Looking to visit a quintessential Dutch town? Look no further than Alkmaar. There are plenty of great things to do in Alkmaar and we’ll have you covered with all our top attractions and sights to see while in this dinky cheese lover’s paradise.
Alkmaar is a historic Dutch city and is the capital of the province of North Holland. It has a population of about 145,000 people and an area of about 19 sq km. Alkmaar’s foundation likely dates back to around 1287.
Alkmaar’s culture is known for traditional music, modern art, vintage clothing, a stunning array of unique architecture, beer, and cheese.
Alkmaar is a truly international city that is constantly seeing increasing numbers of foreign visitors every year and is an easy getaway trip from Amsterdam given its close proximity.
Best & Fun Things to do in Alkmaar, Netherlands
Here are some things to see and do when visiting Alkmaar.
1. Visit the historic Alkmaar cheese market in the center of the city
Do you love cheese? Then indulge in a wonderful tour at Alkmaar historic cheese market! The market has stood for about 700 years with records of its existence dating back to 1365, and cheese has been bought, weighed, and sold here ever since, making Alkmaar one of the most important cheese cities on Earth.
Cheese has always been a big deal to the Dutch, and great care to inspect and weigh cheese has always been paramount at the Alkmaar cheese market, where weighing cheese has no small amount of ceremony.
In fact, weighing the cheese had so much importance that only a select few were entrusted with the process in the middle ages and there was only one set of scales in town to accurately weigh the cheese under official scrutiny.
Being such a huge cheese city, supply and demand for cheese grew over the years but it wouldn’t be until 1612 that the number of cheese scales increased from 1 to 4.
The tradition of weighing the cheese is still alive and well, and it is a uniquely charming experience to witness for first-time visitors…or those who hold the cheese in the same regard as the people of Alkmaar!
Along with other traditional touches such as uniforms, methods of testing and inspecting, cutting, carrying, and trading this edible gold, make the historic Alkmaar cheese market an exceptional destination to visit.
On your visit, you’ll see cheese porters, easily identifiable from their traditional white uniforms. You will also see them carry the cheese using old-school wooden tools.
What makes a visit to the cheese market memorable is how vibrant and lively the experience is as samplers and cheese traders go to work inspecting and tasting cheese, and wheeling and dealing in cheese wheels.
If you want to buy some cheese at the market, you can’t buy cheese from traders directly. Instead, you can purchase your gouda and edam from stalls surrounding the edges of the market, as well as other local delicacies like pickled herring or waffles.
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2. Visit the Dutch Cheese Museum because there’s no such thing as too much cheese!
Haven’t had your fill of cheese yet? The Dutch Cheese Museum is a museum in the Alkmaar city center right next to the cheese market.
The cheese market is the only of its kind in the Netherlands, but this cheese museum provides an insight into Alkmaar’s cheese-making history.
The museum includes the chance to learn about how Dutch cheese was made for centuries until most of the industry became industrialized by large companies.
It has interactive exhibits that explain the process of how to make different types of cheese, such as edam, gouda, kanterkaas, and roomano.
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3. Wet your whistle at the National Beer Museum (Nationaal Biermuseum)
No doubt after all of that cheese, you’ll be thinking of something to wash it all down with. In which case take a short walk to the Nationaal Biermuseum!
This terrific Beer Museum is located only a few blocks from the Waagpleine and the Dutch Market Cheese Factory, making it an excellent point of interest on your trip around the city center. It’s a great way to learn more about the culture of North Holland.
A bar in one part of the building serves a wide range of superb local brews as well as a wonderful selection of wines. It’s also home to an intriguing presentation of the long history of beer in Alkmaar, which goes all the way back to 1295, almost as old as the city itself.
In a display of true Dutch hospitality, you can even try the beers before you buy them at the adjacent beer hall!
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4. Enjoy a boat tour on Alkmaar’s canals
No trip to Alkmaar really seems complete without cruising along the canals, and enjoying Amsterdam-style architecture.
A canal cruise is one of the best things to do in Alkmaar for those interested in canals or exploring the city at a slower pace. There are several companies offering daily tours from April to October.
