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Medemblik oldest town on the IJsselmeer

Medemblik is the oldest town in West Friesland, and for that reason alone it is worth tapping the quay during a day of sailing on the IJsselmeer. The history of this town therefore goes back a long way. Thus, it received its city rights as a village in 1289, from Count Floris, in person.

As a flourishing port town, Medemblik had to fight an unremitting battle against the ever-wetting water. Just like many other towns and villages around the former Zuiderzee. This came to an abrupt end when the sea was cut off andthe IJsselmeer came into being. Yet its location at the tip of North Holland and the rich history of trade in the once flourishing port city make for a unique collection of museums and attractions.

Of course, water still plays a major role in Medemblik, as the IJsselmeer is never far away. Around the old city centre, there is plenty of room for nature. Here you can hike, cycle and discover the hinterland by boat. Below is a list of all the things you can discover in and around Medemblik.

1. Radboud Castle at the port of Medemblik

As soon as you turn off the IJsselmeer towards the port of Medemblik, Radboud Castle catches the eye. On its own little island full of flowers and with impressive round towers, this colossal castle is not to be missed.

But have no illusions about princesses being saved by knights on horseback. This castle was a so-called fortress, so the fairy tale suddenly becomes a bit of a nightmare.

But you won’t notice much of that when you take a selfie with the castle as the backdrop.

Radboud Castle in Medemblik

Radboud Castle as a fortress of constraint

In fact, Count Floris V was the spoilt son of Willem II. So he just came from Holland and was officially ‘Count of Holland and Zeeland’. However, as is sometimes the case with guys who get carried away, he decided that he also wanted to become ‘Lord of Friesland’. Although he only managed to exert some pressure in West Friesland with a lot of stamping. To make sure that the people there listened and could keep an eye on them. He built Medemblik Castle, as it was actually called.

Legend has it that he had it built on the foundations of the castle of King Radboud of the Frisians, which is why it is still referred to as such today. In the end, Floris’s aspirations did not end well and the castle fell into disrepair.

It was completely refurbished in the 19th century and has been owned by the Dutch state ever since. It has never housed a noble family or other exciting scum, although it did briefly house a famous work of art. In 1939, Rembrandt’s Night Watch was housed here during the outbreak of war, before it was eventually moved to safety in a bunker in Castricum.

Since 2016, the castle has been handed over to the National Museum Organisation and can be visited by the public. Feel like a prince or princess and perform a balcony scene on one of the merry towers. Or put on a harness and try to make a dash for it. Changing exhibitions about the Middle Ages and the history of the castle, Medemblik and the surrounding area can also be admired in the castle.

2. The Leaning House, historic facades in Medemblik

The leaning house, is actually 3 leaning houses, there you go already.

The row of buildings on Vooreiland was built in Renaissance style with seventeenth-century stepped gables. Scattered across the façade of the three buildings are five gable stones. The two furthest ones depict two sailing ships, and the three in the middle “hope” or “wisdom”, “faith” and “temperance”.

The façade slopes forward and the closer you stand to it, the more menacing it appears. They also call this ‘facades on the run’ and although it looks like the houses have subsided, there are theories and examples that they were built like this on purpose.

One theory is that it is copied from the Amsterdam trend. Houses there used to have wooden facades, with the beam sticking out a bit further for each new floor. When a series of city fires occurred in Amsterdam around the 16th century, the city council decided that all that wood had to stop and facades had to be made of stone. In front of all the existing wooden facades, a wall was therefore built that naturally sloped forward.

Another theory is that buildings that had a warehouse function had to be able to hoist stock easily, and that is easier to do with a façade that protrudes a little further at the top than at the bottom. In any case, this facade is worth visiting during a city walk through Medemblik.

