I’m going to be deadly seriously honest here, pals, and say right away that whenever I’ve been living on a ship that docks at Ijmuiden, this tiny town in the Netherlands has not been everybody’s cup of tea. And this is for three main reasons: firstly because it’s not a bustling busy city (the closest city, Amsterdam, is about an hour away), secondly because despite the fact that it was right next to a beach, this is not the Caribbean and we were always there in Spring, when it was far too freezing cold for any sensible human being to be plunging themselves into the frigid waves of the North Sea. And lastly it lacks the presence of a ginormous shopping mall, which honestly was the main selling point of new places for a great number of my ship colleagues. But for me, Ijmuiden is an absolute hidden gem of a location which I looked forward to every time it was on our route.
My pal Rachel describes the sound of the Dutch language as ‘like hearing squiggles,’ and I’d say that’s a pretty good analogy. The name Ijmuiden is pronounced something like ‘Eye Myuy Den’ which is as squiggly a pronunciation as you could hope for, and literally translated it means ‘mouth of the Ij’, which is exactly what it is. The Ij river opens up into the North Sea here, as does the North Sea Canal, which connects Amsterdam with the outside world. In fact, this is the newest town in the whole of The Netherlands, which only came into existence with the building of the canal in the late 1800s. Add to that the fact that the town suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War, and you can imagine the town itself isn’t the most picturesque.
That glorious beach
The reason I loved this place so much is that within five to eight minutes of stepping off of the ship, you could be on the beach, surrounded by peace and quiet and wide open space. Living on a ship means that you can always hear something, whether it’s other people, machinery below you, the waves slamming against the side of your cabin (true story, and that can be pretty scary sometimes), or even just the consistent humming of the air conditioning.
Ijmuiden beach is a seemingly endless sandy coastline, flat and expansive next to the sea, but sheltered on the land side with dunes and rushes and reeds. Whether it was a sunny-but-cold or just-plain-cold day, a walk along that beach is enough to get rid of the cobwebs of machinery and air-conditioning for sure. Even on the most blustery of days, there was something so beautiful about seeing the wind blowing low clouds of sand across the rest of the beach and creating a strange mist, that I really didn’t care that I could no longer feel my actual ears.
It’s also the perfect location for kitesurfing and windsurfing, and it’s pretty insane to stop and watch the kite surfers in the distancing looping in the air again and again before they tumble into the sea. I myself wasn’t brave enough to give the kitesurfing a go (having had a very raging experience with normal surfing in Gran Canaria), and even the kite buggy hire which is always set up at one end of the beach never managed to tempt me. Alas. I am a chicken who prefers cozy cups of coffee to freezing my hands off in the wind. Soz.
Rows of beach huts look out towards the sea, and these little guys are downright cute. Each decorated in their own style, with glass windows, and outside the bigger ones, little wooden platforms surrounding the front door; these are the things that I was truly fascinated with. To stay in one of these must be really, really cool, and it turns out after one day that I saw a pic on Instagram, that it really is possible! (Check out The Twins That Travel’s blog for their stay in a beach hut at Kijkduin, not far away from Ijmuiden)
Bunker Central Station, please mind the gap
Weirdly, the only traditional kind of tourist attraction here (if you can call it that), is the town’s Bunker Museum, not far away from the beach. Back in World War II, the location of this sleepy little place meant that the Nazis were rather excited about the prospect of gaining control of the whole shebang, and proceeded to destroy the majority of the fledgling town in order to build a fortress and a selection of concrete pens in which they could house torpedo-boats and submarines, which slept in their concrete beds during the day, and came out under the cover of darkness to blast the Allies to smithereens.
Nowadays whilst strolling over the sandy hills surrounding the beach, it’s possible to every now and again run into some relic of that horrific time in the form of an Ugly Concrete Something, or obviously for a more in your face reminder you could of course take a trip to the Bunker Museum itself.
Related: A Visit to the Tulips at Keukenhof
The best dog cafe I have ever seen
Now I’m just gonna get down to it. The best place in the whole of Ijmuiden? Without a doubt, hands down, The Beach Inn. There’s a whole selection of beach cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops at the entrance to the beach, but it was pretty rare that anyone from the ship would ever venture as far up as this place, which made the walk and the distance all the more satisfying as it felt like we’d truly discovered a hidden gem of priceless value.
The Beach Inn is a large-ish wooden building with a seating area outside, and some flags announcing it’s existence to anyone who might stumble past in a salty sandstorm. Inside is a fireplace in one corner, surrounded by sofas, a selection of wooden tables and chairs, and an eclectic mixture of decorations hanging from the ceiling, ranging from old signage to giant wheels and old lampshades. The cozy vibe makes it perfect for enjoying a hot chocolate on a chilly day, and they also serve insanely delicious food (I always went for soups or salads, mainly because the freshness of these was unlike anything we’d ever be able to obtain in crew mess). And for a snack, not just here but anywhere in The Netherlands, you should 100% most definitely try Bitterballen: deep fried crispy meatballs served with mustard. They are INSANE.
But the most awesome thing of all about the Beach Inn, is that it is the only cafe on the beach that allows dogs free roam of the place, both inside and out. I’m pretty sure the only other place you will ever see such a wide selection of dogs is at an actual dog show; the place is clearly known to dog-owners all around, and I even became very good friends with one particular lass named Sasha (that’s the dog, not the owner), who introduced herself by stealing the biscuit from my very plate and then clambering up onto the sofa next to me. Sasha and me are approximately the same size, might I add.
So pals, in conclusion this might not be the most adventure-filled location in the world, but it’s beauty is something I still very much appreciate and want to share. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam (or any other city in The Netherlands, let’s face it, the country is not a ginormous one), then don’t rule out a trip to the seaside for a bit of wild windiness and a breath of fresh air. It’s an absolute BEAUT.
BEFORE YOU VISIT IJMUIDEN
- With a car, it’s only around 35 minutes from Ijmuiden to Amsterdam, and 20 minutes from there to Haarlem.
- It’s possible to get two buses from Ijmuiden to Amsterdam (taking just under an hour), or one forty minute bus to Haarlem.
- Just FYI, people from the Netherlands are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. Maybe it’s just the places I’ve chosen to hang out, but many a stranger has struck up a conversation with me out of the blue, and their level of English has always been amazing. Which I’m not gonna lie, helps massively.