A Tourist's Guide to Marken, North Holland

't Paard van Marken
••• 't Paard van Marken is an icon of the former island. © Johan Wieland/Flickr (CC BY-ND)

Despite a population of scarcely 2,000 residents, Marken attracts about 500 times that number in tourists each year. The town's history has allowed it to form an identity that's unique in all the Netherlands, and which makes it an object of fascination for visitors. Until 1957, Marken was an island in the IJsselmeer; in isolation from the rest of the Netherlands, it developed an independent culture - its own architecture, dialect, dress and more - that it still maintains, despite the closure of the dike that once separated it from the mainland Netherlands.

While the folk culture has become less distinctive since the '50s, it is still clearly visible on the onetime island - now a peninsula - of Marken.

How to Reach Marken

There is a direct bus connection from Amsterdam Central Station to Marken all year round: bus 311 departs from the northern side of the station (the side of the IJ River, not of Amsterdam Center!). It takes about 45 minutes to reach Marken.

From March to November, it's possible to reach Marken via boat from Volendam, another attractive day-trip city which can be reached in a half-hour on bus 312 (which also departs from the north side of Amsterdam Central Station). The Marken Express departs every 30 to 45 minutes and takes about a half-hour. The ferry company offers the option to rent a bike for use on the peninsula, but Marken's small size also lends itself well to explorations on foot.

What to Do & See

Marken isn't about a series of "must-see" attractions; instead, much of its appeal comes from promenades around the former island in order to imbibe its distinctive character: the traditional wooden architecture - often built on mounds to protect it from the frequent floods - the "island" ambiance, and more.

Even so, there are a number of famous landmarks for visitors to seek out on their strolls.

  • The most iconic structure in all of Marken is certainly the so-called Paard van Marken (Horse of Marken), a monumental lighthouse that rises from the easternmost point of the peninsula; the current structure dates from 1839. The peculiar name stems from its shape, which consists of a 54-ft. (16m) tower attached to two pyramidal-roofed houses. Since the Paard van Marken is now a private residence, it is closed to the public.
  • Most visitors to Marken find that their curiosity is soon piqued by the local culture, and the Marker Museum (Marken Museum) exists to satisfy this curiosity. Spread over six former fishermens' houses, the museum is devoted to the fine and decorative arts, handicrafts and folk costume of Marken. The traditional dress of Marken is a symbol of "Marker" culture, but now seldom appears save for special occasions - and, of course, at the museum. Visitors can also explore the preserved 1930s interior of one of the houses, which retains the furniture and decorations that its inhabitants installed. (Note that the Marker Museum is only open from April to November.)
  • The Kijkhuisje Sijtje Boes (Sijtje Boes Lookout House; Havenbuurt 21) is, just as its name implies, a little house to peek into to see the period furniture and decor that its owner Sijtje Boes provided it with. It doubles as a souvenir shop, the oldest in Marken, which the entrepreneurial Ms. Boes founded in the early 1900s; even back then, Marken's distinctive folk culture drew visitors to the then-island.

In addition, Marken also has a wooden shoe workshop (Dutch: klompenmakerij) located at Kets 50, where visitors can observe both the machine-assisted and manual production of traditional wooden shoes, and perhaps pick up a pair of their own.

Where to Eat 

Marken has just a handful of restaurants, and visitors often opt to eat in nearby cities; still, the number and variety of local restaurants has increased over the years. One popular choice remains the Hof van Marken, a hotel restaurant whose cultivated French/Dutch menu and warm hospitality draw rave reviews from diners.