Special trips are also available for larger groups. The canal cruise will give you the chance to admire iconic landmarks such as Stadhuis, which was built in 1420 during the Golden Age.
You also have a good chance of enjoying stunning views of the iconic churches and mills that give Alkmaar her unique character.
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5. Spend A Day in the Life, walking The Long and Winding Road to Come Together at the Beatles Museum
The Beatles Museum in Alkmaar is an interactive museum, housed in the historic Waag building, dedicated to the world’s most famous and beloved rock band. It’s an essential stop for any rock n’ roller or victim of Beatlemania!
This musical museum charts the history of The Beatles, their origins, their meteoric rise to worldwide superstardom, as well as fascinating original archive footage from when they were touring Holland in 1964.
The Beatles Museum in Alkmaar has a fantastic collection of vintage photographs, instruments, music memorabilia, clothing, and even some of the guitars used by The Fab Four.
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6. Gawp at the Grote Kerk (Great Church)
Grote Kerk, also known as Sint-Laurenskerk, is a wonderful old building not to miss on your travels to the charming city of Alkmaar. Checking out the church is part of the walking tour in Alkmaar.
This grand Gothic church was formerly a Protestant church but is now a secular house of worship. It is also an imposing landmark that stands dominantly over the skyline of the old town center.
Churches have been built on this spot since the 10th century. The current structure, designed by Anthonius Keldermans, was finished in 1498 after 28 years of construction.
The church was dedicated to St Lawrence and famously contains the tomb of Floris V, Count of Holland. Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is known for its beauty inside and out. The church was built in the popular crucifix shape, with outer walls made from white Gobertange sandstone.
The church’s high windows allow tons of natural light to highlight the ornate Gothic decorations inside, especially the beautiful chandeliers and the two magnificent pipe organs.
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7. Absorb some art at Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar
The Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, Netherlands is an important art museum for modern and contemporary art, housed in a compact and ultra-cool glass building. This museum is quite small, yet has more than enough in terms of unique and interesting works to admire.
The Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar also has a heavy interest in Piet Mondrian’s early paintings, drawings, and prints, and is one of the Netherland’s greatest authorities on this celebrated Dutch artist.
While certainly not big enough to make a whole day trip out of, this chill gallery makes a great relaxing stopping point amidst a busy itinerary of touring the city.
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8. Take a quick day trip to Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter
If you have the time to spend a day away from Alkmaar, a brief excursion to Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter is highly recommended. This lovely part of the nearby Dutch capital city is packed with institutions devoted to history and culture, making it one of the most visited places in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam is a melting pot for tourists from all around the world, with both outdoor and indoor activities, as well as one-of-a-kind attractions, many of which can be found in the city’s Museum Quarter.
Once little more than a swamp, the quarter evolved over centuries into a lively neighborhood that now houses spectacular museums and galleries.
Among the best museums to visit are the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam the world-renowned Rijksmuseum, and of course the Van Gogh Museum. Aside from being home to fascinating museums, the Museum Quarter is chockablock with fancy restaurants, parks, and shopping centers.
You can enjoy canal boat tours, Dutch delicacies from the many outstanding restaurants throughout the quarter, and stay the night in one of several world-class hotels in the area, or even on a houseboat!
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9. Enjoy a guided walking tour to Alkmaar City Hall
Aside from drifting lazily down the city’s canals, the best way to discover this historic town is by taking an Alkmaar walking tour. The best tours will include Alkmaar’s stunning city hall.
The Stadhuis, or city hall, which was erected in 1520 and subsequently restored after a fire destroyed much of its original construction, is an awe-inspiring example of Dutch brick architecture in the city center of Alkmaar.
At the entrance of this amazing building, the Alkmaar city flag is flown by two stone lions, which also bear shields with the town’s crest, adding to the grandeur of this ornate, stripey marvel. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular location for wedding photos.
Even though you are not allowed to enter the structure, you may still walk down Langestraat from the Grote Kerk and enjoy the amazing architecture of this ancient building.
You can admire its magnificent façade and tiny hexagonal clock tower if you stay near the city hall.
