Located in the Netherlands’ North Holland province, Alkmaar is a popular tourist town known as the “city of cheese,” offering a traditional cheese market, cultural museums, and historic civic attractions.
Though the exact date of the region’s settlement is not known, the earliest written references to the village of Alkmaar date back to the 10th century. In 1254, the village of Alkmaar was incorporated as a city, and for the next several centuries, it grew in size and prosperity. The city is noted as the site of the first lake reclamation via windmill draining in the mid 16th century. In October of 1573, following the seizure of the city by Spanish forces under the command of Don Fadrique, the city’s dyke floodgates were opened by the Prince of Orange to drive the invaders away. The move was considered a major turning point in the Eighty Years War and is commemorated to this day as a major holiday within the city. In the mid-19th century, city commerce expanded as a result of the opening of the North Holland Canal, which connected the city to the nearby towns of Den Helder and Haarlem. The city continued to grow throughout the 20th century, incorporating areas of the nearby towns of Oudorp, Koedijk, and Sint Pancras into its municipality in 1972.
Today, Alkmaar is known as a popular cultural destination within the North Holland region, offering a variety of unique cultural attractions for weekend and extended vacation visitors. The city is best known for its Alkmaar Cheese Market, which has earned it the reputation as the Netherlands’ “city of cheese.” The market, which is located within Alkmaar’s Waagplein city market square, is open weekly on Friday mornings from April through September. As one of only four traditional cheese markets still open in the Netherlands, the market has been in continuous operation since 1365. Traditional local cheese are offered at the market, which is ceremonially opened every week by regional celebrities. Price negotiating is accomplished in an auction-style manner, and purchased cheeses are carried by traditional cheese carriers to nearby buyer’s lorries for customer purchase. Vendor stalls near the market also sell a variety of cheese, food, and home products.
The history of the region’s cheese production and selling is outlined at the Cheese Museum, which is located within the city’s historic Weighing House. Nearby, the National Beer Museum highlights traditional Dutch methods of beer brewing, which were developed during the Medieval Period and were central to the region’s economy and culture. Local social and cultural history are outlined at the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, which houses a collection of late Medieval and early Renaissance era paintings by influential Dutch and European painters. A Beatles Museum also honors the seminal American popular music band and celebrates the region’s connection to John Lennon, as the musician’s first guitar was produced within the city.
A variety of historic cultural attractions are located throughout the city, including the Piet Windmill, the city’s only working historic windmill, which is still privately owned and operated to this day by the Piet family. Several of the city’s historic hofje elderly women’s homes are still standing and are operated as living history museum facilities, including the Hofje van Splinter and the Hofje van Paling en Van Foreest. Though the city’s canal system no longer operates as a means of economic transportation and commerce, canal tours are offered for visitors along the city’s historic waterways. 45-minute guided tours aboard Giethoornse punter barges are available, offering a new perspective on local attractions. Canal boat rentals are also available through the city’s tourism department and several local businesses for private exploration of the city’s canal system.
A wide variety of restaurants and cafes are located throughout the Waagplein cheese market district, the Canadaplein, and the Platte Steenen Brug, including the Bistro De 13 Balcken and the Ristobar Italica. Boutiques and galleries are located throughout the region’s old city district, and internationally-known and high-end retailers offer locations in the Langestraat and Laat High Street districts and the Noorder Arcade shopping mall. Nightlife options are offered in the Achterdam red light district and at many pubs within the cheese market district.
Ongoing Programs and Events
A number of major festivals are held throughout the year within Alkmaar, including the annual four-day Alkmaar Pride event in May, which features a canal pride parade and civic festivities. The Kaeskoppenstad Festival in June offers historic reenactments of town civic life in the 16th century, including strolling musicians, magicians, and trade demonstrators. Other annual festivals include the 10-day Karavaan Festival, the art-focused Festival KUUB, and the Alkmaar TAPT Festival, which offers live entertainment and tastings of specialty regional and international brews. During the summer months, live concerts are held periodically at the Lindegracht canal stop.