Many tourists know the city of Alkmaar as the place to visit an old fashioned Dutch cheese market. There’s more to see and do in Alkmaar though. Think of a beautiful historical city center with canals, interesting museums, independent shops, plenty of hiking opportunities and an excellent brewery. Only 35 minutes by train from Amsterdam, this is a perfect day trip destination as well as an alternative place to stay to avoid the high hotel room prices in Amsterdam.
In the past year I visited Alkmaar a couple of times. The first time I came to visit the Moersleutel Brewery, which is one of the better Dutch breweries. Though this brewery is located a bit outside of the Alkmaar city center, I did notice how pretty this town was, so decided to come back and see more. Alkmaar is a classic Dutch 16th/17th century town, with canals, warehouses, a weigh-house, churches and narrow alleys. It attracts many tourists because of its cheese market, but it’s nowhere near as touristic as Amsterdam for example, and you can easily stroll along the canals undisturbed by selfie sticks.
INDEX TO THIS PAGE
- The Alkmaar cheese market (and its alternatives)
- Exploring downtown Alkmaar: city hikes
- Museums in Alkmaar
- Shopping in Alkmaar
- Eating and drinking in Alkmaar
- Craft beer in Alkmaar: brewery De Moersleutel
- Craft beer in Alkmaar: craft beer bars
- A tiny bit of history
- Hiking opportunities and beaches close to Alkmaar
- How to get to Alkmaar by public transport?
- Where to go next?
OK, the Alkmaar cheese market
Let’s get it over with… Many tourists want to visit the Alkmaar cheese market. And who am I to stop you from going? I understand the attraction. It is an iconic event that is used a lot in the marketing of Holland. Just be aware that this market is a reenactment of what a cheese market would have been like in the past, with traders and cheese-carriers dressed up in historical costumes. It’s a show put up for tourists.
The Alkmaar cheese market is accessible free of charge and takes place at the Waagplein every Friday from 10.00 to 13.00 during the summer months. They give explanations about what’s happening in several languages.
This event is extremely popular with tourists. You may find yourself caught up in a crowd. I’m talking about busloads of tourists coming in from Amsterdam just for the cheese market. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, you may be happy to hear that there are similar – but not so well known – events in the towns of Gouda, Woerden, Edam and Hoorn.
Exploring downtown Alkmaar
My advice: don’t leave Alkmaar after having visited the cheese market. There are so many interesting things to see and do here. You’ll miss out on the real Alkmaar if you leave too soon. If you don’t like crowds, don’t come on a Friday at all, or try to arrive after 13.00.
A city hike in Alkmaar
You may want to start with a short walking tour around the city center of Alkmaar to get some idea of the feel of this town. The center isn’t too big. At the tourist office (Waagplein 2, near the cheese market) they have route descriptions for a 5 km hike. There are routes available online as well, for example:
- a 3km city hike as described by B&B De Oude Walnoot (PDF). Though the description is in Dutch, the map on page 3 is clear enough.
- a 5 km hike along the shopping streets of Alkmaar. GPS track available, starts and ends at the Alkmaar railway station.
- An 8 km hike through the city center and some parks. GPS track available, starts and ends at the railway station.
During your exploration you’ll come across the former moat, canals, old and new bridges, hundreds of historical monuments, hidden courtyards, narrow alleyways, churches and a lot of independent little shops. There is so much to see! If you decide to wander around by yourself, try to avoid the busy shopping streets with the chain stores and go for the canals and narrow streets.
Museums in Alkmaar
Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar
If you’d like to deepen your understanding of Alkmaar, pay a visit to the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar. Located in a spacious and modern building in the center of town, this museum will tell you more about the history of Alkmaar. Though I find history museums a bit dull sometimes, this one certainly kept me awake with its interactive presentation. In another section of the museum they exhibit art by artists of the Bergen School. This is a Dutch expressionist art movement from the 1920’s and ’30’s. The artists lived in the village of Bergen which is near to Alkmaar, in the dunes. They may also have temporary exhibitions.
Other museums in Alkmaar
- a cheese museum a fun place to learn a bit more about the history and the production of Dutch cheeses.
- a beer museum. As a beer fan of course I visited this museum. Sorry to say that I was terribly disappointed! The information in the museum is outdated and it looked like the interior has never been renovated since they opened in the 1980’s. I would certainly not recommend it. If you are interested to learn more about the production of beer visit a brewery and do a tour!
- In case you are a huge fan of The Beatles, you may want to check out the collection of lifelong Beatles-fan Mr Azing in the Beatles museum
Shopping in Alkmaar
Are you a fan of shopping? I am not, but I noticed that Alkmaar has its fair share of independent little shops. The cutest shops are located in an area called “D’oude stad“, situated between the canals Verdronkenoord, Mient and Luttik Oudorp.
