My earliest impressions of Holland before moving here in the 1990’s were of a country below sea-level, protected by impressive dikes and an extensive network of waterways; massive fields of flowers and grazing cattle; windmills; picturesque villages; farmers wearing clogs; and endless canals. The ‘Kop van Noord Holland’ or ‘the head of North Holland’ is the perfect embodiment of these impressions. Located slightly more than an hour’s drive north of Amsterdam, this predominantly agricultural region is Holland at its finest.
The countryside of North Holland
I spent a long weekend exploring this beautiful region and I was struck by the charming scenery, wonderfully friendly people and the multitude of things to do and see. I walked through fields of tulips, lazed on the beach, strolled through quaint towns, dined at lovely beach restaurants and went bird-watching at the Zwanenwater reserve. And after three wonderful days in the ‘Kop van Noord Holland’, I was back home in an hour! It was the perfect weekend getaway from Amsterdam.
This region can be visited all year round. However, in the spring, visitors are able to witness the impressive blooms – the best way to do this is to hire a bike and cycle past the fields or go on a walking tour.
The ‘Kop van Noord Holland’ (map) region is located north of the town of Alkmaar, slightly more than an hour’s drive from Amsterdam. From Alkmaar, follow the N9 motorway towards Den Helder. You can also take the train from Amsterdam to Alkmaar, Heerhugowaard, Schagen or Anna Paulowna and continue by bus to any of the small villages along the coast.
The scenery along the N9 (which runs parallel to the Noord Holland Kanaal or ‘North Holland Canal’) is absolutely gorgeous! You’ll pass many windmills, brilliant fields of flowers, beautiful thatched-roof farmhouses and countless cows, sheep and horses. Secondary roads link the N9 with quaint villages such as Bergen (lovely boutiques, cafés and restaurants) Bergen aan Zee (which is home to beautiful Dutch houses and a lively art scene), Schoorl (located between the dunes, forests and the fields, Schoorl is an excellent spot to start and/or end a walking or cycling trip) and Callantsoog (a popular beachside village).
Things to see and do in North Holland
There are many things to see and do that can keep visitors occupied for days. You could opt for a walk along the beaches and dunes of Callantsoog, Petten or Bergen aan Zee (it’s actually a single stretch of beach that’s more than a hundred miles long) or choose a quiet spot and chill; discover the importance of the seawalls in Petten; spot spoonbills and many other birds at the Zwanenwater reserve; go kayaking along the canals; explore the countryside by bike (many villages have bike rentals); or simply sit back and watch the scenery unfold as you cruise down the North Holland Canal. Add to that the friendliness of the people and what you get is Holland at its best!
Drop by at the tourist offices (or ‘VVV’) at any of the bigger villages like Bergen or Schoorl for information on walking tours, bike or car routes and maps.
And at the end of the day, choose one of the many beach restaurants, such as Woest in Callantsoog, to enjoy a wonderful meal and a stunning sunset!
Places to stay
There’s a wide variety of accommodations, from luxury hotels to charming bed and breakfasts and camping grounds. I stayed at the Catherina Hoeve bed & breakfast in the tiny village of Burgerbrug. This B&B is an old farmhouse that’s been lovingly renovated by the owners, Cea and Guus. The three rooms are absolutely gorgeous – decorated in a rustic, country style, they have en-suite showers, luxurious beds and free wifi (Yay!). And to get their guests started in the morning, Cea and Guus provide a wonderful breakfast consisting of freshly-squeezed orange juice, delicious breads and fruits, and eggs from the farm down the road.
The ‘Kop van Noord Holland’ is an absolutely beautiful region that I can highly recommend if you’re touring around the Netherlands or if you’re thinking of venturing outside of Amsterdam for a few days. I know for sure that I’ll be back soon! 🙂