Despite its high population density, South Holland offers an array of outdoor activities options at its parks, nature reserves, lakes, beaches, dunes and wooded areas.
South Holland’s flat, polder landscape lends itself to walking (‘lopen’), running (‘hardlopen’) and cycling, while its coastal dunes (which can reach 100 meters) are perfect for hiking and mountain biking.
Inland water, including canals, rivers, ponds and lakes, accounts for nearly 20% of South Holland’s 3,403 km2. Combined these offer ample opportunity for kayaking, rowing, sailing and boating. For those who prefer surfing, SUPing, kite-boarding or boogie-boarding, check out the 100km-long coast and the variety of sports offered in…
Below are a few highlights of outdoor activities available in The Hague, Rotterdam, Leiden, Delft and surrounding areas of Zuid-Holland, Netherlands…
De Biesbosch National Park
The Netherlands has 20 national parks spread around the country, all of which are over 10 Km² in size. One of these, Nationaal Park de Biesbosch, straddles the provincial border between South Holland and North Brabant. It is located on a river delta, which feeds the largest fresh-water tidal area in Europe. Beavers are plentiful in their natural habitat as are a large variety of birds. The park offers walking, hiking and cycling routes, kayak rentals and sightseeing boat cruises.
Sand dunes formed thousands of years ago along the coast of Holland. These not only created a unique ecosystem which today is home to hundreds of plant and bird species, as well as fresh-water reservoirs used for drinking water, they also provide a natural defense against the powerful North Sea for much of the coast. The dunes can reach well over 100 metres in height in Scheveningen and Kijkduin (beach communities of The Hague), Wassenaar, Katwijk and Noordwijk. During WWII, the Germans built outlook posts and bunkers in the dunes which were connected by underground tunnels. Many still exist but because of deterioration, are off-limit to the general public due to safety issues.
Cycling, walking, hiking and horse riding trails have been established in many locations which provide access to the public while protecting certain areas with more fragile plant and animal life.
Find more information about outdoor activities in and around the dunes regions of South Holland here:
Delftse Hout (Delft woods) is a nature area within walking distance of the city centre. In the middle is a large lake (Grote Plas) around which you can find a beach for sunbathing and swimming. There are marked walking, cycling and equestrian routes through the woods.
Leidse Hout (Leiden woods) is a nature park approximately 1.5 km to the northwest of the city center on the border of Oegstgeest. It offers walking trails, cycling paths, a pond, children’s playground, tea house, music stage, deer park and adjacent sports fields and tennis courts.
The Scheveningen forest was created between the years 1100-1400 to avoid the nuisance of blowing sand from the dunes. It is located between The Hague’s beach community of Scheveningen and the city centre. Walking/running trails and cycling paths have been established and are well marked. A children’s playground and lake are located in the middle.
The Kralingen Forest is a 200-hectare nature park in Rotterdam located in the north east section of the city. The paved paths are popular with walkers, runners, inline skaters and cyclists. In the centre is a lake (Kralingse Plas) and recreational beach with swimming. A wooden pier separates the swimming area from the rest of the lake which is used for an array of water sports including kayaking, sailing, rowing, kite-boarding and motor boating. Rentals are available.
Just north of Leiden is a large lakes area called the Kaagerplassen . The area is very popular with boaters and there are numerous marinas with direct access to the lakes. The charming Kaageiland (island) can be reached by ferry. A portion of the Kaagerplassen area is a nature reserve. One island, the Kouderhoorn (accessible by bridge), offers a sandy beach for sunbathing. Bike paths circle the lakes forming a scenic route which passes many historic windmills.
The 130-hectare Vlietland recreation area is sometimes referred to as the “Riviera of the Randstad” and sits between Zoetermeer on the east and Voorschoten on the west. It includes two lakes, beaches, woods and polder fields. A full range of outdoor activities and water sports are available which include swimming, sailing, climbing, mountain biking, walking and hiking trails, wind surfing, horseback riding and bird watching.
Hiking and Walking
The Netherlands are well-suited to walking and rambling – from walks along coastal beaches and inland polders to more adventurous hiking through the sand dunes or dense forests. The official Dutch walking association is the Koninklijke Wandel Bond Nederland (KWBN).
Check the Wandelnet website for recommended walking routes.
Suburban and rural areas of South Holland offer walking/running paths which can be easily accessed via TOPs (Touristische Overstappunten). These small parking lot locations are equipped with vending machines and encased maps that show the local designated walking/running routes which can be joined from that TOP location.
The ANWB also has a comprehensive guide for walking in Holland. They publish guide books and route maps, which include a series of dog-friendly walking routes.
For combined city/sightseeing routes, local tourist offices are the best source of information and can supply maps and details of guided tours in the area.
The Night of the Refugee
Each year in mid-June, a 40-km charity walk (Nacht van de Vluchteling) is held in South Holland with proceeds going to various refugee projects around the world. The walk starts at the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal on Wilhelminakade and ends at the Grote Markt in The Hague city centre. Rest stops are set up along the route. A shorter 10-km walk is also offered earlier in the evening which begins and ends at the Grote Markt in The Hague.
Canoeing and Kayaking
The Watersportverbond is the national association for water sports in Holland, including canoeing. It organises competitions and events throughout the year. To compete in events, paddlers must be members and have a qualification licence.
To become a member, either apply directly with the NKB or join an affiliated canoe club and that will ensure automatic membership. The Watersportverbond organises flat water and white water races, as well as slalom competitions and canoe polo.
Surfing and Board Sports
Surfing and other board sports have become quite popular in South Holland due to its long coastline bordering the North Sea. Surfing (including windsurfing and kiteboarding) and stand up paddleboarding (SUPing) lessons are readily available from schools located in beach communities such as Scheveningen, Katwijk, Noordwijk, Ter Heijde, Hook of Holland and Rockanje.
With so many many inland lakes, it is no surprise that water sports are popular with young people in Holland. Key places where you can find a wide range of water sport activities on offer, including scuba diving and waterskiing, are the Brielse Meer, the Grevelingenmeer and the Haringvliet.
The national organization that oversees these water sports in the Netherlands is the Koninklijke Nederlandse Watersportbond (KNWB). The organization has regional chapters which organize watersports events and tournaments in a range of disciplines.
Sailing and Boating
As a country, the Netherlands has one of the highest per capita ownership of boats in the world (1:10). It is not unexpected considering how pervasive water is (a fair amount of land in Holland is below sea level). This is especially true for the South Holland region, with its 100 km+ North Sea coastline, its many freshwater lakes (which include some of the largest in the country) and with major rivers like the Rhine (Rijn) and Lek flowing through it.
Additional information about sailing, boating and marinas in Holland (including rules governing Dutch waterways) can be found here: