North Holland is the most visited province of the Netherlands. From the cosmopolitan Dutch capital Amsterdam to beautiful North Sea beaches, North Holland has a lot to offer.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the best places and activities across North Holland. Whether you’d like to make a city trip, enjoy the beautiful nature, see historic windmills or just relax at the beach, we’ve got you covered.
North Holland is considered a critical component of the Dutch economy. This province is home to many international businesses. As such, North Holland has several major cities, most of which offer a blend of old and new. Below are the best cities for a city trip in the North Holland province.
The most important city in North Holland is, of course, Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is the world-famous 17th-century capital of the Netherlands. It’s the epicenter of international business, full of history (major museums and sights) and a diverse culture. However, it’s far from being just an urban concrete jungle. Beautiful canals surrounded by long-standing (some leaning!) houses with gables give the city its unique charm.
While the Dutch countryside has a lot to offer, Amsterdam should definitely be on your bucket list too. Whether you’d like to do sightseeing, take a canal cruise or simply enjoy the scenery, there’s something for everyone.
Haarlem is the provincial capital of North Holland. It has some similarities to Amsterdam (such as the canals), reason for which Haarlem is often called “the little brother of Amsterdam“. Even if you have already visited Amsterdam, a trip to Haarlem is absolutely worthwhile.
Haarlem has been the historical center of the tulip bulb-growing sector for centuries. As such, Haarlem is also fondly called “Bloemenstad” (flower city). Due to the city’s rich history, it has plenty of narrow streets and 15th century monumental buildings, designed by none other than Dutch renaissance architect Lieven de Key. Typical Dutch canals surround the historic city center.
Read our article Haarlem: Sightseeing, Shopping and the Sea for the best sights and travel tips for Haarlem.
Alkmaar is a popular tourist destination thanks to its traditional cheese market, which is held from April to September at the Waagplein (the main square). Notable too is the Grote or Sint-Laurenskerk at the city center, which is a 15th century church that houses two world-famous organs.
Alkmaar is much smaller than Amsterdam and Haarlem. However, Alkmaar is a must if you’d like to see a Dutch cheese market.
Check out our full article on things to do in Alkmaar.
Beaches and Nature Reserves
North Holland is surrounded by water, which makes it a great destination for a beach vacation. You have three different types of beaches in North Holland.
- Wadden Islands: A series of islands in the north of the province. You’ll get to experience the tides in their full beauty here. They are great for a relaxing beach holiday, hiking and biking. Since you’ll have to take the ferry to get there, it’s worth going for an extended weekend.
- Inland Bays: The water bodies on the East of North Holland are not part of an open ocean (anymore). The Ijsselmeer, Markermeer, Ijmeer and Gooimeer are large water bodies that are closed off the North Sea by dikes. The good thing is that you won’t have tides (rise and fall of sea water levels) here. The beaches are great for a conventional beach vacation and watersports.
- North Sea: The North Sea beaches are the favorite destination for many Dutch people and tourists alike. North Holland has over 100 kilometers of North Sea coast with beautiful villages and great beaches.
Below are the most popular beaches in North Holland.
Zandvoort is synonymous with the beach and racing. If you want to just spend a leisurely day on a long stretch of clean sandy beach, then head on over to Zandvoort aan Zee.
Besides the beach, you’ll find the famous Circuit Zandvoort here. It’s an internationally known race track that hosts various events throughout the year. In 2021, thanks to the popularity of Dutch F1 driver Max Verstappen, it was again included in the F1 calendar after 36 years.
For more information read our complete guide on Zandvoort.
Petten aan Zee
If you want a day at the beach but at a more peaceful pace, visit Petten aan Zee. There are beach pavilions but nowhere near as busy as other popular beach spots in Holland. You can bike around the North Holland Dune Reserve, which offers more than 5000 hectares of nature reserves. It’s also perfect for families with kids as they will surely enjoy climbing the towering sand dunes in the area.
If you visit early in the year, then hop on a bike and tour the colorful tulip bulb fields that abound in Petten.
Take a ferry from Den Helder and visit Texel, a popular island famous for its 30 km long sandy beach. What’s great about Texel is that you can stay for a weekend or have a mini staycation as it has plenty to offer.
Visit the Ecomare and learn about the Wadden Sea tidal flats, the North Sea, and Texel itself. It’s also home to a seal sanctuary, where around 100 seals are taken care of at any given time.
At the Dunes of Texel National Park, there are plenty of walking, hiking, and cycling routes you can take. You’ll be amazed at the diversity of flora and fauna you’ll encounter on your trip here.
In addition to Texel, there are further islands worth visiting, such as Terschelling (our personal favorite). However, Texel is closest to the mainland and by far the most popular.
Villages & Landmarks
In addition to the famous big cities, North Holland has plenty of small cities and villages where you can explore Dutch traditions. North Holland province is relatively small in size, so you can easily make day trips from Amsterdam to places like Zaanse Schans or Volendam.
Volendam Fishing Village
For an authentic fishing village, visit Volendam on lake Ijsselmeer. It features an old harbor where you can indulge in freshly-caught fish. There’s also a smokehouse that’s been smoking locally caught fish and eel for over 160 years! Walk around the quaint village, and you just may come across a local or two dressed in traditional Volendam costumes.
Our Tip: If you want to experience Volendam from the water, try a Volendam-Marken Express boat tour.
If you’re in the area, then consider visiting the Zuiderzeemuseum too. It’s an indoor and outdoor museum dedicated to showcasing life in the Zuiderzee (South Sea) from the 1800s till today.
Zaanse Schans in Zaandam is another popular tourist destination. Situated on the Zaan River, it’s an open-air museum that features six traditional (and still working!) windmills. A visit here feels like you stepped back in time since the whole village echoes Dutch life as it were in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Den Helder is a welcome stop when traveling to Texel. If you’re into anything maritime-related, then you should definitely plan some time here. Den Helder is located at the northernmost point of North Holland and is surrounded by water on three sides. It is thus no surprise that Den Helder is where the Dutch naval base is located.
Visit the Naval Museum and admire the three museum ships and the amazing submarine on display. There are also over 20,000 maritime-related artifacts on display here.
Another must-see is Fort Kijkduin. It’s a fort built under Napoleon’s instructions around the 19th century. There is also a North Sea aquarium on the property where you can walk through a 12-meter underwater tunnel.
A less known but beautiful village in North Holland is Enkhuizen. The village is located at the edge of the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer. It’s the place where the Markenwaarddijk starts which connects the mainland of North Holland with Flevoland (Almere, Lelystad…).
Enkhuizen is a truly beautiful village to explore in the province. It has a cozy and traditional village center, an interesting historic harbor and some scenic landmarks.
Enkhuizen is a great place to travel with kids. Our recommendations for kids are the fairytale world Sprookjeswonderland and the climbing park Klimpark Streekbos.
Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik
Our favorite museum in the province (which is not Amsterdam) is Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik.
You’ll travel from Hoorn to Medemblik through the West Frisian countryside on board an old-fashioned steam train. As soon as you exit the train station in Medemblik, board the Friesland, a museum ship that will transport you across the IJsselmeer lake to Enkhuizen. The trip is a truly unique experience.
Of course, if you don’t want to go anywhere, that’s possible too. Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik itself is a wonderful museum where you can learn all about steam trains and their history in Holland.
Getting Around North Holland
As an economic center, North Holland has a fully integrated public transportation network that can easily bring you even to the smallest of villages.
Walking, hiking, and cycling routes also abound through the province. For example, you can take the Oudezijds Kolk Loop walking route directly from Amsterdam Central Station in Amsterdam. It’s a lovely way to see the old-fashioned houses that line up the famous canals.
If you’re in North Holland for the beaches and at Texel wanting a fitness challenge, you can take the Blick zum Leuchtturm Texel bike touring route from De Cocksdorp. It will take you through the Texel sand dunes, scenic heathlands, and the famous Texel lighthouse.
Accommodations in North Holland
In North Holland, there’s a style and budget to suit everyone. In city centers, you can stay at an inexpensive hostel or splurge at a 5-star hotel room. For the adventurous, options such as staying at a former waterworks building or a converted tram are also available.
As this province boasts many beaches, take your pick from simple campsites to restored and renovated wooden ships to fully furnished beach rentals.