In the framework of rehabilitation efforts to enhance the ecological value of closed-off estuaries, we studied the effects of restoring a tidal movement and seawater incursion on soil nitrogen conversion rates and vegetation response of semi-natural and agricultural grasslands in an outdoor mesocosm experiment. Intact soil monoliths including vegetation were collected in June 2004 on two locations on the shores of the Haringvliet lagoon in the south-western part of the Netherlands, which used to be a well-developed estuary before closure in 1970. For more than 1 year, soil monoliths were continuously subjected to a full-factorial combination of tidal treatment [stagnant/tidal (0.20 m amplitude)] and water type [(freshwater, oligohaline (salinity = 3)]. Soil, soil moisture and water nitrogen concentrations were monitored for a year, as well as vegetation response and nitrogen conversion rates in the soil. As expected, nitrogen mineralization rates were enhanced by the tidal treatment in comparison with the stagnant treatment. Denitrification rates however, were much less affected by tide and were even lower in the tidal treatments after 3 months in the agricultural grassland soils, implying that in general, soils were more oxic in the tidal treatments. Oligohaline treatments had virtually no effect on soil nitrogen conversion rates compared to freshwater treatments. Vegetation performance, however, was lower under saline conditions, especially in the semi-natural grassland. No further significant differences in response to the tidal and oligohaline treatments were found between the two soils although they differed strongly in soil characteristics. We conclude that if the rehabilitation measures in the former Haringvliet estuary are carried out as planned, drastic changes in soil nitrogen processes and vegetation composition will not occur.