Netherlands: Hoorn - City of Unicorns and World Domination

A Dutch seafaring town that used to rule the world.

Why visit? 
Amsterdam gets all the visitors- but back in the 17th century, Hoorn gave the capital a good run for its money. And it still shows.

To appreciate the Dutch Golden Age on a smaller scale, Hoorn offers cobblestone streets, scores of old houses, and panoramic vistas of its former lifeblood, the water.

All of that an efficient train ride away from touristy Amsterdam, making it an excellent destination for a day trip or an overnight stay.


About 40km north of Amsterdam, on the edge of the former Southern Sea. Map.

ONCE UPON A time, Hoorn was a global power to be reckoned with. Those days are long gone. 

Founded in the 8th century, Hoorn officially became a town in 1357. Being a chartered town was a sign that Hoorn had arrived, and for the next 400 years or so, it punched well above its weight. As its citizens sailed the Seven Seas, they traded spices, plundered colonies, brought back loot, and invested it in local real estate. 
Gabled real estate. 
These days, Hoorn is a sleepy backwater, a provincial little town of commuters and shopkeepers. But Hoorn's glory days still shine bright in its cobblestone streets, it's picture-postcard-perfect gabled houses, and plenty of history to go around. 
Apple Alley (Appelsteeg). The sign indicates that horse-drawn carriages are not allowed to enter the alley. We told you Hoorn was sleepy!
Talk about projecting power: the tip of the American continent, Cape Horn, was named for the city by Willem Schouten, who was the first European to round it in 1616. Roughly around the same time, JP Coen, another local-boy-gone-walkabout, founded the city of Batavia (now Jakarta), laying the foundations for Dutch rule in what's now Indonesia. Legend has it the Coen preferred the name Nieuw Hoorn (New Horn), but that's at least one battle that he lost. 

Coen's statue still stands proud on the main market square, although his presence has become slightly controversial, as plundering foreign lands and killing their inhabitants to enrich your home town has become decidedly un-PC. 
The market square, the Roode Steen. 
Hoorn was one of the main power centers of the VOC, the Dutch East-Indies Company, generally acknowledged to be the world's first listed public company. The VOC was one of the most powerful multinational companies that ever existed, and Hoorn was one of its headquarters. 
Neptune, God of the Seas, and Mercury, God of Trade, neatly symbolise the VOC's corporate mission statement. 
It was a business with high risks and high rewards. Hoorn's burghers had plenty of cash, and they spent it on beautiful houses and lavished it upon the city's infrastructure, including a retirement home for women, the Oude Vrouwenhuys. 
Entrance to the Old Wives' Home.
As you explore the old town, you'll soon recognize Hoorn's two main symbols, ubiquitously decorating the town's public buildings. There's the red horn (no points for creativity there, folks!), as well as the unicorn bearing a shield. 'Unicorn' is 'eenhoorn' in Dutch, so again, it didn't take a creative genius to come up with that symbol. 
There's a red Horn...
...and a red uni-horn.
In many ways, Hoorn is more traditionally Dutch than Amsterdam- and if you're looking for a break from the over-touristed capital, Hoorn is the place to go.  

Getting there: 
Easy enough: take one of those efficient blue and yellow Dutch trains. They run between Amsterdam Central Station every 30 minutes or so, and take just over half an hour to complete the journey. Once in Hoorn, your feet are all you need to get around. 

Useful links:
Visit Hoorn website.