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Volendam, Marken & Monnickendam

A small, Catholic town on the mainland, Volendam lost most of its fishing industry to the enclosure of the Zuiderzee. It is geared now for tourism in a big way and has souvenir stores, boutiques, gift stores, cafes, and restaurants. Lots of people come to town to pig out on the town's near-legendary gerookte paling (smoked eel), and to visit such attractions as the fish auction, diamond cutter, clog maker, and house with a room entirely wallpapered in cigar bands. Still, Volendam's boat-filled harbor, tiny streets, and traditional houses have an undeniable charm. If you must have a snapshot of yourself in the traditional Dutch costume -- local women wear white caps with wings -- this is a good place to do it.

Volendam's rival, Marken, is Protestant and was an island until a narrow causeway connected it to the mainland in 1957. It remains insular. Smaller and less rambunctious than Volendam, it is rural, with clusters of farmhouses dotted around the polders. Half of Marken village, Havenbuurt, consists of green-and-white houses on stilts grouped around a tiny harbor. A clog maker works in summer in the village car park. Four old smokehouses in the other half of the village, Kerkbuurt, serve as the Museum Marken, Kerkbuurt 44-47 (tel. 0299/601-904; www.markermuseum.nl), which covers traditional furnishings, costumes, and more. The museum is open Easter Friday to September Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm, and October Monday to Saturday from 11am to 4pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm. Admission is 2.50€ ($4) for adults, 1.25€ ($2) for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under.

For a pleasant stroll (in fine weather) of an hour or two, take the road that leads past Havenbuurt, through the peaceful heart of the former island, to a white-painted lighthouse on the IJsselmeer shore. Then, go left along the dike, all the way back to Havenbuurt -- where you arrive conveniently right next to the harborfront cafe-restaurant De Taanderij .

Marken does not go gushy for the tourists. It merely feeds and waters them, and allows them to wander its pretty streets gawking at the locals as they go about their daily routines of hanging out laundry, washing windows, and shopping for groceries. Some residents occasionally wear traditional dress -- for women, caps with ribbons and black aprons over striped petticoats -- but as much to preserve the custom as for the tourists.

In contrast to its two neighbors, Monnickendam doesn't pay much attention to tourists at all, but gets on with its own life as a boating center and with what's left of its fishing industry, as you can see in its busy harbor. Take a walk through streets lined with gabled houses and make a stop to admire the 15th-century late Gothic Sint-Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas's Church), at Zarken 2. Be sure to visit the Stadhuis (Town Hall), at Noordeinde 5, which began as a private residence in 1746 and has an elaborately decorated ceiling.

Across the street, a 15th-century tower, the Speeltoren, Noordeinde 4 (tel. 0299/652-203; www.despeeltoren.nl), has a carillon that chimes every hour, accompanied by a parade of mechanical knights. Inside is the town museum, Museum de Speeltoren, Noordeinde 4 (tel. 0299/652-203; www.despeeltoren.nl), open early April to May and mid-September to mid-October Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm, and June to mid-September Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Admission is 1.50€ ($2.40) for adults, and 0.50€ (80¢) for children.

At Home in Waterland -- Midway along the road from Amsterdam to Monnickendam, the pretty village of Broek in Waterland is worth a stop for its charming green- and gray-painted 17th- and 18th-century timber houses clustered around a church and the little Havenrak lake. In the 18th century, so obsessive were the locals about cleanliness, that they were even to be seen scrubbing the trees. During summer months, visit the Jakob Wiedermeier farmhouse, to watch Edam cheeses being produced. Look, too, for the pagoda-style Napoléonhuisje from 1656, a lakeside pavilion named for a visit by Napoleon in 1811.

Edam

If you've arrived here after mingling with the floods of tourists in Volendam, Monnickendam, and Marken, Edam will make a pleasant change of pace. Except during the Wednesday cheese market, it's not a huge draw for tourists. You get to explore a pretty canal-side town with some handsome old buildings without this distraction, and Edam is well worth a few hours of strolling.

This was once a port of some prominence, and a visit to the modest Edams Museum, Damplein 8 (tel. 0299/372-644; www.edamsmuseum.nl), opposite the former Town Hall (and with a section in the Town Hall), gives you a peek not only at its history but also at some of its most illustrious citizens of past centuries. Look for the portrait of Pieter Dirkszoon, a one-time mayor and proud possessor of what is probably the longest beard on record anywhere. An intriguing feature of this merchant's house from around 1530 is the cellar, which is actually a box floating on water, constructed that way so changing water levels wouldn't upset the foundations of the house. The museum is open late March to late October, Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4:30pm, and Sunday from 1 to 4:30pm. Admission is 3€ ($4.80) for adults, 1.50€ ($2.40) for seniors, 1€ ($1.60) for children ages 6 to 17, and free for children 5 and under.

