Latest update: 10 May 2021
Soaking up Dutch nature is already possible in just a stone’s throw from Amsterdam’s busy center. The Stelling van Amsterdam (the Amsterdam defense line) is a 135-kilometer long defense line full of fortresses, nature, walking routes, and hikes.
What is the Stelling van Amsterdam?
You may know Fort Island Pampus. Or the restaurant on the beautiful Vuurtoreneiland. They are both part of the defense ring of Amsterdam: the Stelling van Amsterdam.
About 15 to 20 kilometers from the city, you will find 42 forts, four batteries, two fortified towns, a castle fortress, and numerous dikes and locks. This unique area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is the ideal environment to escape the busy city and enjoy a nature walk. It’s also an excellent area for renting a boat or cycling. Often, there is something fun to do at one of the many fortresses (check the schedule).
An outdated line of defense
The defense line was built between 1880 and 1914. If someone would attack the Netherlands, the army, the government, and the king or queen could withdraw within the Stelling. The land around the defense line, the Stelling, could be flooded thanks to the dikes and locks. The water would rise: too low for a boat and too deep for a human. Excellent idea, but the arrival of airplanes threw a spanner in the works. In the end, there was never any fighting on the fortresses. If you want to know more about this, I recommend visiting one of the three visitor centers. At Fort Island Pampus, you will learn more about the defenses in the 19th century. Fort K’ijk focuses mainly on nature. At Fort Muiden, everything revolves around the development of Muiden through the centuries.
Walking routes Stelling van Amsterdam
The defense line of Amsterdam is no less than 135 kilometers long. Fortunately, you don’t have to do all of that in one day, and there are several pleasant routes between 5 and about 20 kilometers. There are also multi-day hikes for the enthusiast. You will find a route overview on the website. Of course, I did a few nature walks – or hikes, depends on who you ask – myself. Since I find the directions somewhat unclear (and I don’t feel like downloading all kinds of apps), I entered them for you on Google Maps. The walking routes below are all routes that start and end at the same point, round trips!
Walk the Fortenroute Spaarndam (6km)
The Fortenroute Spaarndam starts at the Westbroekplas, at Villa Westend. Here my eye falls on the city beach just next to it. Fortunately, the starting point is the same as the endpoint, so that you can chill out here by the water after this walk. Or maybe just grab a coffee at Villa Westend.
The route leads through the Spaarndammerpolder along the water, along small rivers, and the large fairway, Mooie Nel. The area lies under the smoke of Amsterdam. In the distance, I recognize buildings that I recognize from driving on the A2 to the A10. I walk past beautiful houseboats, pastures with cows and horses, and dikes with sheep. It is lamb season, and that is great fun. At the Landje van Gruijters, you will find many bird species. In winter, this area is flooded, and you mainly see water birds. Cattle graze in the summer. Here and there are wind engines that ensure that the water level remains in order (draining).
The Fort benoorden Spaarndam and the Fort bezuiden Spaarndam are on the route. Together they are the Position Spaarndam, and their goal was to defend the locks of Spaarndam. You can only admire the Fort benoorden from a distance. You can visit Fort south at set times (closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). There is a terrace, and you can also rent a boat.
I take a short detour into the village because of Hansje Brinker. Hansje who? He is the boy who presumably put his finger in the dike to prevent disastrous flooding – a bit strange that he uses his whole hand on the statue, just saying. Here in Spaarndam, you will also find a picturesque stretch of the quay on the Westkolk and Oostkolk. Be sure to add this to your walk! It is only an extra 500 meters detour.
Watch it! At the Boezemgemaal Spaarndam, you take the small path to Fort bezuiden, do not follow the road. Unfortunately, Google Maps does not know that this is an option.
Hiking the Liniepad Abcoude (8 – 11 km)
Abcoude is located in the province of Utrecht but borders directly on Amsterdam. From Abcoude station, you can easily walk into the lanes and paths of Abcoude. I admire beautiful houses, villas actually, which are idyllically situated on the river Gein. It’s just unbelievable how much natural beauty there is at such a short distance from Amsterdam. I immediately open Funda, the go-to website in the Netherlands for searching houses, but I need to save way more to buy something here, haha.
I mainly walk on a shared street: walkers, cyclists, and cars are welcome. Along the route, I find beautiful views over the water and into the meadows and two windmills. Of course, there is also a fortress. The Fort bij Nigtevecht is located on the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, and you can visit it. Have a picnic, buy a drink, and relax. Nearby is the battery that you can admire from the line dike.
The way back goes via the other side of the river Gein. You can just go back to the station, and then you’ve walked about 8 kilometers. Or, extend the route by almost 3 kilometers and visit the Fort bij Abcoude, the oldest fort on the Stelling van Amsterdam.
