A wonderful idea for a Amsterdam side trip is to visit some quiet fishermen’s villages, like the former islands of Marken, Volendam and windmill village of Zaanse Schans. Tours and excursions leave from Amsterdam every day. Get out of the city and enjoy the famous Dutch ‘polder’ landscape just north of Amsterdam, famously known for its windmills, dikes and ditches. Try ‘farmers’ cheese at a local cheese farm, get you clogs at the wooden shoe factory and enjoy a cold Dutch beer on a terrace, while looking out on lake IJsselmeer.
Volendam and Marken are connected by bus and by boat. By bus it takes around 40 minutes to get to Marken or Volendam.
Amsterdam side trip to Marken
Though somewhat crowded with tourists in high season, Marken and Volendam are lovely villages to visit. Spend the day strolling along the dykes of the lake of IJsselmeer, watching the cattle chew grass on the green wetlands.
Walk along the boulevard of tiny harbours and through narrow streets lined with cosy wooden houses. Enjoy the delicious fresh fish at one of the many street stands or visit a picturesque restaurant serving traditional Dutch food. Many, many souvenir shops are waiting for you to pick up some wooden shoes.
Marken became separated from the main land of North Holland in the 13th century when a big storm swept away the surrounding land. The water around Marken was connected with the open sea, causing regular flooding.
Houses built on wooden poles
Nowadays, a long dyke (Afsluitdijk) prevents flooding, but you can clearly see how the Marken people tried to protect themselves from the high tides: by building their house on wooden poles or on elevated pieces of land (terp).
Wooden shoes with pins
Marken is now connected with the main land by a causeway, but the small fishermen’s village still feels like an isolated island. Especially during winter, the island became impossible to reach, with the water freezing over. When the ice was thick enough, people walked to the mainland over the ice on wooden shoes with iron pins.
The inhabitants of Marken still speak their own dialect and many older people wear traditional clothing. The details on the costumes speak a language on their own. You can tell whether someone is in mourning, what day it is, what season and sometimes even the age of the person. You can learn more about the Marker fashion at the Marker Museum that presents an exhibition on male fashion from the 16th tot the 20th century.
Amsterdam side trip to Volendam
Volendam is much larger than Marken and has its own distinct culture. Volendam is a typical Catholic fishermen’s village. Volendam is famous for its amazing traditional ‘picture-perfect postcard’ costumes, which are still worn by some older Volendam women. In the harbour you can get your own photo of you wearing a Volendam costume.
The old fishermen’s boats in the harbour of Volendam might be just for fun, but there are still people fishing as a profession in this village.
After the construction of the Afsluitdijk, the inner sea of IJsselmeer went from salty to fresh water. All sea-fish disappeared. Soon enough, new fish arrived, among which eel. Eel lives in salty as well as fresh water. Eel is considered a real delicacy in The Netherlands, usually it is smoked (gerookte paling). The number of European is are going down however. The long, snake like fish has been placed on its seafood ‘red list’ by Greenpeace.
Picasso in Volendam
Even artists found something special in Volendam. It became a kind of painters colony from 1875-1914, with even Renoir and Picasso passing time at Volendam. Many of these old paintings of Volendam are now decorating the walls of Hotel Spaander.
Finally, Volendam has made a big mark on the Dutch music industry. Music from Volendam is called the ‘Eel sound’ (Paling sound). Nowadays, new young artists from Volendam (like Jan Smit and Nick en Simon) are topping the charts, still singing in Dutch, but with a slightly modern twist.
Below a video of BZN, the most famous group from Volendam that started with the ‘Eel sound’. The video shows images of the women in their Volendam costumes with the typical white ‘cap’. Also watch the live eels and the special eel nets that are used for fishing.
For a Amsterdam side trip of one day, you can visit the traditional fisherman’s villages of Marken or Volendam.