Flevoland is a piece of the Netherlands almost literally pulled out of the sea, and you can get there in less than half an hour by train from Amsterdam. The country’s youngest province offers all the open space, nature and water fun the capital might not have room for. Trot Op! booked a seat on the Thalys and decided to take a look.
Imagine this for a second: the Belgian government concludes ten provinces is not nearly enough to give all you schmucks enough living space, and is toying with the idea of making an eleventh. After some serious consideration, invading France to reclaim Lille doesn’t seem to be the brightest of ideas, which is why they decide to dump a whole bunch of sand off the Blankenberge coast and name the resulting island Antwerp-Beach (because of course they would). Admittedly, it sounds a little far-fetched, but it’s almost exactly how Flevoland originated. A hundred years ago, all of it was under water, until the plan was conceived to drain 1,800km2 of the Zuiderzee. This resulted in both the world’s largest polder and the newest province in The Netherlands – which still lies about five meter below sea level by the way.
“Flevoland was completely submerged a hundred years ago, until the plan was conceived to drain 1,800km2 of the Zuiderzee.”
Flevoland (New Land for the anglophones) was officially founded in 1986. This makes the entire province less old than yours truly, which is quite the bitter pill to swallow. This said, a lot of people were already living there before things got official. The first inhabitants of Lelystad settled in 1967. In nearby Almere the first residents only arrived in 1976. They populated two completely new cities, designed and built from scratch. This created quite a peculiar look and feel, which you will soon discover
What to do in Flevoland: 5 exciting sights in the youngest province of the Netherlands
Because of its striking panoramas and vast nature reserves it almost feels like a different world, but Flevoland is surprisingly close to Amsterdam. This is quite convenient, because Amsterdam & Partners has been trying to spread the tourists out for years now. They do this by giving them interesting alternatives to visit, away from the city centre. This way, the people who live there can enjoy their free Sundays without getting trampled by the usual roaming hordes of backpackers. The average American doesn’t know the difference between Amsterdam and Amsterdam-Beach anyway (hint: it’s a completely different town). In this light, I wrote a piece about Haarlem, Laren and Hilversum last year, but Flevoland is on the list of pleasant day trips from Amsterdam as well. Almere is only a few kilometers from Amsterdam-Central on the other side of the IJmeer, and Lelystad can easily be reached by train as well. On the way you’ll ride through the beautiful Oostvaardersplassen: a sizable nature reserve full of wild deer, cattle and horses. There is of course much more to discover in Flevoland. Go ahead and start with these five sights and activities, alright? Chop chop!
1. Batavialand: learn all about the origin of Flevoland
Lelystad is Flevoland’s capital, but for some reason it’s much smaller than Almere. Still, there’s quite a bit to see here. Batavialand for example: a modern museum outside the city centre, with a varied bunch of exhibitions on offer. Inside, the history of Flevoland is explained on the beautifully named Flevowand: a sixty meter tapestry modelled after the one in Bayeux, worked on for about 14 years by two dozen jolly old spinsters. In addition, you’ll find everything from prehistoric artefacts and shipwrecks discovered after the drainage, to an interactive game involving locks, where children have to try and keep their feet dry. Outside is a whole shipyard, where all kinds of craftsmen are working their trade. The actual showpiece of Batavialand can be found a little further by the water: a perfect replica of the Batavia, an East India Company ship that sank along the Australian coast in 1629 after a mutiny (which makes for a fascinating and rather dark story). Walking and crawling around below deck is quite claustrophobic, especially when you realise more than 300 crew members slept here in between the cargo and cannons. Quick weird fact: because maintaining the ship costs loads of money, the builder recently suggested to sink the replica in front of the Marker Wadden and give it a final resting place. Quite ironic indeed. Enjoy it while you can. www.batavialand.nl
2. Boerkok: eat in a Flevoland farm
Having a fancy dinner can be fun on a trip sometimes, but you can’t go fine dining every day now can you? Sometimes, you just want to enjoy a big honest plate of hearty food. And the most honest food of all can be found on your average farm. Boerkok is the brainchild of Gerhard Flantua: a man with a wizard’s name who’s quite the cook as well. In 2016 he bought a farm outside Lelystad and opened a restaurant in it, working exclusively with products from the immediate vicinity. He gets all his ingredients from his neighbouring farmers, and you can come and taste the result of his cooking skills in a large glass barn. Simple but tasty dishes to share with your table mates: sometimes that’s all you need. www.boerkok.nl
3. Admire the modern architecture of Almere
