Alkmaar is a city in the Netherlands, an important tourist center of Northern Holland. Tourists are attracted by the leisurely pace of life in the Dutch countryside, which makes Alkmaar different from Amsterdam or The Hague, which are only half an hour away. Medieval streets, inevitable for the Netherlands canals, tiny green areas, Gothic and neo-Gothic churches and villas, exotic museums and cheese ceremonies, boutique hotels and miniature restaurants greet the guests of this small city, which does not have a hundred thousand inhabitants.
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History of Alkmaar
The first mentions of Alkmaar were found in manuscripts from the 10th century. In 1254, the village was granted city status. Its oldest part lies behind the sand dam that protected Alkmaar from floods in the Middle Ages. Otherwise it is a polder – a low-lying stretch of coast, reclaimed from the sea for the needs of the Dutch. The outwardly quiet city has a heroic past. It was the first in the Netherlands to resist the Spaniards: in 1573 the Duke of Alba was unable to obtain a surrender from the besieged Alkmaar. This was a triumph of the national spirit, which has been dubbed “victory” ever since.
A little later the city became famous as the birthplace of first-class cheese. Wishing to attract even more merchants, in 1824 the administration raised funds for the construction of the Northholland Canal. It proved a miscalculation: merchant ships sailed past Alkmaar without lingering in its shops. In the 70s of the twentieth century, the city changed priorities and began to focus not only on cheese and beer production, but also on tourism. Here the people of Alkmaar did not go wrong, and every year the city’s popularity among travelers is only growing.
Alkmaar in 1912
Alkmaar is mostly built up with low-rise houses – true monuments of the Middle Ages or successful imitations of old buildings built about a century ago, such as the Kennenmerhoek Villa. A tower of 1622 overlooks the canal, originally a tax office and later the seat of the city’s volunteer militia. Between the canals sits a miniature Victory Park with a few dozen trees and perfectly clean lanes. Of the modern buildings of note is the town hall, built two decades ago in the shape of a ship.
Monuments of religious architecture
The church of St. Lawrence, or Grote Kerk, is the largest church in the city, built in 1470-1520 in the style of Brabant Gothic, and now used as a multifunctional cultural center of Alkmaar. Tourists visit Grote Kerk from late March to October, but even then they risk finding themselves at the locked doors, as the building is often rented out for private events. Those lucky enough to get inside will find a semblance of a conference room with two world-famous organs. The oldest of the instruments, the choir organ, dates back to the 16th century.
The ornate Church of St. Joseph with its spire towers seems very old, but this is an illusion – it was built in the early twentieth century. The statue of Christ at the entrance, covered with patina, appeared after the end of World War II. The De Groot Mill, built in 1769, is typical of Holland. It can only be seen from the outside, as is the Alkmaar Town Hall with its Gothic openwork tower from the beginning of the 16th century.
St. Lawrence Church St. Joseph Church
The main attraction of Alkmaar for several centuries now is the Cheese Market on the Wag square. Cheese has played a huge role in the development of the city, it is no coincidence that it was even called “Alkmaar gold”. Every Friday from late March to early September a performance begins on a fenced-off section of the market square. A 10 o’clock bell heralds the start of the auction. Four teams of movers, dressed in traditional costumes of specific colors, bring huge golden heads of cheese on handcarts and lay them out on the square, weighing them and showing them to the wholesalers. The original meaning of the ceremony was simple: the only accurate scales and weights in Alkmaar were kept here in the fourteenth century, but now it’s a fun and profitable ritual. All moves are completed by 12:30 p.m. After that, guests can purchase cheese bags with slices for 10 euros and just souvenirs. You just have to remember that on Fridays the prices of cheese in the historic part of Alkmaar skyrocket.
Alkmaar cheese market
The museums of Alkmaar
Fans of the Liverpool Four founded the Beatles Museum in Alkmaar, open from 11:00 to 16:30 daily except Mondays. The facility is located half a kilometer north of the Cheese Market, on the other side of the canal. John Lennon’s first guitar, made just in Alkmaar, is kept here. The main exhibit is related to the band’s visits to Holland, the first of which took place in 1964. The cost of the ticket is 4.5 euros.
