A visit to a cheese market is a must. Alkmaar, located half an hour north of Amsterdam by train, where the specialty is Gouda. The market is held on Friday mornings in the summer beginning literally at the crack of dawnits all over by noon. Its fun to watch: Hand clapping is an instrumental part of the selling process and large purchases are sometimes carried off by porters on ornamental carriers. After visiting the cheese market, a walk through the old center of the town is certainly worthwhile. Many houses are more than one hundred to two hundred years old, some even date back to 1573, the year Alkmaar became the first city in Holland to beat the Spanish army.
Some guidebooks suggest you combine Alkmaar with a visit to the Zaanse Schans. If you came to the Netherlands for windmills you sure could do worse than that, but if you hate tourist traps, give it a miss.

If you are more a nature-loving type, go to nearby Bergen, just a few kilometers north of Alkmaar. A bus will take you there every half hour. From Bergen you can walk to the North sea-beach at Bergen aan Zee in an hour. The walk will take you through five kilometers of beautiful dunes, the widest stretch of dunes The Netherlands have to offer. If you don’t want to walk back, be sure to check when buses run from Bergen aan Zee back to Bergen, because certainly in winter they don’t run very often.