Alkmaar, the city that I call home. Located just half an hour north of Amsterdam, Alkmaar got city rights in 1254, a few decades before Amsterdam did (around 1300). Nowadays Alkmaar looks-like the Dutch capital’s baby brother. Canals surrounded by gorgeous storehouses from the 15th to the 19th Centuries, narrow streets with unique boutiques, 33 traditional windmills, the Cheese Market at Waag Square… Alkmaar has its very own unique, historic charm, without crowds. And so close to the North Sea beaches!
While riding my bicycle through the streets of Alkmaar, I fall in love with this city over and over…
Highlights of Alkmaar
Alkmaar has a beautiful historical center with 399 national monuments and 700 municipal monuments. Alkmaar has more highlights and things to see than you might expect or imagine of a city with just over 100K inhabitants (Amsterdam: 822K).
Alkmaar’s main sightseeig highlights include:
- Waag Square (Waagplein) and the Waag building
- Excise Tower (Accijnstoren)
- Big Saint Laurens Church (Grote Sint-Laurenskerk)
- Old Town Hall (Stadhuis)
- The House with the Bullet (‘Huis met de Kogel’)
- Former Fish Market a.k.a. Fish Banks (Vismarkt, Visbanken)
There is a lot more to see!
I worked across the Big Church of Alkmaar for many years, so many great memories!
Alkmaar has a long history. In 2004 the city of Alkmaar celebrated its 750 anniversary. I will not bother you with all the details, only some significant events. Around the time Alkmaar got city rights, it formed an important border fortress in the battle against the West-Friesians. In 1328 a large city fire took place, destroying lots of buildings. In 1573 Alkmaar was besieged by the Spaniards during the Eighty Years’ War. The inhabitants of Alkmaar fought back, which revolt is still celebrated as Alkmaar’s Relief (Alkmaars Ontzet) on the 8th of October of each year.
Located next to the North Holland Canal, between Den Helder (on the border of the North Sea and former Southern Sea, now Waddenzee and IJsselmeer) and Amsterdam, Alkmaar played an important role in the trade, storage and transport of all kinds of merchandise, including cheese. Like in Amsterdam, trade brought prosperity to Alkmaar. Warehouses were built between the 15th and 19th Centuries, from where goods were shipped further to other parts of the country and the rest of the world.
Alkmaar cheese market
Cheese trading started in Alkmaar in 1365. The famous Alkmaar Cheese Market (kaasmarkt) has been a tradition for more than four centuries, which is attended by at least 100K people every year. This may explain to you why its inhabitants and people born in Alkmaar are locally known as ‘cheese heads’ (kaaskoppen).
Alkmaar is the only Dutch city that still sells cheese in this traditional way since 1939. Some cities like Edam and Gouda, internationally known cheese names, try to copycat the Alkmaar cheese market, which is loved by tourists. But the one in Alkmaar was first and is the original!
The Alkmaar cheese market is held every Friday morning (10.00-13.00h) from March 29 till 27 September, 2019, and Tuesday evenings in July and August 2019. The market’s location is Waag Square (Waagplein), in front of the monumental Waag building, which also locates the VVV Tourist Office (great for souvenirs) and the Holland Cheese Museum.
If you would like to visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market with an English speaking guide, consider this tour.
There are lots of beautiful old buildings to see in Alkmaar. Around the canals, but also in some more hidden narrow streets. Alkmaar has eight courtyards, the co-called ‘hofjes’. These hofjes are buildings founded by private initiatives, with the aim of offering housing to a certain category of the population, often financially less fortunate, single women and widows.
With this pretty unique Dutch ‘hofjes’ phenomenon, wealthy individuals wanted to do well and expose their good name. It was attractive for them to connect their name to something that would be everlasting. My personal favorite ‘hofjes’ in Alkmaar include: the House of Eight (Huis van Achten, 1656), Hof van Sonoy and House of Paling & Van Foreest (of which some pieces furniture are now at the Rijksmuseum). You can have a look inside a lot of monuments on Open Monument Day held every 2nd Saturday of September.
