Kennemerland is a region in the province of North-Holland in The Netherlands. Its major attraction is the seaside, where many Dutch and German holiday makers spend their Summer holidays. The city of Haarlem is a popular destination for day trips from Amsterdam. The coastal dune area is very popular with the locals for walking and cycling.
Kennemerland has its origins in the shire of Kinheim that was founded in the 8th century AD, and became one of the most important parts of the county of Holland in the Middle Ages. Historically, Kennemerland was larger than the area described in this guide, and included the coastal zone all the way up to Alkmaar, with the towns of Castricum, Heiloo, Egmond and Bergen.
The area covered in this guide roughly covers the coastal area between Heemskerk and Zandvoort, a distance of some 30 km from north to south, and some 12 km from west to east. Nowadays, the region is cut in two by the Noordzeekanaal (North Sea Canal), that connects the port of Amsterdam to the sealocks of IJmuiden.
The largest city in the region is Haarlem, the capital of the province of North Holland, with some 150,000 inhabitants. The region is geographically split in three zones: the coastal strip is characterized by beach resorts and the seaport of IJmuiden, whereas the inland zone is a densely populated area with many affluent towns and villages. In between, the coastal dunes are mostly protected nature reserves, and also serve as fresh-water reserves for much of the surrounding area, including the city of Amsterdam.
The city of Haarlem is supposed to be the place where the purest Dutch tongue is spoken - although its inhabitants might have a different opinion on this account.
By public transport
Haarlem railway station is the hub for the region, with Intercity connections to Amsterdam, Zandvoort, Heemstede, Leiden and The Hague. Sprinter lines run from Haarlem to Uitgeest and Leiden, connecting most of the smaller towns in the area. See the website of NS for services, timetables and ticketing.
Regular bus services connect all places in the area, Haarlem again being the hub of the region. See the website of 9292 for services and timetables.
If you consider travelling in the Netherlands for a few days, it pays off to buy an anonymous OV chipkaart, a rechargeable card that will give you a considerable discount on all bus, tram and metro transport in the Netherlands (and a minor discount on train tickets).
Kennemerland is well connected to Amsterdam and Schiphol airport. The A5, A9 and N200 all lead to Haarlem. Traffic is quite dense in this area, so you'd better avoid rush hour on the major roads. The route to the coast (in particular the N200) is very busy on warm Spring and Summer days.
From Amsterdam, Haarlem is only 22 kms away, it will take you approx. 1h15min by bike. To Zandvoort, count 1h40min (31 kms).
By public transport
Kennemerland is easily explored by public transport, with regular train and bus connections to all major destinations (see above).
The area around Haarlem is densely populated, so traffic is busy and relatively slow. There is only a limited number of roads running to the coast, which creates traffic jams on warm Spring and Summer days (especially on the N200). There are also only a few roads crossing the Noordzeekanaal.
The region is small enough to be explored by bike, and it is actually the favourite way to get around for most Dutch holiday-makers. It is even close enough to Amsterdam to be reached by bike from there. However, be aware that the Dutch weather is variable, and especially strong winds can make biking in the countryside a lot more unpleasant than in the city.
Bike rental shops can be found in all major tourist destinations. Unfortunately, renting a bike at train stations has become impossible for people who don't hold a Dutch bank account.
The network of Fietsknooppunten (biking nodes) will allow you to cycle through the whole country following well-signposted routes, usually through attractive countryside. At each node, you will find maps to guide you to your next destination, but you can also plan ahead on the website of Fietseropuit (Dutch only). Be aware that crossing the Noordzeekanaal by bike is only possible via the sealocks at IJmuiden, or by taking a ferry.
One national long-distance trail (Lange Afstands Wandelpad or LAW) is crossing Kennemerland.
Kennemerland is very popular for cycling, with many sign-posted routes through the coastal dunes on dedicated cycling lanes.
The area is eminently suited for walking as well, with dozens of signposted trails through the coastal dunes. The most popular areas for walking are Zuid-Kennemerland National Park and the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen.
The Kennemerland beaches are very popular on hot Summer days, but make sure to leave early in order to be ahead of the bustle. While the beaches are large and family-friendly, parking spaces are limited and there are few access roads, so traffic jams are very common on warm days. Zandvoort has the busiest beach, and the only one you can reach by train. Bloemendaal, IJmuiden and Heemskerk are less crowded.
Access to all beaches is free, but if you want to sit on a beach chair, prices are steep (about €10). Parking can be expensive as well. Most beaches have a wide range of beach pavilions, where you can sit down for a drink or a bite and enjoy the scene. In Summer, many of them transform into a beach club after sunset, where you can dance until late.
Swimming in the North Sea is usually a bit too chilly to be comfortable (sea water temperatures in August are on average 18° C), but on very hot days many people will take to the water to cool down. The water is perfectly clean, but not very clear because of all the sediment coming from the mouths of the Rhine and Meuse river. The Dutch North Sea has dangerous off-shore currents, so depending on the weather, swimming may not always be safe. Warning flags will be put up when this is the case, but every year lifeguards have to pick up hundreds of people who have strayed too far into the sea.
Kennemerland has a few nudist beaches, at some distance of the beach resorts. These are indicated by special signs.
Out of season, the beaches are popular for walking; on sunny Winter days many people will take their family and dogs for a walk, and finish the day with a hot chocolate or a bowl of pea soup. Of course, other activities can be done on the beach as well, like kite-surfing, beach volleyball, wind-surfing, kiting or horse-riding.
Music and theatre
Haarlem is the cultural hub of the region, with a city theatre (Stadsschouwburg) and the live-music venue Het Patronaat. The cultural calendar of Haarlem can be consulted here. A fun event is the weekly Thursday evening free Salsa Café, inside the former waiting rooms of the 19th-century Haarlem railway station.
In Summer, live music and theatrical performances can be enjoyed in the open air theatre Caprera in Bloemendaal.
Recreational area Spaarnwoude is home to one of the major dance festivals in the Netherlands, Dance Valley, organized in the first weekend of August.
In Summer, many beach clubs organize dance nights or live music performances.
The region has few local specialties, but when you come to IJmuiden you should take the opportunity to sample some seafood in one of the shops close to the fish auction (visafslag). Unfortunately, the auction cannot be visited, but the fish is well worth the journey.
In Haarlem you can find a local biscuit named Haarlemmer Halletjes - the original recipe is said to date from 1693, and they can only be bought at Michel Patisserie.
Haarlem has a good choice of restaurants in all price categories. Zandvoort also has numerous eating places, including the beach pavilions, though in general these will not serve the best food - but of course, sitting on the seaside is worth something as well. Some expensive, high-end restaurants can be found in the region as well.
The best-known brewery in the region is Haarlem-based Jopen. Its award-winning beers are brewed according to ancient recipes, from the times when Haarlem used to be the largest producer of beers in the Netherlands. The brewery is certainly worth a visit, it is housed in an old church, and has a wonderful bar and restaurant.
There are no particular safety issues for travelling in this region. However, take normal precautions to protect your personal belongings in busy areas like railway stations, shopping streets and on the beach.
When swimming in the North Sea take care not to go too far into the sea. The Dutch North Sea is known for its strong off-shore currents that can be too much for swimmers once they have strayed too far from the beach - every year hundreds of swimmers have to be picked up from the water by rescue brigades, and some of them don't survive the experience. When the sea is unsafe, special warning flags will be put up - don't go swimming then.