North Holland encompasses the northern half of the former county of Holland. It can be divided into six regions:
The capital Amsterdam, known for its canals, architecture and liberal culture, and the surrounding urban sprawl.
|Gooi en Vechtstreek |
An affluent area known as the Garden of Amsterdam with plenty of opportunities for cycling.
Dunes, beaches and national parks, as well as some historic towns.
|North Holland Peninsula |
A large part of the peninsula with a distinct culture and language known as "West Fries". It is a historic area known for its VOC history.
The largest of the West Frisian Islands, a popular seaside resort in the summer.
The Holland of the postcards with traditional Dutch houses, polders, clogs and windmills.
- 1 Haarlem — capital of North Holland with plenty of tourists visiting its ancient city center, shops and numerous museums
- 2 Alkmaar — historic town, well known for its cheese market
- 3 Amsterdam — the place-to-be for tourists for its architecture, canals, museums, weed, red light district and nightlife
- 4 Bergen — calm beach resort, artist village, impressive dunes and natural scenery
- 5 Den Helder — mostly visited for its seaside resorts, beaches and the ferry to Texel
- 6 Enkhuizen — historic town with a rich history and the Zuiderzee Museum
- 7 Hilversum — starting point for cycling tours around architectural marvels, forests and the heath
- 8 Hoorn — historic town from the Dutch Golden Age
- 9 Zaandam — probably one of the oldest industrial areas in the world, which makes for an unusual day-trip
- 1 Marken — a former island, more authentic than Volendam and well known for its characteristic wooden houses
- 2 Schiphol Airport — the international airport of Amsterdam, one of Europe's busiest airport cities
- 3 Texel — the largest of the West Frisian Islands, suited for cycling, walking, swimming and horse riding
- 4 Zaanse Schans — display of Dutch windmills and open-air museum
- 5 Zuid-Kennemerland National Park — forests, beaches and dunes to hike or cycle around in
Everyone knows Amsterdam. Millions of foreign visitors come to check whether its rough image as the city of cannabis and Red Light District is really justified. Obviously both exist and are legal, but Amsterdam is also an excellent family destination and has a lot of artistic, cultural and historical significance. But North Holland consists of much more than just Amsterdam. The Zaanstreek-Waterland around it consists of flat green polders with thousands of canals, windmills and farm houses, a landscape considered typical for the country. Especially Zaanse Schans, Volendam, Marken and Edam make a popular typical Dutch day-trip, with their clogs, traditional costumes and windmills. Also typical Dutch are its dykes, of which the Afsluitdijk and the Markerwaarddijk connect the province with respectively Friesland and Flevoland.
In the summer, many Dutch visitors head out to the sandy beaches of Kennemerland on the west coast. They are quite calm and relaxed, though Zandvoort can be crowded on very warm days. Another way to take some time off is in one of its natural parks. The historic towns of Haarlem and Alkmaar are also popular day-trips among tourists, the latter for its typical Dutch cheese market. The North Holland Peninsula is a distinctive area, part of which is known as West-Friesland with its own dialect (West Fries). Many historic trade towns from the Dutch Golden Age can be found here, such as Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Medemblik. Texel is the largest among the West Frisian Islands and a great tourist resort.
The Gooi en Vechtstreek is an affluent area excellent for cycling through. There are plenty of forests and heath lands to explore, as well as interesting villages. Hilversum is the central town of the region and is home to some interesting modern architecture. Naarden has one of the best preserved fortified towns in the world, while Muiden has a large 13th-century castle and other medieval remains.
Many visitors to North Holland (and the Netherlands) will arrive at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the fifth busiest airport in Europe. Although it officially belongs to Amsterdam, it is actually located in the reclaimed municipality of Haarlemmermeer below sea level. More information about the airport can be found in the Amsterdam article.
Getting to Amsterdam or anywhere else in North Holland from the airport is as easy as taking the train. Buy a ticket in the main hall, take the escalator below ground floor and wait for your train to arrive. A one-way to Amsterdam costs about €4, to Haarlem €5, to Hilversum €7 and to Alkmaar €8 euro. There are also taxis available, but expect to pay at least €50 for a trip to Amsterdam, €60 for Haarlem, €90 for Hilversum and €120 to Alkmaar.
Amsterdam (and Schiphol Airport) can be reached from many international destinations using the NS HiSpeed international train service. Daily, seven ICE International trains leave from Frankfurt in Germany that pass through Cologne, Düsseldorf and Duisburg to reach Amsterdam in about four hours. Plenty of intercity trains from Deutsche Bahn connect Berlin with Amsterdam in about six hours. From Belgium, there is a direct intercity train from Brussels and Antwerp to Amsterdam that takes less than two hours to reach. There's a direct connection from Paris to Amsterdam with Thalys that takes a bit more than three hours. From April 2018, Eurostar started operating twice daily (once daily at the weekends) trains from London St Pancras to Amsterdam; for the time being the return leg has to be made using a Thalys train to Brussels and changing there. Traveling by international train is generally not cheap, but booking earlier does make it cheaper.
