For people visiting or living in the Netherlands, the town of Lelystad probably isn’t that high on your agenda. Located about 45 minutes from Amsterdam it is not a major tourist attraction but there are actually a lot of reasons why this little city in the province of Flevoland is worth a look. I’ve lived here for over three years now, so I’ve had plenty of time to explore and discover what the area has to offer and I think it’s a place that is definitely worth a visit! If you’re interested in shopping, nature and animals, and/or if you have kids, there are lots of fun and often very affordable things to see and do in Lelystad. The location itself is rather interesting, since the province itself was actually completely under water until the area was reclaimed in the 1950s and 60s. Within this province there are other municipalities such as Almere, Dronten and Zeewolde; which also have many interesting attractions. But for today, I am only sharing with you my favourite free (or very affordable) attractions and tips on what to do and see, where to eat and where to stay if you are visiting the city of Lelystad!
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1 – The Oostvaardersplassen
A large area of land between Almere and Lelystad was originally planned to be an industrial area after the reclamation of the land in Flevoland; but a spontaneous settlement of important flora and fauna in the area caused this idea to be scrapped in favour of a nature park. Covering about 56 square kilometres the Oostvaardersplassen is home to many wild birds and animals and is a special protection area for birds. If you are travelling by train between Almere and Lelystad you can often glimpse deer, cows, geese and ponies living freely on the open plains.
There are also many different parts of the reserve where you can drive to a parking spot and then follow walking trails amongst the trees, bushes and lakes, often finding hides in which to observe the birds that teem in the area. I have previously written about visiting the Oostervardersplassen, and I also mention a stunning wildlife documentary filmed in the area which is well worth a watch. It’s narrated in Dutch but even if you don’t speak it you can enjoy the beautiful images showing the changing of the seasons and the life cycles of the wildlife in this unique place. The film is called De Nieuwe Wilderness and you can also watch a trailer for it here. The Oostvardersplassen is free to visit, but you will need a bike, motorbike or car to get to any of the viewing points. I have written a bit more about visiting these viewing spots here if you’d like to see more photos and read more details about visiting.
2 – Batavia-Stad
One of the most well-known attractions in Lelystad is Batavia-Stad; a massive factory outlet shopping centre. Open 7 days a week and only closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Batavia-Stad draws crowds from all over the country looking for top-brand clothing and home-wares at discounted prices. Obviously, if you are going to spend money then this is not free, but simply to wander among the shops taking in the atmosphere and window-shopping is free. The complex itself is very pretty, built to look like a 17th-century style village. There are lovely buildings housing the shops and cafes, gardens with seating and even children’s play areas within the fashion outlet. Situated next to the Batavia-Werf (more on that below) the complex also makes the most of the naval connection by using ship-themed decorations at the entrances and even having cannons on display around the outer walls.
I often like to come here just to wander around, and during the Christmas holiday season there are seasonal decorations, stalls and activities such as an ice rink. I have written more on this previously here if you would like to see some more photos of the complex; my favourite part is probably the whale sculptures for children to play on that periodically sprays water from its blowhole!
If you want to only visit the shopping outlet from Amsterdam you can catch a shopping shuttle bus which departs from the centre of Amsterdam every day at 10 am and returns by 4 pm. Tickets cost 15 euros for adults (return trip) and you need to book via the website. Or you could combine your shopping trip with all the other fun things in this post and spend a few days in Lelystad!
3 – Batavia-Werf
Directly next-door to Batavia-Stad is the Batavia-Werf, and moored in the water next to that is the replica of the VOC ship Batavia. The original ship was built in Amsterdam in 1628 and was shipwrecked off the coast of Western Australia on her maiden voyage to Batavia (now Jakarta). A rather bloody mutiny and massacre took place amongst the survivors on the islands in Western Australia and the Batavia has become rather infamous – you can read more about it here. The replica Batavia is now open to the public, alongside the shipyard Batavia-Werf where you can also visit (and climb around and above) the ongoing recreation of “The Seven Provinces”, Michiel de Ruyter’s 17th-century battleship.
Visiting the shipyard and going onto the replica Batavia isn’t free, but walking along the water and seeing the outside of the ship and shipyard is. If you want to look more closely at the workshops where traditional shipbuilding techniques are taught it will cost 11 euros for adults and 5.50 euros for children ages 4-12. You can also buy combination tickets for the other paid attractions of Het Nieuwe Land Museum and the Lelystad Aviodrome. You can find out more about prices and visiting the Batavia-Werf on their website.
