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Despite living in Holland for a few years, I had somehow never visited the Alkmaar Cheese Market before this week. The Alkmaar Cheese Market is one of the most well-known cheese markets in Holland as it is an easy day trip from Amsterdam. It is the perfect place to experience the pomp and circumstance (as well as the sheer silliness) of this weekly market during spring and summer.
This post will cover practical information (getting to Alkmaar from Amsterdam), what you need to know before visiting the Alkmaar Cheese Market for the first time, the history/traditions of the Alkmaar Cheese Market, dates of the Alkmaar Cheese Market, and tips for making a day trip out of this cheese market!
- Tips for visiting Alkmaar Cheese Market
- Traditions/History of the Alkmaar Cheese Market
- Dates of the Alkmaar Cheese Market
- Getting to Alkmaar from Amsterdam
Tips for visiting the Alkmaar Cheese Market
I’ve now written a complete guide to a day trip to Alkmaar beyond the cheese market, including where to eat in Alkmaar and other things to do. You can click for my complete guide to a day trip to Alkmaar here!
Arrive early to get a good place
The Alkmaar Cheese Market is one of the most well-known markets in the Netherlands for cheese. As a result, you should expect major crowds on the cheese market days as this is a favorite of daytrippers, especially during April and May. It’s important to arrive early to the Waagplein ensure that you can witness the whole ceremony from the ringing of the bell to the inspection to the cheese carrying. (It’s best to be closer to the weighing scales, if possible.)
There isn’t a public toilet in the market, as I learned the hard way, so be sure to arrive at least in the Waagplein (the square with the cheese market) by 9:45. There are a number of cafes that should be open along the way from the station (including Coffee Company and Echt) where you should be able to buy a coffee or tea in exchange for using the toilet. I arrived around 9:30 at the train station, which was enough time! (There’s a toilet in the train station that you must pay for.) I include information on how to get to the Alkmaar Cheese Market at the end.
Charge up your batteries/phone
This is so simple, but I ran down my camera battery by trying to taking quick photos of the cheese carriers running through the market. Be sure to remember to charge up your camera and phone as my phone was on its last legs after spending a while at the cheese market taking photographs!
For the best photos of the cheese market, stand on the right or left side next to the rows of cheese
I stood at a different angle, which was great in different ways, however, if you want to get the iconic photo of the cheese carriers running horizontally in front of the camera with rows of cheese wheels, this is easiest on the left or right of the cheese rows. You’d be at a 90 degree facing the Cheese Museum to get the right view for
Don’t be afraid to chat with the cheese carriers and ask for photos near the weighing area
Similarly, you might get roped into becoming a cheese carrier for yourself! My friend Manouk was chatting with one of the carriers and asked innocently how heavy the cheese was. She was invited to try it out and ended up doing a run through the market as the only female cheese carrier. She nailed it. (If anyone from Alkmaar is reading this: You all should allow women to be cheese carriers!) Other carriers even carried tourists.
For those traveling with kids, it’s best to visit between late July and August
During late July and August, there is a miniature children’s cheese market for younger children (6-12). It might be worth waiting to allow your kids to enjoy the market for themselves!
History of the Alkmaar Cheese Market
Some of the traditions at the Alkmaar Cheese Market are live narrated in Dutch, German, English, and sometimes Spanish, Japanese, or French, so don’t worry if you’re worried that you can’t visit without a guide. Some of the essentials will be explained to you!
The Alkmaar Cheese Market is one of the oldest cheese markets in the Netherlands. In 1593, the cheese guild of Alkmaar was created as a way of professionalizing the network of those within the occupation, which was common within the Netherlands at the time. At the time, the cheese guild was quite small with only 31 men.
Within the market, you’ll see various “teams,” which wear different color hats, bow ties, and carriers. This symbolizes the various companies within the guild whose job it is (partially) to transport and weigh the cheese as efficiently as possible. The team that weighs and transports the most gets to select their own scales and places on the market. There are several roles within the market for members of forwarding companies although the most prestigious role has to the cheese father who wears an orange hat and carries a cane.
At this point, the cheese market is largely a show to preserve this cultural tradition although the participants are “paid” annually for their efforts with five euros, almost paste cakes (for the significant others who help keep the uniforms white), and some bread/butter/cheese.
The cheese market begins with an inspection by the forwarding team leaders as well as the “Cheese Father” prior to having the bell rung by a member of the community. When I was there, the head of one of the major Dutch dairy companies rang the bell. The bell is rung at 10am, so ensure that you arrive to see these rituals, which have taken place at every cheese market since 1593.
One interesting bit that happens during the market is the cheese inspection,
There are a few old traditions that govern the cheese market, including no cursing, fighting, smoking, or drinking. (To be honest, I heard some cursing at a different cheese market.) Similarly, the cheese bearers must wear all white, down to their socks. There is an inspection to ensure that they actually do so! Similarly, being on-time is key and late carriers will be fined. (The money goes to charity.)
Something that you’ll notice during the market is the slightly funny walk done by the cheese carriers. Although the cheese itself is mostly wood, it weighs the same as the real thing. The estimated weight of the barrows is between 120 kilos (264 pounds) and 160 kilos (352 pounds). The walk requires a straight back and careful movement of the arms to help offset the weight on the back while running. (The carriers wear leather straps on their back for this purpose!) It’s known as “the
Dates of the Alkmaar Cheese Market
For 2019, the Alkmaar Cheese Market dates run from March 29, 2019 until September 27, 2019 on Fridays between 10am and 1am in the Waagplein. During July and August, there’s a secondary evening cheese market on Tuesday evenings between 7pm and 9pm.
Getting to Alkmaar Cheese Market from Amsterdam
It is fairly easy to get to the Alkmaar Cheese Market from Amsterdam! You do not need to take a tour,
If you want to visit Alkmaar independently, you’ll need to go to Amsterdam Centraal. From here, you can purchase a round-trip train ticket using one of the machines. You can also buy your ticket in advance on the NS website: NS.nl or via the NS app on smartphones. You just need to scan the tickets by the gates. The ticket should cost 16 euros as of 2019, but you might pay one euro extra if you buy a paper ticket via the machine.
The train that passes through Alkmaar should be direct and take about 35 minutes. The final destination (or direction) may be Schagen or Den Helder. Sometimes there are issues with the Dutch trains. Unfortunately, the
If you’re driving, you will need to pay for parking within some of the garages. The closest parking garage is the Karperton garage. Parking is not free and you will pay more for the prime location. To save money head to the Carpark