Capitals are not entirely representative of their countries, wouldn’t you say? While I could spend ages wandering the streets of Amsterdam and enjoying all the city has to offer, it is entirely worth it to branch out and see different cities in order to discover what Holland has to offer beyond the obligatory guidebook itinerary. That’s why today I’m sharing the best things to do in Alkmaar Netherlands that you will enjoy!
This Alkmaar guide presents those of you who are after the ultimate Dutch experience with cherry-picked activities you shouldn’t miss. Plus, Alkmaar is very adorable and cozy and has the feeling of being well-loved by its inhabitants.
Why you should spend a day in Alkmaar
A small village at first, Alkmaar expanded into a city at the beginning of the 13th century. Situated on the crossing of many waterways the city relied on income from fare transit. Later, as the cheese trade evolved, Alkmaar became famous for holding the cheese markets. Now it’s one of 4 surviving cheese markets in The Netherlands. The other ones are in Gouda (the famously delicious cheese), Edam and Hoorn. The cheese market has been turned into a spectacle of sorts. This show is meant to preserve the historical tradition and also allow the tourists a glimpse into the city’s rich past.
The cheese market is the primary reason for visiting the city for many people. I found that even though the performance is very fun to watch, you don’t need much time for it and your visit can combine relaxed exploration together with some classic touristic activities.
How to get to Alkmaar from Amsterdam
Alkmaar has great train connections so it’s easy to hop on a direct train from Amsterdam. The train ride from Amsterdam Centraal to Alkmaar takes roughly 35 minutes and there is a short 15-minute walk from the station to reach the city center. To plan your trip I recommend using 9292.nl which is also an app that you can download.
It is a bit unusual for the old city center to be situated outside of the immediate reach of the station but the walk will take you through local neighborhoods and will offer a nice view over the canals. To get to the center veer away from the station on a diagonal leading you to Helderseweg, then follow the signage from the Kanaalkade to Paardenmarkt. It will lead you straight to the cheese market.
Fun Things to do in Alkmaar Netherlands
1. Watch traders strike a deal at the cheese market
The cheese market is held on the Waagplein. The name means ‘square where goods are weighed’and that’s also in reference to the weighing of the cheeses. Make sure you don’t miss the cheese market by planning your visit in advance.
When is the cheese market open?
The market is seasonal and is open during the spring-summer months. During 2018 the cheese market operates every Friday morning (March 30 to September 28) from 10:00 to 13:00.
There is also an evening market version on Tuesday evenings during July and August from 19:00 to 21:00.
What’s going on:
It can be hard to make sense of what is going on during the market without any background information. When you first arrive at the square you see pairs of cheese runners carry the cheeses on special stretchers. The carriers always do that at a speedy run/walk which looks very amusing. But did you know that there’s a cheese carrier guild that is still responsible for the transport and weighing of the cheese during the market? That’s what the carriers are doing! Each guild is assigned a color which you can see on their hats – green, blue, red or yellow. The leader of each group stands apart from the others by carrying a black cane with a silver-coated handle.
The oldest guild member is responsible for balancing the weights before weighing the cheese in the Waag, which is located inside De Waaggebouw (or ‘Waag’). The building itself is a National monument that holds the Cheese Museum and tourist information nowadays.
2. Find out more than you ever needed to know about cheese in the Cheese museum
When you think about cheese, how well do you know the process that lies behind it? The history? The Cheese Museum on Waggeplein really takes you on a journey through the ages by introducing you to the tools and processes that make cheese preparation possible. You will see the oldest kind of equipment slowly evolve and improve through the ages.
The different floors of the museum have many interactive items that allow you to just have fun with it! My favorite thing was definitely the old TV set on the top floor. That’s where they show cheese advertisements from different decades. I spent at least 10 minutes there staring at Dutch and German ads and not one of them repeated itself. It was so much fun observing how the Dutch Gouda cheese became a trademark through the years! Plus you get a free cheese sample on entrance although if you’re anything like me, you’d be hungry for more in a heartbeat…
I hope that’s enough to convince you to put the Cheese Museum on your things to do in Alkmaar list!
3. Shopping Alkmaar’s cozy little streets and markets
Leave the main shopping streets in favor of the small streets filled with one-of-a-kind shops. One such street is Fnidsen, located right next to the busiest canal street in Alkmaar. The narrow Fnidsen is filled with surprises, from the local florist to pet groomers and shop filled with the funniest dog accessories called La Diva. The hilarious display even included a waterproof safety vest for boating dog adventures!
One of my favorites on this street was the store opposite, called Twin Arts Lifestyle. It is exactly the kind of store where you leave your heart and head, thinking about small knobs and interior details that would make your home perfect. If you run out of shops, there is also a local market with flowers and fresh produce on Kerkplein next to Grote Sint Laurenskerk.
