Head to the Grote Markt and Grote Kerk
Haarlem’s main square, Grote Markt is the city’s beating heart, with charming cafés, bars and restaurants that all offer a brilliant place to relax and people watch. A farmers’ market brimming with fresh foods and flowers pops up in the expansive square every Saturday. While visiting Grote Markt, you can’t miss the imposing Grote Kerk, Haarlem’s gothic cathedral which was first built in the 14th century. The building’s turbulent history has seen it damaged by fire and struck by lightning, but a look inside (and out) will show that it’s still as magnificent as ever. Several famous Haarlemmers, including Frans Hals and Willem Bilderdijk, are also interred here.
Spend some time exploring Haarlem’s streets of gold
Haarlem is famous for its shopping options and has even been voted as the best place to shop in the Netherlands. A quick walk around its concept stores, boutiques and fascinating curiosity shops will soon show you exactly why. In fact, the city’s shopping district is known as ‘de Gouden Straatjes’ (streets of gold). If you’re looking for some of the best places to shop, head to Grote Houtstraat, the Barteljorisstraat and the Zijlstraat. But, if you have time, don’t miss the chance to explore Schagchelstraat, Kleine Houtstraat, Anegang, Warmoesstraat, Koningstraat and Gierstraat: all of which feature a mix of high-end brands and independent specialist stores.
Discover the city’s hidden hofjes
Haarlem has many hidden gems, but perhaps none more hidden than its hofjes, beautiful green courtyard gardens that you can find tucked away behind the city’s streets. Many of the peaceful gardens were built in the medieval times to help house poor, unmarried or widowed women. Nowadays 21 remain open to the public, but as they are concealed and only accessible through narrow doorways or unassuming gates, you might have to search hard to find them.
Sample some special brews at Jopenkerk
When is a church not a church? When it’s a cafe, brewery and restaurant, too. Perhaps the perfect place to take some time out and enjoy something nice to drink (and eat), Haarlem’s Jopenkerk (link in Dutch) offers guests an extensive menu of brews and bites, including its own extensive range of Jopen beers. As well as taking some time out, you can also take part in group beer-tasting sessions and brewery tours where you will hear the story behind all the venue’s enticing concoctions. We’d venture to say you’ll find their beer divine.
Enjoy a cruise down the river Spaarne
The Dutch word ‘gezellig’ can’t be translated into any other language, but if we had to try and summarise it, we’d say it’s the feeling you get when you’re curled up on your couch with a cup of something warm. Another activity sure to give you a gezellig feeling is taking a boat cruise of the Spaarne. As your boat winds its way around the centre of Haarlem you can take the time to relax, sit back and let the city’s welcoming atmosphere wash over you, while of course enjoying the chance to spot its most beguiling sights from the water.
Inspired to see more? Check out our guide to spending 10 hours in Haarlem.