The hallmark of an ancient Dutch city is a well-developed brewing industry. Alkmaar was no exception. The National Beer Museum De Boom in the building of the former brewery tells about the history and technology of beer production in the world in general and in the city in particular. The collection covers in detail the stages of mechanization of the process, demonstrates antique means of transporting bottles – sleds and handcarts, shows labels and bottles from different eras. During the winter season, September through May, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and in the summer from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adults pay 4 euros for admission, pensioners 3 euros, children 7-12 years old 2 euros. In a souvenir store at the museum sell beer mugs.
After viewing the main exhibition you can get a coupon for a discount and go down to the basement of the museum for a beer tasting on any day except when the city holds a cheese fair. In the summer, you can sit on a barge on the canal. The place is open from 1 or 2 p.m. to midnight and beyond. It’s always crowded and there’s jazz on Thursdays.
Alkmaar Beer Museum
The city’s Cheese Museum is in the 16th-century House of Scales, 100 metres southwest of the Beer Museum. The popular dairy product was first produced several thousand years ago, while in Holland the cheese industry flourished in the late Middle Ages. The export of cheese from Alkmaar, Gauda and Edam began in the XVII century. The Alkmaar Cheese Museum tells about the technology of production, the peculiarities of the cheese trade, and the role of the product in the history of the city. The museum is open from 10 to 16 hours, the cost of the ticket is 5 euros, for children 4-12 years – 2 euros.
Cheese Museum in Alkmaar
The City Museum of Alkmaar is located in the historic part, on Canada Square. Founded in 1873, it moved to its current location less than 20 years ago, and before that it was in the building where the city police were based in the past. The permanent exhibition “Golden Age of Alkmaar” includes works by the most famous local native, the painter Cesar van Everdingen, a collection of silverware, porcelain, and an inlaid chest with portraits of Luther and other Reformation figures. Twentieth-century paintings are by artists of the Bergen School, the Dutch Expressionists, dark and restrained compared to their German counterparts, but nevertheless very expressive. The interactive presentation “Portrait of Alkmaar” tells about cheese, the victory over the Spaniards and many other glorious pages of the city’s history.
The museum has a café where you can have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or Alkmaar beer and order organic food. In summer, guests occupy the terrace with a view of St. Lawrence Church. The museum shop sells books and souvenir ceramics. The City Museum is free for children under 18 years, pensioners over 65 years pay 9 euros, adults 13 euros. The museum is open from 11 to 17 hours, closed on Monday.
Alkmaar City Museum
Entertainment in Alkmaar
The people of Alkmaar, despite the leisurely pace of provincial life, are sporty and active. The favorite sport of the Dutch is speed skating, which is brilliantly proven by the excellent ice rink, which about 40 years ago hosted the world championships in sprint disciplines. The local velodrome hosts the Dutch track cycling championships every year. But the city’s main attraction, the Cheese Market, is designed primarily for visitors, with locals participating as actors.
Information for tourists
The economy of the city is based on tourism, so in Alkmaar everything is done to make travelers comfortable. For example, on the Wag square, where the cheese fair takes place, in the VVV tourist office you can buy the Alkmaar Pass, which for 7 euros entitles you to discounts in 200 stores and restaurants in the city.
Cafes and restaurants
Almost all the eating establishments are concentrated in the historic center of Alkmaar. Popular is the Friethyis potato snack bar, where the chips are fried in front of the customer and a variety of sauces are offered. Among the more expensive establishments is the MIJ Hotel restaurant or Stokpaardje, specializing in seafood. Alkmaar is also not without the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Burger King branches.
Shopping in Alkmaar
The main local product is cheese. Non-sophisticated tourists buy it at the fairgrounds, but if you wander the streets of Alkmaar, you’ll find bargains much cheaper in private shops. In the historic part of the city is Bierwinkel, famous for its huge variety of beers. For non-edible souvenirs, the most interesting are the Christmas balls, painted on the inside.