If you're coming from other provinces in the Netherlands, the easiest way to visit is to use the Netherlands Railway service to come over. Generally, it is a reliable, fast and cheap way to get into the province. A one-way trip from Rotterdam costs about €14 and takes about one hour, while a trip from The Hague costs about €10 and takes about 50 minutes.
North Holland is an important region and is approachable from all surrounding provinces. Generally just follow the signs for Amsterdam and you'll easily find your way. The most commonly used routes are:
- From Amersfoort and the Eastern Netherlands, take road A1 which enters North Holland in the Gooi en Vechtstreek.
- From Utrecht and the Southern Netherlands, take road A2 which will bring you straight to Amsterdam.
- From South Holland, take road A4 which passes through The Hague, Leiden and on to Amsterdam.
- From Flevoland, road A6 goes right in the direction to Amsterdam. It passes through the Noordoostpolder, Lelystad and Almere on to Amsterdam.
- From Friesland and the Northern Netherlands, take the A7 which passes the Afsluitdijk over the IJsselmeer to reach the north of the province. It's possible to continue all the whole way south to Amsterdam.
If you're in Flevoland and your destination is the Kop van Noord-Holland, consider driving over N302 which goes from Lelystad to Enkhuizen. This is a quick route over the Markerwaarddijk right through the Markermeer.
There is an excellent public transport network throughout the Netherlands and particularly in the highly populated province of North-Holland. Buses and railways criss-cross the region with services reaching all but the most remote villages. Amsterdam also has trams and light railways (metros). Planning routes across the region (and throughout the country) is exceptionally easy because of the co-operation between the service providers. OV9292 provides a comprehensive point-to-point public transport route planner covering all major transport types.
North Holland has dozens of historic town centres that are worth visiting. The most well-known is obviously the historic centre of Amsterdam, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Its characteristic architecture and lovely canals (known as grachten) demand some pictures to be taken. But there are a lot more of them in the province — every region of North Holland at least has one town with a historic town centre.
Many visitors to Amsterdam incorporate a day-trip to Alkmaar or Haarlem, the largest towns of their respective regions with a historic core. Its a great walk (or cycle) through the romantic narrow streets in Alkmaar, and once a week a traditional cheese market is held. In Haarlem you can visit the Grote Markt (Grote Markt), a beautiful square in the centre of the city. Hoorn and Enkhuizen are also beautiful historic towns well worth a visit.
The nearest fortified town from Amsterdam is Weesp, which is just a 14-minute train ride. It has a quiet historic centre on the river Vecht with windmills. From there, it's an easy bicycle ride to Muiden, which is home to the Muiderslot, an amazing 13th-century castle, as well as other mediaeval remains. Close-by is Naarden, which is also worth a trip as its 17th-century fortifications are among the best preserved in Europe.
The Muiderslot is just one of the dozens of pieces that together form the Defence Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam), a 135 km long ring of fortifications around Amsterdam. In total, it consists of 42 forts about 10 to 15 kilometres from the city centre. It's surrounded by low polder lands, which could easily be flooded in time of war. It was constructed between 1880 and 1920, but the invention of the aeroplane made the forts obsolete almost as soon as they were finished. It received recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Traditional Dutch villages
The Zaanstreek-Waterland is home to many traditional Dutch villages with polders, clogs, windmills and traditional Dutch costumes. The most visited attraction in the area is the Zaanse Schans, an open air conservation area and museum on the bank of the river Zaan, about 25 km north of Amsterdam. It displays the traditional architecture of the area (green wooden houses) and has several functioning windmills and craftmen's workplaces, which are open to visitors.
Volendam is also very popular, which literally swarmed with visitors during the summer. It still is a traditional fishing village, although tourism took over as the engine behind its economy. Its traditional waterfront line looks picturesque, as are the local fishermen and farmers in their traditional costumes (which many visitors wear for the picture).
Less touristed and thus more authentic Dutch villages surround Volendam. Edam, which is on walk-distance from Volendam, is home to a cheese market and already feels more authentic. Marken, which used to be an island but is now connected by a dyke, is well known for its characteristic wooden houses. Other villages worth visiting include Monnickendam, Broek in Waterland and Ransdorp, the latter of which is very, very off the beaten path.
If you're interested in Holland's typical polder landscape, you might want to visit the Beemster reclaimed polder. Its land pattern bears a resemblance to the street pattern in Manhattan, New York City (except for Broadway). It's been said that the Beemster functioned as a model for the pattern in New York. In 1999 the Beemster polder was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
North Holland has been a centre of history, art and crafts, and many museums are still dedicated to this cultural heritage. The South of Amsterdam has a neighborhood known as the Museum Quarter, which is home to some of the world's best museums — the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. Other neighborhoods also have museums that are definitely worth the visit. Beat the crowds by visiting the Anne Frank Museum early, or visit the Rembrandt House.
Haarlem is also home to numerous museums. Teylers Museum is the oldest museum of the Netherlands home to a very diverse collection of cultural objects, such as fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, medals, coins and paintings (including several works by Michelangelo and Rembrandt). The Frans Hals Museum is home to more than a dozen paintings of the famous painter Frans Hals. There are three other interesting museums in the city, including the Ten Boom Museum, which is about a hiding place for Jews and other underground refugees during World War II.
