Varied cruising grounds, attractive historic towns and a metropolitan capital that you can sail right in to! This is what the Netherlands offers the sailing enthusiast. From the quiet of the coastal islands to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, this area has got it all, and it can all be done in just one holiday. You can be sailing between the coastal islands on the Unesco world heritage area of the Wadden Sea on one day, be at anchor beneath a medieval tower in Hoorn the next, and hang out in Amsterdam the day after.
As far as sailing areas go, the Netherlands has a lot to offer on a relatively small scale. In the centre of the country is the Ijsselmeer Lake, a former inland sea and now the largest freshwater lake in Western Europe. Around it are picturesque old cities and towns steeped in maritime history such as Medemblik, Enkhuizen and Hoorn, and of course Amsterdam. From this lake, the province of Friesland can be easily accessed. This area has a charm of its own, you can sail on tranquil lakes with free moorings in nature everywhere, connected by old canals and dotted with pretty villages and towns. It also offers a nice alternative to the Ijsselmeer when the weather is to rough.
North of the Ijsselmeer we find the Wadden Sea, a stretch of sea protected by coastal islands stretching from the Netherlands all the way to Denmark. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and was awarded Unesco world heritage status in 2009. At low tide, large stretches of this area become dry, offering unrivaled views and providing a feeding grounds for large populations of birds. You will also encounter groups of seals on the banks and in the deeper areas, porpoises can be found. The islands all have marinas and good anchoring grounds and provide opportunities for cycling, hiking or just enjoying a drink or a nice dinner.
In the south of the Netherlands there is another interesting sailing area, the province of Zeeland. This consists of a number of interconnected islands and peninsulas in the estuary of the Schelde river. Part of it is still a tidal river with busy traffic, going up to the city of Antwerp, well worth a visit. The other half of the estuary has been tamed and offers quiet sailing between green fields and pretty old towns. Especially the cities of Middelburg and Veere are well worth a visit, if only for the sight they offer when approached from the water. The adventurous soul might even consider a crossing to England from here, which can be done in under 24 hours...
Timing: sailing in the Netherlands can be done year round, but in winter it can be cold and wet. Spring, summer and autumn are great for sailing with usually good winds. In general as far as the weather is concerned, summer is the best time, but the other seasons offer the prospect of having the water all to yourself, an amazing experience.
Routes and planning: the area in the North around the Ijsselmeer is easy to navigate and offers many options that you can figure out as you go. The lake is relatively sheltered and can be sailed in most conditions, and on the off chance that the weather is exceptionally bad you can always sail inland or take a day of shore leave to sniff some culture. The Wadden Sea is small enough to cover a nice area in a short amount of time, yet you have to take the tides into account.
In Zeeland you can leisurely spend a week or two going where the wind takes you, you can go out on the North Sea, hop from town to town inland or head upriver to the beautiful city of Antwerp.
Feeling excited? Can you already picture yourself sailing into a town where your ancestors may have sailed out of? Don't hesitate and have a look at the boats in the Netherlands and see if there is one for you to rent or swap!