If you’re visiting The Netherlands, staying in Amsterdam and thinking about taking a day trip. I can highly recommend going to Muiden for the day. This laid back Dutch town hasn’t been discovered by the tour bus crowds yet but has some lovely sights to explore. In one day you can easily have a look at the fortress island Pampus, medieval castle Muiderslot and the adorable town centre along the water.
The history of Muiden is a military one. It was given city rights in the 12th century and given to count Floris V, by Henry V, who then started to build the castle that Muiden is now so famous for. To defend the town, and Amsterdam, fortresses and bastions were built from the 16th century on and these became part of the 85 kilometres long defence line (from Amsterdam in the north to Biesbosch in the south of the Netherlands): Hollande Water Linie.
Muiden is one of those unhurried old towns and you basically can’t believe that the busy and noisy centre of Amsterdam is only a 20-minute drive away. The tiny city centre is a collection of pretty typically Dutch houses, pretty gables and all, divided by the Vecht river that flows into IJmeer at Muiden. The biggest attraction in the centre is watching the busy lock where giant historical boats try to make their way through. There are a couple of cafés with outdoor seating right at the lock, for the best show.
Fort Island Pampus
The island of Pampus is situated just off the Muiden coast and it has made its way into the Dutch dictionary. ‘Voor Pampus liggen’ (to lay in front of Pampus) means to be very lazy or to be completely exhausted and the expression dates back to the 17th century when trading ships from the Dutch East Indies, loaded with spices, coffee and silk, would anchor off Pampus. They were often far too heavy to sail into the shallow port of Amsterdam. So at Pampus, they’d have to wait until they were offloaded or lifted higher out of the water.
At the end of the 19th century, the fortress on the island of Pampus was constructed as part of the 42 fortresses that formed the defence line of Amsterdam. Two large canons would keep invaders at bay. When warplanes were used more than war ships, the fortress of Pampus pretty much lost its function, but (like most other fortresses and bastions in The Netherlands) it was still used in wartime. After the fifties the fortress was unused for decades when it was saved from disrepair and placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
You can take a ferry to the island of Pampus, which runs about 5 times a day in summer. Audio tours are available in English and German or you can also download the free app on your phone to take the tour, there is free Wifi at the pavilion. Inside the fortress, there is an exhibition about all the fortresses along the Amsterdam defence line, but also the different chambers that were used for storage and by staff. I particularly loved climbing on the fortress and looking towards the skyline of the outskirts of Amsterdam to the west and IJmeer and Markermeer on the north and west, with lots of old Dutch sailing boats whooshing by.
The well-preserved fortress castle Muiderslot, with moat, round towers, water shield and falconry is one of the most popular castles in The Netherlands. It was built by Count Floris V in 1280, who was later imprisoned for being a French sympathiser and murdered when trying to escape, and the castle was popular with famous Dutch poet PC Hooft in the 17th century who entertained some great artists and scientists there.
Nowadays there is a 30-minute guided tour that you can join to explore the castle’s interior, but since all signs are in both Dutch and English, you might as well go in and see all the towers, halls and rooms at your own pace. The room and halls house a collection of armour and weapons from the 13th century and a collection of furniture, clothing and jewellery dating back to the time when Hooft used the castle for entertaining.
But most of all, I would really advise you not to skip the gardens, as they are simply stunning. A covered walk divides the ground into a vegetable garden and a flower garden. If you see volunteers working on the garden, they will be happy to tell you about all the plants and flowers growing there. Also, take a walk around the castle for some beautiful views across the lake and a peek in the plum orchard.
Muiden: where to go for lunch?
- Graaf Floris V van Muyden
The outdoor seating, just next to the lock, simply can’t be beaten. A perfect place for people and boat watching.
- Bakkerij P&E Stricker
If you’d like a coffee to go or a quick lunch, this simple bakery offers a couple of seats inside and outside, along the water. You can also take everything to go.
- Fort H
A little outside the city centre, right by the water. Great views. You can order great salads or seafood dishes, the wine list is also pretty good.
Plan your day trip to Muiden
- From Amsterdam IJburg you can take a ferry to both Muiderslot and the Pampus fortress. You can get a discount with your I Amsterdam City Pass.
- You can get to Muiden from Amsterdam by hopping on a train or metro to Amsterdam Amstel station. There you can take a direct bus to Muiden (P1), which will take about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a train to Weesp, where you can either grab a rental bike for €3,85 (an OV fiets) or take a bus to Muiden. Use website 9292ov.nl to plan your trip. The same routes apply if you travel from Utrecht.
- If you have a (rental) car at hand, that’s even more convenient, as Muiden is only a 20-minute drive from Amsterdam. I recommend parking at Mariahoeveweg (P2) as that is a lot cheaper than parking at the castle or in town.