This cycle route follows the mediaeval coastline and sea dike of the IJ estuary, through the mediaeval settlements of Spaarnwoude and Spaarndam. 28 km and return by train, 3-4 hours, or 5 hours if cycling back. Revised July 2017.
Recommended cycle map: the ANWB Fietskaart Noord-Holland Zuid (Amsterdam & Kennemerland), which costs € 9. The map is nr. 13 in the ANWB Fietskaart series, the scale is 1:50 000, and all the cycle routes here are within the map area. There are two specialised map shops in Amsterdam: Pied à Terre (Overtoom 135-137), and A la Carte (Ferdinand Bolstraat 147).
start at the Westermarkt in Amsterdam, between the tram stop and the Westerkerk church.
cross the bridge over the Prinsengracht, and go straight on along Rozengracht. The name ‘gracht’ means this was originally a canal – it was filled in during the 19th century.
at the end of Rozengracht, go straight on past the fire station, and over the Singelgracht canal into De Clercqstraat.
A ‘singel’ is originally the moat outside the city walls: in the 19th century most city walls were demolished, and the singels became desirable residential areas for the professional classes. On the map, the curves in the Amsterdam Singelgracht indicate the location of the former bastions.
at Bilderdijkstraat cross tram line 3, a circular route along the late 19th century quarters of Amsterdam.
continue along De Clercqstraat: it curves to the right, and crosses (by a lifting bridge) the main barge canal through Amsterdam.
go straight on, following the tram line. 400 m after the bridge, the tram line divides: again go straight on, along Jan Evertsenstraat.
cross the Admiralengracht, a broad canal, and continue to Mercatorplein – a renovated 1920’s square, the showpiece of local urban renewal.
This is an area of high immigrant population, which saw many urban renewal projects over the years. It remained an unfashionable low-income area until recently, but is now being gentrified.
at the traffic lights, turn right along Hoofdweg. The street is lined with 1920’s housing with an imposing facade.
at the next traffic lights, turn left, along the Jan van Galen straat.
After a few side streets, you pass the boundary of the pre-war housing: everything beyond here was built after the Second World War.
cross the ring motorway A10: the area around the junction is being redeveloped. There are long-term plans to put the A10 in tunnel through this area.
go straight on, and pass under the viaducts of the ring rail and ring metro lines, at the metro station Jan Van Galenstraat. Tram 13 now runs in the central reservation.
continue along Burgemeester Röell straat, the axis of the first post-war extension of Amsterdam. These neighbourhoods are called the westelijke tuinsteden, or ‘western garden cities’.
They do not have the low-rise houses of the original English model. There are 1960’s slab blocks on the left, but most of the rest is 1950’s terraces and 5-storey blocks (without lift, of course). These suburbs were built for an ethnically homogeneous, working-class population. They are the architecture of an idealised 1950’s Netherlands, where the family was the unquestioned basic social unit. The family housing is once again inhabited by families, but now they are largely Moroccan. The authorities are demolishing their rented housing, replacing it with expensive private-sector apartments – a policy of both social and ethnic cleansing.
at the roundabout, go straight on – still on Burgemeester Röell straat. The housing is so typical of 1950’s urban planning, that it could be an architectural museum.
pass a park, and continue on the cycle path alongside the tram line, to the tram terminal loop.
go toward the front entrance of the 16-storey grey-brick tower. At the Albert Heijn supermarket, turn right along the cycle path, passing the Vomar supermarket.
Along the path is a line of new apartment blocks, built on the site of a planned tangential motorway. The infill development was the first step in the ‘regeneration’ of the 1950’s suburbs here.
at the end of the cycle path, turn right, past the new school, ‘t Koggeschip. Just after the school, turn left, along Jacob Cabeliau straat. Go on the the traffic lights.
at the traffic lights, cross the main Amsterdam-Haarlem road, straight on toward the port area (cycle sign for Spaarnwoude).
after 1 km turn left, just before the first buildings. Follow the cycle sign for Spaarnwoude, onto a long straight cycle path. Construction work, summer 2017, you can walk around it, but be careful crossing the road.
cycle on past a light industry / warehouse area: the grassed area between the cycle path and the buildings is a pipeline corridor.
after the last buildings, pass under the new A5 motorway, through a new cycle underpass.
