JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH MANON VAN SCHAGEN FROM ALKMAAR, THE NETHERLANDS !
Manon van Schagen is the face behind Visiting The Dutch Countryside. She was born and raised in The Netherlands. She got fed up with people who only associated Amsterdam with The Netherlands. Visiting The Dutch Countryside is the travel blog about The Netherlands to visit her country like a local. She knows that her country has a lot more to offer than Amsterdam. So she took it as her job to inform people about the hidden gems, local secrets and unknown places in The Netherlands. She believes this way you can travel The Netherlands beyond the crowds and get to know the real country.
Which is the best month to visit Alkmaar and why?
The best month to visit Alkmaar is very hard to say. It depends what you’re looking for and if there are certain events that you’d like to see or take place in.
Tulip season : Tulip season in The Netherlands is between mid-April and the beginning of the first week of May. The end of April is the absolute best time to go. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. From the city of Alkmaar until the most Northern city of Noord-Holland, Den Helder, this part of the province is one big tulip field. The biggest number of tulip fields in The Netherlands can be found here. Not in the province of Zuid (South)- Holland as some people claim. I’ve been born and raised in this area, so I know what I’m talking about.
You’d have to rent a bike in Alkmaar, or take the train to Schagen or Anna Paulowna, and from there rent a bike to cycle around the tulip fields. There are fields located near Alkmaar, but not as much as in the surroundings of Schagen or Anna Paulowna. Visiting the tulip fields is a perfect day trip from Alkmaar during spring. If you want to see these tulip fields, then you should visit anywhere between half of April and the first week of May. Keep in mind that it is high season, so accommodation is sparse. Another thing is that if we’ve had a harsh winter, then the tulips bloom later. However, if our winter was mild, the tulips are in full bloom earlier.
Kings day : Kings Day is the day The Netherlands celebrates the birthday of our King Willem-Alexander. The Netherlands is a monarchy. But our King doesn’t have the absolute power, our parliament has. Every year on the 27th of April the entire country goes out and about. There are festivals, flea markets and everyone dresses up in the national colour of The Netherlands, orange. All a sudden everyone comes together, no matter if you’re a tourist or not. When the 27th of April falls on a Sunday, then Kings Day is celebrated on Saturday the 26th of April.
Cheese market : The cheese market of Alkmaar is one of the biggest cheese markets of The Netherlands. There are four cheese markets in The Netherlands where volunteers re-enact the cheese market of hundred years ago. The cheese market in Alkmaar is on the last Friday of March. The last cheese market of the year in Alkmaar is on the last Friday of September. Every week there is a cheese market on Friday between 10:00- 13:00.
I think you cannot visit Alkmaar during the cheese market season without visiting. And although it can be crowded, it is very interesting to see a part of the typical Dutch culture.
Seasons : Besides these events and activities, you’d also have to look at the weather. Spring and autumn are both very unpredictable seasons. Summer and winter in The Netherlands are clearer seasons. Spring in The Netherlands starts at the 20th of March and summer at the 21st of June. Autumn starts at the 23rd of September and winter at the 21st of December.
During the beginning of spring, The Netherlands is still cold, and it can even snow as far as the end of March. Tulip season starts from half of April until the beginning of the first week of May. During tulip season you’ll notice that the sun is shining quite a lot. However, the mornings and evenings are still very chilly. King’s Day is the 27th of April and usually the weather of King’s Day is cloudy with a bit of sun here and there. This is also the season of the cute lambs in the meadows and the time that the cows are able to go outside again. They do this thing that we call a cow dance. It is a happy dance from the cows that they are allowed to enter the meadows again. During winter the cows are inside the farms. The reason is that the grass doesn’t grow, and they would destroy the meadows instead.
During summer in The Netherlands, everyone will be sitting outside on the terraces as long as possible. The parks are filled, as well as the canals and lakes in the surroundings of Alkmaar. The beaches are crowded and there are long lines in front of the best ice cream shops in town.
The beginning of autumn usually starts with sunny days. But as we’re getting further away from September you’ll see the weather and trees change quick. The season of the beautiful foliage has arrived. There are beautiful nature reserves nearby Alkmaar that you must visit, no matter what time of the year it is. You can clear your head, enjoy the fresh air and it’s a great day trip from Alkmaar.
Winter feels different than in many European countries. It’s rainy, windy and a week or a few weeks a year we get a bit of snow. The wind in The Netherlands is very rough and icy cold during the winter. When the wind comes out of the East, you’ll feel your face fall off. Make sure to bring a thick winter coat. Sometimes it freezes so hard we can actually skate on the canals. So it honestly depends what kind of season you prefer.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Alkmaar?
