This cycle route follows the mediaeval sea dike of the IJ estuary, through the mediaeval settlements Spaarnwoude and Spaarndam, to the castle ruin of Brederode at the edge of the dune forest, and back via northern Haarlem. 47 km, about 5 hours. Revised with new return route, March 2018.
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. About 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 large roundabout, go straight on (construction work, early 2018, you can walk around it). Continue along Burgemeester Röell straat.
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, you then pass 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 to 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 signs for Spaarnwoude, onto a long straight cycle path.
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, onto Spaarndammer weg, 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 your 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, a narrow road lined with cut willows.
at the end, 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. At the shops, step off your bike, and go straight on.
after the last shops, turn left along the two-way cycle path: don’t cross the road yet. Pass the bus stop, and then cross the road, to continue on the other side (cycle path).
continue on this cycle path, past apartment buildings, open space, and back gardens. After the last houses of Velserbroek, continue through fields, to the next road crossing.
at the crossing, turn turn right, follow the cycle sign for Santpoort. Use the cycle path.
The street name is Slaper dijk or ‘sleeper dike: it refers to the low dike on your right. A sleeper dike acts as a reserve, if a main dike fails.
go through a cycle underpass, under the motorway (A208). Cross at the traffic lights, and go straight on, toward the church.
go onto the roundabout, and turn right into Wüste laan. You are now in Santpoort, a suburbanised village
pass a new school in retro style, Bosbeek. About 100 m further, turn right into Velserhooft laan, toward the local windmill.
pass the windmill De Zandhaas, a fully functional corn mill dating from 1779. (The blades have been temporarily removed for replacement, February 2018). The shop is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10.00 to 17.00.
Note that the ground is no longer flat: you climbed about 6 metres from the cycle tunnel. Like Spaarnwoude, Santpoort was built on slightly higher ground, another relict dune. The city of Haarlem, also built on higher ground, was the mediaeval centre of the region. At that time, Amsterdam was at best a small village, surrounded by estuary, peat bogs, lakes and creeks.
continue along Velserhooft laan. At the open space with the church, turn left onto Middenduiner weg. You are now leaving Santpoort.
pass a roundabout, and then cross a railway (Haarlem – Alkmaar). Continue along Middenduiner weg.
after the last houses, there is a field on your right, a remnant of agricultural land. The forest across the field is the edge of the main dunes.
The field here is at 5 m elevation, the dunes behind it are at 35 m. This is a ‘dune valley’ between two rows of dunes, which was originally a fresh-water marsh. Dunes and glacial ridges are the only significant elevation, in most of the Netherlands. The only real ‘hills’ are in the southern province of Limburg.
at the next corner, turn left onto Velserender weg, follow the small sign for Ruïne van Brederode. On the right, the edge of the dune forest.
further on, there are open fields on the left, another agricultural remnant. Across the field, you can see the ruin of Brederode Castle.
The tower has been reconstructed, and you get an impression of how it looked, to a small army with no firearms. Brederode Castle used to be in school history books, though probably no-one ever remembered exactly why. It played an important role in the mediaeval history of this region, during the obscure Hook and Cod Wars.
continue around the bend toward the castle, follow the sign for cycle route junction 34. Pass the castle entrance.
If you park your bike and cross the small wooden bridge, you can walk along the moat for a closer look. The building itself is open from March to October (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until 17:00, admission € 3). The castle is closed in winter, to protect the bats that hibernate in the tower.
after the castle, continue along Velserender laan. At the end, turn right, along Brederoodse weg. You are now in Santpoort-Zuid, which is separate from Santpoort itself.
at the small open space with a street map and sculpture, turn left into Duinweg, which is also known as Duivelslaan (Devil’s Lane).
continue along this quiet street with genteel houses. At the end keep right, passing the old Santpoort Station.
The station building dates form 1898. As with most small Dutch stations, facilities were reduced to a minimum, all staff withdrawn, and the former station building sold off.
go past the station entrance, to the next corner, and turn left across the railway line. Immediately after the tracks, turn right into Jan Gijsen vaart.
pass a block of flats, then keep to the right, and turn onto the cycle path (Schoterkerk pad). Follow the cycle signs for Haarlem and junction 9.
cycle through the fields, toward the western edge of Haarlem. The small canal beside the path is the Jan Gijzen vaart.
This is a zandvaart or sand-canal, built in 1537 to transport sand from the dunes, for construction work. Like similar canals, it runs in a straight line to the nearest river, in this case the Spaarne. The canal its named after its original owner, Jan Gijzen (or Gijsen). The village of Santpoort-Zuid was originally a hamlet at the end of the canal, also named ‘Jan Gijzenvaart’.
cross a cycle bridge, and go through an underpass. At street level turn right, and then again right along Jan Gijzen kade. Follow the cycle signs for Amsterdam.
continue along Jan Gijzen kade: the old canal is on your right. You are now in northern Haarlem.
at the traffic lights, go straight on, again follow the cycle sign for Amsterdam, and continue along Jan Gijzen kade.
You cross the Rijksstraat weg, the main north-south road into central Haarlem. If you want to see the centre of Haarlem, turn right here. The detour will add about 5 km to the route. From central Haarlem, you can just follow the signs to Amsterdam: you will end up on the return route, as described below.
at the end of Jan Gijzen kade, turn right, and then turn left across a new river bridge. Again follow the cycle signs for Amsterdam.
cross the Spaarne river, via the new bridge. Haarlem grew up alongside this river. For centuries, it was the main shipping route into there city.
after the bridge, follow the cycle path along the main road, through the industrial / commercial zone Waarderpolder. Construction work 2018: you can use the cycle path on the other side of the road.
1500 m after the bridge, turn left at the snack bar ‘Sea Cottage’, into J. W. Lucas weg. There is no street name sign here.
at the end, turn right along the A. Hofmanweg, toward the telecom tower.
turn next left into Oude weg, follow the sign for Penningsveer. You leave the industrial zone: cycle on toward the windmill, De Veer.
go straight on, and cross the river Liede. Cycle through the small settlement Penningsveer, and alongside the moat of a another 19-century fort (Fort bij Penningsveer).
after the fort, at the junction, turn right, follow the sign for Halfweg. Continue parallel to the river Liede. Pass through the village of Haarlemmerliede.
af the end of the village, pass another fort of the Stelling van Amsterdam (Fort bij de Liebrug, 1899). Go straight on, across the rail line, and under the motorway.
at Hotel De Zoete Inval, turn left toward Amsterdam, on the cycle path. You now follow the main road back into Amsterdam, for 14 km.
pass under the A9 motorway. Further on, pass the converted silos of the sugar factory at Halfweg, the factory buildings, and an old steam pumping station.
pass the traffic lights at Halfweg, go straight on, alongside the main road.
after Halfweg, you cycle for 6 km alongside a busy main road. At the Sloterdijk office zone, pass under the rail and metro lines, and then under the ring motorway. After the motorway junction, there is less traffic on the road.
pass the south side of the Westergasfabriek complex, with restored 19th-century industrial buildings.
600 m further, you reach the Haarlemmer plein, at the edge of central Amsterdam, the end point of this route.