Things to Do in North Holland
Teylers Museum is an art, natural history, and science museum in Haarlem — it is the oldest museum in The Netherlands. Founded in 1778, and open to the public since 1784, the museum was once used for public demonstrations of scientific experiments. Today, it is known as the best-preserved 18th-century public knowledge institution for the arts and sciences in the world, and is slated to become a UNESCO world heritage site.
Most of the museum’s exhibitions showcase natural history like rocks and minerals, fossils, and some of the very first equipment used by physicists and other scientists. There’s also something for the fine-art lover, including a selection of works by Dutch masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and some prints and drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael. Other exhibits include fossils that are millions of years old, machines that generate electricity, and historical books and coins. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions a few times each year.
The Frans Hals Museum is known for its collection of paintings by the Dutch Golden Age masters. Nearly all the pieces date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when Haarlem was known as the “City of Painters,” and as you make your way round the museum exhibits you’ll see works by the likes of Ruisdael, Jan Steen, Saenredam, Van Goyen, Heda, and of course, Frans Hals. Fifteen of Hals’ enormous civic guard pieces are showcased here and are a highlight of any visit. In particular, look out for Hals’ famous twin portraits, Regents and Regentesses of the Oudemannenhuis.
Built in 1609, the attractive building changed purpose from almshouse (where Frans Hals lived out his final years) to orphanage before becoming the art museum you can see today in 1913.On a visit to the Frans Hals Museum, it’s worth looking out for the separate section containing a replica of a 17th-century Haarlem street.
Opened in 1874, The Netherlands’ Groninger Museum is the most-visited art and history museum in its province. The post-modernist building that houses the museum is made of three main pavilions, each designed by a noted architect: Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini, and Coop Himmelb(l)au. In addition to the permanent collections that range from fashion to art to architecture, the museum has an ‘Info Center’ where visitors can use computers and watch films and documentaries to get all sorts of bonus information about the museum’s exhibits. The info center also has a lounging area where visitors can kick back and read any number of art magazines and periodicals the museum subscribes to.
Kids will love the ‘Discovery Space’ and the ‘DIY Studio,’ which are bursting with cabinets and drawers to browse through, interact with, and create from. The studio is available to school groups during the week, and open workshops are hosted by the museum on the weekends.
Wood creaks, wheels turn, and steam hisses as you step on board a thrilling journey through time. The Museum Stoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik is a museum on wheels that moves from village to village across the west Frisian countryside in The Netherlands. Between the historic ‘Zuiderzee’ towns of Hoorn, Medemblik, and Enkhuizen, the engine whistles along the tracks while passengers sit back and enjoy views of windmills, meadows, and fields of blossoming tulips. The Steamtram Museum Hoorn-Medemblik highlights the history of steam trains in the Netherlands, and the role rural rail transport played in the country’s development.
The Steam Tram Museum purchases, restores, and conserves a collection that represents this heritage of rural rail transport, including the last remaining pieces of Dutch steam tram rolling stock. The museum boasts an impressive collection of Dutch steam trams including nine steam locomotives, diesels, around 30 coaches and 20 freight wagons. There’s also four restored stations and a large collection of signals and signaling devices.
Volendam, a quaint town on the coast of North Holland, is known for its fisherman and beautiful traditional clothing (it was once the harbor for the famous cheese-making city of Edam). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Volendam was known as a bit of an ‘artists’ retreat,’ inspiring the well-known painters (like Picasso and Renoir) who spent time there. Today, the historical Volendams Museum gives the visitor a feeling for what life was like there a hundred years ago.
Full-sized mannequins wearing traditional clothes engage in everyday activities in rooms modelled after typical Dutch houses of the early 20th century. The rooms (four living rooms and one commercial shop) are modelled after the period between 1815 and 1920. There’s also plenty of original film material and art from many of the artists that visited Volendam. One of the rooms contains an incredible cigar-band mosaic, depicting life in Volendam and made from eleven MILLION cigar bands.
It doesn’t get more quintessentially Dutch than a windmill museum! In the rural area of Schemerhorn, there are still quite a few drainage water mills from the 16th century. For three centuries, the water drainage mills transferred water from the polder to the canals, creating viable farmland from below sea level by using ancient techniques of wooden wheels and mortars. (A ‘polder’ is a piece of low-lying land that has been reclaimed from the sea, and protected by dikes.) One of these mills has been transformed into a museum. Constructed of eight heavy wooden uprights connected by bearing beams, corbels, and cross beams, the museum is an interesting place to visit and the surrounding area is quite picturesque — the landscape has remained untouched since it was created in the Golden Age. The Windmill Museum is one of the eleven remaining mills of the former mill complex of Schermerpolder, in an open polder landscape in central North Holland. The mill is on display from top to bottom (including the millers’ quarters, where the family who ran the mill lived), and the museum is laid out so the operation of the mill is easy to understand.
Some 3800 hectares of classic Dutch coastal dunes are being restored in this large nature reserve right in the middle of the busy Randstad. The South Kennemerland National Park is composed of chalky dunes, wide beaches, and coastal forests. Remnants of cultural history like farming estates, seaside villages, and bunkers can also be found in the national park. De Zandwaaier, the park's visitor center, has nature displays and a selection of detailed walking and cycling maps. The Duincafé near the visitor’s center serves coffee, rolls, snacks, and Dutch pancakes.
The park offers more than a hundred miles of footpaths, cycling routes, and horse-riding paths. Whether you want to choose your own route or follow a predetermined path, there’s something for you to enjoy through the woods, across the open sand dunes, and along the lakes and beaches. Trails wind through copses of Corsican firs and valleys of low-lying thickets; at the western edge of the National Park lies a massive sand barrier that's 1,000 years old.
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