Almere is a strange city. Because there was more than enough space on the reclaimed land, its more than 200,000 inhabitants now live in different districts that are sometimes quite a bit away from each other. For example: you have to cycle no less than 9 km to get from the centre to the beautiful Almeerderstrand. That centre looks unusually modern by the way: full of surprising and daring architecture. Because the whole thing was designed from scratch, they could freely ponder about the practical side of life in a city. The new downtown was therefore built on three different levels. Underground (on the former sea floor) parking lots and passages for cars and cyclists were realised. At ground level you’ll find most shops and restaurants – shopping seems to be one of the main draws here – and on the upper levels people live. Some buildings even have communal gardens on the rooftop. The city centre was built around Weerwater. This is a manmade lake on which you can rent an electric boat to sail through the city canals. Just like in Amsterdam, there is a whole network of them waiting for you here, good for hours-long boat trips. On the other side of Weerwater you can visit Floriade until October: a world expo solely focused on horticulture and sustainability. Almere is the textbook example of what you can achieve in terms of spatial planning, if you’re given complete carte blanche. www.sloepverhuuralmere.nl www.floriade.com/nl
4. Sail to Marker Wadden with RIB Experience
When you’re already dredging an entire province from the Zuiderzee, why not build up a whole new nature reserve while you’re at it? This is how the Marker Wadden were created: perhaps the most beautiful place in all of Flevoland. The Marker Wadden are a number of manmade islands along the coast of Lelystad, most of which are currently still under development. The islands should restore the natural balance in the Markermeer (a remnant of the Zuiderzee) and will eventually become a paradise for fish and birds. The main island was already finished, and now serves as both a nature reserve and a recreation area where you can get a tan on the beach, do some sailing of go for a hike. The landscape you pass through when you do is beautiful. Here and there a watchtower or a hut was put down, where you can go birding to your heart’s content. One of these birdwatching huts is half below the water level and has a glass wall. This way you can also admire the local pond inhabitants hiding under the waterline. The smartest among you already figured out you can only get to the Marker Wadden by boat. We chose the most adventurous option available. With the RIB Experience you’ll fly over the water at 90 kilometers per hour. This is as exciting as it sounds, and it will get you there a lot faster. Try not to take any selfies on the way though. The wind and acceleration will catapult your phone into the lake an average of about 20 meters from the boat. www.lelystadribexperience.nl
5. Discover all of the Land Art in Flevoland
Because there’s so much empty space in Flevoland, a lot of so-called Land Art was placed all over the province throughout the years. These are usually monumental works of art that became part of the landscape. There are ten of them scattered around the province, and you can (although it’s not a short trip) quite easily string them together by bike. If you sail from Lelystad to Marker Wadden, you will soon notice Exposure by Antony Gormley on the pier. This is a 26 meter high construction of steel pipes, in the shape of a man looking out over the lake in deep thought. Beautiful and impressive piece of art, but I can’t get rid of the impression the statue is actually taking a dump on the dyke – maybe it’s me. Another top work is the Green Cathedral, which consists of 178 poplars planted according to the floor plan of a Gothic cathedral. Observatory is also worth a visit: three giant earthen rings in the landscape with openings in the walls allowing you to see the sun rise through them on four specific days. On the shortest and longest day of the year, and on the two days in spring and fall when day and night are exactly the same length. You just have to come up with the idea, I guess. www.landartflevoland.nl
Hotels and restaurants in Flevoland + general information
Want to find out more about Flevoland as a destination, or looking for some other day trips from Amsterdam, surf to: www.iamsterdam.com/en/plan-your-trip/day-trips/new-land.
In Lelystad, we stayed at Leonardo Hotel Lelystad City Center: www.leonardo-hotels.com/lelystad/leonardo-hotel-lelystad-city-center
Our hotel in Almere was Leonardo Hotel Almere City Center: www.leonardo-hotels.nl/almere/leonardo-hotel-almere-city-center
Lunch in Lelystad was in De Cantine, near Batavialand. www.restaurantdecantine.nl
Dinner in Almere was served in the beautiful restaurant Zuyder near the beach. www.zuyder.nl
Lunch on our last day was served in Strand22 at Weerwater. www.strand22.nl
To get to Flevoland I took the Thalys from Antwerp Central Station. In less than an hour and a half I was in Amsterdam, where I switched to the Dutch train network. High-speed trains are my preferred travel method to visit neighbouring countries. It’s ecological, comfortable, you have wi-fi and you can occasionally stretch your legs. www.thalys.be
Did I miss your favorite place? Do you have any other tips for a trip to Flevoland? Are you someone from Blankenberge who can actually read and you didn’t like the Antwerpen-Beach idea? Please let me know in the comments below.
Fancy some other Dutch trips? Read all about South Limburg and the Wadden Islands. Belgian coast good enough for you? Click here for my adventures in the Zwin and kinky Koksijde. Fancy something tasty? Then read here about the best coffee bars, cocktail bars or Italian restaurants in Antwerp. Tasty!