So how did we end up discovering the lovely city of Lelystad not far from Amsterdam? Well, a few weeks ago I found myself in the somewhat new situation of having nothing to do at the weekend. My wife Trudy was back in Scotland visiting her family while Lucy, our youngest daughter, was visiting her boyfriend in London. This meant that for the first time in forever it was just me and our oldest daughter Chloe. We don’t get the chance for some quality father/ daughter time very often so we broke out the map and starting looking for somewhere interesting to visit.
Chloe is easily pleased and her only requests were to see some water (preferably the sea) and to step on a beach (even just for a few minutes). From where we live in Cologne, the only way to get to water and beaches is by going to either Belgium or the Netherlands. OK, we could have really gone crazy and headed a really long way south but in the mighty red Skoda Citigo (like a VW Up!) it wasn’t even a realistic option. So after a bit of hunting on the internet to find somewhere a bit different, we plumped for Lelystad and the Flevoland region of the Netherlands.
We got an early start in the morning, fired up the Citigo and set off. With a legendary dad packed lunch and the Spotify Peter Kay Car Share playlist we set off on our adventure. Only 2 questions remained unanswered. How long would Chloe have to wait until she got to hear C’est La Vie by the Irish girl band B*witched? More importantly, what awaited us in Lelystad at the end of our journey? Read on an find out more about this fascinating part of the Netherlands.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – A BIT ABOUT LELYSTAD AND FLEVOLAND
BUILDING OF THE AFSLUITDIJK AND THE END OF THE ZUIDERZEE
Lelystad is located on reclaimed land in what used to be the Zuiderzee. After a flood in 1916, the Dutch government decided to enclose it and reclaim some of the land from the sea. On 28 May 1932, the Zuiderzee officially ceased to exist when it was closed off by the completion of the Afsluitdijk (a very big dam indeed). This was when the IJsselmeer was born as a fresh water lake fed by the River IJssel, which is a branch of the River Rhine. In theory we could just have followed that from Cologne.
THE FASCINATING STORY OF LELYSTAD
The city of Lelystad was only founded in 1967. It lies approximately 3 metres below sea level (making it one of the lowest cities in the world). The city is named after Cornelis Lely who was the genius engineer responsible for the Zuiderzee land reclamation project. It’s great that Lelystad’s name pays homage to the man who made its very existence possible. Before reclamation, the area was the main transport route from Amsterdam to the North Sea and the Hanseatic League cities like Bruges that we visited not so long ago (read here for more about that trip).
A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT
To help you understand more about where Lelystad is, I have created a handy map with a whopping great big arrow. As you can see, hopefully, it’s in the centre of the Netherlands only 60 km from Amsterdam. By car, that journey takes less than an hour, which is probably the best way to properly explore the area. Having said that, the public transport is pretty good as well. For example, the Intercity train from Amsterdam Airport only takes 42 minutes and barely costs more than the price of a couple of cups of coffee (12 Euros each way). There are loads of different resources about Amsterdam on the web but for an interesting take on the city check out 6 cools things to do in Amsterdam written by Canadian blogger Justine on her Jusz Travel blog.
Exploring the Water Around Lelystad
The Houtribdijk – Splitting the IJsselmeer and Markermeer
While we love living in Cologne, it’s a bit of a long way from the coast. Our hankering for water meant the Houtribdijk was at the top of our list when we got to Lelystad. This is a dyke that enables you to drive from Lelystad to Enkhuizen and beyond to Den Helder in North West of the Netherlands. Driving out of Lelystad we had the IJsselmeer on the right hand side and the Markermeer on the left. It’s a really impressive sight to drive along the dam with so much water on each side. You can only marvel at such an astounding feat of engineering.
Roadhouse Checkpoint Charlie – The Opposite of an Oasis in the Desert
The Houtribdijk is 30 km long from Lelystad to Enkhuizen. However, around 18km from Lelystad is an amazing little cafe, Roadhouse Checkpoint Charlie. Surrounded on all sides by water, it’s effectively the total opposite of an oasis in the desert. The cafe’s location can only be described as totally unique. Being so far from the mainland it is completely independent in terms of water, heating and electricity supplies. Every day the cafe’s staff transport 1000 litres of drinking water from the mainland. We made the cafe the first rest stop on our trip and received a warm welcome to go with the great coffee and great selection of food.
The roadhouse first opened in 1989 and is the brainchild of Henk Zwann. It’s a great little family business in true From Real People style. Since 2002 it has been in the hands of the Schreuder family Because of the challenges of heating the cafe, it is only open from April to October. It’s opening times are short (from 10:00 to 14:00) so plan ahead and make a stop at this great little cafe in a truly unique location. You can find out more about Roadhouse Checkpoint Charlie on their website here.
Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve
The Oostvaardersplassen is an amazing wetland nature reserve that lies on the Markermeer between Lelystad and the neighbouring city of Almere to the West. The reserve covers an area of 56 sq km and it’s home to a diverse range of wildlife as well as some amazing architecture (like the nature centre in the photo above). It’s a great place for birdwatching and checking out the wide range of other animals that roam the area freely. If you do go for a visit, check out one of the 2 visitors centres in Kitsweg, Lelystad or at Oostvaardersbosplaats in Almere.
Flevo Marina and the Beach
For our next stop, we drove back up the coast to the East side of Lelystad. On the far edge of the city is the Flevo Marina, which is a great place sit in one of the cafes, have some lunch and enjoy the view across the marina. For me, there’s always been something really magical about the sound of masts clanking in the wind. After a great spot of lunch we took a short walk from the Marina to Houtribhoek beach. I promised my daughter a beach and a beach she got. It’s an artificially created beach but the sand is golden and it’s a really safe place to for children to swim in the IJsselmeer.
In and Around Batavia
One of the most interesting parts of Lelystad to visit is the Batavia area, which is to the East of the city centre near the start of the Houtribdijk dam road. This part of the city is named after the original city of Batavia, which was the captial of what was once the Dutch East Indies. Today, this is the city that we know as Jakarta in Indonesia. The city was the Asian trading hub of the Dutch East India Company following it’s formation in 1619.
As someone who writes a blog for the primary purposes of supporting small businesses I do find it a little ironic to end up writing about a place with such close links to what many people consider to be the very first major and probably the most successful corporations in world history. Nevertheless, the story of the rise and decline of the company is an intriguing one. Between 1602 and 1796 it sent almost a million Europeans to work in Asia. During which time it used 4,785 ships, which was almost double the number of the British East India Company.
Batavia Yard Museum
The first place we visited in this part of Lelystad was the Batavia Yard Museum, known as the Bataviawerf. The highlight of any trip to this museum is the replica of the Batavia. It’s a replica of a 1628 ship that sailed for the Dutch East India Company (known as the VOC). You can wander around the decks and go back in time to get a feel for what life was like for the crews on such long voyages to Asia. They are also in the process of restoring a replica of another ship, which is the Dutch Admiralty ship De Zeven Provinciën. You can read more about all of the attractions at the museum on their website here.
New Land Museum
Right next door is the New Land (Nieuw Land) Museum. You can’t miss it, because the building really stands out, as you can see from the picture above. It’s a great place to learn all about the rich history of the area that is now called Flevoland. Although the area around Lelystad looks on the face of it to be totally new, this part of the Netherlands was actually populated as far back as 6,500 years ago. The museum gives you a glimpse into the lives of the prehistoric Swifterbant people who were a group of hunters, fishermen and gatherers. The central theme of the museum is the amazing Zuiderzee reclamation project. The museum gives a great insight as to how you go about developing newly reclaimed land.
Batavia Stad Outlet Shopping
If you fancy a bit of retail therapy, the Batavia Stad Outlet Shopping Village provides a break from the more cultural aspects of the area. There are over 150 shops from all sorts of fashion brands and it’s architecture makes it a pretty place to wander around. It’s open from 10:00 to 18:00 every day and to 20:00 on Saturday and Sundays. You can read more about the different shops and amenities on their website here. Right at the entrance to the shopping village is a great little family run ice cream stall. It was perfect for a break in the sun on a hot day.
Harbour and Other Stuff
The whole Batavia Harbour is a lovely place to walk around. It has a big underground car park just as you enter Batavia, which is then handy for all the museums, shopping village and the harbour area itself. Plenty of room for the mighty Citigo. If you are feeling really adventurous, you could take a trip on one of the amazing sailing ships operated by Naupar. Having not thought that far ahead and booked something beforehand we continued exploring other parts of the area.
After eating our ice creams, we stumbled across this enormous head in Batavia. It looked really interesting but however hard we tried we couldn’t find out anything about why it was there or what it was. If you know the answer to this question, leave a comment on the blog post. We would be really interested.
As someone who works in aviation, I was really excited to visit the Aviodrome museum. When I was a child, the museum used to be at Amsterdam Airport and I went quite a few times with my dad when he worked for a little known Norwich-based airline called Air Anglia. Aviodrome moved to Lelystad in 2003 and I have been trying to organise a trip for ages. Finally, I got the chance. I’m glad I did, because it really lived up to expectations as one of the most impressive aviation museums in Europe.