Hoorn and Enkhuizen both lie north of Amsterdam and in the 17th century were port towns used by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Both of these towns lie in West-Friesland, an area with a distinct dialect and culture. The Westfries Museum, that lies on Hoorn's beautiful central square Roode Steen, shows the importance of Hoorn in 17th-century VOC history. Much larger is the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. Many old Dutch houses from the 19th- and early 20th-century have been moved to this open air museum in order to preserve them for future generations. In the summer old Dutch professions are shown by museum employees.
Cycling is a fun activity that many of the locals do daily. Many visitors rent a bicycle and cycle their way through the centre of Amsterdam. It is a great way to see the city, just make sure to lock it properly — bicycle theft with more than 1 million cases a year just in Amsterdam is almost a national sport. You can also take a bicycle taxi that brings visitors to any place they request, such as one of the museums.
The locals like to spend their weekends cycling through the nature of the surrounding areas. If you want to see the typical Dutch polder landscape and picturesque villages, consider a cycling route through Waterland. Hilversum is a good starting point for cycling through affluent villages, forests and heath of the Gooi en Vechtstreek. Another interesting cycle is through the forests and dunes of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park.
The beaches are a fun activity during warm summers. Kennemerland generally has a lot of calm beaches that are very family-friendly. Zandvoort is the busiest one, while Bloemendaal, Bergen and Egmond are calmer options. Many locals go to Texel for a few days to breeze out on its windy beaches.
Water sports can be done at the lakes that North Holland has to offer. The artificial lakes of Wijdemeren, which literally means "Wide Lakes", are a popular destination for this. Aalsmeer is home to the Westeinderplassen, which can also be used for water sports. The lakes are very calm, so activities are limited to renting a motorized or rowing boat (don't expect to go rafting or parasailing).
Holland is known for its cheese and North Holland is no exception. Edam cheese and Beemster cheese are among the most widely known brands of cheese and a must-try. These are not only known in Holland, but are sold all over the world, including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia. North Holland Cheese is a special kind of cheese protected by the European Union. Cheese can only bear this label if it is produced in North Holland with traditional methods and ingredients from the region. You can buy it in any supermarket in the region.
Alkmaar and Edam are world famous for their traditional cheese markets, which give an excellent opportunity to try some Dutch cheese. These are not modern commercial markets, but traditional ones as operated in the Middle Ages. They are re-enacted during the summer months for visitors. Hoorn has a historic cheese market as well.
Restaurants in North Holland are very diverse, but generally there is plenty of choice. As Amsterdam is the city with the most nationalities in the world, this city is filled with ethnic restaurants. There are plenty of Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Surinamese, Mexican and Argentinian restaurants in the city, among others. It is also the best place for Dutch restaurants, as they cannot easily be found elsewhere. Try to avoid tourist traps as they are expensive, not authentic and they have a pretty bad service.
The Gooi en Vechtstreek is a popular night out for affluent locals, as it is home to plenty of quality restaurants. Bussum has the best restaurants of that area, while Hilversum has more diverse options. Another affluent town in North Holland is Bloemendaal in Kennemerland. The village of Overveen nearby Bloemendaal is home to two of the best French restaurants of the province. If you're on the island of Texel, Den Burg has plenty of quality restaurants as well.
If you're looking to dance and party all night long, look no further than Amsterdam. Its rough image is partly justified as there are plenty of bars and clubs, hundreds of so-called "coffeeshops" (for cannabis) and it is home to the infamous Red Light District. Its nightlife pretty much serves as a hub for the whole province. The nightlife in surrounding regions is less engaging, but generally the largest towns of these regions have some clubs available. Haarlem is the party hub for Kennemerland, Alkmaar for the north and Hilversum for the Gooi en Vechtstreek. Due to the media and celebrities living in the Gooi area, Hilversum has a few posh bars and clubs that might be worth visiting.
If you're wondering what to drink: North Holland is beer country. Heineken is one of the largest beer corporations in the world and its brewery has been in the South of Amsterdam for centuries. You can still visit the Heineken Experience museum if you're interested in the history of beer and the province. Another alcoholic drink that has its origins in Amsterdam is Beerenburg, a spirit that throughout history has been more and more associated with the culture of Friesland.
- Delft — historic unspoiled town with the world-famous blue and white ceramics
- Keukenhof — millions of tourists visit these enormous flower fields each Spring
- Kinderdijk — these windmills show the typical Dutch landscape in all its glory
- Leiden — historic student city with the country's oldest university and three national museums
- Rotterdam — modern architecture, good nightlife and the largest port of Europe
- Schokland — old island evacuated in 1859, a well-preserved ghost village remains
- The Hague (Den Haag) — seat of government, royal family, judicial capital of the world and Madurodam
- Urk — a Protestant community that mainly lives off fishery; This was once an island with its own culture, dialect and anthem and belonged to North Holland till 1950
- Utrecht — historic center, nice antique stores and the Rietveld-Schröder House