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Volendam, Marken & Monnickendam

Volendam 18km (11 miles), Marken 16km (10 miles), Monnickendam 14km (9 miles) NE of Amsterdam

Volendam and Marken have long been combined on bus-tour itineraries from Amsterdam as a kind of "packaged Holland and costumes to go." Many people would even attach that damning label "tourist trap" to these two lakeside communities. Yes, they're touristy (in particular during summer months), but it's possible to have a delightful day in the bracing air here, where a few residents (fewer all the time) may be seen in traditional dress. Monnickendam is between them.

Getting There -- Arriva buses depart every 15 to 30 minutes from outside Amsterdam Centraal Station. Nos. 110, 112, 116, and 118 go to Volendam; nos. 111 and 115 go to Monnickendam; and no. 111 goes on to Marken. Trip time to Volendam is 35 minutes; to Monnickendam, 30 minutes; and to Marken, 45 minutes. The round-trip fare is around 5€ ($8).

When driving to Marken, which was once an island, you cross a 3km (2-mile) causeway from Monnickendam. You leave your car in a parking lot outside the main village before walking through the narrow streets to the harbor. April to October, a passenger-and-bike ferry, the Marken Express (tel. 0299/363-331; www.markenexpress.nl), sails every hour or so daily from 11am to 6pm between Volendam and Marken. The ride takes 30 minutes, and one-way fares are 4.50€ ($7.20) for adults, 3.50€ ($5.60) for children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under.

Visitor Information -- VVV Volendam, Zeestraat 37, 1131 ZD Volendam (tel. 0299/363-747; fax 0299/368-484; www.vvv-volendam.nl), is just off Julianaweg in the heart of town. The office is open mid-March to October Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and November to mid-March Monday to Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

Edam

18km (11 miles) NE of Amsterdam; 2km (1 1/4 mile) N of Volendam

Just inland from the IJsselmeer, Edam (pronounced Ay-dam) has given its name to one of Holland's most famous cheeses. Don't expect to find it in the familiar red skin, however -- that's for export. In Holland, the cheese's skin is yellow. This pretty little town (pop. 7,000), a whaling port during Holland's Golden Age in the 17th century, is centered around canals you cross by way of drawbridges, with views on either side of canal houses, gardens, and canal-side teahouses.

Getting There -- There is frequent service by Arriva bus nos. 110, 112, 113, 114, 116, 117, and 118 from outside Amsterdam Centraal Station, a 35-minute ride.

Visitor Information -- VVV Edam is at the Stadhuis (Town Hall), Damplein 1, 1135 BK Edam (tel. 0299/315-125; fax 0299/374-236; www.vvv-edam.nl), in the center city. Should you wish to tour a local Edammer cheese factory, this is where you get the details. The office is open May to October Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, November to April Monday to Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

Hoorn

32km (20 miles) NE of Amsterdam; 17km (11 miles) N of Edam

Hoorn (pronounced Horn) is one of the legendary names in Dutch maritime history. Even now, with the open sea no longer on its doorstep, it remains orientated toward the water and is a busy IJsselmeer sailing center. While touring the graceful streets of the Golden Age town, in particular those around the central square, the Rode Steen, be sure to visit the old harbor, the Binnenhaven. Hoorn (pop. 69,000) is the hometown of Willem Cornelisz Schouten, who in 1616 rounded South America's southernmost tip, which he dubbed Kap Hoorn (Cape Horn) in the town's honor.

Getting There -- Trains depart at least every hour from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Hoorn; trip time is 40 minutes, and a round-trip ticket is 13€ ($21). Buses depart every hour or so from outside Centraal Station, but they take longer than the train. By car from Amsterdam, take E22/A7 north.

Visitor Information -- VVV Hoorn is at Veemarkt 4, 1621 JC Hoorn (tel. 072/511-4284; fax 0229/215-023; www.vvvhoorn.nl), between the rail station and the center of town. The office is open May to August Monday from 1 to 6pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30am to 6pm; Thursday from 9:30am to 9pm; and Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm. September to April, hours are Monday from 1 to 5pm, and Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm.