This is the successor to the tangential motorway plans of the 1950’s. In front of you is a wide canal, planned to link the port basins to inland shipping routes. It was never completed. The building on your right is a pumping station: beside it, there is space available for a future shipping lock.
from the underpass, turn left, at first alongside the motorway. The cycle path then bends right toward the village of Halfweg, with the prominent silos of the former CSM sugar-beet refinery.
pass the first houses of Halfweg, and continue along the wide cycle path on the dike (and say hello to the small black cat, if it is still sitting in the middle of the path).
turn right onto the wooden footbridge (sign for Spaarnwoude), and then left at the end of the bridge, passing a channel lined with houseboats.
after the houseboats, go straight on, passing a park on the right.
after a bend in the road, the former sugar factory is in front of you – the twin silos have been converted to offices. Cross to the other side of the road, following the ’28’ signs, and continue to the rail line.
don’t cross the railway: turn right just before it, following the sign for Vinkebrug. Pass a few older houses, part of the village of Halfweg.
after 500 m, the landscape opens up: you are on the mediaeval sea dike of the IJ estuary.
The coastal dunes and the IJmuiden steelworks are visible ahead. The land on the right was all reclaimed from the estuary in 1875. The metal objects on a concrete base (left) are gun mounts, part of a 1927 anti-aircraft battery.
stay on this dike, go straight on, follow the sign for cycle junction 30.
about 1 km further, stop beside the bridge over the small canal (right). Near the corner is a stone pillar, one of the old dike markers.
The mediaeval dike is irregular, following the contour of the old estuary shore. The land on the left is mediaeval reclamation, former peat bog, now about 2 m under sea level. The dike road is about 3 m above sea level. The grassed areas in the park (right) are the original estuary floor, 3 to 4 m below sea level. Beside the dike is an intermediate canal, with a separate water level. It was built during the reclamation: separate intermediate drainage is necessary in a multiple-polder system.
continue along the dike. The intermediate canal curves away, and between it and the main dike are former outer meadows.
Low outer dikes were built in estuaries and rivers, to enclose summer pastures. No houses were built there, because the land was usually flooded in winter. This outer dike lost its function, when the whole estuary was reclaimed in 1875.
further on, the low outer dike is visible 400 m to the right.
The pasture land between the main dike and the outer dike is still called De Uiterdijken, the ‘outer-dike lands’ – about 1 m below mean sea level. The reclaimed estuary behind the outer dike is now the port zone.
pass (left) a small lake or pond, then turn right, down from the dike. Go to the small cluster of farm buildings.
5 m before the first house, you pass the remains of the low outer dike. Stop at the brick building with arched windows
This is a pumping station, built 1879. The concrete exit channel (right) is the source of the intermediate drainage canal. It has a blue metal scale showing water level – usually about 60 cm under NAP (mean sea level). All the components of the ex-estuary landscape are visible here: the main sea dike, the outer pastures, the remains of the low outer dike, the intermediate canal, and its retaining dike. All the land toward the port is the former estuary bed, about 2 m lower.
turn back to the main dike, and turn right to continue. The next section is straight, it is a cut-off dike.
On the right is the Inlaag Polder, a promontory in the former estuary. Its mediaeval dike was vulnerable, so a higher cut-off dike was built at the base of the promontory. The mediaeval dike itself follows a meander in the ancient channel of the IJ river, once a main channel of the Rhine.
pass under the A9 motorway. Cycle back up to the dike, and then turn left, following the sign for Spaarnwoude.
at the next signpost, turn right toward the church. The hamlet Spaarnwoude is a relict of early mediaeval settlement, although none of the present farm buildings are very old.
go through the gate, into the walled enclosure around the church.
The church tower dates from around 1300, a church existed in 1063, the village itself around 1000. The churchyard is artificially raised, partly as a refuge against flooding. But look around: you can see that the land near the church is slightly raised anyway. This is the reason for the location of Spaarnwoude: a ‘strandwal’ or relict coastal dune aligned SSW – NNE. The extra 2 metres (and sandy soil) meant the site was much more habitable than the surrounding peat bog. In general the coastal dunes, and the relict dune ridges, determined the early mediaeval settlement pattern in the region: a relict dune runs under the centre of Haarlem. The Spaarnwoude strandwal is the furthest inland – south-east of here, it was peat bog all the way to Utrecht.
sources: settlement and landscape history
leave the churchyard and continue along the cycle path: follow the sign for cycle route junction 15. Pass behind the whitewashed farmhouse and the cattle shed, toward the village of Spaarndam.
at the end of the path, turn right (cycle sign for Spaarndam). Then cycle up to the dike road, and turn left toward Spaarndam.
