Visit Urk: an Authentic Hidden-Gem + Urk Festival (Urkerdag)

January 24, 2023In The Netherlands

The Netherlands is known for its picturesque villages, charming towns, and rich cultural heritage. However, many tourists often stick to the well-trodden paths of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Those cities are great, but the Netherlands has much more to offer than that. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, why not visit Urk?

This small fishing village is a lesser-known destination that offers a glimpse into the traditional way of life of the Dutch people.
From the picturesque harbor to the historic lighthouse, through the cobblestone streets of the old village, Urk has plenty of sights to enjoy.

So, if you would like to experience the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam, and if you enjoy exploring small towns and appreciate a slower pace of life, don’t miss this hidden gem!

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Quick Info

Best Reasons to Visit Urk

  • Urk is an authentic fishing village with a rich maritime history.
  • The village is known for its charming, well-preserved architecture, including historic cottages, quaint streets, and a lighthouse.
  • Cultural Traditions: Urk has a strong sense of community and culture, with its own local dialect and clothing. Unique festivals with folk music and traditional costumes are being held yearly.
  • Culinary Delights: As a fishing village, delicious fresh seafood at local restaurants.
  • Charming Atmosphere: The village’s relaxed pace and friendly locals provide an authentic Dutch experience.

Introduction to Urk, the Netherlands

Urk is a small community in the province of Flevoland, located on the IJsselmeer. It has a long history dating back to about thousands of years ago.

In the past, Urk was an island surrounded by water. The water around this village provided great fishing opportunities for the locals, which became their main source of income.

In the 20th century, the Dutch government executed the Zuiderzee (south sea) works – a huge project of reclaiming land from the sea due to the need for land and the continuous fight against flooding.

A large area of the Zuiderzee was drained and turned into agricultural land. What was left of the Zuiderzee had become the IJsselmeer – a large lake, that is disconnected from the Wadden sea by a system of dams and dikes.

As a result of this project, Urk, now located on the coast of the Ijsselmeer, became part of the mainland and is directly connected to the rest of the Netherlands. Although no longer an island, the locals still consider Urk as one and it is common to say “on Urk” instead of “in Urk”.

Today, fishing still serves a vital role in the economy of Urk. After the IJsselmeer was formed, the locals relocated their commercial fishing boats to the North Sea. Still, Urk remained the main place for processing and distributing freshly-caught fish. Additionally, Urk is focusing on expanding its economy to new areas such as tourism, the maritime industry, and retail services.

The residents of Urk are strictly Reformed Christians, and the birth rate in the village is the highest in the Netherlands. Indeed, you can see many children around. The residents have preserved the local dialect until today, and if you are lucky, you may be able to see people walking around in their traditional costumes.

Best Things to Do in Urk

Stroll Around the Harbor and the Old Village

Urk, Netherlands, Harbor

The harbor is a great place to get a feel for the town. With its colorful fishing boats and quaint restaurants, strolling around is very enjoyable experience. You can even take a boat ride on one of the traditional flat-bottomed vessels or go fishing in the IJsselmeer.

The old village is located near the harbor. The village is full of charm and offers an insight into what life was like in times past. Here you can find cobblestone streets, traditional Dutch houses, and a few churches that date back to the 18th century.

The old village center is small, and all of the attractions listed below can be easily accessed on foot.

Visit the Lighthouse

Urk Lighthouse is located near the harbour. It was built in 1845 and was used for navigational purposes.

Today, the lighthouse serves as a tourist attraction. You can climb up to the tower and admire the beautiful views of the village and the surrounding area from up high.

Fun fact: the lighthouse is the only one in the Netherlands in which the lights move anti-clockwise. (In the rest of the lighthouses in the Netherlands, they move clockwise).

For opening times and admission fees, check the official site of the lighthouse (in Dutch)
Google Maps location

Join a Ginkie Tour

The Ginkie Tour is a guided tour of the village that covers its rich history and culture. During the tour, you will experience Urk from the eyes of a local and explore the fun Ginkies, tiny alleyways that originated when Urk was an island in the Zuiderzee. In order to make the most of the limited land space on the island, houses were built near each other, forming only narrow passageways between them.
To book your tickets for the Ginkie Tour, check the official website of the tour.