Where to stay
Hotels in Alkmaar are not cheap, as elsewhere in the Netherlands. In high season a night in a room will cost at least 4000 rubles, in low season you can find offers from 2000 rubles when booking in advance. Among the popular hotels is a quiet place Golden Tulip with 4 stars, 2 km from the city center. The Guesthouse Onassis, 500 meters southwest of the historic center, asks from 5,000 rubles for a room. The facility is decorated in Roman style and has a sauna with a small pool. Because of the peculiarities of urban development in Alkmaar, boutique hotels like MIJ, which offers only 8 rooms with an original design, thrive. In the direction of the village of Bergen on an area of 2.8 hectares is open camping.
A selection of hotels from hotellook
How to get there
Amsterdam and the northernmost point of the country, Den Helder, are connected by road through Alkmaar. The A9 leads to the city from the capital and then northward to the N9. Rail connections connect Alkmaar to Den Helder, Amsterdam, Utrecht and other cities. The trip from Amsterdam costs about 7 euros, travel time is 40 minutes, trains leave from the Central Station every 15 minutes. There is a pier built on the Nordhollands Canal from which you can take a sightseeing tour of the city. There are also public buses around Alkmaar and the suburbs, although tourists prefer to get around on foot – it’s only a 10-minute walk south to the historic center from the train station.
Alkmaar – the “cheese” city in the Netherlands
Tourists from all over Europe and the world enjoy visiting the small town of Alkmaar, Netherlands. The medieval times, stilled in stone, the narrow streets, countless canals, the cheese market, the unhurried and measured life of citizens, interesting attractions and much more make a trip to this northern Dutch city extremely attractive. The local government develops the tourist business and succeeds in it: the flow of travelers increases every year, which allows the citizens to have a solid budget.
The small city of Alkmaar is located on the north-west of the Netherlands in the North Holland (province), 37 kilometers from Amsterdam. The railroad and road and the North Holland Canal go through it. There are mechanical engineering plants, metalworking, food production, operates a shipyard, but the basis of economic well-being is tourism.
According to the last census in the Netherlands, conducted in 2015, 107,600 people lived here. According to the forecasts of demographers, who take into account the dynamics of population growth in the city, in 2018 it will grow to 130 thousand.
Alkmaar means “surrounded by water. Like many settlements in the Netherlands, it is riddled with canals. The narrow streets, low houses built in the XVII century, stylized in the old more modern buildings define its appearance. There are a lot of attractions, and if you visit them you will make your holiday unforgettable.
Alkmaar has many attractions that surprise and delight visitors. So, in the city there are several buildings that date back to the Middle Ages. Among the famous attractions in Alkmaar in the Netherlands is the late Gothic Church of St. Lawrence (built in 1470-1512), Town Hall building, built in the early sixteenth century, houses of the XVI and XVII centuries. There are museums for tourists: the history of Alkmaar, the history of the struggle with the Spaniards, cheese, beer, Beatles.
Cheese has long been traded in Alkmaar, but to this day the townsfolk keep the tradition alive and delight sightseers with a cheese auction. The “Cheese Market” takes place from the end of March to September. Every Friday on Wagplein Square, by the House of Weights and Measures, a ceremony of wholesale sale of golden cheese heads is played out in front of crowds of tourists.
“Alkmaar gold” is brought to the square by boats along the canals by local farmers. Under the guidance of a special inspector, the product is unloaded and laid out right on the square in rows.
At exactly 10 o’clock in the morning the bells start ringing. Sellers and buyers join in the bidding, with the inspector present, to sample and agree on the price of the goods. Then they are weighed. This work is done by special movers.
The Loaders’ Guild consists of four groups, seven people in each. The loaders are dressed in white, with hats on their heads, decorated with a ribbon. There is a clear division of responsibilities among the members of the groups. For example, the eldest is responsible for the adjustment and accuracy of the measuring device. The team members load eight heads of each milk product onto the curved stretcher and, hooking them with ropes, drag them on themselves to be weighed.
The product is then transferred to carts, and the buyer takes the product away from the market. The whole ceremony lasts until half past one. At the end, visitors can buy sliced cheese in bags worth ten euros and purchase various souvenirs.
The theatrics attract many tourists, which the Alkmaarians take advantage of by raising the price of the “gold of Alkmaar” in the center of the city at all the outlets.
