A mid-sized city in the Utrecht Province, Veenendaal had humble beginnings in the 16th century as a peat-cutting colony founded by the Antwerp businessman Gilbert van Schoonbeke.
The peat industry was practically killed off by a flood in 1855, after which Veenendaal turned to the cigar-making and woollen industries for its livelihood.
Veenendaal ballooned in the last decades of the 20th century with the construction of new city districts, and so can be described as a young city, both because it is mostly modern, and because a third of the population is under 25. The heart of the city has all the big brands for shoppers while Veenendaal’s ample green space and excellent facilities for cyclists have also won lots of acclaim.
1. The Maxx
Opened in December 2016 The Maxx is a humongous indoor facility loaded with exciting activities for people of all ages.
The centre has been a roaring success, and was named Family Entertainment Centre (FEC) for 2017. The Maxx offers laser tag, a karting track, an indoor “Glowgolf” mini-golf course, escape rooms, an amazing trampoline park, pool and air hockey tables and dartboards.
There’s also a bar/restaurant on for burgers, ribs, salads, pasta, chicken satay and the like.
You could easily spend a few hours trying out everything available The Maxx without seeing the light of day.
2. Grebbelinie Bezoekerscentrum
Veenendaal is on the Grebbe line, a series of forts, sluices and flooded plains using water as a defensive barrier between Rhenen to the south and the IJsselmeer (previously the Zuiderzee). Laid down from the middle of the 18th century, this was a forward defence line of the New Dutch Waterline, which was configured roughly north to south, through Utrecht.
The Grebbe line is 30 kilometres to the east, and to find out more about the great lengths taken to defend the Netherlands between the 17th and 20th centuries there’s a visitor centre on Veenendaal’s northern fringe.
This explains the complexities of the Grebbe line, with a timeline, artefacts, a reconstructed trench and lots of information panels.
You can watch a movie delving into the history of the line, and see for yourself how flooding could make the landscape impenetrable via an interactive map.
3. Castle Amerongen
One of the loveliest residences in the Netherlands is only ten kilometres from Veenendaal and worth every second of the trip.
Castle Amerongen is set close to the Rhine and has a history stretching back to 1286. Today’s Baroque house was raised in 1680 after the previous building was burnt down by French troops in the Franco-Dutch War.
This splendid mansion has been enriched by generations of occupants, leaving it with collections of painting, porcelain, furniture and musical instruments.
One of the Netherlands’ most illustrious architects, Pierre Cuypers had a hand in the interior design at the turn of the 20th century.
It was at this very place on 28 November in 1919 that Wilhelm II, the German Emperor officially abdicated his throne while in exile.
One of many treasures inside is the library, with sumptuous 17th-century cabinets designed by the cabinet specialist Jan van Mekeren.
4. Museum Veenendaal
Maintained by a team of 80 volunteers, Musuem Veenendaal is the place to get in touch with the city’s history.
The permanent collection deals with topics like the many conflicts faced by the city due to its location in the Gelderse Vallei between Gelderland and Utrecht.
There are artefacts relating to local peat extraction, the Second World War and the emergence of Veenendaal’s 19th-century wool and cigar industries.
You can also learn about a calamity you probably weren’t aware of; the flood of 1855, which devastated the Gelderse Vallei countryside and claimed 13 lives.
In early 2019 there was an exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Antwerp entrepreneur Gilbert van Schoonbeke who founded Veenendaal as a peat cutting colony in the 16th century.
5. Oude Kerk
A handsome sight on Veenendaal’s marketplace, the whitewashed Oude Kerk is one of just a few historic buildings in Veenendaal.
It was first constructed in the middle of the 16th century, but expanded in 1753, 1835 and 1906. The late-Gothic choir is the oldest portion of the building, and has stone vaulting as opposed to the wooden beams over the rest of the building.
Some fittings to admire inside include the finely carved wooden pulpit, the silver baptismal font and the old collection bags hanging on the wall.
6. De Nieuwe Molen
This lofty tower mill near the centre of Veendaal went up in 1911 and replaced a post mill on this site, which was also called the New Mill and was built in 1623. The mill is in working condition, and has come through five restorations since 1954, the last one in 2010. Something intriguing about De Nieuwe Molen is that it was assembled using parts from a much older water mill from North Holland.
Today volunteer millers mill grain here for a variety of uses, and the Ten Veen Bakery in nearby Bennekom sources its organic flour from this place.
