Alkmaar is a medium-size city with about 100,000 inhabitants in the province of North Holland, north of Amsterdam. It’s best known for its famous cheese market. However, Alkmaar has much more to offer than just cheese.
In this article, we’re going to introduce you to the 7 best things to see and do in Alkmaar along with our travel tips.
We first visited Alkmaar back in 2016 to see the iconic Alkmaar cheese market. But not only the cheese market turned out to be great. We absolutely loved the historic city with its beautiful canals and sights! A few years later, we spent another long weekend in Alkmaar, this time in combination with the nearby Bergen aan Zee and Egmond aan Zee. But first things first, here are our 7 recommendations for Alkmaar.
1. Historic City Center
Over the years, Alkmaar has lost none of its historical charm. Idyllic canals, colorful houses and narrow streets characterize the city – far away from the noise, skyscrapers and crowds in the big cities. For us, it’s the historic city center as a whole that makes Alkmaar so beautiful.
Whether you’re traveling solo, with your partner or family, Alkmaar is a lovely city to stroll around. While the center isn’t as large as in nearby Haarlem or Amsterdam, Alkmaar also makes a great place for shopping. You’ll find most major chains here, as well as many small boutiques and of course, the famous Dutch cheese stores. And of course, there is a beautiful Christmas market (Kerstmarkt) (Christmas market) just before the holidays.
If you want to explore the city center, it’s best to park your car outside the city center and explore the winding alleys on foot or by bike.
2. Weigh House (De Waag)
The most iconic building in Alkmaar is the Weigh House (De Waag). It’s an ancient chapel dating back to the 14th century which holds an interesting history. In its initial time, it had two purposes. One part was used as a hospital and the other served to host poor travelers free of charge.
In 1566, the building was repurposed for weighing. Although the weighing activities were moved to a different place only about 20 years later, the building still has the name De Waag in Dutch, which translates to “scale” in English.
Over the centuries, the Weigh House got expanded and repurposed. A Latin proverb was engraved on the outer wall in the late 16th century which can still be seen today (above the three windows on the second floor).
In front of the Weigh House is the Weigh house square (Waagplein), the square on which the famous cheese market takes place.
Canals (known as grachten in Dutch) surround the historic city center. There are narrow and large canals, long and short. Our favorite canal is the Singelgracht, located at the Kennemersingel. It’s surrounded by green areas with multiple walking paths with trees, bridges and even a small art gallery (Het Kruithuisje).
Our tip: If you are out with family or friends, rent a boat and explore Alkmaar from a different perspective! There are a number of boat rentals to choose from (with and without a guide).
4. Cheese Market
The reason why most people visit Alkmaar is the famous Alkmaar cheese market! It is held during summer months (from April until the first Friday in September) and takes place every Friday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the famous Weigh square (in front of the iconic Weigh House).
Alkmaar is the oldest cheese city and is known far beyond the borders of the country. Since 1939 it’s the only city in the Netherlands where cheese trading is still done in the traditional way. So if you want to experience a traditional cheese market, Alkmaar is your best bet!
Alkmaar is home to a few museums. The most famous one is the cheese museum, which you’ll find inside the famous Weigh house (De Waag). Alkmaar also has an art museum which shows some local art pieces, and a beer museum. For Beatles fans, a visit to the Beatles museum is an absolute must.
In addition to its sights, Alkmaar is well known for its events. Many of them are held on national holidays, others on random weekends during summer. There are the major events Alkmaar is known for:
- King’s Day: King’s Day is celebrated every year on the 27th of April on the occasion of the Dutch King’s birthday. During King’s Night and King’s Day (a public holiday in the Netherlands), Alkmaar transforms into a huge orange party (orange being the national color of the Netherlands). There are free markets, live music and and a lot of food and drinks. It’s definitely a great experience to have as a tourist!
- Liberation Festival: On Liberation Day (5th May), Alkmaar holds the Liberation Festival (bevrijdingsfestival) with plenty of activities for children and adults. The festival is particularly interesting for locals (as stories are told in Dutch language), but tourists (especially when traveling with kids) will certainly enjoy it too.
- Alkmaar Shopping Nights: Every year, there are a few nights in which shops in the city center are open until 11 p.m. These shopping nights are usually organized on a Saturday, between spring and autumn. Dates vary from year to year.
- Kaeskoppenstad: Every summer, Alkmaar organizes its iconic festival Kaeskoppenstad. During this two-day festival, Alkmaar transforms back to what it used to be in 1573. During the event, the city is decorated in the theme of the 16th century, and you’ll see shows with costumes from that period. It’s definitely a must-see for tourists and locals alike! In 2023, the event will take place on 3rd and 4th of June.
In the southwest of Alkmaar is the park Egmonderhout. If you’re looking for a green area to go for a walk, cycle or just to relax – the Egmonderhout is a quiet and beautiful place to be.
In addition to Egmonderhout, which is the largest park in the city, the parks Westerhout and Alkmaarder Hout are also worth exploring. During our last visit, we stayed in a hotel near Alkmaarder Hout, from where we went on a nice walk towards the city center in the morning (takes about 15-20 minutes).
Hotels in Alkmaar
Alkmaar offers a large number of accommodations, ranging from hotels to bed & breakfast. Many of them are within walking distance to the city center. Below is a list of the most popular accommodations.
B&B Alkmaars Toppunt
Alkmaars Toppunt is a cozy bed & breakfast located in the heart of Alkmaar. It features a beautifully decorated sitting area with a television, a fully equipped kitchenette and a small bedroom with a double bed. You’ll enjoy a nice view on the Waag from the accommodation. The host is very friendly and welcoming, the breakfast is excellent. Unfortunately, pets are not allowed here.
The Fallon Hotel
The most unusual hotel we’ve stayed in when in Alkmaar was the Fallon Hotel. This luxurious hotel is located in an ancient prison, where rooms are former cells. While the rooms feature a modern decor, the hallways and doors have maintained their original jail-look. This hotel is ideal for those looking for a quiet place on the outskirts of Alkmaar. The hotel is in a quiet environment, close to the Egmonderhout. The city center is within walking distance, about 20 minutes from the hotel. Free parking is available at the hotel. Pets are allowed.
Golden Tulip Hotel
Looking for some wellness when in Alkmaar? Then the Golden Tulip Hotel is the right choice for you! This hotel has their own Finnish sauna and gym which are free of charge for their guests. The city center of Alkmaar is within walking distance (about 2km from the property). The rooms are very spacious and comfortable. There are both single, double and family rooms, which makes the Golden Tulip Hotel a great choice for solo-travelers, couples and families alike. Free parking is available. Pets are not allowed. The adjacent restaurant is popular for sushi and Asian grill delicacies.
In the Area
A quick 20 minute drive from Alkmaar is the North Sea, iconic for seaside towns such as Bergen aan Zee and Egmond aan Zee. Beaches here are very clean, made up of fine sand and surrounded by large dunes. Walking and cycling is recommended just as much as a lazy beach vacation in this enchanting area. Perhaps this could be your next holiday destination?