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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > Hoorn City Guide

Hoorn City Guide

Hoorn’s past and present has been largely shaped by the Dutch Golden Age

Hoorn’s past and present has been largely shaped by the Dutch Golden Age, when the nation’s military, trade connections, artistic output and scientific discoveries were the envy of the world. As a prominent and influential harbour town, Hoorn was the centre of the Netherlands’ thriving international trade industry, and a well-trodden path for artists, musicians and poets seeking the vibrant culture of the country.

This prosperity saw Hoorn grow significantly and lavishly, with beautiful buildings, statues and squares dotted throughout the charming harbour town. An eclectic culture grew within Hoorn as more and more nationalities settled in the town. With an increased population, Hoorn locals started to turn their interests inland, with the town becoming one of the Netherlands’ horticultural and agricultural centres.

Much of Hoorn’s time-honoured character has been retained, with the historic centre lovingly maintained over the last 500 years. Modern architecture has been carefully added to Hoorn, complementing the older structures, and many of the town’s traditions and practices are still observed today. From classical Hoorn dances to musical productions, modern-day Hoorn proudly boasts of its wonderful past.

Although no longer the epicentre of seaward trade and tourism into the Netherlands, Hoorn remains a popular destination for visitors keen to explore the delights of this charming town. Modern-day Hoorn is rich with museums and intimate boutique shops – selling delightful, authentic refinery.

The historic old centre of Hoorn is rich with quintessentially Dutch architecture – tall slim houses and businesses are stacked alongside each other in a charmingly ad hoc fashion. The quiet, relaxed atmosphere of Hoorn provides the perfect setting for slow exploration through the streets and boulevards – as the history of the town unfolds before your eyes.

And just a short bus journey away is the famous old town of Edam – world-renowned for its eponymous cheeses. Emerald Waterways’ Netherlands and the Beauty of Belgium river cruise includes a day trip from Hoorn to Edam, where you can explore the old cheese shops, 17th-century architecture and quiet canals. 

Must-See Sights

The charmingly compact town centre of Hoorn means it’s possible to fit in most of the highlights in a single day. Here are the five places we’d recommend everyone should explore on their first visit to the beautiful harbour town.

Museum Stoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik – This railway museum provides wonderful passage back in time, exploring how the railways revolutionised the Netherlands. A number of fully functional (and very handsome) steam trains can be boarded and explored, giving guests the chance to ride these wonderful machines and even add fuel to the fires (if you ask nicely).

The attentive and knowledgeable staff of the museum are more than happy to chat about everything locomotive, whether you’re a train enthusiast, history buff or a more casual visitor.

Westfries Museum – Celebrating the most glorious period in Hoorn’s history, the Westfries Museum is full of artefacts and artworks from the Dutch Golden Age. The stunning 27 rooms of this museum are home to a huge selection of exhibitions and activities which transport you back in time to the thriving 17th-century Hoorn.

The beautiful façade of the Westfries Museum gives way to a lavish and delightful interior, richly adorned with artwork. Awe-inspiring and educational in equal measure, the museum is a must-visit site if you’re looking to scratch under the surface of Hoorn.

Oosterkerk – Literally translating as East Church, Oosterkerk is a charming Gothic-style church dating back to 1450. Primarily used by fisherman and skippers, the church quickly became a central figure in Hoorn during the Dutch Golden Age. Now recognised as a cultural centre, the church provides visitors with insight into the people who helped make Hoorn an important Dutch hub.

The beautifully-restored stained glass windows of the church are one of the most striking sights in all of Hoorn.

Rode Steen – Considered to be the epicentre of Hoorn, Rode Steen is a beautifully ornate square which intersects five streets and alleyways. A number of historic buildings flank the square, including the wonderful Westfries Museum.

The square is also notable for the controversial statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, which stands in the centre. A recognised merchant and general of the Dutch East India Company, Coen was a controversial figure thanks to his strong, yet not entirely empathetic, approach to overseas trade.

Museum van de Twintigste Eeuw – A museum devoted to modern inventions and household items, this centre is loaded with fun and quirky exhibitions. Among the highlights of the museum is the 30sq metre model of Hoorn as it would have looked in 1650.

Even the setting of this museum is quirky, located in a large, former prison of Hoorn.   

Fast Facts

The truly unique town of Hoorn provides fascinating insight into life during the Dutch Golden Age. Here are our favourite facts about the historic settlement:

  • It is believed the name of the town derives from the word Hornicwed, a medieval word for Corner
  • Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the Americas, was named after Hoorn
  • Hoorn was awarded its city status in 1357
  • Many modern Hoorn families come from Amsterdam. The capital of Netherlands was over-populated in the 60s and 70s so many citizens swapped the city for the more spacious Hoorn
  • The world’s first Olympian windsurfer, Stephan van den Berg, was born in Hoorn
  • The town hosts a popular cheese market which includes presentations about cheese production, performances and even activities for children

If you would like to experience the authentic Dutch culture of Hoorn, Emerald Waterways can take you there during the Netherlands and the Beauty of Belgium river cruise. For more information, and to book your sailing, call our friendly sales team on 0808 301 4705.  

Image credits: Fotolia, Flickr Creative Commons: Bert Knottenbeld, B K