The municipality of Alkmaar has 33 different windmills. A few are located in or on walking distance from the center, such as the ‘Molen van Piet’ (The windmill of Pete) just behind Abby’s. But most windmills are a bit further outside the city and can be reached by bicycle or car. I love the sight of several windmills in a row at a dyke. My favorites include the ‘Strijkmolens Oudorp’ at the Hoorse Vaart and the ‘Ondermolens’ at the Huigendijk towards Rustenburg.
High quality flowers are exported from The Netherlands around the globe. I peeled tulip bulbs as a summer job for a decade! If you like flowers, April is a great month to visit The Netherlands, when the tulips start to bloom. Take your bicycle or car and ride around Alkmaar, for example in the direction of Heerhugowaard, Egmond or Petten, and you will see many flower fields.
There is a special Bicycle Route Tulip Fields Egmond & Alkmaar you can follow. Or book a guided Tulips & Spring Flowers Bike Tour. Just be careful when taking pictures please. These flower fields are private property of the farmers and the tulips are their income.
I guess every town has its own notable figure that everybody knows. Alkmaar has Bertje Doperwtje (‘Bert Green Pea’) in his everlasting green outfit. He sings pretty loud, plays his guitar and moves around on his wooden shoes. It is a funny character. Walking around in the main shopping street of Alkmaar, the Langestraat, you may run into him. Bertje Doperwtje is easy to recognize, I am sure you will already hear him from far away LOL
Where to eat in Alkmaar
My favorite restaurant in Alkmaar is Wolf Hotel Kitchen & Bar. Next to fantastic food, Wolf has a very nice terrace right at the canal, a great location for people watching, a few steps away from all the shops and the Waag Square. Perfect! Especially for a Friday or Saturday night I would suggest to make reservations.
In case Wolf is full, for lunch I would go to Lunch room Take a Break at Magdalenenstraat 19, where they serve for example sandwiches with mouthwatering warm grill sausage and Filet American of neighbor butcher Jeroen de Vries.
Other dinner favorites in Alkmaar include Fernando’s and Khunchai, where they serve delicious Thai food for an affordable price. The opposite Scottish restaurant Hielander is a unique must-do experience for whiskey lovers. My favorite Italian restaurant in Alkmaar would be Italica Ristobar.
As soon as the sun comes out, the Waagplein (Waag Square) becomes one big terrace where you will find lots of locals. Enjoy a refreshing drink and a portion of ‘bitterballs’ or cheese cubes with mustard. Same at the Plattestenen Brug (‘Flat stone Bridge’). For a proper meal I would suggest to go to one of the above mentioned restaurants as they serve higher quality food and wine compared to the cafes and bars at the Waag Square.
Going out in Alkmaar
Waagplein is the heart of the bar scene in Alkmaar. In summer people start on the terraces outside in the afternoon, and slowly start go inside once it gets a bit chillier in the evening. My favorite bar at Waag Square is Nola Social, which attracts a sophisticated (not snobby) audience, usually in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. The Plattestenen Brug is another area nearby, next to the old Fish Banks (Visbanken), with some nice bars and cafes such as ‘t Kantoor.
Nowadays bars and cafes in the center of Alkmaar officially do not have a limitation in closing time, basically it is up to the owner. In summer it may start with full terraces in the afternoon and early evening already, but usually you should not expect a lot of people in the bars before 23:30h. If you go outside the bar for a smoke, phone call or whatever, check with the doorman until what time you can get back in. This because a lot of bars in Alkmaar have the policy that no one can get in any more after 01:30h, only out; avoid a situation in which your friends and coat are inside, and you have to wait outside.
Concerts & movies
Where Amsterdam has Paradiso and the Melkweg, Alkmaar has Podium Victorie; the ‘pop stage’ where every weekend a band or DJ plays enjoyable music. Check the agenda on their website. After a night of dancing, a real ‘Alkmaarder’ gets a late night snack at Hap Wat (Magdalenastraat). Try a typical Dutch frikandel, kroket or kaassoufflé for example.
Right next to Podium Victorie, the newest highlight in the field of cinemas has arisen: Vue Alkmaar. Watching a movie here is a pleasant experience with comfy leather seats and wonderful acoustics. Vue replaced the old Harmonie cinema. Next door Filmhuis Alkmaar shows a bit more artistic movies and documentaries. Sometimes in summer there is a drive-in cinema at Olympiaweg, the next one will be on September 21, 2019. Or try to get tickets for a play or show at Theater De Vest (Canadaplein).