There are blue arrows along the route, but I manage to overlook them, and, therefore, I accidentally take a walk of 15 kilometers. Oops! So use the Google Maps map below to limit your kilometers.
Walking around Veerplas (6.7 km)
The Veerplas is a lovely lake in Haarlem. For your orientation: close to IKEA. There is free parking, a beach, lots of grass, and a lovely terrace at Het Veerkwartier. Be sure to settle there after your walk. The walk itself starts at Haarlem Spaarnwoude station.
The walk goes along meadows and marshes, on small footpaths and cycle paths. The cycle path between the Fort bij Liebrug and the Veerplas is slightly narrow when it is a bit busier. There is a mill along the way, made in 1701, and two fortresses are on the route. The Fort bij Penningsveer is unfortunately not freely accessible Hiervoor moet je een afspraak maken. – make an appointment if you want to visit. The Fort bij de Liebrug can be visited. Just to walk around or go a wine tasting at Casa Fortezza or Les Chiens Blancs.
Nature walk Marken-Binnen (10.5 km)
Enjoy the farmlands from the Starnmeerdijk: the cows and sheep greet you. During this Marken-Binnen tour, you walk through a relatively open area, so hopefully, you have the wind in your back. The brisk walk in the Starnmeerpolder starts at Fort bij Marken-Binnen. Unfortunately, you cannot just visit this fort from 1905 since it’s a training center for fire brigades and company emergency services. You can admire it from a distance and park your car here to start your walk. First, you walk along the provincial road for a while. That can be a bit restless, but the waterfront on your right is beautiful here. In the distance is a windmill. Hello Holland!
As soon as you are on the dike, you leave the hustle and bustle behind. Here you only hear a cow mooing and a sheep bleating. There is some traffic, but it’s next to nothing. On the long street that you take from the dike, the Middelweg, you pass an old cheese dairy. De Ceres cheese factory was founded in 1905 and closed in 1934. There is an information sign on the street side so that you can get an idea of how things used to be here.
It is also worthwhile to end this round of Marken-Binnen with a beautiful sunset over the Markervaart.
Watch it! Just keep following the water at the start of the trail. Do not go along the provincial road as shown on the map. There is a walking path. Unfortunately, Google Maps doesn’t know about it.
By the way, you can easily make this loop a bit longer (3 kilometers) if you do not turn into the Middelweg, but just keep following the dike. Keep following the water to the pedestrian ferry where you turn left and continue to follow the Starnmeerdijk. Keep going, and you will return to the provincial road.
Westwouderpolderroute: Eiland de Woude (6.9 km)
This trail only passes the Stelling van Amsterdam from a distance; you can see the Fort van Marken-Binnen across the Noordhollands Kanaal. That is if it is not as foggy as it was during my visit! Fortunately, I can admire the beautiful drawbridge and the wooden houses. So I guess I’ll come back again in the summer for the views.
The Westerwouderpolderroute is located in the Oer-IJ area, a tributary of the Rhine that ran here a long time ago. The route is a pleasant walk across the island and through the village of De Woude. You can only get there by ferry. Love it! Once you’ve crossed the river, you walk around the island. The route is indicated with signs and arrows; it is almost impossible to take a wrong turn. Your dog can come along but must be kept on a lead. Please do so, as there are many birds in this area that don’t need disturbance. By the way, to protect nature, you are not allowed to get off the dike. Stick to the path!
The Aetsveld route (12.9 km)
If you want to take a long walk around Amsterdam, check the Aetsveld route. It starts (and ends) at Weesp station. The trail first leads through the nice, historic center of Weesp. This town is beautifully situated on the water and has beautiful old buildings along the waterfront. After the walk, you can enjoy a drink on a terrace here.
Weesp is a fortified city and has no fewer than two fortresses. The Torenfort aan de Ossenmarkt is located in the center, and you will pass it at the end of your walk. You’ll find Fort Uitermeer at about 2/3 of the way. Here you can have a drink at the pavilion or sit on a bench with your own snacks on the lovely wooded grounds along the lock. Also, take a look at the flophouses where they used to store ammunition. Now they serve as meeting locations and concert halls.
Walk along the Vecht for a long time and see many boats passing by on nice days. Part of the route goes through the meadows and is therefore not paved. I recommend you wear good shoes on this walk. You also walk past Fort Hinderham, but it is not freely accessible and can only be reached via a narrow connecting road over the water. I skipped it because I thought 12.9 kilometers was enough. 😉
More walking routes around Amsterdam can be found on the Stelling van Amsterdam website.
More travel inspiration for the Netherlands
Want more travel advice? Do check all my blogs about beautiful places and fun activities in my home country. Also nice: buy the Lonely Planet of the Netherlands as it has lots of practical information. Available at Amazon and Book Depository. The latter is usually the cheapest but often has a slightly longer shipping time.