Take a Boat Tour

In July and August, the “De Zuidersee” passenger ship offers boat tours from Urk to the surrounding area. On board, you can enjoy the views of Urk and the Ijsselmeer. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the local culture.
For schedules and tickets, check the official website of De Zuidersee (In Dutch).
The boat also offers a ferry service from Enkhuizen to Urk and back (crossing the Ijsselmeer in each direction takes 90 minutes).

Visit the Old Town Hall Museum (Het Oude Raadhuis)

Het Oude Raadhuis, Urk, Netherlands

The Old Town Hall museum is located in the old village and offers an insight into the history of fishing in Urk.
Here you can learn about the history of the village, the fishing and trade history, the types of boats and tools used to catch fish, traditional fisherman clothing, and local art.
A special VR section is dedicated to ships that drowned in the South Sea.

For opening times and admission fees, check the official website of the museum (In Dutch)
Google Maps location

Visit the Church at Sea

The church in Urk has been open since 1786, making it the oldest building in Urk today. The Church is also a national monument. In the past, the city of Amsterdam owned Urk when the village was still an island. You can see the Amsterdam symbol (XXX) above the entrance to the church. The fact that Amsterdam owned Urk helped the locals financially, but after 92 years, Amsterdamers found out that owning an Island in an area that often floods is too expensive to maintain and gave ownership back to locals. Inside the church, you will find models of boats in memory of times when people could only arrive or leave by boat.

Taste the Local Seafood

Urk is known for its fresh seafood. You can find several restaurants and cafes around the harbor and in the old village serving freshly-caught fish and the Dutch delicacy “Kibbeling” (deep-fried pieces of white fish).

Urk Festival (Urkerdag)

What Is UrkerDag?

If you are visiting the Netherlands during the weekend of the Christian holiday White Sunday (Pentecost), you must visit the Urk festival, which takes place every year on the Saturday before White Sunday.

The festival aims to preserve the local culture of Urk, teach, and remind the younger generations about its history. This holiday has been officially celebrated since 1983. Before that, throughout the village’s history, the locals used to celebrate the return of those who had been working outside the island back home around Christmas and White Sunday (Pentecost) with a festive atmosphere.

Urk, Netherlands, Harbor

On the day of the festival, the harbor and the streets are decorated with colorful flags. Many locals wear traditional costumes and perform traditional arts and choirs such as smoking fish and sewing fishing nets. Some of the highlights of the festival include musical events and a concert, a parade, and a special sail that demonstrate the return of the village girls who had been working outside the island in days gone by.

Urk, Netherlands

You can enjoy the many food and drinks, souvenirs, and craftsmanship stalls that are all around with the fantastic carnival atmosphere on the day of the festival. Many streets in the old center of Urk are closed to traffic, but parking is possible on the streets around the haven.

Plan Your Visit

Getting to Urk

The best way to travel to Urk is by car. Urk is a 1-1.5 hour drive from Amsterdam.
Parking on the streets is free. Close to the beach and the port you can find free parking lots.

Public transportation to the village is limited and it takes much longer to get there.
The closest train station is in Kampen (30 min drive to Urk). From there, you can take a bus or rent a car for the journey.

Best Time to Visit Urk

The recommended days for a visit are Monday to Saturday.
On Sunday, restaurants and museums are closed.

Visit Urk with an Autistic Traveler

Our Experience

We absolutely love visiting Urk. It is a charming place, nestled away from the hustle and bustle of busy tourist destinations. With its picturesque harbor, quaint streets, and special ambiance, Urk offers a wonderful experience for all visitors. One of its remarkable qualities is that it is not too crowded, allowing for a more intimate experience. Urk provides various activities that are appropriate to the unique needs of autistic visitors, providing a safe and enjoyable time for everyone.

Please note that during the Urk festival, the harbour and the surrounding streets may be quite crowded.
Morever, loud music from the many restaurants and gatherings can often be heard on the streets. This contributes to the lively atmosphere of the festival, but may also present challenges for those sensitive to noise (see detailed sensory guide below).

Here you can download a sensory guide of Urk Festival.

In Conclusion

Urk is a hidden gem in the Netherlands that is definitely worth a visit. Whether you’re interested in history, or culture, or just looking to spend a day in a quaint fishing village full of atmosphere, this picturesque place has something to offer. From the charming old village to the beautiful lighthouse, there are plenty of sights to see. So if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and explore a lesser-known destination, Urk is the perfect place to discover the hidden beauty of the Netherlands!

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