Take a look at the lovely "wedding room" in the Stadhuis (Town Hall). The Speeltoren (Carillon Tower) from 1561 tilts a bit and was very nearly lost when the church to which it belonged was destroyed.

The Cheese Market -- Edam wouldn't really be Edam without a kaasmarkt (cheese market) -- and the cheese in question is Edammer, naturally. The market takes place each Wednesday in July and August, from 10:30am to 12:30pm, in Kaasmarkt, outside the gaily decorated Kaaswaag (Cheese Weigh House) built in 1592, which features a cheese-making display during these months.

Hoorn

The Westfries Museum, Rode Steen 1 (tel. 0229/280-022; www.wfm.nl), in a building from 1632, contains a wide-ranging historical collection that includes armor, weapons, paper cuttings, costumes, toys, naive paintings (these embody a style that is deliberately childlike), coins, medals, jewels, civic guards' paintings, and porcelain. A second-floor exhibit details the town's maritime history, with an emphasis on ships and voyages of the United East India Company (V.O.C.). There are fine tapestries and 17th- and 18th-century period rooms. A collection of Bronze Age relics is exhibited in the basement. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5pm; it's closed January 1, April 30, the third Monday in August, and December 25. Admission is 5€ ($8) for adults, 3.50€ ($5.60) for seniors and children ages 5 to 16, and free for children 4 and under.

During summer months, an antique steam tram, the Museumstoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik (tel. 0229/214-862; www.museumstoomtram.nl), transports visitors through the pretty West Friesland farm country between Hoorn and Medemblik , a 1-hour ride. It departs from a station at Van Dedemstraat 8 in Hoorn. Round-trip tickets are 19€ ($30) for adults, 14€ ($22) for children ages 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and under.

By Bicycle to Hoorn -- For a great day trip from Amsterdam, go by bike along the IJsselmeer shore to Hoorn, and return by train with your bike. (Do this on a halfway decent bike, not a decrepit old Amsterdam bike.) Riding along between the polders and the lake is a perfect Dutch experience -- but you need to be ready for some vigorous pedaling. You can't get lost if you stay on the road that runs along the IJsselmeer and keep the lake to your immediate right.

Board the IJ ferry at the pier behind Centraal Station and cross to Amsterdam North. Take Durgerdammerdijk, a road leading east alongside the IJsselmeer shore to Durgerdam, a lakeside village huddled below water level behind a protective dike, with its roofs sticking up over the top. Ride either next to the houses and the polders or up on the dike-top path, immersed in wind, rain, and shine -- and with fine lake views.

Beyond Uitdam, either go left on the lakeside road through Monnickendam to Volendam, or right on the causeway to Marken. The first option cuts overall distance because Marken is a dead end and you need to come back across the causeway again. But in summer, you can take the Marken Express passenger boat.

Go inland a short way along a canal that runs from the lakeside dike to Edam, famed for its cheese. Cross over the canal on the bridge at Damplein in Edam's center, and go back along the far bank to regain the IJsselmeer shore. Up ahead is a straight run north to Hoorn through the pastoral villages of Warder, Etersheim, Schardam, and Scharwoude.

After exploring Hoorn -- or flopping down exhausted in a cafe -- follow the green-painted signs pointing the way to the station for the train ride back to Amsterdam.

Enkhuizen

The town is orientated toward its harbors, Oosterhaven, Oudehaven, Buitenhaven, and Spoorhaven, which are protected by the 16th-century Drommedaris defense tower, which now houses a restaurant. Behind the waterfront, the handsome old center is worth a leisurely stroll along Westerstraat between the 15th- to 16th-century Westerkerk, also known as the Sint-Gomaruskerk, and the 17th-century Stadhuis (Town Hall). You can do a pleasant walk along the moated 16th- to 17th-century defense walls on the west side of town, along Vest.

Enkhuizen is connected by road across the IJsselmeer, 31km (19 miles) atop the Markerwaarddijk to Lelystad. This dike originally was built to enclose a vast drainage project, the Markerwaard Polder, in the southwestern reaches of the lake, but the plan was canceled for financial and environmental reasons, and the Markermeer is still open water. In summer months, you can go by passenger boat from Enkhuizen's Veerhaven up the coast to Medemblik , or across the IJsselmeer to Stavoren and Urk.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.