3. The kreupel, bird island in the IJsselmeer

De Kreupel is a former island, but that was some time ago. In the 16th century to be precise. When the IJsselmeer was still a stormy sea. Later, it became a shallow area and since 2002 a protected breeding ground for special birds such as different kind of terns

It is not accessible to tourists unless you ask the Forestry Commission, which runs it, nicely. You can request a spot at one of the few jetties in this area and spend a few hours or a night there, for example, during a sailing holiday on an authentic ship or on your own boat.

Birds at 'De Kreupel' nature reserve
De Kreupel nature reserve

To say that all you hear here is silence and the rushing of the water is a lie. You can hear the twittering of birds that frequently use this area to breed and rest on their journey across the IJsselmeer.

It is a special experience to see the sun rise here, alone and surrounded by water and birds, taking a refreshing dip before breakfast. Also beautiful is to arrive after a day on the water and watch the sun set over a barbecue on board.

4. Historic steam tram between Medemblik and Hoorn

The museum steam tram that still steams up and down between Medemblik and Hoorn is a driving museum. The train connection came late to the Netherlands, why would they. Everything was actually easily accessible by water.

Steam tram Hoorn-Medemblik, photo C. van der Hart

However, the industrial revolution also reached the Netherlands and it was not long before the first steam train travelled from Amsterdam to Haarlem in 1839. The construction of a railway line only involves solid ground and is quite heavy. The hinterland therefore remains inaccessible by train. To get to places like Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Medemblik faster than by rowing boat, a steam tram connection is built for this route. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the colossus, but a steam tram is a lot lighter and could also be built on the muddy dirt roads that were the only way to travel between those cities.

Today, you can still travel the original route. You can make several trips. Boarding in Hoorn and tuffing to Medemblik and vice versa.

If you really want to travel through time, get on board in Hoorn and get off in Medemblik, where you will find the historic ship Friesland, which was once the ferry between the Wadden Islands, and sail to Enkhuizen, where you can also visit the Zuiderzee Museum with a stopover.

5. Steam Engine Museum in Medemblik

With the smell of the steam tram still in your nose, you can walk straight to the Steam Engine Museum. As we know, living on the Zuiderzee was not exactly for sissies with a fear of water.

The farmland around Medemblik regularly subsided, and since time immemorial people have tried all kinds of inventive ways to prevent the farmland from flooding. Centuries ago, 24 windmills were already turning like crazy to get the water back into the Zuiderzee.

When the Industrial Revolution reached the Netherlands, it was not long before the mills received help from a steam engine pumping station. Did that make life a lot easier! Over the years, knowledge and materials evolved to such an extent that by the beginning of the 20th century, the mills were completely obsolete. A chimney and a new pump later, the pumping station could pump 800,000 litres of water per second back into the sea.

The steam engines served until the late 1970s, when they were replaced by an electric pumping station some distance away. The steam engines served until the late 1970s, when they were replaced by an electric pumping station some distance away. The stories told by enthusiastic volunteers and former employees make a visit really worthwhile.

6. Bakery museum ‘The Old Bakery’ in Medemblik

The bakery museum all started with a baker from a nearby village.

Cees de Boer loved his profession so much that all his life he collected all kinds of attributes that had to do with the baker’s life.You guessed it, his children inherited this collection and in the 1980s they organised a modest exhibition in Medemblik railway station.

This turned out to be such a success that it was decided to turn it into a permanent exhibition, which has since grown into a real museum. Not only will you learn all about life as it was in the past two centuries, but you will also learn how the baking profession was practised. Er worden geregeld interessante exposities georganiseerd en ook kun je er workshops en demonstraties volgen.

7. Old Dutch games at ‘Wat Aars’ in Medemblik

Whether you are on a company outing, celebrating a bachelor party, with the children in tow or want to make new friends, the funny people of ‘Wat Aars‘are the right people for you. In a jolly mood, you can entertain yourself for just an entire afternoon, from miniature golf to Billiard golf and from Old Dutch games to curling, finish with a snack and a drink if you like.

