Cheese lovers, assemble! And head to the world-famous cheese market in Alkmaar. The Netherlands is renowned for its long-standing love affair with our favourite dairy product, so there’s no better place to revel in the rich (and creamy) history of cheese than with a visit to this scenic kaasmarkt.
Presenting an enticing blend of age-old traditions and authentic attractions, it’s little wonder why day-trippers flock to this part of Holland year after year. And with our essential guide to this Dutch dairy delight, you’ll soon be putting a visit to the city of cheese at the top of your to do list. It’s just meant to brie (sorry, we had to get one cheesy pun in somewhere!)
A brief history lesson
Dating back to the 14th century, Alkmaar began cheese trading in 1365. Armed with just one set of scales to weigh out their yellow gold, the city set out on its mission to become Holland’s main hub for all things cheese related.
The rest, they say, is history – with dairy merchants flocking to this cheese producing and selling powerhouse – to barter and exchange their merchandise ever since. It wasn’t until 1593 that the market first took place on the Waagplein, the city’s grand square.
Translated as ‘weighing square’, the Waagplein was home to the only weighing house in Alkmaar, so it made perfect sense for such an event to take place here. It meant that traders and farmers could weigh and measure their purchases with the scales.
Fast forward over 400 years, and with eight extensions under its belt, this kaasmarkt has not only managed to retain its spot in city folklore, but flourish alongside Alkmaar’s modernity upsurge. Standing the test of time across four centuries, the traditions and heartbeat of this cheese-loving town continues to thump louder than ever.
Did you know? The average Dutch person consumes over 13 kilograms of cheese per year. That works out at 32 and a half blocks from the supermarket!
When is it?
Taking place every Friday from April through to September, the cheese market opens at 10 am and shuts at 1pm. If early morning starts aren’t for you then don’t worry – the evening opening has you covered! Held every Tuesday between the summer months of July and August from 7pm to 9pm, this splendid spectacle is inclusive to both early birds and night owls!
Our top three must trys: Whether you’re on the lookout for a true classic or drawn towards something new – we’ve got your dairy desires covered with these local legends:
- Gouda: The Netherlands’ signature cheese and number one export, it tastes even better when served on home soil.
- Leyden: Made with cumin seeds, its dry texture, peppery aroma and tangy flavour provides a taste sensation.
- Frisian Clove Cheese: Serving up full on spicy flavours and a low fat count, this cheese always proves to be a big hit.
What to expect
A demand for mass production and the introduction of new, more efficient, technologies means that Alkmaar’s outmoded way of cheese trading is more show than substance. Good news for us!
Instead of being consigned to the history books, the market has taken on a new life form as a bustling tourist attraction over recent years. Now, old-world traditions and historical customs are observed from start to finish in front of huge crowds – painting a picture of what a typical day at the kassmarkt was like centuries ago.
Make sure you get to the market early, where you can spot cheese carriers transporting the wheels of a cheese on a stretcher! With their customary white clothes, coloured hats and distinct speedy walk, you won’t have any trouble picking them out!
When the clock strikes 10am, a special guest of the city (ranging from athletes to politicians) rings a bell to begin the proceedings. That’s when the traders and samplers go to work. While one tries to get the best price, the other inspects the wares – by feel, smell and taste.
Prices are negotiated by the kilo, this is when you’ll see the ‘handjeklap’ in action – a ritual that sees the clapping of hands and shouting of prices during negotiations – the last clap secures the deal. This sees the carriers return, this time with a barrow, who take it to the waagmeester (weight master) in the weighing room, for it to be… you guessed it, weighed.
With so much going on, it can be hard to keep up. Thankfully, there’s an audio presentation that breaks it all down for you. Stalls are set up around the Waagplein selling a diverse selection of goods, ranging from local cheeses to hand-crafted wooden clogs.
Did you know? One of the quality checks for traditional buyers includes inspecting the number of holes – or eyes – in the cheese.
A product with evenly spread holes gave traders a better chance of fetching a high price for it. But a cheese without eyes, commonly called blind cheese, would be written off as inferior.
Check out the cheese museum
Situated on the second and third floors of the weigh house, the Cheese Museum offers impeccable views of the Waagplein, a fantastic sight on market day. And of course, there’s lots of facts and history to take in!
Paying a wonderful tribute to a land that was well known before its windmills and tulips, a visit to Kaasmuseum Alkmaar offers a detailed, fun look at the city’s proud cheese heritage. Insightful information on production and trade are on display, while there’s boundless insights into the origins of the world-famous Gouda and Edam cheeses.
There’s something for all ages to enjoy, with younger visitors invited to go on an interactive scavenger hunt and learn about everything to do with cheese on the touchscreen displays.
Top tip: Book a guided tour at the Tourist Information Office. There’s plenty of packages to choose from and you’ll enjoy the company of an English-speaking tour guide.
We recommend the extended visit to the Cheese Museum, with the cheese tasting package you can satisfy your thirst for knowledge and indulge your taste buds!
Where to stay
A stay in Alkmaar is possible but because of its small size, you’ll find accommodation choices limited. And with prices spiking in the summer months, we’d suggest steering clear of a stop here if you’re working to a budget.
However if your heart is set on an overnight stay in Alkmaar – make sure you book well in advance to bag a good price.
Just a quick glance of a map will tell you the best place to base yourself is the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. We’ve already mentioned the excellent transport links but with so much to do in this vibrant city, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to further attractions.
How to get to Alkmaar
With 76 direct services running daily from Amsterdam-Centraal to Alkmaar, we recommend hopping on a train. Running from 5: am to 11:49pm through the week and with a journey time of about 40 minutes each way, it’s not only convenient but cost-effective. You’ll find a return ticket starting from as little as €9!
Best hotels next to the train station:
- Ibis Amsterdam Centre: Set right next to Central Station, there are very few hotels that can match the Ibis’ sublime location. With Dam Square and the Red Light District in walking distance, if it’s adequate accommodation and a city centre location you desire – look no further than this budget-friendly favourite.
- Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam: Catching the eye with its classic decor and array of modern furnishings, Park Plaza Victoria adds a touch of luxury to your city break. And with unrivalled views of Amsterdam’s bustling streets to boot, this stylish 4 star hotel is a true gem.
- Art’Otel Amsterdam: Don’t let the historical facade fool you, this chic property is all about its contemporary design. With cool artworks on display and an imaginative restaurant and cocktail bar on hand, city breakers in search of a quirky stay will be in their element here.
Top tip: Take the scenic route from Amsterdam to Alkmaar by renting a bike (you’ll have no trouble picking one up in this cycle-mad city) and head down the LF7 River Bank Route.
With regular breaks and a spot of lunch, it should take you about half a day. And if you don’t fancy making your return on two wheels, you can always hop on the train back. Just make sure to rent out a foldable bike!
Where to eat in Alkmaar
You may be here for the cheese market, but that doesn’t mean your lunch options are limited to the cheese stalls. Alkmaar offers a wonderful variety of cafes and restaurants lined across its terraces, including these three establishments:
- Mojo’s Eatertainment: Sat on the Waagplein, this bar and restaurant combo presents a big menu – with everything from toasties and burgers to club salads available.
- The Hielander: As you probably guessed by the name, this is a Scottish themed restaurant. So you can expect authentic Highland dishes and an impressive whiskey collection.
- Irodion: With a glass of Ouzo on arrival, a menu packed full of Greece’s finest dishes and impeccable service, you’ll see why this Greek restaurant has been a part of Alkmaar’s dining scene since 1989.
One thing is certain – a visit to Alkmaar will swiftly transform you from cheese enthusiast to connoisseur in no time!