In The Netherlands, you won’t find cities that are bigger than 810.000 inhabitants. The biggest city is Amsterdam and has around 810.000 people who are living there. As Alkmaar is not even in the top ten biggest cities of The Netherlands you won’t need a lot of options for public transport. You can walk or cycle through Alkmaar and you’ll be fine. If you feel the need to take public transport, there are plenty of buses you can take.
The most convenient way of transportation through Alkmaar is definitely walking or cycling. If you don’t know how to cycle, or are not confident, please don’t try it out in a city. Try it out in a small village where you’re not in someone’s way. We don’t cycle every day for fun, it’s our main mode of transport within the cities. So, when you see us on a bike, we are on our way to something. Either meeting friends or family, to work, to the gym, etc. When you’re walking through Alkmaar, make sure to use the sidewalks. They are there for a reason.
If walking is not your thing, try public transport. The train is the most important mode of transport that we use to get into or out of the city. From the train station of Alkmaar, there are trains that run in many directions. One in the direction of Nijmegen, others run to Haarlem, the next to Maastricht, another to Den Helder and the other to Hoorn. The main bus station of Alkmaar is located next to the train station, but there are bus stops all throughout the city.
Which are the top 3 must visit places in Alkmaar?
The 3 things you have to do in Alkmaar are the cheese market, visiting courtyards and to see windmills.
Cheese market : As I’ve said before, the cheese market of Alkmaar is one of the biggest cheese markets of The Netherlands and of the entire world. At this cheese market, volunteers start as early as 07:00 in the morning with the preparations. Hundreds of volunteers are involved with the cheese market every Friday. The cheese market in Alkmaar is re-enacted, but still something you have to see when you’re visiting Alkmaar. When you’re visiting a country, it is good to see and learn about a part of the history of that country.
The first cheese market is on the last Friday of March. The last cheese market of the year in Alkmaar is on the last Friday of September. Every week there is a cheese market on Friday between 10:00- 13:00. Besides that, during the cheese market, you can find markets around the square that have stalls with local products, crafts and much more. If you’re in Alkmaar during the cheese market season, you shouldn’t leave Alkmaar without visiting. It can be crowded because quite a few people are interested in getting to know the history of Alkmaar and its famous cheese market.
Courtyards : Many people do not visit Alkmaar outside the cheese market which is a shame. Alkmaar is a city that has plenty of things to do and beautiful places to visit. One of those places you should visit in Alkmaar are the courtyards or hofjes in Dutch. These courtyards were meant for old and lonely women, that was either a widow or had no children. Today you will still see that most courtyards only offer a house to women. The courtyards are especially known for their beautiful gardens and offering a calm place in a busy city.
One of the courtyards you have to visit in Alkmaar is the so-called Wildemanshofje. You will find only women who are living here. Please keep in mind that staring through their windows is rude, as people actually live there. It is not a theme park.
You can find the Wildemanshofje at Oudegracht 87 in Alkmaar
Windmills : Alkmaar is not well-known for the windmills, which is a good thing. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit a windmill in Alkmaar. There are a few windmills in the main city of Alkmaar, but not all of them are welcoming visitors. The windmill in Alkmaar that you can visit is ‘t Roode Hert. People have been first talking about this windmill since at least 1610. The current windmill isn’t that old, as it has been destroyed by several fires. Windmill ‘t Roode Hert is open to the public for tours and you can even get a nice cup of tea or coffee here. Don’t forget to buy freshly milled organic flours and other delicious products in their shop.
The windmill is open 6 days a week. Monday- Friday 09:30 – 15:30. Saturday 09:30 – 16:00.Find ‘t Roode Hert at Frieseweg 102, Alkmaar.
Which is the most celebrated holiday in Alkmaar?
The most celebrated holiday of the year is in Alkmaar the Alkmaar’s ontzet. Alkmaar’s Ontzet is the commemoration of the victory by the Alkmaarders. But also the commemoration of the siege on Alkmaar by the Spaniards during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). The siege took place from the 21st of August until the 8th of October of 1573. Luckily it ended in a victory for the Alkmaarders after William of Oranje and Diederik Sonoy had ordered to break the dikes around Alkmaar. This meant that the Spaniards had to give up. On the 8th of October 1573, the Alkmaar’s Ontzet was a fact. Alkmaar was one of the first cities in, at that time, Holland to successfully withstand the Spaniards.
Every year on the week before the 8th of October the Alkmaar’s Ontzet is celebrated. The absolute highlight of the week is the 8th of October to celebrate the victory of the Alkmaarders on the Spaniards. During the week there is a historical fair with different amusement rides than you’re used to and plenty of more activities. And on the 8th of October, the whole city celebrates the victory with a laser show about the fight and victory. You will see videos, sounds and spectacular lights in the evening between the Ringersbrug and the Friese brug. Almost 450 years later, it is still a tradition that is close to everyone’s heart.