Keep in mind that the stores in The Netherlands close way earlier than in some other countries, so after 17:30 you’re likely to find them closing. So if you love shopping, don’t postpone it till later and enjoy the time that you have!
4. Eating lunch with a view on Alkmaar’s canals
There are plenty of adorable cafes to choose from when it comes to lunchtime. As usual the closer you are to the center, the higher the prices but there are compromises to be found. One of the options you might like is a cafe on a boat called Anne & Max at Kraanbuurt 3. You can also see it on the first photo in this blog post.
On this day trip, my friend and I lunched at the Wolf Hotel Kitchen & Bar. It has a sleek interior and a beautiful terrace next to the water. Their lunch special is a long wooden board filled with sandwiches, a littl, soup and tapas, which is quite nice when you want something filling!
5. Hop on one of the most fun canal boat tours ever
The boat tour or Grachtenrondvaart was the highlight of my visit to Alkmaar. I was excited to try the tour out in good weather since the cozy setting of the city promised a much more laid back experience than many closed boat tours in Amsterdam. However, it over-delivered!
This discovery definitely made my Alkmaar day trip and provided me and my friend with lots of giggles and unforgettable memories. What could be so entertaining in a boat tour, you will ask. Well, as it turns out, Alkmaar has strikingly low bridges (in a literal sense). And it has a lot of them!
I didn’t think twice about it until I was on the boat but as we watched the previous group get off we noticed their sour faces. My friend and I wondered aloud what could cause their ill mood on a beautiful blue-skied day.
As we sailed away from the departure point across the St. Laurens Church, we watched the houses around us as the captain told us all about the historical background of, especially interesting houses. And then we came to the first bridge where the captain said “please duck” and it began. The boat had at least 10 rows filled with tourists from Germany and Dutchies alike, various ages and experiences. What a novelty, we agreed, as we ducked through the first bridge.
Little did we know that we would pass at least 20 bridges at least, with some so low that you have to fold in half in order to avoid impact. Yet it was the most fun I’ve had on a boat tour, I must say! Soon our entire group broke into laughter whenever a new bridge loomed ahead and we’ve seen so many bridges it’s safe to say we can consider ourselves experts now.
The boat tour itself lasted around 45 minutes and we circled the entire city. We got to explore the typical old canals as well as the calmer neighborhoods (a wonderful chance to get a peek into the local’s living arrangements), parks filled with chill residents and hard-working students and got to know the city in general. In good weather, this tour is an absolute must and it only cost 6,5 EUR.
6. Explore the historical city center
Alkmaar has so much to offer when it comes to historical architecture. Wander around the center and veer away from the shopping streets to find particularly interesting buildings. One of the beautiful buildings I came across was the Stadhuis which is the Municipality Hall of Alkmaar. In fact, you can see in the picture below a fraction of the wedding guest party descending this Hall’s stairs. It’s such a beautiful building that I’m sure many people queue far in advance to get married in this magnificent setting.
7. Eat elaborate ice cream in Ijssalon De Mient
Take a break from exploring on the Gewelfde Stenenbrug which is a bridge with a view over the Mient canal. The Ijssalon De Mient offers a fantastic variety of ice cream that will fulfill your wildest dreams. The ice cream usually costs in between 5 and 9 EUR but there’s so much to eat that you’ll have to do your best to cope with the sugar overload!
Eating ice cream while watching the boats going past is very satisfying. And the funniest thing is, the cafe actually has a little bell on the side of the canal that people on boats can ring if they want to order ice cream! I’ve never seen that anywhere else but we witnessed 3 couples stop their boats, ring the bell, wait for the waiter and pay with a card for their ice cream.
One couple was actually taking a break from paddling on boards. If you scroll up to the picture of the canal with the boats you will notice them eating their ice creams in the left corner. If you look closely enough you will also notice the little bell! Neat and also kind of insane, huh? That’s what I like about the Dutchies – nobody shall be left without ice cream!
8. Visit the beautiful Grote Sint Laurenskerk
You will not be able to miss this beautiful church located on Koorstraat 2 in Alkmaar. Grote Sint Laurenskerk is a basilica built in gothic style and features two beautiful organs that are still in order. It is open for all visitors during the summertime. The entrance is free. The church often hosts music concerts that allow enjoying its acoustics.
To celebrate the church’s 500 anniversary, in 2018 you can climb up to enjoy the view from the church’s rooftops. The adventure is called ‘Klim naar de Hemel‘ (Climb to the heavens) and offers an unparalleled view of the city. This rare pleasure costs 8,5 EUR but please note that this activity is time-sensitive and only available until the 8th of October 2018. Otherwise, you can always enjoy the beautiful interior of the church.
There you go, guys! I hope you love those fun things to do in Alkmaar Netherlands. Are you planning your visit yet or would you rather check out other day trips from Amsterdam? Here are some options!