If you would draw a circle on a map of Holland with a radius of just 35 kilometers (or 21,8 miles), with IJmuiden as the center point … half of this circle would disappear in the sea! In the remaining part however, you will find several of the most famous attractions of the low lands.
Without a doubt, Amsterdam should be on top of your list as it is really worth a visit. The inner city is very, very old and overthere you will find a lot of interesting places, including loads of well preserved historic buildings that go back centuries. Amsterdam is also famous for the canals and waterways and a canal cruise cruise (most of them take about an hour) is without a doubt a “must do”. It’s a very comfortable and rather inexpensive way to see a lot of the (inner) city in just a short time!
And yes, Amsterdam is also (world) famous for the red light area, which is very close to the Central Station. Only decades ago, it was more or less a “no go area” but nowadays it’s perfectly safe to have a nice walk there, as long that you keep in mind that pickpockets never sleep in a city that never sleeps!
Next is the city of Haarlem, it’s a lot smaller than Amsterdam but it also has a very old inner city. An interesting fact: do you know that the original (square) city plan was based on the map of ancient Jerusalem? Due to the fact that the center of Haarlem is rather small, you can go almost anywhere on foot which makes exploring the city (or going around for some shopping) nice and easy.
Holland is also famous for the windmills (besides of tulips, cheese and wooden shoes) and at the famous open air museum Zaanse Schans you will find a lot of them. The Zaanse Schans is not an original village (although it looks like it) but it’s a fine collection of old buildings, brought together to create the museum. Most of the buildings (including several of the windmills on the riverbank) can be visited as well as the small cheese factory. At the Zaanse Schans you’ll also find several souvenir stores and restaurants.
Alkmaar is known around the world for the cheese market, which has been held overthere since the year 1593! Besides of the cheese market, Alkmaar has a lot of old buildings in the city and also an attractive shopping area.
If you’re visiting Cruise Port IJmuiden in spring (April/May) you may have a chance to visit the Keukenhof, an unique park where more than seven million tulips (in 800 varieties!) blossom. In the Keukenhof you can walk for hours and enjoy the amazing landscapes and various gardens. One of the attractions here is the ‘cruise’ you can take with a small boat through the flower bulb fields; it’s overwhelming and the smell of all those flowers is really breathtaking!
The Keukenhof is not so easy to reach by public transportation from the port of IJmuiden so it’s recommended to book one of the (guided) tours which are offered on most cruise ships. If you still prefer to go on your own, you can take the bus to Haarlem, hop on the train to Leiden and take the bus over there (“Keukenhof Express”) which will drop you off right in front of the main entrance of the Keukenhof. Please keep in mind that it make take up to two hours to get there! Combined tickets for this journey are available at the Haarlem railway station.
Insider tip: If you’re going for a ride on a bike you can go to nearby Spaarndam. This is a small and cosy village near Haarlem and also the place where little Hans Brinker put his finger in the hole in the dike to save the city. This little chap is not very famous or even well known in Holland but he does have a nice statue in the middle of Spaarndam. This village also has a small but nice and cosy harbor surrounded by old buildings.