A Wonderful Walk Through Aviation History
The initial part of the museum is inside and there are a lot of exhibits in this main hall. This makes is a great place to visit on a wet day. You walk through a timeline of aviation history. It starts with the Montgolfier brothers and their balloon, past the Wright brothers then right through the 20th century. Each aircraft is laid out really well with other props helping to tell the story. It was really interesting to see such complete aircraft from the early days of aviation.N Not only can you imagine flying to places like the Dutch East Indies on some of these old pioneering aircraft but there was even an interior that made you feel like you were really there.
Being a museum in the Netherlands, it was a total Fokker-fest. For some reason, Chloe found it particularly funny to point at every aircraft to enquire if that was another Fokker. Parents, be prepared! There is a great example of a Fokker 50 right outside the entrance. Then inside the timeline follows the development of Fokker aircraft right through to a recently retired KLM Fokker 100. At the same time, there are all sorts of other makes of iconic aircraft and helicopters from every era. You can read more about the full collection on the Aviodrome website here.
How Awesome – A Boeing 747 You Can Walk Around
One of the most impressive parts of the collection at Aviodrome is a recently retired KLM Boeing 747. There’s not many places where you can walk around underneath and check out the awesome size of the undercarriage and engines of such an amazing aircraft. You can also walk around inside the aircraft. Part of the interior is opened right up (below) so that you can see what’s behind all the panels. The rest of it still has the seats inside, you can even wander around in the upper deck first class lounge. This is something I never got to do on a real 747 so it was really fun. Chloe loved it as well.
A Replica of Amsterdam Schiphol from 1928
Once you get outside, there’s a wide selection of aircraft and helicopters to see. You can even wander around inside a Douglas C54 Skymaster of the Dutch Air Force and get a taste of air travel back in the 1950s. To help you go even further back, there is a replica of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from 1928. The interior is amazing to walk around. There is also a World War II Officer’s Mess Hall as well as another hangar full of more interesting aircraft. We had a great few hours walking around the museum. You can find out more about the costs, parking and other useful information on their website here.
Other Exciting Things to Do and See
While in this part of the Netherlands it did cross our minds to head across to Amsterdam. But that would be the easy and safe option and not for us at all. Instead, we set off to explore a bit more of the area around Leystad. We always love finding new places and it’s so much easier to find small, independent cafes and restaurants in small towns and cities than in bigger places. We had already halfway across the Houtribdijk dam road earlier in the trip, but Chloe and I found ourselves drawn back to the water. In the end, we decided to do the whole circuit of the IJsselmeer. I blame Chloe, the poor girl was still waiting for B*witched to turn up on that damn playlist.
The Zuiderzee Musuem in Enhuizen
With a little bit of rockin’ out to Living on a Prayer, the 30km drive up to Enkhuizen passed in a blur. It’s a lovely little city that was once a major trading hub of the VOC company. As well as wondering around the city itself, we stopped off at the Zuiderzee Museum. I’ve always been a sucker for historic villages brought to life in museums so this place was great. The first part is an indoor museum with replica 17th century buildings, exhibitions and all sorts of wonderful things showing life in this part of the Netherlands over the course of history. Then the outdoor part consists of buildings from all over the Zuiderzee. It really is a special place to explore and wander around. The entrance cost is pretty good value for 16 Euros and you could spend a whole day here (we pretty much did).
Giethoorn – The Little Venice of the North
Driving north from Enkhuizen we headed across the Afsluitdijk and then down the other side of the IJsselmeer. Before we headed back to Cologne, we made one last stop off in the peaceful and beautiful water village of Giethoorn. Often called “The Little Venice of the North” its covered with over 90 km of canals and canoe trails. The fact that there are almost no roads gives the village a calm and peaceful atmosphere that is almost unknown in today’s modern world. It’s a great place to rent a boat and explore this stunning village. You can even rent an inflatable ball and literally walk your way around the village’s waterway’s. Chloe and I weren’t that brave. Read more about what to do in the village on their website here.
B*witched – At Last
We had an amazing road trip in the mighty Citigo. Over 600 km driven and, just in case you were wondering, Chloe finally got to listen to B*witched barely 10 km from home. She was more and more indignant as every song passed, you can see the joy in her face in the photo above. I hope you enjoyed this post about this fascinating part of the Netherlands if you want to learn more you should check out the website of the Flevoland tourist board (here). One thing to bear in mind is that if you are planning to visit the various museums in the area, consider the combined tickets that also include the New Land Museum and the Aviodrome. They are much better value than buying each ticket individually.