8. The Garden of Earthly Delights [de Tuin der lusten] in Oostwoud just outside Medemblik

If you hire a bicycle or take a brisk walk and leave the centre of Medemblik, you will soon come across the garden of delights.

The surroundings of Medemblik are wide and very green. So too is the garden, which can be found in Oostwoud, a few kilometres from the town centre of Medemblik. The garden is terraced and largely wild. Here you can enjoy butterflies, birds and beautiful flowers, perhaps most of all the view at the end of the garden, green West Frisian landscape to the horizon.

Theatre church ‘Hemels’ [heavenly] in Twisk, near Medemblik

If you are exploring the area around Medemblik anyway, you might as well pay a visit to the village of Twisk and its special church, which may well be heavenly.

In 2017, the Hemels Theatre Church was transformed into the temple it is today, a breeding ground for music, theatre, ceremonies, meetings and overnight stays. These are just a few examples of the possibilities.

Meet the founders, René and Gerda, and find out how they pursue their passion and dream in this exceptionally beautiful place. If you are in the neighbourhood, don’t hesitate to stop by.

10. Windmill de Herder, heirloom in historic Medemblik

Throughout the centuries, the many windmills in and around Medemblik determined the appearance of the town, including Meelmolen de Herder. The mills in Medemblik were there to pump away water, there were sawmills and flour mills, of which this one is still prominent in Medemblik.

Mill de Herder is one of the only ones left. Visit the mill and take a guided tour, from the Luizolder to the shop, where you can go home with a “Een klap van de Molenaar” [a blow from the miller], the home-brewed beer.

11. The gatehouse at Molen de Herder in Medemblik

Next to Molen de Herder (the shepherd’s mill) stands the picturesque Poorthuisje. Like the mill, the gatehouse can be found on historical drawings and in archives as early as 1500.

The gatekeeper lived in the gatehouse, who closed the city gates every evening and in case of threats from outside. The mill and the cottage were restored in the 1980s and today the Poorthuisje serves as a bar and restaurant, run entirely by enthusiastic volunteers.

12. City brewery Radboud in Medemblik

Beer has been brewed and drafted in Medemblik since the 13th century. In fact, this has been happening at the site of the Radboud Brewery for more than 500 years!

With all these sailors entering the busy harbour of Medemblik since time immemorial, a brewery could not be lacking. Today, you can take a tour of this authentic brewery and taste the various beers. It is also possible to have a party there and a nice drink is, of course, why you come in the first place.

13. Bistro de Kwikkel in the heart of Medemblik

Amidst all the historical turmoil, they serve the most famous burger in the region at eatery De Kwikkel. But for coffee and cake or a three-course dinner, this is also the place to be.

In addition, you have a wonderful view over the water here and can take a rest after your round trip around the castle in a harness or a trip sailing on the IJsselmeer.

14. Cafe Brakeboer

If you are looking for an authentic restaurant where the history of Medemblik drips from the walls, you should definitely drop in atcafé Brakeboer.

In this former hotel by the harbour, there are still tiny rugs on the table and the host is the warmest in all of West Friesland. Bands perform here regularly and with a freshly tapped beer you will always meet a few skippers or mates on the bench in front of the door with a view of the newly moored sailing ships.

15. Restaurant Danny Leung, the most famous Chinese restaurant around

After a rice table from Danny, you will definitely not be hungry. Famous among locals but also among fleet people and their guests. The latter have enjoyed eating here for years on their way through Medemblik.

Located on the main street with an unmistakable exterior, you can easily walk in here after a day of sightseeing in the area.

How to visit Medemblik

From the Randstad, Medemblik is easily accessible by car via the A7 highway. Of course, you can take the steam tram from Hoorn, or the bus from Amsterdam.

If you want to discover the IJsselmeer andthe nicest harbour cities around it, a sailing trip from the harbour of Enkhuizen is your best option. From the IJsselmeer, you sail straight into the harbour of Medemblik. This can be done with friends, family or for example as a company outing.

This post is also available in: Dutch German