Visitors who are enthralled by the spectacle can immediately continue their acquaintance with the history of dairy products in the Cheese Museum, which is located on the second and third floors of the House of Scales.
Among the exhibits are many tools for making cheese at home. Watching the presentations and videos, the visitors get information about the history and technology of the dairy product and the role it played in the development and formation of Alkmaar. There is a game-quest for little visitors.
The cathedral was built from 1470 to 1518, and at the stage of construction the building was called Grote Kerk (translated as “big church”). Made in the style of Brabant Gothic, the building looks majestic and serves as a decoration and the main attraction of the city.
The huge columns-arcs let a lot of daylight into the interior of the church. This allows visitors to see the unique carved ceiling and wall decoration in detail. Inside the church there are organ settings: the small organ by Jan van Covelens and the big one, built in the middle of the 17th century by Jacob van Hagerber. The small one is one of the oldest working instruments in the country, and the large one claims to be the most beautiful instrument in the world.
These days, the temple hosts a variety of cultural events and unsurpassed musical gatherings. The attraction is located in the central part of Alkmaar on Kohorstraat. You won’t miss it if you walk from the train station to Wagplein Square for the cheese fair.
On Canada Square, next to St. Lawrence Cathedral, there is another landmark – the city museum building, which was built in 2000. True, the museum itself has been in operation since 1875. The institution introduces visitors to the history of the region, its culture and traditions. It tells about the heroic past (the war with the Spaniards in 1573).
The Golden Age exhibition presents the works of Dutch painters from the 16th and 17th centuries, Caesar van Everdingen, Maarten van Heemskerck, Jan de Ban, Frans Menton and Willem van de Velde. Contemporary fine art is represented by works by Elsie Berg, Charlie Torop, Jan Sleuthers, and others.
- The attraction is open every day (Monday off) from 11 am to 5 pm.
- Admission is free for children, an adult ticket costs 13 euros, and admission for seniors is 9 euros.
Among the attractions of Alkmaar in the Netherlands, we note the National Museum of Beer. You will learn the subtleties of technology of the delicious drink, the history of the development of mechanisms and devices that accompanied the production process, by visiting the institution. It is open in the winter months from one to four, and in summer from eleven to half past four.
- Admission for adults costs 4 euros, for children 2 euros and for pensioners 3 euros.
- On Sunday the place is closed.
- In the basement there is a beer tasting and you can stay here until midnight.
John Lennon’s first guitar made in Alkmaar is kept here and the entire exhibit is devoted to the visits of the legendary foursome to Holland. The museum is open from eleven o’clock until half past four. The entrance ticket costs 4 euros.
Where to stay
Kings Inn City Hostel
Accommodation in the Netherlands for tourists is not cheap, so it should be booked in advance – so you can save a few dozen euros. Alkmaar does not have a wide selection of hotels. You can get a decent room in the city and outside in three-star hotels.
For example Kings Inn City Hostel offers a room for €26 per night, which is the minimum amount. And in the College Hotel Alkmaar travelers will have to pay about 165 € per night. Both hotels are located in the city center. Accommodation can also be rented outside of Alkmaar. Most three-star hotels offer services on average from 55 to 100 € per night. For accommodation you can rent apartments, where prices, like in hotels, range from 60-100 € per night.
How to get to Alkmaar from Amsterdam
The best way to travel from Amsterdam to Alkmaar is to use the railroad of the Netherlands. From the central station of the capital every 15 minutes go trains in a given direction. Ticket costs from 8 to 15 euros (the price depends on the class of the train and carriage). Travel time is 40 minutes. Tickets buy at the ticket office and in special machines (only coins are accepted, and the ticket is half-euro cheaper than if you buy through a cashier).
You can also get there by bus or rented car. However, you might have problems with parking at the destination. You can also get to Alkmaar from Amsterdam by bike. The trip takes about 3 hours.
Going to Alkmaar (Netherlands) on a tour, take care beforehand about the cultural program of your stay in the city, the route and the overnight stay.
Video: walk around the city of Alkmaar.
Author: Galina Beregova
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