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10. Pound the pavement by walking Alkmaar’s Canalside District
If you want to enjoy more of the beauty and history of the city, checking out the Canalside District is among the best things to do in Alkmaar.
The intricate canal system of Alkmaar is fascinating, especially the outer canal that encircles the town – it’s sort of like a wetter version of the Capital Beltway in the US or the M25 in the UK.
The Canalside District is a gateway to Europe, and a living repository of glorious Dutch art, architecture, and cultural treasures. It is about the best route to explore the city first hand on foot, and admire its old buildings.
One of the best places to start your tour is from the Accijnstoren tax tower, following the Werronkenoord canal, passing the Grote/Sint-Laurenskerk.
You could also walk along the Mint Canal toward the historic Alkmaar cheese market stands and through the Luttik Oudorp Canal.
A good place to end your Canalside District tour is at the Victoriepark, a delightful public garden where you can unwind after the walk.
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11. Sample some of Alkmaar’s incredible cuisine
We at Viatravelers know traveling is kind of the best thing to do in life – not only because it broadens the mind, but it also broadens the palate! Chasing the wonderful sights and attractions in Alkmaar is all very well and good, but no trip is complete without tasting the delicacies the town has to offer.
As mentioned earlier, Alkmaar is considered one of the most important cheese cities on the planet, particularly for its unique historic cheese market. Sampling some of the town’s cheese should be part of any travel itinerary in the Netherlands.
The most popular cheeses found here are gouda and edam, but there are many other European-style kinds of cheese to be enjoyed here. Seriously, the reason cheese shows up so much in this article is that Alkmaar’s cheese is gouda this world…I guess that joke only works if you use the Dutch pronunciation of gouda.
PRO TIP: In Dutch, gouda is roughly pronounced *how-da*…now try that joke…
Aside from the cheese, the town is also known for its herring and a wide variety of delicacies featuring this tasty fish can be found here.
You may also treat your sweet tooth with some of Alkmaar’s famous stroopwafels for dessert. These mouthwatering sweet treats are made from two thin layers of baked dough waffle wafers, joined by a sticky caramel filling.
Tasting the delicacies of Alkmaar gives you a much better appreciation of this wonderful town and of Dutch culture at large.
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12. Catch a football match at AFAS Stadium
The AFAS Stadium (or AFAS Stadion) is a football (soccer to us Yanks) stadium in the Alkmaar. AZ Alkmaar plays their home games there, and it is often referred to as “Victory Stadium”.
PRO TIP: The term “Yank” and “Yankee” likely derives from the Dutch nickname Janneke, a diminutive form of Jan (it’s the Dutch equivalent to getting Johnny from John). The Dutch were one of the many European peoples to emigrate en-masse to the New World.
The stadium has a capacity of 19,500 people and is named for a Dutch computer software firm that owns the stadium. In European matches, the stadium can hold up to 29,000 people.
The AFAS Stadion is well-suited for sports and concerts too. The arena has large uncovered stands and a very modern sound system, allowing maximum amplification of the public address system in case of cheering or musical accompaniment to announcements.
So if you’re a footy fan, enjoy large sporting events, or the odd concert or musical then you should definitely check it out to see what’s on the stadium’s schedule.
The AFAS Stadion also has the honor of being the only all-seater football stadium in the country that has an energy-efficient ventilation system, which means it can be used as a “green building”. The stadium was one of three included in FIFA’s first environmental sustainability campaign launched on World Environment Day on the 5th of June 2007.
The AFAS Stadion has since won several environmental awards, including the Environmental Award by the Building Research Institute for the design and construction of the new roof that emits almost no CO2, as well as a certificate from GreenCalc.
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13. Bask in the beauty of the Medieval Garden and City Parks
Nothing beats ending a long day of touring in a picturesque and relaxing vacation spot, and in Alkmaar, the Medieval Garden delivers such satisfaction.
The Medieval Garden has a wealth of information about different plants and flowers grown throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and their countries of origin.
The medieval garden is among the best places to end a day for its beauty not only shines during the day but positively glows at night.
Other outstanding parks in Alkmaar include Begerbos, Rekerhout, Alkmaarderhout, the aforementioned Victoriepark and the breathtaking Hortus Alkmaar. Choosing any of these for a lazy stroll, or a place to unwind over a good book won’t disappoint.