Not so much into dancing but do not want to sleep yet at 10pm? Alkmaar by night is lovely! Walk around, wander the canals after sunset, enjoy the beauty and the silence.
Museums in Alkmaar
Alkmaar may not have Rijksmuseum, but the Dutch cheese city is home of several fun museums that are worth a visit. The Beatles Museum is definitely one of them, with a unique private collection. The 17th Century National Beer Museum De Boom (‘The Tree’) and the Holland Cheese Museum (inside the Waag building), both located around Waag Square, are pretty significant sights. For art lovers there is the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar at Canadaplein.
When to go to Alkmaar
Every season has its charm in Alkmaar. In spring you can see the nearby tulip fields (April). End of November the shopping streets are illuminated for Christmas. In summer the temperatures are usually between 22 and 28 degrees Celsius, ideal for a city trip. In spring and autumn there might be some rainfall but can be gorgeous too.
Pretty much every week there is at least one event in Alkmaar, sometimes several in the same weekend. My favorite local, annual events:
- Lichtjesavond Alkmaar (‘Light evening Alkmaar’) on August 31, 2019
- De Brug Draait Door (‘The Bridge Continues’) September 1, 2019
- Culinair Plaza (‘Culinairy Plaza’) 6-8 September, 2019
- Alkmaar Ontzet (‘Alkmaar Relieved’) October 8, 2019
- Koningsnacht and Koningsdag (‘Kingsday’) April 26-27, 2020
- Kaeskoppenstad (‘Cheese heads city’) on June 6/7, 2020
Try to avoid coming to Alkmaar during kermis (fair, end of August) as several streets are blocked and there is a lot of noise from the attractions. Unless you have young children who excited over the attractions and candy?
Nature in & around Alkmaar
Alkmaar has several places where you can take a pleasant walk, including city parks such as Park Oosterhout and Alkmaarder Hout. The nearby Geestmerambacht (lake), Alkmaarder Meer (lake) and Heilooërbos (forest) are worth a bicycle ride.
The closest, lovely beaches are Bergen aan Zee, Egmond aan Zee and Schoorl. Bergen and Egmond can easily be reached by bicycle, scooter, car or bus (to Bergen aan Zee only in summer season). Schoorl beach is not accessible by car. The dunes, heather fields and forest are gorgeous up there!
See also my earlier article My top 5 recommendations for a relaxed long weekend up to 1-2 weeks in The Netherlands for more day trip suggestions from Alkmaar, including a relaxing day at Fort Beemster wellness resort.
How to get to Alkmaar & around
In The Netherlands an easy way to travel around is by public transport. Take the train from any other station to Alkmaar Station. A train ride from Amsterdam Central Station to Alkmaar takes 34 min and costs EUR 8 single ride (OV chip card). From the station:
- walk to the city center (8 min)
- take the bus to Kanaalkade (app. every 10 min, check Google Maps or 9292 app for details)
- rent an OV bike at the station (‘OV-fiets’, behind Alkmaar station, € 3,85 p/24h)
Parking in Alkmaar
If you come by car, it is best to park at one of the central parking garages in the centre of Alkmaar:
- De Singel
- De Vest
- De Kazerne
- Karperton (very narrow, not recommended for tourists and big cars)
- Parkeergarage Grote Kerk (small)
The first two garages are the most logical if you come from southern direction (A9, Amsterdam). The second two are most logic if you come from the northern direction, or if 1 and 2 are full. 5 is a bit further walk than 4. Garage 6 is super narrow, not recommended for tourists and big cars!! Garage 7 is the smallest and often full but right next to the Big Church, so ideal for people with limited mobility.
Parking your car in the garage in Alkmaar costs less than paid parking on the streets, how much depends on the timing. Parking in the garage costs EUR 1.82 p/h (2019) with a max of EUR 15.40 p/d. In the evening, night or weekend a lower tariff is applicable. Please do not lose the ticket that you get when entering the garage, this will cost EUR 30.70! Most garages accept debit/credit cards and cash (coins and notes).
