Only half an hour from Amsterdam by public transport, Monnickendam is the perfect town to visit if you want to see one of the old fishing villages of the Zuiderzee, but also want to avoid the crowds. It is very close to the popular day trip destinations Volendam and Marken, but without all the tourists. This is strange, as it has a lot to offer. If I were a tourist in Amsterdam, I would immediately put Monnickendam on my bucket list, before anyone else does! In this article I will explain why.
Why visit Monnickendam?
When you are staying in Amsterdam, tour operators will try to tempt you to book a day trip with them to places such as Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken. They will show you beautiful pictures of the windmills of Zaanse Schans, and the wooden houses of the former fishing villages along what was once the Zuiderzee. Strangely, you won’t see a single tourist in these pictures, just historical places where time seems to have stood still. I understand the pictures look very attractive. However, they don’t show you the naked truth, which is that when you arrive in these places, they will be flooded by tourists and that the historical shops have made way for souvenir shops and cheap tourist restaurants.
Of course, if you feel that you need to go there, please do. In my previous posts I have given some suggestions about how to avoid the crowds in both Zaanse Schans and Marken. But you could also take an entirely different approach, and that is to visit other towns that have more or less the same to offer. Monnickendam is one of these places and a great alternative to Volendam especially.
Like Volendam, Monnickendam is situated on the IJsselmeer shore, not too far from Amsterdam. And though there are differences between both towns, they share a more or less similar history. (I guess the town historians of Monnickendam and Volendam will now sue me! :-))
Nowadays, Volendam is flooded by tourists, and Monnickendam isn’t. Why? Beats me! I guess the Volendammers are better at their city marketing, or perhaps the Monnickendammers prefer their peace and quiet. If you are interested in visiting a former fishing village along the shores of the former Zuiderzee, and if you want to avoid the crowds, you should definitely visit Monnickendam!
A visit to the old town of Monnickendam
Monnickendam is home to almost 10.000 people. It can be divided in two parts: the historical city center and the modern residential neighborhoods. As a tourist, you should head towards the historical center. (Unless you’re interested in residential areas of course!) The historical center dates back to before the 14th century. It first appears in documents in 1355 when it got its city rights. However, most of what you see here is newer than that, as the place burnt down several times in the late middle ages.
Walking in the city center of Monnickendam
As always, I think the nicest thing to do is just stroll around the city center. It is quite small, so in about 1 to 2 hours you will have seen it all. Pay special attention to the locks, that are opened by hand, the tiny houses and the harbor. If you would prefer to follow a trail, check the online map at Wandelnetwerk Noord Holland or ask for one at the tourist information (VVV) at Zuideinde 2, Monnickendam, near the locks.
Museum De Speeltoren, Monnickendam
Monnickendam has its own little museum, if you are interested in the history of this town. It is called Museum de Speeltoren, and is run by very enthusiastic volunteers. Check their website for the opening hours. Besides the historical part they also exhibit local art and tell you about the big pride of Monnickendam, their 500-year-old Carillon Tower.
Visit the Carillon Tower, the pride of Monnickendam!
Even if you don’t visit the museum, you can still see the Carillon Tower from the outside. This is the oldest carillon in the world and also the most out of tune one… You can hear it every 15 minutes, but at the hour it plays its full tune, and wooden horses will start riding their rounds in the top of the tower. You know, in Prague and München this kind of display attracts hordes of tourists. In Monnickendam it was just me, my boyfriend, and my sister and her husband who guided us around. If that isn’t off the beaten track…. If you grab a drink at the terrace of Café 1614 you literally sit first row for the display.
The Grote Kerk (church)
De Grote Kerk means the big church, and you will easily recognize it as such. If you come to Monnickendam by bus, this is where you will get off. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries as a Catholic church, called St Nicholas. St Nicholas was the patron saint of skippers and sailors, so you will find many churches dedicated to this saint in these surroundings. If you’d like to read more about the history visit the churches website (in English!).