80 m after the turn, pass the Rijnlandshuis (built 1641), used by the officials in charge of the dike maintenance and drainage. Opposite it is a former quayside on the IJ estuary – the gardens of the houses were once tidal water.
cross the bridge into the village core of Spaarndam, passing over the lock which gives access to the Spaarne river.
Here there is still some open water on the right, originally the wide estuary. Spaarndam was a fishing village at a strategic location: the dike of the south IJ bank crosses the Spaarne, and a sea lock was built for shipping to Haarlem. The lock was fully rebuilt in 2010.
pass left a small statue: the legendary Hans Brinker, the little boy who put his finger in the dike. In fact the ‘legend’ is a late 19th century romantic fake, written in the United States.
after the statue, on the left, you look down into the late-mediaeval harbour basin surrounded by old houses. Here, the road crosses an older and smaller lock, the access to the harbour.
50 m further, cross another bridge (built over flood gates), then cross the remains of yet another small lock. It is now filled and paved, with replica lock gates.
after the last houses, use the separate cycle path. The large ‘dike’, about 30 m after the start of the cycle path, has concrete access doors…
It is not a dike, but part of a complex of bunkers which now comes into view. They were built in the First World War, against a possible British invasion of Germany through Holland. Most of the fortifications around Spaarndam are older: they form the Positie van Spaarndam, part of the complex defences of Amsterdam built between 1880 and the end of the First World War.
continue along the cycle path at field level: across the fields is the northern edge of Haarlem.
after 400 m, stop at a cluster of trees with a small brick building (a pumping station). Go up the steps, on the right of the path. Cross the dike-top road, straight on into a minor access road.
turn first left, into West laan.
at the old farm shed, turn right along Dammers weg. You cycle between the lake park, and the housing development Velserbroek.
This is typical of the large planned housing developments at the edge of Dutch cities, the VINEX locations. VINEX is the abbreviation for the Fourth Policy Document on Spatial Planing Appendix (VIerde Nota ruimtelijke ordening EXtra). As the name suggests, this was a temporary measure to meet growth pressures until the Fifth National Spatial Plan. VINEX has come to mean ‘bulk suburban housing’, and Velserbroek is a perfect example. (The Fifth Plan was never approved: the Balkenende government abandoned national plans in 2004).
after the 4th apartment block, turn left along Galle Promenade, a pedestrian/cycle axis along the development (sign for Centrum).
Although the houses along the ‘promenade’ are the more expensive, this is not an upper-middle-class development. Velserbroek is in social terms a “reverse ghetto”: few unemployed, few immigrants – a ‘white flight’ suburb.
continue along the length of Galle Promenade, to the local shopping centre. Just before the supermarket (Dekamarkt), turn right along the cycle path.
cycle straight on through the housing, then out of the housing into open fields, toward the motorway.
at the end of this cycle path, turn left. This is Oostlaan, but there is no street name sign here. Cycle on parallel to the motorway (A9).
The former shoreline of the IJ estuary is just behind the motorway. 1500 metres north of here is the site of a Roman fort, an outpost on the bank of the ancient IJ channel. (The Roman imperial border – limes – is further south, along the line Leiden – Utrecht – Nijmegen).
after the first farmhouse, pass (right) two gate-posts with the faint inscription Het Huis ‘t Spyk.
The gate, and a low earthen wall, are the only remains of a former country house, with formal garden (laid out circa 1680). This is the eastern edge of a cluster of over 50 country houses around Haarlem, mainly 17th and 18th century. You are leaving the landscape of reclaimed peat-bog (grassland with drainage ditches). Ahead is an area of older settlement – naturally drained land along the edge of the coastal dunes, with sandy soils.
go straight on, the road is now called Hofgeesterweg. After another 600 m turn left, following the sign for Velsen-Zuid / IJmuiden.
the road rises: again follow the signs Velsen-Zuid / IJmuiden, and go on over the bridge, over a motorway.
at the end of the bridge, the cycle path switches to the other side of the road. At the cycle sign go right, again toward Velsen-Zuid / IJmuiden.
cross the Haarlem-Alkmaar railway: here it descends into the Velser tunnel under the North Sea Canal.
