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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 (Zand-fort). On the North Sea coast just west of Haarlem, the resort is brash and brassy in the summer, though it often looks forlorn out of season.

Getting There -- Trains depart hourly from Amsterdam Centraal Station for Zandvoort. You transfer at Haarlem (where the Zandvoort train is usually waiting on the adjacent platform). During summer months extra trains go direct from Centraal Station. In either case, the trip time is around 30 minutes, and a round-trip ticket is 8.70€ ($14). Buses depart every 30 minutes from outside Centraal Station, but they take longer than the train. By car go via Haarlem, on N200 and A200, but be ready for long traffic lines in summer.

Visitor Information -- VVV Zandvoort, Bakkerstraat 2B (at Kerkstraat), 2042 HK Zandvoort (tel. 023/571-7947; fax 023/571-7003; www.vvvzk.nl) is opposite the bus station in the center of town. The office is open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 4:30pm, Saturday from 10am to 4:30pm, and Sunday from 11am to 4:30pm.

What to See & Do

There's not 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 (paviljoenen). Adjoining the mainstream section of the beach is a naturist stretch, where the shocking sight of a clothed individual can generate considerable moral outrage, and a stretch that has been ceded, more or less, to gays.

Windsurfing is pretty good at Zandvoort, which hosts international competitions in this sport and in catamaran sailing. The Dutch Formula One Grand Prix motor race used to be run at Circuit Park Zandvoort, Burg van Alphenstraat 63 (tel. 023/574-0740), in the north of the town. For now the circuit hosts only smaller events. If you come on a summer weekend, you might find a Formula Three training session or a Porsche meeting underway.

Equally racy, though less noisy, is Holland Casino Zandvoort, Badhuisplein 7 (tel. 023/574-0574; www.hollandcasino.com), in the center behind the seafront promenade. There's 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 12:30pm to 3am. Admission is 5€ ($8); Wednesday is "ladies day," and admission is free for all visitors.

Solitude amid surroundings of natural beauty can be found by walking among the 2,500 hectares (6,175 acres) of sand dunes, deciduous and pine forest, grassland, and small lakes in the Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland (www.npzk.nl), north of town. Reinforced by native vegetation, the dunes play an important part in the sea defense system and have been designated nature reserves. You can have an active fresh-air experience here, strolling along pathways -- once used by fishermen's wives bringing their menfolks' 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, occupies 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.

Adjoining the national park is a quiet beach resort called Bloemendaal aan Zee. It's only 4km (2 1/2 miles) from Zandvoort, so you can walk there -- along the beach or on the diketop promenade. You can also take the bus that departs every half-hour or so from outside Zandvoort rail station. Hotspot Grand Café-Restaurant Tropen aan Zee, Zeeweg 80 (tel. 023/573-1700; www.tropenaanzee.nl), is the place to people-watch, do lunch, sip a sundowner, and loosen up to DJ beats after dark. You can munch on snacks or dine on full meals.

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, such as Het Wapen van Zandvoort, Gasthuisplein 10 (tel. 023/571-4638), and the next-door Café Alex, Gasthuisplein 9A (tel. 023/571-9205), a few blocks back from the seafront, in the heart of town.

Hot Jets -- How about a jetfoil ride to the seacoast? Connexxion Fast Flying Ferries (tel. 020/639-2247; www.connexxion.nl), runs a scheduled service on the North Sea Canal between Amsterdam and Velsen-Zuid. At the nearby seaport of IJmuiden (connected with the jetfoil dock by frequent bus service), you can view the three great locks of the Noordzeekanaal, and visit the fish auctions at Halkade 4, Monday to Friday from 7 to 11am. Jetfoils depart from a dock behind Amsterdam Centraal Station, Monday to Saturday every half-hour from 7am to 9pm, and Sunday from 8:45am to 10:30pm; the ride takes 30 minutes. Round-trip tickets are 8.30€ ($13) at peak times and 7€ ($11) at off-peak times for adults, 4.85€ ($7.75) for children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under.

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.