Eating and drinking in Alkmaar
There are plenty of nice bars and restaurants in the city center of Alkmaar. Whether you are looking for a quick bite, an evening of fine dining or for Asian cuisine, you’ll find something that suites your taste. I have only visited Alkmaar a few times, not nearly enough to give you good advice. Check the website Visit Alkmaar for suggestions or use your favorite review site.
If you are into bars and restaurants at historic locations visit Stadskaffee Laurens, Heeren van Sonoy or historic beer bar De Boom that has a terrace on a boat. I enjoyed the much more modern Turfmarkt as well: quick service at a sunny location.
Craft beer in Alkmaar: Brewery De Moersleutel
As craft beer is one of my main themes, a short note on craft beer in Alkmaar. Alkmaar is lucky to have one of the best breweries in the Netherlands: de Moersleutel. This is a family business run by 4 brothers that look a lot more innocent than the beers that they brew. They are extremely good at brewing dark beers such as imperial stouts, and fruity NEIPA’s. Strangely, they seem to be more famous outside of the Netherlands than in their own hometown. Even in the local craft beer bars I didn’t find Moersleutel beers!
The Moersleutel brewery is located outside of the city center in a rather boring industrial area. They organize tours there every first Saturday of the month. If you’d rather just taste their beers, visit their taproom which is close to the city center. This place is called The Scrapyard (and that’s what it looks like!). It’s a laid back kind of place, with a beer garden in summer and a cosy wood stove for the cold days. Check it out!
Craft beer bars in Alkmaar
Two good places for drinking craft beer in Alkmaar are De Boom and De Kleine Deugniet. De Boom is attached to the Alkmaar Beer Museum. I would advice you to skip the museum and go straight to this bar. It’s a historical place with a good beer menu and competent waiters. In summer they have a floating terrace on the canal in front of their bar. De Kleine Deugniet is perhaps a little less scenic, but has a good beer menu.
Alkmaar: a tiny bit of history
Alkmaar is situated on sandy, slightly higher grounds. That’s why people have lived here for centuries. Looking back to the time when Alkmaar got its city rights, in 1254, the area looked completely different than it looks now. Now Alkmaar lies inland. It is actually surrounded by many polders. Before the 17th century, these polders were huge lakes and low lying lands that were often flooded. Because of this location among waterways, Alkmaar became a trading town.
When I visited the local museum, I learned that people in Alkmaar are proud of the fact that in the 16th century, when the Dutch people fought for their independence, Alkmaar was the first place that successfully resisted the Spanish armies. This was a turning point in what was later called the 80 years war and that led to the Netherlands as an independent republic.
Beaches & hiking opportunities close to Alkmaar
There are many hiking options around Alkmaar. Alkmaar is the gateway to large parts of the North Holland coast and dunes. You can find nice beaches near the towns of Bergen aan Zee and Egmond aan Zee. Though these beaches can be busy on a sunny day, they are nowhere near as busy as the beaches closer to Amsterdam and The Hague. There are buses to Bergen aan Zee and Egmond aan Zee from the Alkmaar railway station. You could also rent a bike and cycle there. Both towns are about 10 kilometers from Alkmaar.
If you are more into hiking, go to Schoorl or Bergen (which is where the artists of the Bergen school lived, see section museums). Both towns are on the edge of an area of dunes and forest. Check out my previous blog about hiking in Schoorl for route suggestions.
How to get to Alkmaar by public transport?
Reaching Alkmaar is pretty simple. Coming from Amsterdam Central station catch a direct train to Alkmaar. There are 4 trains every hour and the trip will take you about 35 minutes. There are direct trains from Haarlem and Den Helder as well. Coming from elsewhere, you’ll have to change trains in Amsterdam.
Note that the Alkmaar railway station is situated about 10 minutes walking outside of the city center. It’s easy to find your way though, just follow the signs.
What to do after your visit to Alkmaar?
Coming from say Amsterdam, Haarlem or even Utrecht or The Hague you can easily visit Alkmaar as a day trip. My advice would be to go there independently, not on an organized tour, as this is cheaper and gives you more flexibility.
As Alkmaar is pretty close to Amsterdam, you may consider staying here for a couple of nights and visit Amsterdam as a day trip. Choosing Alkmaar as your base will give you the opportunity to visit the North Sea beaches and the pretty dunescapes around Bergen and Schoorl. Staying in Alkmaar is a lot cheaper than staying in Amsterdam.
Reading more about Alkmaar
For more background information check out the website Walk of History