The Batavia shipyard also hosts regular events for people to get a taste of 17th-century life, or where you can pretend to be a pirate! On these occasions there are extra displays and demonstrations in the shipyard, of people using traditional techniques to make rope or teaching you how to fight with a sword or shoot a bow and arrow. You can also try some traditional Dutch dried herring and watch the cannons being fired. Find out more about my personal history with the Batavia in this post I wrote for DutchReview!
4 – Natuurpark Lelystad
One of my favourite things to do in Lelystad is to visit the nature park. This nature park consists of 400 hectares of land that is filled with walking and cycling paths, forest, fields, lakes, rivers and wildlife. You can see wild pigs, Przewalski’s horses, otters, storks, elk, deer, bison, birds of prey, herons and possibly (if you’re very lucky) beavers. The animals have lots of space to roam and it’s a fantastic place to go for a walk, bike ride or picnic. There’s also a play area for children (with a very cool flying fox) and a restaurant overlooking the lake.
My favourite part is seeing the otters, and if you arrive around 3 pm you will definitely get to see them as that’s when they get fed! The above-left picture is of two little Asiatic otters waiting for food, and the one on the right is a much larger European otter. I love seeing animals, so I often come here on a nice day to wander around and see which ones I can spot. I have written previously about visiting here if you are interested in some more photos of the animals!
Parking for the nature park costs 3 euros, although often we have visited on the weekend and not had to pay at all, so make sure you have 3 euros if you go by car and maybe you won’t need to use it! You can also hire bikes from the visitor’s centre to explore the area or just bring your own. Within the park is also a replica of a stone age village and there are often art installations throughout. You can also join special excursions to search for beavers, go on a ‘safari tour’ or take your kids for themed children’s activities. There are seats and picnic tables throughout the park so you could easily take a picnic and spend the whole day exploring. Find out more on the website here.
5 – Belevenissenbos
Another spot that is great for nature and/or for kids is the Belevenissenbos. This forest covers 40 hectares and is filled with playgrounds and equipment for children to climb on and explore, as well as lots of walking and bike-riding trails. Described as a playground forest this is a great place for kids aged between 6-16 to have fun climbing, jumping, swimming and exploring. There’s a little area with some wild horses (which you are not allowed to approach) as well as a dedicated dog ‘beach’ alongside the Zuigerplas lake.
There’s on-site free parking and a food van to buy snacks and drinks during summer. There are also plenty of areas for picnics and a toilet. While it’s free to visit there is the option to donate 1 euro per visitor to help maintain the area. Dogs are only allowed where the dog ‘park/beach’ is, not in the rest of the park even on a lead as the forest is designed to be a free-play area for kids. It’s also a very nice place to just go for a walk or a bike ride even if you don’t have children. For more information, you can have a look at the website here.
6 – Wind in de Wilgen
This garden is a little oasis on the outskirts of Lelystad. Created to resemble an English country garden it is an enchanting place to explore or even to stay a while to have tea and coffee, with a pastry or lunch. The gardens are generally only open during the Spring and Summer months on Sundays, although you can book the facilities for meetings or workshops if you are a business. You can buy a High Tea, Afternoon Tea or Royal Tea service, or simply wander around the garden for free.
When we visited we didn’t stay to eat but I was particularly enchanted by the gorgeous conservatory and terrace area where you could sit in the sun or shade and enjoy the tranquillity. In the above picture, you might even be able to see the lazy ginger cat stretched out in the sun as well! The gardens are a bit wild and overgrown in parts, but also very pretty and peaceful to wander around and sit down for a while.
It’s a pity it’s only open to the general public once a week, but as it’s a family-owned business I can well understand! To find out more you can have a look at the website here.
7 – De Poldertuin
Just two doors down from Wind in de Wilgen is another charming garden; De Poldertuin! Also free to come in (when it’s open) and wander around, de Poldertuin displays Finnish-style garden furniture throughout, which you can purchase. There is a little shop that also offers many pretty garden decorations for sale, most of which you can see popping up in little nooks and crannies of the garden. Similar to Wind in de Wilgen, de Poldertuin is very interesting to explore, with lots of secret spots, a pond and many beautiful plants and flowers. Out the back there is even a big nesting-place for storks and lots of flowers that attract many Wandering Admiral butterflies and bees.
It’s a very enchanting garden and I really enjoyed walking through the tranquil setting on an overcast day. Open between April and October on Friday afternoons and Saturdays this is another lovely spot to spend some time in Lelystad. You might even find some garden furniture or cute decorations to take home with you!
