A Long Weekend in Den Helder
Den Helder is one of my favourite places in The Netherlands for exploring. The town and local area have many nice spots to see and a few nice places to stay. There is something for those who love art, history, and beaches, as well as active things for every age group.
Den Helder is situated at the northern point of the province of North Holland, just over 95 km north of Amsterdam. The town has a long history dating back to the 1500s and has been a very important port town for both transit of goods and defence since then.
The best place to start in Den Helder is in Willemsoord at the tourist office. You can park there and find all the information you need for your stay. However, beyond the tourist office, you can spend hours wandering around the harbour at Willemsoord, visiting the museums and relaxing at restaurants.
After the tourist office, you can begin wandering around the harbour. There are signs everywhere explaining what the buildings are, or used to be, and the history of the harbour. On the Willemsoord website, there is also a circular walking tour that explains even more. Make sure you look at the R.W. van de Wint sculpture Known by Heart, as he will be mentioned further in the blog. While doing the walking tour there are many interesting places to stop and visit.
The Nationaal Reddingmuseum Dorus Rijkers, is a museum that is worth exploring. It is in an old engine workshop, which the walking tour tells you more about. There is a great spot for photos outside on a rescue boat, and the museum itself has lots to offer children as well.
One of the most interesting things to visit is the Marine Museum. It is both an indoor and outdoor museum, and has a lot to offer for children and adults alike. With your ticket, you have entry to the main museum building and also to a second one across the parking lot. However, you can also tour a submarine, a ship, a minesweeper, and the bridge of the HRMS De Ruyter, which is great for navel enthusiasts and children. Remember to leave enough time as it takes quite a while to see all that is on offer at this museum. However, after exploring the main building and the submarine, the rest you can do as you wander around the harbour and or after a break at a restaurant.
At the Marine Museum, you can tour the submarine Tuna, the Abraham Crunssen Minesweeper, and a Bridge from the ship De Ruyter.
Another great location in Den Helder to spend some time is by Fort Kijkduin. Parking can be busy so it may be easier to park further away and walk to it. There is so much to see within walking distance of the fort along with the fort itself.
The fort was built on orders from Napoleon and during WWII was occupied by the Nazis. Inside there is a display showing mannequins of soldiers from some of the countries that helped to liberate the Netherlands. As a Canadian, of course, the ones I remember are Canadian, but there were other countries represented too. Outside the fort, there is also an old bunker (Kroontjesbunker) that you can walk to and explore, a German remnant from WWII. As I understand you can also spend the night as a fortress guard would have. We did not know about this to explore it, however, I thought it sounded fun to do.
From Fort Kijkduin, you can walk down the hill to the south and enjoy the nice sandy beaches. Or you can walk into the dunes and explore the northern portion of the Dutch dune complex (read my blog about the importance of the dunes to the Netherlands and the world). You can also sleep in the Coast Guard Tower beside Fort Kijkduin, again, we have not done this.
If you walk the other way from Fort Kijkduin you can walk along the defense line that has existed since the 1500s and was fortified during Napoleon’s time. On the walk, you can see the Lighthouse (Vuurtorne) Lange Jaap. Built in 1878, it is still the highest cast-iron tower in Europe, though you cannot visit it. As well you will walk past Fort Erfprins a star-shaped fortress built as part of the Napoleon defense system. There are times they offer tours and I recommend if interested you schedule it ahead of time. This defense line is about 10 km long and ends at the harbour.
Fort Dirkz Admiraal is another star-shaped fortress that you can walkthrough. Part of the area has been rebuilt as a residential area, but you can walk through part of the fort and climb on a bunker.
Another great place to visit Duinpark to see some more of Ruud W. van de Wint’s artwork. He designed a bridge for the park and other utilitarian pieces such as street lights, a fence, garbage bins, a bandstand, and a urinal.
Bridge and Lamp Post designed by R.W. van de Wint
One of my favourite museums is in Den Helder, and you may already guess who the artist is. It is Project Nollen and is really more of an art park with sculptures by Ruud W. van de Wint. Here you must pre-book a tour and will be guided through a field of some of van de Wint’s artwork. Some of the pieces you walk into, some you can touch, others you can climb on. They are all so interesting and unique. If you are a photographer, make sure you bring your camera.
While in Den Helder you can spend some time Wadlopen, which is a walk on the mudflats at low tide. There is lots of wildlife to be seen, including birds, seals, and marine life. It is lots of fun, but a very exhausting exercise. You must be accompanied by a guide and I’ve included the link to the one we used.
Another great day can be spent on Texel. It is a short ferry ride from Den Helder to the island of Texel. At the northern point of the island is the lighthouse, which was built in 1864 in response to all the ship wreckages off the northern coast of Texel. You can climb the tower for an amazing view out over the North Sea. As well, close to the lighthouse is an amazing and large beach to enjoy.
There is also the Nationaal Park Duinen van Texel. This park is a continuation of the dune complex that runs along the west coast of the Netherlands and you can walk or bike through it. There is also a Nature Museum and a Seal Sanctuary in the park.
There are many little towns to visit, each with its own charm. Keep in mind parking for many of these sites is limited and you may need to walk a fair distance to reach your destination. In fact, Texel would be an excellent place to rent bikes and tour the island. It is about 26 km from the ferry to the Lighthouse at the north of the island. I’ve included the link to the bike rental place at the ferry, but we have not used it ourselves.
In this blog, I am including some of our favourite places to stay, but we by no means are endorsing them or have received money or gifts for recommending them. We have only stayed at them and very much enjoyed them.
Baron and Crown Charme Hotel: A quaint little bed and breakfast. The owner made us some fantastic breakfasts. It is close to Fort Kijkduin and a half-hour walk into the heart of Den Helder.
Recreatiepark Wiringherlant: it isn’t as pricey as the Baron and Crown but it is a bit of a drive. However, the location is very relaxing, clean, and the onsite restaurant, if open, is good. It is close to the town of Hippolytushoef (try to pronounce that), which is a nice town to explore. As well, this is also a great place to stay if you are planning on going wadlopen, as the one I have linked to this blog is a very short drive away.
If you head up to Den Helder I do hope that this guide will help you enjoy and explore the town and area. I’d love to hear feedback if you do use it.
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