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14. Mill about the Molen van Groot
The Molen van Groot, also known as Piet’s Great Mill is located on the edge of what was formerly the city’s walls and is surrounded by woodland with a spectacular view of the canal.
Alkmaar is similar to many other Dutch cities with at least one surviving windmill from the golden era of wind power industries.
In 1884 the mill was bought by Cornelis Piet, who had a house built at the bottom of the mill. While the mill is now owned by the city, it is still inhabited and pumped by a member of the Piet family.
The mill is presently closed to the public, but it is still a magnificent structure, truly emblematic of the Netherlands and a source of spectacular photographs.
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15. See the sea on a trip to Egmond aan Zee
Egmond aan Zee is a charming coastal village located roughly 9km from Alkmaar. Stroll along the beach’s length, pack a picnic for lunch, and find some peace and relaxation.
There are several public parking spaces, as well as a regular bus service to the other nearby seaside towns of Burriana and Cambrils.
This is the ideal spot for those who enjoy the sea air to get away from it all and revel in the distinctive atmosphere you only get from lesser-known coastal settlements.
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16. Go “window shopping” in Achterdam…adults only!
Achterdam is a red light district in Alkmaar. In 1387, it was known as the “back dam” and was originally built to protect the old city from flooding. It is also close to the locks that connect reclaimed land with the rest of Alkmaar. Amsterdam became its own district when Dutch municipalities were divided into neighborhoods in 2007.
Now, it’s a red light district that resembles similarities to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, except this is far quieter and significantly smaller than Amsterdam’s extensive pleasure districts. Achterdam features over 60 different red-light windows, providing offerings of the flesh 24/7. Just be warned, that what is offered during the day is for different tastes than what is offered at night!
This is certainly one of the more…unique things to do in Alkmaar, as I’m sure it’s pretty unlike anything you have back home. In true Dutch fashion, this district is located right next to the shopping district in Alkmaar centrum (city center) so you will probably stumble through the area accidentally. Hey, when in Rome…
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Final Thoughts: Best Things to do in Alkmaar
Alkmaar is among the most wonderful Dutch cities that first-time visitors are sure to fall in love with. From its unique sights to its exquisite food and of course, the ever-friendly locals, a visit to Alkmaar is filled with rewards.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where is Alkmaar located?
Alkmaar is a small city in the Netherlands. It’s best to explore on foot or by bike as Alkmaar has many wonderful public parks and gardens. Alkmaar is best accessed by air via Schiphol or as a day trip from Amsterdam.
If you fly, be sure to check out delays and departures because Alkmaar’s small airport does not see many international flights, and there are no direct trains available. But it also means that the city doesn’t feel like a typical tourist destination.
Where can I find the best cheese in Alkmaar?
While the best cheese in Alkmaar may be a bit subjective, if you’re trying to find the best cheese in Alkmaar by word of mouth from locals, ask them where they go when they want quality cheese or local sourdough bread. This is more difficult because few detailed guides to the best locations will not disappoint.
Where can I learn about Dutch history in Alkmaar?
You can visit the Museum Alkmaar, which focuses on local history or spend time at Rijksmuseum Alkmaar with a variety of exhibitions. If you want a great view of the city, climb 368 steps to Spitsbergen with its iconic windmill. It’s best to visit at sunset when the view of Alkmaar is stunning.
What to do in Alkmaar today?
Alkmaar, a Dutch city known for its cheese market on Fridays, is one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. It has beautiful canals as well as lovely attractions such as traditional architecture, Alkmaarderhoy square, and Keukenhof Gardens. Alkmaar features museums, galleries, and more *ahem* adult entertainment, so there’s really something for everyone.
What is Alkmaar known for?
Primarily cheese and beer. Alkmaar is famous for its unique cheese market, Cheese museum, and the National Beer Museum.
You can go on a tour of the Cheese Museum which has been around since the 1800s and has over 400 different types of cheese from all over the world!
Alkmaar is also known for the stunning Grote Kerk and its beautifully striped city hall.