Located just 30 minutes from Amsterdam city, it’s a surprise this town stayed secret for so long. Famous for its traditional cheese market (gross), Alkmaar is most well known for being a strong cultural destination. Dating as far back as the 1200’s, Alkmaar is like someone has taken the very best parts of the Amsterdam culture, removed the flood of tourists, and sprinkled flowers everywhere as if they were confetti – it truly is the cutest little spot. Accessible via a 25 minute train from Amsterdam Centraal Station, it would be a crime for you to not make the journey!
▲ As mentioned, Alkmaar is serviced by frequent trains leaving from Amsterdam Centraal. Tickets cost €16.5 for an adult return ticket to and from the town, which are purchased via ticket machines inside all train stations. If Centraal isn’t your closest station, check out the Netherlands Rail Planner to plan your trip.
▲ If you’ve got a car you could also drive to Alkmaar from Amsterdam, which depending on traffic will take about 50 minutes. In terms of time and financial restraints, I would recommend taking the train.
▲ Although Alkmaar is a small town, and easily covered by foot, I would recommend hiring bikes to get the true local experience. There’s not many bike rental places in Alkmaar, so if you’re coming from Amsterdam I would recommend to grab them there and bring them on the train. This is the most cost effective way too – since there are so many bike rental companies in Amsterdam city, prices are more competitive in the city compared to Alkmaar.
WHAT TO DO
▲ If it’s a beautiful day, as soon as you arrive, I would recommend to get on your bike and take mini-trip to Schoorlse Duinen. So, yes, you’ll be doing a day trip inside a day trip.. Tripception! Schoorlse Duinen is home to a huge pine forest that, even in the middle of summer, remains as lush as ever. Park your bikes at the surrounding fences (don’t forget to lock them) and spend your time exploring the tracks. I found this forest by accident – I was so lost and no where near my intended destination (the beach, just behind the forest, it’s meant to have some incredible sand dunes), but after a 5 minute walk through the tracks I didn’t mind at all. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know just how pretty I found it!
The bike ride to Schoorlse is only about 30 minutes, but it’s as flat as a desert so it’s an easy cruise. They have a mini bike road most of the way, so even if you’re not so confident on the road it’s still a safe journey. The country side along the way is also really pretty, and if you go in the Spring you’ll also get to glimpse the famous Netherlands tulip fields!
▲ After your adventure to Schoorlse, I imagine you’ll have worked up your appetite! Good news – the best thing about Alkmaar is the quiet canals that are the perfect spot for a picnics! I recommend heading to Groentehandel P. van den Bosch V.O.F to stock up on your picnic supplies. It’s a great fruit + veg shop in the center of Alkmaar, close to the city square. They stock homemade salads, freshly squeezed juices and an abundance of quality fruit and vegetables. I purchased an orange juice, a fruit salad and a zucchini noodle salad with a fresh tomato and herb sauce. The shop attendants were really helpful and happy to answer my questions regarding all of the salad ingredients. Surprisingly most of them were vegan, with only a couple containing dairy products (score!).
▲ Once you’re fed and rested, head back to the market square and explore the all of the alleys and side streets to hunt out the best European shopping finds! There’s heaps on offer, including bags + wallets (just double check they’re not real leather), jewellery, souvenirs, home wares and other cool stuff to check out.
▲ If Beatles are your guilty pleasure, make sure to squeeze in time for a trip to the Beatles Museum. There’s only 3 Beatles museums in the world (the others are in Liverpool and Germany), and this one is run by a guy who has written 40 (!) books on their career. Crazy!
OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS
▲ Make sure you set enough time aside for your day trip, as half the fun of this town is how calm and serene it is. If you’re rushing against the clock to get things done, you won’t enjoy it half as much as you would if you took your time. I would recommended arriving at about 10 am, taking 2 hours to head out to Schoorlse Duinen, then back to the town center for lunch. Enjoy your picnic on the canal (and maybe a cheeky nap as you soak up the European sun) for an hour or two, then head back into the center for some casual shopping.
By about 4 you should be exhausted and ready to head back into Amsterdam for dinner then bed. If you need some good vegan-friendly eateries in Amsterdam, be sure to check out my reviews on my favourite places.
Over to you: have you been had the chance to visit Alkmaar yet? And if so, what was your favourite attraction?