Enkhuizen

44km (27 miles) NE of Amsterdam; 15km (9 miles) NE of Hoorn

A 400-boat herring fleet once sailed out of Enkhuizen, and so important was this fish to the town's prosperity that images of three herring grace its coat of arms. Then in 1932 came the Enclosing Dike , closing off the North Sea. Enkhuizen's population has declined from 30,000 in its 17th-century heyday to 18,000 today, and the town looks to leisure boating, tourism, and bulb growing for its livelihood. It does pretty well in all three respects, and boasts one of the country's most fascinating open-air museums, a must-see sight on any itinerary that passes this way.

Getting There -- Trains depart hourly from Amsterdam Centraal Station for Enkhuizen station, Stationsplein 2 (tel. 0228/321-002), beside the harbor; trip time is 1 hour, and a round-trip ticket is 18€ ($29). Buses depart every half-hour or so from outside Hoorn rail station. By car from Amsterdam, drive to Hoorn, and then take N302 northeast.

Visitor Information -- VVV Enkhuizen is at Tussen Twee Havens 1, 1601 EM Enkhuizen (tel. 0228/313-164; fax 0228/315-531; www.vvvenkhuizen.nl), at the harbor. The office is open April to October daily from 9am to 5pm.

Medemblik

46km (29 miles) NE of Amsterdam; 14km (9 miles) NW of Enkhuizen

A small IJsselmeer town with busy twin harbors that already was a going concern by the year 700, Medemblik later joined the powerful Hanseatic League trading federation.

There are two fun ways to reach Medemblik in summer. One is onboard the 1955 passenger-and-bike ferry Friesland from Enkhuizen; tickets are 14€ ($22) round-trip for adults, 10€ ($16) for children ages 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and under. Another is by antique steam tram from Hoorn, the Stoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik (tel. 0229/214-862; www.museumstoomtram.nl); tickets are 19€ ($30) round-trip for adults, 14€ ($22) for children ages 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and under. Tourist information is available from VVV Medemblik, Kaasmarkt 1, 1671 BH Medemblik (tel. 072/511-4284; fax 072/511-7513; www.vvvmedemblik.nl).

Adjacent to Medemblik's Oosterhaven (East Harbor) -- its twin is called the Westerhaven (West Harbor) -- is the moated Kasteel Radboud, Oudevaartsgat 8 (tel. 0227/541-960; www.kasteelradboud.nl), an originally 8th-century castle refortified by the count of Holland in 1289 against a possible rebellion by the troublesome Frisians. The remaining section has been restored to its 13th-century state and is well worth a visit. The castle is open May to mid-September Monday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and Sunday from 2 to 5pm; and mid-September to April Sunday from 2 to 5pm (and during school vacations 11am-5pm). Admission is 5€ ($8) for adults, 3€ ($4.80) for seniors and children ages 5 to 13, and free for children 4 and under.

Afsluitdijk (Enclosing Dike)

62km (38 miles) N of Amsterdam; 19km (12 miles) N of Medemblik

It's hard to grasp what a monumental work the great barrier that separates the salty Waddenzee from the freshwater IJsselmeer is until you drive its 30km (19-mile) length. The Afsluitdijk connects the provinces of Noord-Holland and Friesland, and by drastically shortening the coastline, it affords greater protection from the sea for Amsterdam and other low-lying towns around the shore of what was once the dangerous Zuiderzee (Southern Sea). Dr. Cornelis Lely came up with the plans in 1891, but construction was delayed for 25 years while he tried to convince the government to allocate funding.

Massive effort went into building the dike, which is 100m (330 ft.) wide and stands 7m (23 ft.) above mean water level. Many communities around the shores of what used to be the saltwater Zuiderzee lost their livelihood when access to the open sea was shut off. Some of the fishing boats that now sail the IJsselmeer hoist dark-brown sails as a sign of mourning for their lost sea fishing.

Midway along the dike's length, at the point where it was completed in 1932, stands a monument to the men who put their backs to the task, and a memorial to Dr. Lely. You can stop for a snack at the cafe in the monument's base and pick up an illustrated booklet that explains the dike's construction. For those crossing over by bicycle or by foot, there's a bike path and a pedestrian path.

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.