Street parking in the center of Alkmaar is pricey: EUR 2.78 p/h or Fri/Sat EUR 3.56 p/h with usually a max of 2 hours if you lack a parking permit. These are bargains compared to Amsterdam (EUR 7.50 p/h). The street parking machines usually only accept mobile or card payment. The mobile app that I use for street parking payment in the Netherlands is Yellowbrick via the ANWB Onderweg app. Make sure you set up this app before you go out to any city in The Netherlands.
Like anywhere else in the Netherlands, taxis are pretty expensive, count on EUR 1 – 2 p/min. No Uber in Alkmaar (yet). Taxi Zwart is one of the most well-known taxi companies in Alkmaar. Ask your accommodation or restaurant staff to call a taxi for you. There are always taxis at the station and Waag Square.
Best way to get around is by bicycle or foot. Make sure you lock your bicycle, preferably also with a second lock around the frame of your bike (not wheel) and something solid and fixed to the ground (bicycle stand, lamppost, bridge, etc.). Crime rate is not high but an unlocked bicycle is an easy catch. There are several places where you can rent a bicycle, for example at Alkmaar train station (OV-fiets), as mentioned above.
You can easy get around yourself by foot, with the help of Google Maps, street signs and friendly locals. Should you wish to hear some interesting stories and learn more about the history while walking around Alkmaar city center, consider taking this guided city tour.
On a sunny day I suggest to rent a boat, ponton or SUP from Buiten met Buiter (‘Outside with Buiter’) located at the Oudegracht 102 in Alkmaar. There are two more boat rental companies in Alkmaar: De Kraak and Alkmaarse Bootjes Verhuur, their boats are a bit more basic. For sure make a pitstop at IJssalon De Mient and ring the bell for ice cream service. De Kaasboot Alkmaar (‘The Cheese Boat’) is also fun; it includes a skipper and cheese!
Where to stay in Alkmaar
Want to stay a bit longer and spend the night in Alkmaar, for a long weekend maybe? Great idea! Alkmaar offers enough excitement to keep visitors entertained for a few days. I can personally highly recommend staying at the fabulous Wolf Hotel Kitchen & Bar, which ticks all my boxes:
- Great looking place, stylish, cozy atmosphere and good reviews
- Friendly staff that make you feel welcome and serve guests with a smile
- Excellent central location in the heart of the city yet fairly priced
- Comfy beds, good shower, delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner options
Keep an eye on flitterfever.com for future articles about shopping in Alkmaar and nearby beach villages, which I hope to finish and publish as soon as possible. Subscribe to the Flitter Fever newsletter if you do not want to miss anything.
Marcel Witte is by far my favorite local photographer. Marcel makes such gorgeous photos of Alkmaar and surroundings, I love especially his reflections series. His work can be viewed at several temporary exhibitions and is for sale at Kanis Kunst at Laat 174, Alkmaar.
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and is smartphone friendly. You can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. You can (un)select areas/categories to customize the map to your needs.
Tourists are likely to see Alkmaar as a small version of Amsterdam. Whereas locals from Alkmaar rather see Amsterdam as a big version of their beloved Alkmaar LOL
Alkmaar vs. Amsterdam
Just a side note. I noticed several people from Alkmaar do not like Alkmaar being compared with Amsterdam. Some even find it is an insult. I do not agree with that. Yes Alkmaar is a nicer place to live than Amsterdam I think, especially for families, but let’s not undermine Amsterdam, with its rich history, architecture, art, etc. The title for this article was mainly chosen because Amsterdam is a clear reference for tourists coming to The Netherlands, who do not know anything about Alkmaar. Many tourists especially Americans have mentioned it to my friend who runs a hotel for example.
The comparison lies mainly at the fact both city centers have beautiful canals and the old trade houses along the canals were build in similar period of time. Alkmaar and Amsterdam are located close to each other (30 min), both in the North Holland province. Lots of people who used to live in Amsterdam, moved to Alkmaar or elsewhere, and no longer recognize Amsterdam as the city of their childhood. That is a pity, but this is not a contest; both cities have their charm, similarities and differences.
I have been meaning to write this article for years to be honest. As I believe Alkmaar deserves more appreciation, I hope it will inspire people to visit. I am simply in love with Alkmaar! The more you travel, the more you appreciate your home town?! Have you ever been to Alkmaar? Or planning to go? Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.
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