Which is the most happening area in Alkmaar and why?
If you’re looking for the best bars or nightlife, then you’d either have to go to the area around the Platte Stenen Brug or to Waagplein. Around these two places, there are many bars, cafes, and restaurants that turn into a small club in the weekends. Even if you don’t fancy partying, you can still enjoy the area for a nice drink and get to know some locals. I promise we look more terrifying than we actually are. We just don’t smile often to strangers.
Where can one find amazing street food in Alkmaar?
So, there are a few places you need to go to find street food in Alkmaar. If you’re looking for typical Dutch snacks, then you have to go to snack bar Lobo. This snack bar was awarded the best snack bar of the whole province of Noord-Holland, and there’s a reason why. For the best deep-fried snacks, such as kroketten, you must go to snack bar Lobo.
If you’re looking for the best döner in Alkmaar, then you have to give Bodrum döner Kebap a visit. This is without a doubt, the best döner place of Alkmaar. Even thinking about it makes me hungry. If you’re on a budget and look for the best cheap eats in Alkmaar, then this is your spot.
Where to head for affordable shopping?
The best places in Alkmaar to find affordable shopping is around de Hekelstraat, de Appelsteeg, de Mient, and Fnidsen. These streets are filled with vintage shops, local boutiques, authentic places to eat, bookstores and much more. In these streets in Alkmaar, you can find everything, except for big brand stores. If this is your cup of tea, then you have to visit these streets when you are exploring Alkmaar.
Which is the most loved local food in Alkmaar?
Something that every Dutch person loves is pancakes. Not crepes, or American pancakes, but real Dutch pancakes. They are way thinner than American pancakes but slightly thicker than the French crepes. I might be biased when I say this, but Dutch pancakes are my favourite ones. The flavour is very full, and we put everything on them. Typical pancakes are bacon and cheese (spek and kaas in Dutch), apple or powdered sugar and Dutch syrup.
One pancake is not enough to fill you up for dinner, at least not for me, but two will succeed. But only when you take a pancake that has something savoury as cheese or apple pancakes. If you want to try great pancakes, then go to Moeke for the best Dutch pancakes in Alkmaar.
Restaurant Moeke can be found at Kanaalkade 131 in Alkmaar.
Which side of the road does your city drive on? Is it a cycle friendly city?
In Alkmaar, and in The Netherlands in general, we drive and cycle on the right side. The Netherlands is well-known as a country where bicycles rule the streets and roads. In fact, if you’re in an accident with a car, the car driver is almost always at fault. Because bicycles are used as the main transportation within cities, you always have to be aware of them when you’re crossing the street.
Always look left, right, left, before you’re crossing any street. If you want to cycle in the city or in the surroundings of Alkmaar, only do this when you can cycle really well. You have to know the rules of the road and be aware of all the other traffic before you’re going to try it out. Without knowing the rules, there can and will be accidents.
Would you recommend any popular local apps to tourists for transport, food and hidden gems in Alkmaar?
For transportation within The Netherlands, the best application is 9292. This is an app for traveling within The Netherlands via public transportation. 9292 gives you, not only the shortest route but also the price indication. It is an app that every Dutch person has on his or her phone.
When it comes to an application for hidden gems in Alkmaar, these are non-existing. The city of Alkmaar is simply not big enough for developing an app. When it comes to food apps there are some take-away and delivery apps such as thuisbezorgd.nl that you can use. But it’s best if you use this app when you have a clear address, such as when you’re staying at a hostel or apartment.
I hope this article about Alkmaar, The Netherlands was useful for you. And that you have the chance to visit this beautiful city when you’re traveling to The Netherlands.
Manon, Thank you for your in-depth detailed account of what to do where, and when in the city of Alkmaar. I was born in Stadskanaal in Groningen but my family moved to Canada in 1952. Although I am officially a Canadian, my heart remains in The Netherlands. I enjoyed reading about your city from a local point of view. Thank you and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for other blogs about favorite Dutch places.
Thank you so much Jane! Groningen is also a very beautiful city, just like Alkmaar. It has the authentic atmosphere and isn’t overrun with tourists. You know what they say: ‘You can take a person out of The Netherlands, but you can never take The Netherlands out of the person.’ I’m very glad that you enjoyed this article. For more articles on less visited places, small and bigger towns, etc. you can always visit my travel blog about The Netherlands. Hopefully you can make it to The Netherlands sometime soon to get your well- needed dose of Dutchness haha.