Like Hoorn, Enkhuizen, just 19km to the east, was once one of the country’s most important seaports. From the fourteenth to the early eighteenth century, when its harbour silted up, it prospered from both the Baltic sea trade and the North Sea herring fishery – and indeed its maritime credentials were second to none: Enkhuizen was home to Holland’s largest fishing fleet and its citizens were renowned for their seamanship, with the Dutch East India Company always keen to recruit here. Enkhuizen was also the first town in Noord-Holland to rise against Spain, in 1572, but unlike many of its Protestant allies it was never besieged – its northerly location kept it safely out of reach of the Habsburg army. Subsequently, Enkhuizen slipped into a long-lasting economic lull, becoming a remote and solitary backwater until tourism revived its fortunes. It’s not a big place – about twenty minutes’ walk from end to end – but the town centre, with its ancient streets, slender canals and pretty harbours, is wonderfully well preserved, a rough circle with a ring of bastions and moat on one side, and the old sea dyke on the other. It also has a major attraction in the excellent Zuiderzeemuseum and is a good place to visit for its summer passenger ferry connections across the IJsselmeer to Stavoren and Urk.
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It’s a short walk from the centre of Enkhuizen to the landbound part of the Zuiderzeemuseum, around a dozen rooms devoted to changing annual exhibitions on different aspects of the Zuider Zee. At its heart is the impressive ship hall, where you can get up close and personal with a number of traditional sailing barges and other craft. There is an ice-cutting boat from Urk, once charged with the responsibility of keeping the shipping lanes open between the island and the mainland; a dinghy for duck-hunting, complete with shotgun; and some wonderful fully rigged and highly varnished sailing vessels.
The main event, however, is the so-called Museumpark, whose main entrance is about 100m to the north along Wierdijk, and which stretches north along the seaward side of the old dyke that once protected Enkhuizen from the Zuider Zee. It’s a fantastically well-put-together collection of over 130 dwellings, stores, workshops and even streets that have been transported here from every part of the region, and which together provide the flavour of life hereabouts from 1880 to around 1932. There are many highlights, and just about everything is worth seeing, but the best include a reconstruction of Marken harbour as of 1900, a red-brick chapel and assorted cottages from Den Oever, old fishermen’s houses from Urk, a post office and a pharmacy, which has a marvellous collection of “gapers” – painted wooden heads with their tongues out, which were the traditional pharmacy’s sign. The museum works very hard to be authentic: sheep and goats roam the surrounding meadows and its smokehouses smoke (and sell) real herring and eels, the sweetshop sells real old-fashioned sweets, the beautifully kept schoolrooms offer geography and handwriting classes, and there’s even a woman in a 1930s furnished house who will make you a traditional Dutch lunch. There’s also a nature reserve, where you can take a picnic and walk through the woods for some great views over the water. All in all not be missed, especially if you have children.