8 – Robert Morris Observatory
I was quite surprised to discover that there was an observatory in Lelystad, and even more surprised to find out it was free to visit! While the Robert Morris Observatorium isn’t exactly the kind of observatory I was expecting (with telescopes to see the stars) it is still a very interesting spot to visit. Technically it is a ‘land art’ piece that was first built in Velsen as part of an exhibition in 1971. But when it had to be removed to make way for construction it was recreated in 1977 in the open area of Lelystad in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Constructed by two concentric earthen ramparts with V-shaped incisions within and stone wedges on the outside, the observatory references prehistoric sites that were used to observe the sun and planets; such as Stonehenge. At the beginning of spring and autumn, when day and night are equally long, the middle steel visor is perfectly aligned with the rising sun. The stone wedges on both sides are in turn aligned with the rising sun on June 21st and December 21st, the summer and winter solstices.
Obviously, we visited in the middle of a lovely sunny summer’s day, but I would really like to come back on one of the solstices and capture the sunrise coming through the incisions in the structure. The Robert Morris Observatorium is part of a land-art route within the province of Flevoland. You can read more about the collection here and find more specific information about the Robert Morris Observatorium (including a video showing it from above) here. You’ll definitely need a car or bicycle to get here as it’s right on the outskirts of Lelystad. If you are coming by car make sure your GPS is taking you to the spot on the Swifterringweg road, not the Overijsselsweg as that is the highway and you can’t park anywhere and get to the observatory from there, as we discovered!
9 – De Dierenweide Stadspark
One of my other favourite places to visit (and within walking distance from our house!) is De Dierenweide Stadspark. This is basically a little ‘city-farm’ that you often find in the Netherlands; where you can take children to explore a little farm complete with farm animals you can pat. I periodically visit the Lelystad one to pat the sheep and goats, and occasionally they also have calves or pigs on the premises. There are some noisy geese and lots of different kinds of chicken and pheasant and even a lovely peacock that’s a permanent resident. Sometimes there are rabbits or guinea pigs that children can pet as well, and the park also offers a boarding service to people who are going away and need someone to look after their pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens.
There are picnic tables here as well as a small playground outside the farm. The place is conveniently located next to a parking lot (which I assume is free although I’ve never actually looked) and within a larger park area that is filled with walking paths and a small area with ponds above the farm. The park is open every day between 1.30pm and 4.30pm, but it is run by volunteers so it might not be open if there aren’t enough volunteers on a certain day. Their website says that you should check their Facebook page to make sure they will be open on the day of your planned visit.
10 – Houtribhoekstrand
Another thing I was surprised to discover in Lelystad was the fact that there is a type of beach here! Now I’m pretty fussy about my beaches since I was spoiled with beautiful beaches everywhere in Australia, and so I don’t enjoy the freshwater ‘beaches’ that most Dutch people visit in the warm months. But Houtribhoekstrand is a very nice spot; even if I personally wouldn’t swim there, plenty of other people certainly do! Located North of the Batavia-Stad area, this beach has a parking area nearby (which fills up fast on nice days) as well as plenty of bike parking, a climbing area and even a little cafe where you can buy food, drinks and ice-creams.
There’s also a toilet on-site, and the water area is very calm and perfect for small children. It’s a very pretty spot to relax on a nice day. You can play in the shallow water, swim outside the roped off area (although you are still within a protected bay-type area), watch boats sailing by and even walk a little further to look at the yachts moored in the marina next door. You can also choose whether you want to lie on the sand or back a bit further on a nice grassy area. To find how to get here make sure you check out my free map a bit further down in this post!
+ Sculptures, Picnic Spots and Other Fun Ideas!
As well as the main things to do and see that I have listed above, there are a few more little attractions and activities that are worth checking out if you have the time! Above is another piece of land-art that is part of the Flevoland land-art route I mentioned before. “Exposure” (or Squatting/Pooping Man as I think of it) is an 85-foot tall sculpture made of iron bars by Antony Gormley (2010). You can’t miss it if you are walking by the Batavia ship, but you can also drive out quite close and walk right up to (and around and under) it if you like.
Nearby this spot are some very nice green areas that are perfect for sitting and maybe having a picnic on a sunny day. I’ve marked these spots on the map below, and the spot closest to the Exposure statue is where Dennis and I passed a very pleasant few hours having a picnic on a lovely spring day last year. We took food from Lidl and lay in the sun watching the boats go by under the lifting bridge and lots of geese and ducks enjoying themselves on the nearby water.
The above sculpture can be found just outside the Batavia-Stad complex (it’s named Batavia-Market on the map) although I have no idea what it is actually called or supposed to signify. So if anyone does have any information about the businessman standing on the giant white head, please let me know!
