The waterside cities of Hoorn and Enkhuizen rose to exceptional prosperity during the Dutch Golden Age. Ideally located for the trade routes used by the Dutch East India Company, the cities flourished throughout the 17th century. Today, the wealth and influence that Hoorn and Enkhuizen acquired during the Dutch Golden Age lives on in the form of monumental buildings, grand architecture and museums filled with historic treasures.
- Plan a visit to two cities that became a key base for the world’s most powerful trading company in the era.
- Step back in time at the Westfries Museum in Hoorn or the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen.
- Discover how Enkhuizen and Hoorn have changed but still reflect their Golden Age legacy.
Trace the Dutch Golden Age in Hoorn and Enkhuizen
Hoorn and the neighboring city of Enkhuizen have a rich cultural heritage stemming from their position as a center of international trade. The cities were prominent bases for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), whose ships travelled to the Far East in search of exotic goods to be traded. As the economy in these cities thrived, large numbers of sailors, explorers, shipbuilders, and scientists relocated to these port cities to meet increasing demand for their skills. Artists, too, came to live here, commissioned by newly wealthy patrons. Fortunately, the treasures of the Dutch Golden Age have been carefully preserved in Hoorn and Enkhuizen. In less than a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam, you can experience the region in its 17th-century splendor.
Revisit the Golden Age in Hoorn
The Westfries Museum in Hoorn is dedicated to the Dutch Golden Age and showcases immersive exhibits such as VOC shipping equipment, paintings, silverware, porcelain and other artefacts connected to Hoorn in this era of great prosperity. What’s more, the museum’s 25 exhibition spaces are housed in a monumental building dating from 1632, detailed with an ornate façade.
You can also climb aboard the Halve Maen (Half Moon) sailing ship moored on the Oostereiland. This impressive replica of an original VOC ship traditionally sets sail on the Hudson River in New York but is on loan to the Westfries Museum, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the thrills and horrors of life at sea in the 17th century.
The architectural legacy of the Dutch East India Company can still be seen around Hoorn, too. Look out for the Oostindisch Huis at the Muntstraat, which housed Hoorn’s VOC chamber, while two former VOC warehouses stand at Onder de Boompjes (one of the warehouses is now home to a theater).
Living history in Enkhuizen
Gain an insight into Golden Age Enkhuizen at the Zuiderzeemuseum. The open-air museum is a beautifully detailed reconstruction of life in the city and region across the centuries. Visitors can explore fishing villages, peek into smokehouses, windmills and family homes to become fully immersed in the history of the region and the impact of living with water. The interactive exhibits are great for children: giving them the chance to learn the art of rope making, carve their own clog boat and dress up in traditional costumes. The museum’s indoor section displays Holland’s largest collection of wooden ships, along with exhibitions that bring history to life. The museum is also home to the Peperhuis, a Dutch East India Company warehouse dating from 1625. Originally used to store spices, teas and textiles, today it hosts events and dinners.
Mastering the sea
Until the 20th century, Enkhuizen was positioned on the west coast of the Zuiderzee, as it was known. The sea was later closed off by the Afsluitdijk, built between 1927 and 1933. This impressive feat of engineering transformed the sea into Holland’s largest lake, the IJsselmeer. Further south on this beautiful stretch of coastline, Hoorn is located on the banks of the Markermeer, which was also changed from salt water to fresh water when the Houtribdijk split it off from the IJsselmeer in a water management project completed in 1976.
Although influencing the landscape and industries active in both Hoorn and Enkhuizen since, the legacy of trade and the seafaring lifestyle are style eminently visible in both cities. Today, Enkuizen’s harbor is still particularly picturesque, with impressive city monuments and bobbing ship masts echoing its Golden Age grandeur – albeit with a more relaxed atmosphere than its 17th-century heyday. Modern Hoorn is perhaps better known for its cultural offerings and cozy restaurants and cafés, but the stepped gables overlooking the stately harbor, and the monuments surrounding the beautiful cobbled market square leave no doubt of the tangible Golden Age history to be experienced here.
Book your ticket to the Westfries Museum or the Zuiderzeemuseum to experience the region’s rich history.
We recommend: Continue your exploration of 17th-century Holland by visiting Haarlem, where Frans Hals’ Golden Age masterpieces capture this period in history. Alternatively, explore Middelburg which also played an important role in international trade.