24km (15 miles) W of Amsterdam; 7km (4 1/2 miles) W of Haarlem

If you feel like drawing a breath of fresh sea air and you don't have much time for it, do what most Amsterdammers do: Head for Zandvoort. On the North Sea coast just west of Haarlem and on the same rail line from Amsterdam, the resort is brash in summer, though it often looks forlorn in the off season.

Getting There -- Trains depart every half hour from Amsterdam Centraal Station for Zandvoort (the station's name is Zandvoort aan Zee). Transfer at Haarlem, where the Zandvoort train usually waits on the adjacent platform. During summer months, extra trains go direct from Centraal Station. In either case, the ride takes around 30 minutes. By car, go via Haarlem, on N200/A200/N200, but be ready for long traffic lines in summer.

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Visitor Information -- VVV Zandvoort, Swaluestraat 1 (tel. 23/571-7947; www.vvvzandvoort.nl), is in the center of town. 

What To See & Do

There isn't much more to Zandvoort than its beach, but what a beach! In summer, this seemingly endless stretch of smooth sand is lined with dozens of temporary beach cafe-restaurants. Besides the mainstream sections, there are gay and naturist zones where the shocking sight of a clothed individual can generate considerable moral outrage. Windsurfing is pretty good, and Zandvoort hosts international competitions in this sport, and in catamaran racing. The sea -- a soup of suspended sand, jellyfish, and seaweed -- doesn't look inviting, but the Dutch swim in it anyway (in summer).

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The Dutch Formula One Grand Prix motor race has returned to Circuit Park Zandvoort, Burg van Alphenstraat 63 (tel. 023/574-0740; www.vvvzandvoort.com/dutchgp), in the north of the town. Click on the link to see if any races might be happening while you're in town.

Equally racy, and far less noisy, is Holland Casino Zandvoort, Badhuisplein 7 (tel. 023/574-0574; www.hollandcasino.nl), behind the seafront promenade. You'll find roulette, blackjack, punto banco, slot machines, and more. The dress code is "correct" (collar and tie for men), and the minimum age is 18. You need your passport to get in. The casino is open daily (except May 4 and Dec 31) from noon to 3am.

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Find solitude amid nature by walking some of the 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) of sand dunes, deciduous and pine forest, grassland, and small lakes in the Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland (tel. 023/541-1123; www.np-zuidkennemerland.nl), north of town. Reinforced by native vegetation, these dunes play an important part in the defenses against the sea and are designated nature reserves. Stroll along pathways once used by fishermen's wives bringing their husbands' catch from the coast to market, through the woods on the landward side and westward across the dunes toward the sea. A variety of plants, some of them rare, occupy this relatively small area, and you can spot up to 230 species of birds, including rare crossbills and sea eagles. The beach is never far away.

Even in winter, it's an Amsterdam tradition to take the train to Zandvoort, stroll up and down the shore for an hour or so, then repair to one of the town's cafes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.