You can stop here on Saturdays to buy your own flour or special baking mixes from the shop (open 10:00 ’til 13:00), while you can watch the millers in action from 10:00 ’til 16:00.
7. Landgoed Prattenburg
This historic estate minutes southwest of Veenendaal has been in the Van Asch van Wijck family since 1694. The current, Eclectic house was completed in 1890, and is on the site of the original, built in the late 16th century.
And while the estate’s mansion is private, the hundreds of hectares of parkland are yours to explore.
From sunrise to sunset you can visit to amble in heathland and forest, and along regal avenues planted hundreds of years ago.
During the season around late-summer walkers are usually allowed to pick the blueberries that grow on the forest paths.
Veenendaal’s traffic-free centre is a regional shopping destination with more than 300 individual shops, which is a lot for a town of small-ish proportions.
A large amount of these are divided between two covered shopping centres, Corridor and Scheepjeshof.
Starting just next to the Scheepjeshof, and continuing down the marketplace near Corridor is the main shopping artery, Hoofdstraat.
Along this smart pedestrianised street are many Dutch and international retailers, like HEMA, Zara and Esprit, as well as lots of locally owned shops and no lack of places to stop for a meal or cup of coffee.
Halfway to the city of Rhenen from Veenendaal there’s a nature reserve in 74 hectares on unusually hilly ground.
Kwintelooyen was a sand excavation site in the 1970s, and since 1989 nature has been allowed to return.
If you’re interested in botany it’s a worthwhile excursion, most of all in spring and summer.
That’s because the diversity of elevations and dampness in the soil gives rise to a spectrum of habitats, with fens on the low ground and moors further up.
Some 300 different plant species have been identified in the Kwintelooyen, most importantly southern marsh orchids, coral necklaces and centauriums.
During those excavations the remains of prehistoric animals like giant deer, mammoths and three rhinoceros species were discovered here, adding to the world’s knowledge of the Ice Age.
Now the big grazers roaming the moors are Highland cattle, which help to preserve the diversity of plant life.
10. Zwembad de Vallei
If you’re in search of a family day out at a reasonable price, the main public pool in Veenendaal is a wonderful amenity.
Zwembad de Vallei opened in 2007 and has four pools.
Among them is a family pool where youngsters can pay to their hearts’ content, while people out for serious exercise can put in the laps at the 25-metre competition pool.
But the reason you need to keep this centre in mind in the summer is that from May to September the fantastic outdoor pool is open.
On the poolside are sun loungers, as well as a beach volleyball court, miniature golf course, bouncy castle and beach football pitch.
11. Groene Grens
Where the Veenendaal municipality borders Ede to the east there’s a wide strip of green countryside left purposely undeveloped.
The Groene Grens (Green Boundary) is within a region known as the Binnenveld, established between several towns at the lower end of the Gelderse Vallei to allow natural pasture and birdlife to take hold.
The Groene Grens is criss-crossed with walking trails, leading into peat bog, wet woodland, ponds and wet grassland dappled with wildflowers in summer.
There’s a plank path across the swampier areas, and you may see people paddling past in canoes or sitting by the ponds with fishing lines.
12. Ouwehands Dierenpark
A comfortable 15-minute drive from Veenendaal is this zoo in Rhenen, which opened its doors in 1932. Over time the attraction has doubled to 22 hectares and dozens of species, from African lions to Western Lowland gorillas and giant toucans.
Ouwehands Zoo made the news in 2017 when it opened Pandasia after receiving a pair of pandas from China.
Children will be thrilled by the Safari Umkhosi where they can cross rope bridges to tree houses and observe African lions, zebras, warthogs, meerkats and mandrils.
The zoo has a packed timetable of shows and demonstrations to keep an eye on, like watching Californian sea lions playing, or feeding sessions for the pandas and Humboldt penguins.
In the car-free centre, the most sensible way to get around quickly is by bike.
Veenendaal has won a lot of admirers for its dedication to this form of transport, winning the Fietsstad (Bicycle City) award in the year 2000 for its cycling environment.
And while you can breeze around the city centre with ease, you can also break out into the countryside on a paved trail.
Almost everything on this list can be reached by bike, and if you have a day or two to spare there’s a stunning 72-kilometre circular ride across the Gelderse Vallei and down to the marvellous castle at Amerongen.