The tunnel was built in 1957, and the rail line re-routed: originally it crossed the canal on a swing bridge, further west.
200 m further, turn left at a change in the cultural landscape: the country house Beeckestijn. Go through the gate, and go past the house, into the large grounds. Step off your bike on gravel paths.
The geometrical garden nearest the house dates from about 1720, behind the pool is an extension in early landscape style (circa 1770). Note that the soil is now sandy: the beginnings of the dunes, or more accurately, the remains of a former coastline. There are low dune remnants 200 m behind the pool.
at the pool, there are stone benches to sit and rest.
turn back, leave Beeckestijn by the same gate, and turn left: use the cycle path. This is a busy road leading to the main Amsterdam-IJmuiden road.
go straight on for 800 m, and then cross the main road. Use the cycle crossing! Go toward the petrol station, and then turn left, follow cycle signs for Beverwijk / IJmuiden.
200 m further, at the older houses, you reach the former village of Oud-Velsen. At Kerkesingel enter the village, through the white-painted gates.
continue past the 12th century church (Engelmunduskerk), in the preserved core of the old village of Velsen.
The name ‘Felison’ is recorded in 722 – the oldest historically recorded settlement in the region.
after the church pass another white-painted gate, on into Torenstraat. After 30 m go right into Hoofdbuurt straat.
suddenly the village ends: you are on the bank of the North Sea Canal, looking at the power station on the other side.
This must be one of the sharpest landscape transitions in the Netherlands. To the right the ventilation towers of the first motorway tunnel under the canal, to the left the steelworks and the IJmuiden sea lock complex. The carved stone slab shows the successive canal expansions, which cut into the village. Across the canal you can see a church behind the industry: the road through Oud-Velsen continues there, cut by the Canal. It is the old main road from Haarlem to Alkmaar, a surfaced highway since 1816. From 1897 to 1924 a steam tram also ran along this road, but it never developed into a major urban axis.
this is the end of the outward section of this route, approx 27 km from the start.
to return to Amsterdam, turn back, past the white gate, the church, and the other white gate. You now have a choice: cycle back (23 km), or take the train (€12 with bike).
to cycle back, first go back along the cycle path, which you used earlier. Pass the petrol station again, and then simply cycle straight on: follow the cycle signs for Amsterdam.
continue alongside the main road to Amsterdam, N202. About 2 km from Oud-Velsen, the road and cycle path follow the North Sea Canal, although most of the time you can’t see it.
about 6 km from Oud-Velsen, cross the bridge at Buitenhuizen. After another 1500 m, the road bends right into the port zone. The cycle path passes under the main road here.
cycle on through the port zone, following the signs for Amsterdam. After the port basins, continue along the Basis weg, Transformator weg, Spaarndammer dijk, Tasman straat, and van Diemen straat.
at the end of van Diemen straat, switch to the two-way cycle path on the other side of the road (along the waterside), and continue to Centraal Station, the end point of this route.
to take the train, turn left at the white gate, along Kerkesingel. After 30 m make a U-turn into the cycle tunnel, follow cycle route number 03.
on the other side, cycle straight on through a park, again follow route 03.
cycle straight on along Driehuizerkerkweg, now following route number 04.
after the sports fields, there are World War II German bunkers hidden among the trees on the right.
In 1944 there were 14 ‘Festungen’ in Hitler’s Atlantikwall, Festung IJmuiden was the most northern. The bunkers are its command centre, Festungskommando Schoonenberg. Opposite Driehuizerkerkweg nr 17 is a command bunker, Regiments Gefechtsstand 117b.
continue along Driehuizerkerkweg, and at the roundabout turn left, onto the Van den Vondel laan. Follow the road sign for Haarlem.
pass another roundabout: turn onto the side road here, parallel to the main road. (The main road dips under the rail line, through an underpass).
250 m after the roundabout is the entrance to Driehuis station. The platform is reached by a low tunnel with steps – there is no lift here.
Trains to Amsterdam run every 30 minutes, the fare is €5,50. You can not take bikes on trains in the evening peak, 16:00 to 18:30. You pay €6,10 extra for your bike, the bike pass remains valid all day. If you have a smart card (OV-chipkaart), you can load the extra payment onto the card.
the trains take 31 minutes to reach Amsterdam Centraal Station, the end point of this route.