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 international, 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 harbour 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 (VOC) 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: the 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 like. 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 and a very helpful audio guide is included in the price. Westfries also has a special VR room that 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!
The Red Square in Hoorn: a perfect break
Step out of Westfries and right onto the Red Square (Roode Steen)! 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 — the perfect spot for people watching and just enjoying the day pass by. During winter, 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 — an activity that often involving cutting limbs or other terrifying methods. Now, there’s a red brick replica in the square but part of the real deal is still in the Westfries Museum.
The Hoofdtoren in Hoorn: picture perfect
On your way down to the harbour, 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 defence purposes but now it’s a restaurant and a must-stop taking gorgeous pictures of the city.
More history! The Museum of the 20th Century in Hoorn
Continuing through the city, you’ll reach the Museum of the 20th Century. This one is much lighter and easier to take in than the Westfries one. All in all a fun way to spend one or two hours and fit for all ages! Prepare to go down memory lane and learn a thing or two along the way.
From the 1900s to the ’90s, each room is designed with original objects from that time. The (free) audio guide gives 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 ’70s like Romanians in the 90s — not sure whether to laugh or cry.
The museum is in a former prison, which only adds to its charm!
Next stop: the harbour in Hoorn
Walk another three 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
The East Gate (Oosterport) is the last remaining gate in Hoorn, dating back to 1578. (You can scan a QR on the gate itself to learn about its history). 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 three 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.
The Oosterkerk in Hoorn
On your way back to the centre, take the Groote Oost street. It’s beautiful, full of history, and lined with protected buildings! Right in the middle, you’ll pass the Oosterkerk, which you can 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’ve walked, learnt, taken 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. Four 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 location (beautiful building), the staff here consist of more than 25 people 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 harbour. 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.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and was fully updated in August 2021 for your reading pleasure.