Jan Haring Weekend
If you are lucky, and your visit to Monnickendam coincides with the Jan Haring weekend, that will be your chance to get to know quite a few regional traditions. Check the Jan Haring website or Facebook page for the exact dates. There will be races with traditional ships, eel smoking contests, traditional choirs singing and plenty of local people as well as visitors having fun together.
Brewery Bierderij Waterland
It is hard to find a decent sized Dutch town without its own brewery nowadays, and yes, Monnickendam has one too! Both the brewery and the brewpub are located in an old warehouse on a harbor quay on the edge of the center of Monnickendam. The first thing that you will notice is how big this place is, especially for such a small town! Their beer menu is considerable too for a start-up.
I though their beers were pretty decent, though not exceptional. I think you shouldn’t go out of your way to visit this place, but if you’re around anyway, why not grab a couple of beers. The bar is nice enough and they have lovely outside seating right next to the marina.
Address: Galgeriet 4, Monnickendam
Website Bierderij Waterland (in English) for opening hours and tours
Though a small town, there are plenty of dining opportunities in Monnickendam. They even have a Michelin starred restaurant called Posthoorn if you are in to fine dining and can afford it. I tend to go for the simpler restaurants at quaint locations. For example:
- Bierderij Waterland, the local brewpub (see above) has a very decent menu catering for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. They have nice outside seating along the marina on sunny days, but plenty of space inside as well.
- Located in the old weigh house, a building dating back to 1668, Brasserie de Waeg is a very atmospheric restaurant. Their website is in Dutch, but they have an English menu hidden on the page under “Menu”. They have vegetarian options. I think this is the most scenic place to have dinner in Monnickendam.
Beach and swimming in Monnickendam
On a sunny day you may want to cool down and go for a swim. The good news is that Monnickendam has a small beach. This is situated on a recreational peninsula just outside of the center called Hemmeland. There is a marina on the western side of the peninsula, and there are a couple of small beaches on the eastern side. Usually it is not too crowded here, even on sunny days. The area is accessible free of charge.
Recently, a beach restaurant called Strandvier has opened in this area. If you would like to have a drink or a meal, you can do so Wednesdays to Sundays from 10.00 AM till 10.00 PM. But you can bring your own picknick to the beach too.
How to get to Monnickendam from Amsterdam
When traveling by public transport
From Amsterdam Central you can reach Monnickendam very easily by metro and bus. This will take you about half an hour. Just grab Amsterdam metro nr 52 to its final destination up north, Station Noord. This is only 2 stops from Amsterdam Central Station. From Station Noord catch regional bus 315 to Monnickendam or Marken. This bus runs several times an hour, every day. Get off at bus stop Grote Kerk Monnickendam. This is right next to the church.
When traveling by bike
The most direct cycling route from Amsterdam Central to Monnickendam is 15 kilometers. This will take you less than an hour of cycling. Behind Amsterdam Central Station catch the free ferry across river IJ to Buiksloterweg. Once on the opposite side, follow the signposts for cyclists to Broek in Waterland. You can recognize the signposts for cyclists by their white/red color. See example below.
Broek in Waterland is a very pretty village with wooden houses and worth checking out. From Broek in Waterland, look for signs to Monnickendam.
An alternative cycling route will take you a bit longer, and follows the border of the IJsselmeer. It is more or less the same as the route to Marken that I have described in a previous blog, except that at step 7, when arriving at the T-junction, you turn left instead of right. Mind that when coming from this direction you will first pass by the residential areas of Monnickendam before you get to the city center. So don’t get off your bike too soon!
Combining Monnickendam and Marken in one day trip
Monnickendam is situated very close to Marken, and these two towns are easy to combine in one day trip. Actually, the bus to Marken passes right through Monnickendam, so it is easy to get off here on your way to Marken, or on your way back to Amsterdam. When cycling it is easy to do a little detour as well, and visit both. I would recommend to visit Marken first, and Monnickendam last, as there are better drinking and dining opportunities in Monnickendam than in Marken.