While life in Amsterdam and other big cities is great, we all need a break from time to time. Fortunately, having a quick one day trip in the Netherlands is totally possible! I know, I know – NS has its faults without a doubt, but it can still take us pretty much anywhere- including the beautiful city of Hoorn.
As an expat, I try to make the most of my time in the Netherlands and explore beyond my gezellig spot in the middle of Amsterdam. When looking for such one day trips, I always run into the usual suspects: Zaanse Schaans, Delft, Keukenhof, Volendam, Haarlem. Of course, everyone else reads the same suggestions, making these places fairly busy.
Hoorn is rarely mentioned, as most people looking for a harbor city end up in Volendam. I decided to give this lesser known city a try, and I discovered much more than expected. Hoorn is a lovely town full of history and beauty, due to being the Dutch East India Company’s base in the Dutch province of North Holland.
Here’s a one day itinerary if you decide to visit Hoorn, which I can only highly recommend!
History in Hoorn: Westfries museum
After arriving at the train station, take a short walk through the pretty central streets until you reach the Westfries museum. This is also known as the Museum of The Golden Age. The goal of this place is to present you the history seen through the eyes of the Dutch, during that time. You can see how they lived, from poor to rich, and what their mentalities were. Who had the most to earn from The Golden Age? What about the horrors of this period?
Westfries will feed you with a lot of information for you to learn, understand and judge as you please. A special focus is put on the VOC: Dutch East India Company. A very helpful audio guide is included in the price. At this moment (January 2020), Westfries has a special VR room which takes you around Batavia’s streets (now Jakarta). Make sure to look up the admission times for this!
The museum is laid out in more than one building, thus some spaces are narrow and there are a lot of stairs. Unfortunately, Westfries is not accessible to wheelchair users.
Ah, one more thing about the museum – look at that façade!
Entrance is 9 EUR, or free with a museum card (which is honestly a great investment that I encourage you to make).
Grab a drink/bite in the Red Square (Roode Steen)
This is the square in which Westfries is located. If you need a minute to let all that history sink in, stop here to grab a drink or a bite. The square is lively and full of cafes, restaurants and bars – perfect spot for people watching and just enjoying the day go by. Currently, there’s a small ice-skating rink there too!
Historically though, the square wasn’t all drinks and fun. The name comes from bloodier activities. This is where people convicted by the city court would be punished, often involving cutting limbs or other terrifying methods. There’s a red brick replica in the square, but part of the real deal is still in the Westfries museum.
Get those snaps: the Hoofdtoren in Hoorn
On your way down to the harbor, it’s impossible to miss The Hoofdtoren. This impressive building looks like it’s cut in half, making it a unique sight. Back in the day, it was used for defense purposes – now it’s restaurant and a “must stop for pictures” spot.
Hoorn’s museum of the 20th century
Continuing on your way down, you will reach the museum of the 20th century. This one is much lighter and easier to take in than the Westfries one. A fun way to spend 1 or 2 hours and fit for all ages. You will go down memory lane and learn a couple of things here. Starting from the 1900’s to the 90’s, each room is designed with original objects from that time. The (free) audio guide will give you a brief introduction about how people in The Netherlands lived throughout those times. As a Romanian, I’ve learnt that the Dutch lived in the 70’s like Romanians in the 90’s – not sure if to laugh or cry.
The museum is in a former prison, adding to its charm! Entrance is 10 EUR, or free with a museum card (seriously, a good idea).
All the way down to the end
Walk another 3 minutes and it will feel like you reached the end of the world right there – all water and serenity. Throughout the whole walk (along the Hoofdtoren to here) you can observe stunning boats.
Hoorn’s last gate: The East Gate – Oosterpoort
The East Gate is the last remaining gate in Hoorn, dating back to 1578. You can scan a QR code right then and there to learn more! It’s an impressive construction, but what I loved most is the house on top – and yes, someone actually lives up there!
On your way here, if you walk on Slapershaven, look for the Bosshuizen. These 3 adjacent houses are special as they resemble a comic strip, telling the story of the battle on the Zuiderzee between West Frisians and the Spanish Fleet.
On your way back to the center, take the Groote Oost street – beautiful and full of history, with a lot of protected buildings. Right in the middle you will pass the Oosterkirk, which you will recognize by the clock hanging “out” of the building. This also has a QR code which you can scan to find out more information – like the time it completely fell apart due to bad construction.
Time for dinner and drinks in Hoorn!
Okay, it’s been a long day – you walked, you learnt, you took that perfect picture with the windy-hair-but-not-in-your-face-next-to-the-water. It’s probably time to call it a day and have dinner…and drinks, of course.
Based on a short search, I’ve ended up at De Beiaard, as they have a nice collection of craft beers that were calling my name. The cafe is full of road signs, posters, all things old and new, and it has a lovely vibe. 4 craft beers, beer bread, dips and a burger later, I headed to the train station more rolling than walking.
However, there’s another spot that truly deserves a mention here and that’s restaurant & café Ridderikhoff. With a reputation for good food and its location (beautiful building), here there are more than 25 people working who have disabilities and had a hard time finding a job. Make sure to reserve a spot, it’s often busy.
And that’s your day in Hoorn!
Well, there you have it! Despite Hoorn not being as famous as it should, there are plenty of things to do! From hard to digest history, to craft beers in lovely pubs, or wine on terraces next to the harbor. I hope you give it a go and fall in love with it as much as I did. Don’t tell ALL your friends though – the silence and quaint feeling is pretty cool.
Have you ever been to Hoorn? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image: Andra Vanghelie/Supplied.