For something a little different, you could also drive or bicycle over the bridge and along the Houtribdijk (a very long causeway that will take you to Enkhuizen) to a roadhouse sort of in the middle called Checkpoint Charlie. This little roadhouse is completely self-sufficient when it comes to electricity, heating and water; and therefore only open during the Summer months. It is an interesting spot to visit to take some photos and maybe have something to eat – like apple pie! You can have a look at their website here.
If you are looking for other fun things to do (especially with kids) the Surfschool Paradiso offers mini-golf for 4.50 euros per person as well as renting out Stand-Up Paddleboards, canoes and pedal boats at reasonable prices. The school is situated on the calm and protected Bovenwater, the perfect place to have some fun on the water! You can check out their website and rental prices here.
Affordable Accommodation and Tasty Food in Lelystad
If you are coming to Lelystad to check out some of these awesomely fun things to see and do then you are probably going to need somewhere to stay! Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a bed at my place, but I have done some research and found some very affordable and gezellig (this is Dutch for cozy/nice/fun) looking places to stay. Now, I haven’t actually stayed at any of these places because, well, I live in Lelystad, BUT if I were to have a stay-cation here then I would definitely pick one of these places since they look really cool and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Lelymare Logies – If you like horses, then why not stay on a horse-farm in a rustic guesthouse?! Lelymare Logies is located on the same road as De Poldertuin and Wind in de Wilgen gardens, so you would be able to simply walk down the road to visit these places. And if you like animals then the property is home to forty horses, dogs, cats, chickens, guinea fowl and a peacock! Located in a lovely quiet country area with walking and bike-riding trails this looks like an idyllic spot to stay in Lelystad. Accommodating 2 – 4 people in their three guesthouses, prices start from 75 euros a night which is very reasonable. Check out their website for more information and you can also book through Booking.com.
Huis van Steen – Another option close to nature is Huis van Steen (house of stone). Located close to the Batavia-Stad complex this bed and breakfast has a view over the water where you can see wild ducks, swans and maybe even deer. There’s also a sculpture garden, gallery and a tea house. Rooms start at 70 euros per night for two people (without breakfast) and they also have suites for four persons. Have a look at their website here.
Apollo Hotel – If you are looking for a more traditional hotel-stay, then the Apollo Hotel in the city centre looks like a great option. The rooms look lovely and start at 80 euros a night for 2 people. I haven’t stayed here of course, but the Tasty Wok restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel is my favourite restaurant in Lelystad! This is a buffet restaurant but is the best buffet I have ever been to. They also cook fresh grill and stir-frys for you while you wait and the desserts, salads and sushi bars are amazing! If you are going to stay at the Apollo Hotel (or even if you’re not) I would definitely recommend Tasty Wok for an amazing all-you-can-eat experience. You can book a room at the hotel here, and read more about Tasty Wok here.
To be honest, Lelystad isn’t exactly a foodies mecca. Dennis and I don’t eat out often (and when we do we nearly always go to Tasty Wok) but I would also recommend Fusion Express (on the map) as a great place to get a reasonably priced Chinese takeaway (or you can eat in). I haven’t eaten at De Gordiaan opposite the Apollo Hotel, but a friend recently told me it was very good, and the decor looks lovely. It is mostly French and Italian style food. There are lots of nice-looking cafes in Lelystad, so I urge you to explore what takes your fancy! You can also always get reasonably-priced food at the local supermarkets and there is a market in the city centre on Saturdays that sells lots of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses as well as clothing and other items.
I’ve created a map showing all the places I’ve mentioned in this post that you can access for free here. I hope it is helpful and you enjoy your time in Lelystad, please let me know if you do!
Have you ever been to Lelystad and seen or done any of the things on this list? Let me know in the comments or tell me what things I’ve left off the list! Don’t forget to pin this for later if you’re planning your own trip to Lelystad 🙂
I really love discovering less popular destinations! To be honest, during my last stay in the Netherlands, I only visited Amsterdam and Keukenhof, but your post made me wanna explore Holland off the beaten path!
Kristy Atkinson says
I know exactly what you mean Magdalena! At least now you know about some other places to go in Holland for next time 😉
Laura Harris says
Ooh I love off the beaten path destinations and the Batavia ship is exactly the kind of attraction for my inner history nerd!
Kristy Atkinson says
The Batavia has such an interesting story doesn’t it?!
This is a really comprehensive guide, Netherlands has a lot to offer. The shipyard looks like an awesome place to visit.