September.
Start: Entrance Wurmenveen (see the above 'getting there'), parking (free when I was there) in the Wattsstraat in Zandvoort; your other option is Entrance Noordduin, paid parking at the Boulevard Barnaart between Bloemendaal aan Zee and Zandvoort.
Distance: about 4 kilometres one-way.
Further information: Read about the bison trail here. Before you set out, check this map for the herd's last known location.

Observation point at Meertje van Burdet
Perfect for when the bison trail is closed during the breeding period of the birds. A short walk will take you to this observation point, which overlooks a small lake where the bison often come to drink and bathe.
Distance from Amsterdam Central Station: About 40 minutes to the start.
Getting there: I recommend to either take the train to Overveen, from where you walk 15 minutes to entrance Zanderij, or take the train to Haarlem Station, from where you take bus 81 toward Zandvoort and get out at the Kennemerduinen stop (plan your trips by public transport in the Netherlands here).
Start: Entrance Zanderij, parking free (when I was there); or Entrance Koevlak, paid parking.
Distance: About 1.5 kilometre one-way.
Further information: Read about the trail to the observation point here. Before you set out, check this map for the herd's last known location.



Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen


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The Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen (translated to something like Amsterdam's waterpipeline dunes) is a dune area to the west of Amsterdam. Its name refers to its historical and present use to filter the drinkingwater for the city of Amsterdam. Water from the river Rijn is pre-filtered, pumped into the sand will filter it in a natural way before it can be filtered one last time and pumped to the city. This use has led to a unique dune area with canals and lakes. Be careful not to get eaten by fallow deer in the Waterleidingduinen, as they have a small problem with overpopulation and a lack of food.

Practical information

Distance from Amsterdam Central Station: 30 kilometres and 40 minutes by car, or 51 minutes by public transport to entrance Zandvoortselaan (plan your trips by public transport in the Netherlands here).
Getting there: Main entrances and (paid) parking at ZandvoortselaanVogelezang OaseVogelezang Panneland and De Zilk.
Further information: Check this online interactive map of the area (only available in Dutch, but very visual).

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Struinen
Parts of the Waterleidingduinen are free to roam outside of roads and paths (something that is not always allowed in the Netherlands). You can use this exception to fully enjoy the unique nature of the dunes and to have one-on-one encounters with fallow deer. Make sure to avoid areas where roaming is not allowed, as the dunes are crucial to the protection of the Netherlands against the water and trampling of certain areas may lead to erosion.

Tame foxes
Some visitors have tamed foxes by feeding them. I don't like this, as it interferes with the nature of the animal, but it has already happened so we can't change it anymore. But please, don't feed wildlife.
Further information: The tame foxes often hang out here.



National Park de Hoge Veluwe


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The Hoge Veluwe is one of the best known national parks of the Netherlands. It's a forest and heathland area in-between the cities of Arnhem and Apeldoorn. The area is very accessible. After paying an entrance fee (nature management and park maintenance is expensive), visitors can use white bikes to cycle the concrete cycling paths that lead throughout the park. These bikes are provided at all three main entrances and can be left at every entrance as well. In addition, special types of bikes are available for people with disabilities. Best observed wildlife in this area are red deer, wild boar and various birds.

To give you an even better impression of the Veluwe, check out this movie trailer of a great Dutch nature documentary on the area.


Practical information

Distance from Amsterdam Central Station: 80 kilometres or 90 minutes by car to the nearest entrance at Otterlo, or about 120 minutes by public transport to the entrance at Hoenderloo (plan your trips by public transport in the Netherlands here).
Getting there: Main entrances are at Otterlo, Hoenderloo and Schaarsbergen.
Further information: Check the website of the park.

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Cycling
You can cross the park by car or by bike. I highly recommend bikes, as there is nothing more Dutch than bikes and as it allows you to see more and better experience the park. Don't forget to stop at the lookout shelters hidden in the forest along the paths for a chance to see wildlife.
Getting there: Bikes are provided at the three main park entrances.
Further information: Check what the park website has to say about cycling.

Kröller Müller
I'm not into art, but I do know that Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Piet Mondriaan are big names. This museum and its sculpture garden (one of the largest of Europe) are located in the middle of the National Park.
Getting there: By bike and car from the three entrances mentioned above (just follow the signs). Parking available at the museum (prices here).
Prices: Check here.
Further information: Read about the Kröller Müller museum on their website.

Museonder
Included with the entrance fee to the park is the entrance to the Museonder (name is a merging of Museum and the Dutch word for 'under'). The Museonder is the first underground museum in the world and focusses on the underground as well. It exhibits rocks, sediments, tree roots, fossils, ancient animals, etc. in interactive exhibition.
Getting there: Located in the visitors centre in the middle of the park, follow the signs to the visitors centre from your entrance.
Prices: Free with a park entrance ticket.
Further information: Read about the museonder on their website.


There are many more great and unique natural areas in the Netherlands, but as far as I know, you won't get it any easier when watching wildlife than at these three. I plan to keep updating this with additional areas to include a wider range of species, but for now, this will do. I hope this list provides you with some great alternative activities to do on your trip to the Netherlands. 

I'd love to hear your experiences with our Dutch wildlife or your additions to this list. Ever been bitten by a buckdeer or chased off by a squirrel, let me know in the comment section below. If you liked this post or want to save it for further reading, feel free to pin the image below or  it.

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