Latest update: 14 December 2022
Oysters: you hate them or you love them. I love them. Especially when they are free! Did you know you can pick oysters for free in the Netherlands? Just go to Zeeland. My friends and I have declared our Zeeland oyster expedition an annual tradition. Tag along!
Collecting oysters in Zeeland
How much do you pay for oysters in a restaurant? Twenty euros for half a dozen? You don’t have to. In Zeeland, a province in the Netherlands, oysters are literally there for the taking. Free oyster picking! So let’s go on an oyster expedition!
I must say, it took me some time to locate a picking spot for free oysters in Zeeland. I like to go near Goes, Het Sas. It’s a bit further down the harbor, where we park near the DIXI. The St. Annastrand too, is a great oyster picking location with free parking and a DIXI. Always handy to have that nearby, right? You’ll find the exact locations further down in this article.
Japanese oysters in Zeeland
In Zeeland, you will find the Japanese oyster. This oyster is usually called creuse on the menu. In the 1960s, the flat Dutch oyster suffered from an oyster disease. Growers hoped the Japanese version would be stronger – and they were. In fact, they were so strong that a real plague started in the 1970s, almost completely expelling the Dutch oyster. The Japanese oyster is easygoing: it doesn’t need much space and is pretty much ok with any type of soil. They start reproducing at the age of one already and grow extremely fast. An adult oyster can reach a size of 40 centimeters. Wow! Wow! I very much doubt that it’s still tasty then.
Have you heard that unsavory story about oysters and herpes? Excuse me? Yes, Japanese oysters can contract the herpes virus. But no stress: people won’t get catch it from an oyster. Pfiewwwww….
Almost alone in the world when collecting oysters
There is no one to be seen in Zeeland at the Goese Sas beach – regardless of the weather. We easily spend a few hours, and all we see are a few runners, divers, and one other oyster picker. Once again, on a sunny day at the St. Annastrand, we’re the only ones searching for oysters. We share the beach with some tourists soaking up the sun. So, you don’t have to be scared about fighting over oysters. There are plenty of oysters to pick for everyone.
Guess how many oysters you can pick per person? You’ll be amazed: you can collect ten kilos per person a day! You can also find mussels and cockles, which also count towards those ten kilos.
At some spots, people try to catch crabs with a piece of bacon on a string. We stick to oysters. Of course, you cannot pick at the commercial oyster plots, but that sounds logical, right? There are more than enough oysters to be found outside of those.
When do you collect oysters? – oyster season and timing
The oyster season runs from September to April – when the month contains an R. You pick oysters at low tide. So check when it is low tide, for example, on the website of Rijkswaterstaat. It’s best to pick between two hours before the lowest water level and two hours after the lowest water level.
How do you pick oysters?
Oyster picking is actually very easy. At the foot of the dike, the oysters are literally there for the taking. They are stuck on stones. Here you can deter them with, for example, a hammer and a chisel. Please note that you only take the ones with closed shells – you don’t want to get sick! If you accidentally break one, just slurp your oyster on the spot.
We soon have our buckets full to the brim. When we start, I basically throw every oyster I come across in my bucket, but soon I notice that I can be much pickier. I have a very strict selection process: I leave the larger ones and the tiny ones. That way, I give the small ones a chance to grow, and if the oysters are too big, I think they are challenging to eat. One more piece of advice: choose the rounder ones. For me, the flat ones are much more difficult to open with my oyster knife.
Standing in the water with my boots on, picking an oyster, and throwing it in my mouth – just how cool is that?! Very cool! And so fresh and tasty.
Picnic and barbecue with our hand-picked oysters
We brought a lot of food and drinks and had an oyster feast on the beach. Some of the oysters, we put on the barbecue. Once the shells open, the oysters are ready to eat. We immediately try out the new oyster knife, because we like oysters best raw. Add some finely chopped shallot with Balseto Laudense (not always available at Albert Heijn, unfortunately) and a little lemon: heaven. Or mix onion with red wine vinegar. Yum!
Not sure how to open an oyster? Check this video:
We do our very best to eat all the oysters we picked, but that is humanly impossible. We end up taking quite a few home. Tired, satisfied, and rosy, we drive back to Amsterdam. Best day ever.
Pick oysters yourself or with a guided tour?
If you ask me, you should go and pick oysters yourself. Make sure you figure out where to go and when low tide hits. There are also possibilities to pick oysters with a guide, a real oyster tour. You’ll get some explanation, and you will know for sure that you are in the right place to pick oysters. Check out my blog about oyster and mussel cruises in Yerseke.
Where can you pick oysters in Zeeland?
You can see on the Dutch Wildplukwijzer where you can legally collect oysters in the Netherlands. I have now been a few times at Goese Sas (Google Maps location). If Google gets confused, go to the restaurant Het Loze Vissertje and follow the road next to the water. We parked at the DIXI toilets that you will encounter within five minutes (I assume they are still there). When you walk into the water from the beach, you’re in the right spot.
The St Annastrand (Google Maps location) is also a great place to find oysters. It’s a tiny beach near the harbor, where you can park your car for free. Go up the dike, and then you are at the beach. Dogs are allowed, but only on a leash. When you walk on the beach, keep right. You’ll find the oysters between the stones and rocks.
At the Goese Sas you enter the water, so you’ll definitely need boots. At the St Annastrand, we stay on the beach, so sneakers are sufficient for oyster picking. But it all depends on the tide! Take your boots with you – better safe than sorry.
Packing list for picking oysters
- Rain boots (Bol.com or Amazon), preferably slightly higher ones (or, if there’s no other option, old shoes)
- A towel
- Clean clothes
- A chisel and/or hammer to pry the oysters loose
- A bucket to collect your oysters
- An oyster knife (Bol.com or Amazon).
- An oyster glove (Bol.com, or Amazon).
- Picnic gear: cloth, drinks, snacks. And for your oysters, for example, a shallot or onion, lemon, Balseto Laudense, red wine vinegar, or anything else you like.
Bol.com also has sets where you can buy a glove and oyster knife together, for example:
More travel inspiration for the Netherlands
Useful links for travel in the Netherlands
- Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com and Amazon. I always enjoy seeing my own country through the eyes of foreign visitors.
- Accommodation. Forever favorites: Booking.com, Natuurhuisje, and Campspace. Or try a holiday resort via Roompot. Rather stay in a hostel? Try HostelWorld. Something different: BoerenBed.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. Another good option is WithLocals. Try a ‘free’ walking tour with Freetour or GuruWalk, and for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions via Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. Compare more prices at Discover Cars.
- Public transport. Use the regular public transport options or Flixbus, or find a bus, train, or something else on Busbud or Omio.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have plenty of options. For the Dutch: ANWB vakanties or Tui, or maybe Vakantie Discounter or D-reizen?
- Yoga retreat. Or try a yoga retreat in the Netherlands.
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First published: september 2015. The article has been updated since.