With its ancient buildings, cobbled streets and winding waterways, the medieval city of Haarlem is one of the most photogenic destinations in the Netherlands. Easily reachable by train (just 15 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station) Haarlem beats with its own vibrant pulse, overflowing with a rich history, epoch-spanning architecture and a thriving cultural scene all of its own.
Explore art and science at The Netherlands' oldest museum
The oldest museum in the Netherlands, a trip to the Teylers Museum is like venturing through the back of a cupboard and into a strange new land. Whether delving into art or science, the museum’s extensive collection includes masterful paintings and drawings (many of which are by artists from The Hague School or the Dutch Romantics movement), ancient fossils and minerals, and instruments and books. It also hosts a changing line-up of fascinating exhibitions showcasing awe-inspiring science and art, and the building’s magnificent 200-year-old Oval Hall is an attraction in itself. Don't forget that this museum is free to visit with a City Card!
Step back in time at the historical Grote Markt
Flanked by convivial cafés and restaurants – plus plenty of historic buildings – Grote Markt is the historic centre of Haarlem and is considered by many to be the most beautiful urban square in the country. Opposite the City Hall (which also houses the Tourist Information Centre) looms the Gothic Grote Kerk, or St. Bavokerk, whose 50-metre steeple has dominated Haarlem’s skyline for centuries. Built between 1370 and 1520, the church is UNESCO-protected and contains beautiful Renaissance artworks. Famous painters Frans Hals and Pieter Saenredam are buried here, and the renowned Müller organ – one of the finest in the world, standing 30 metres high with about 5,000 pipes – was once played by Mozart at the age of ten.
Find your favourite local beer
Beer is definitely a religion for some, but former church-turned brewery De Jopenkerk takes this concept to extremes. Brewing Jopen craft beers onsite according to old recipes and modern innovations. Find your favourite tipple amidst the beautifully restored surroundings – with vaulted ceilings and the original stained glass windows left intact. Nearby, hidden amongst the city’s 17th-century brick interior is the nifty little Uiltje Bar. This hoppy paradise is the city’s first craft beer bar with a constant carousel of 30 draught beers and more than 120 bottles.
Visit Haarlem’s unique concert hall
Haarlem’s main concert hall, the Philharmonie has hosted everyone from Art Garfunkel to 10cc in recent years. The stunning 19th century venue actually comprises five different halls, each with their own individual character. That includes the ‘Great Room’, boasting a moving floor and bespoke seating design, and the ‘Little Room’ – which is entirely made of wood, making it one of the best acoustic halls in Europe. For a truly authentic experience, why not try and catch a performance by the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra or the Dutch Chamber Orchestra, who both regularly give concerts here.
Explore the history of windmillsNo visit to Haarlem is complete without a guided tour of the Molen de Adriaan, a windmill close to the town centre. Set in a picturesque location alongside the Spaarne River, this tower mill has been one of the most striking features of the Haarlem skyline for centuries. There’s a museum inside which uses models and visual installations to explore the history of Molen Adriaan and other Dutch windmills, and for the full experience, you can take a guided tour. The stunning views of Haarlem from the windmill’s deck will leave you breathless.
Look into the eyes of Haarlem’s former residents at the Frans Hals Museum
17th-century portrait painter Frans Hals is one of Haarlem’s most famous sons, and his legacy can be seen all over the city. Nowhere more so than at the Frans Hals Museum, a large gallery dedicated to 17th-century art and Hals’ portraiture, and home to the largest collection of Frans Hals portraits in the world. The museum is split between two locations—Hof and Hal— which are just a seven-minute walk apart through a particularly pretty section of Haarlem.
Shop the best boutiques in the Gouden Straatjes
Haarlem has been voted as the Netherlands’ best shopping destination on several occasions, and a quick look around the boutique-lined streets will reveal exactly why. With everything from achingly cool concept stores to traditional markets and big brands to independent labels, as well as charming antique and curiosity shops around every corner, it’s no wonder that Haarlemmers call their shopping district ‘de Gouden Straatjes’ (the streets of gold). Perhaps the best-known streets in Haarlem are the Grote Houtstraat, the Barteljorisstraat and the Zijlstraat. But don’t miss the chance to explore the smaller streets characteristic of this historic city, such as the Schagchelstraat, Kleine Houtstraat, Anegang, Warmoesstraat, Koningstraat and Gierstraat: all of which feature a selection of unique shops and specialist stores.
Discover Haarlem’s hidden courtyardsHaarlem is a city known for its Hofjes (enclosed courtyard gardens), and there are beautiful green spaces tucked away behind many an unassuming street – most dating back to medieval times. The gardens are surrounded by charitable almshouses and were used to house poor, unmarried or widowed women. There are 21 main public hofjes in Haarlem, spanning from the ancient (the oldest was founded in 1395) to the very modern. But with the entrances to many hofjes being concealed behind modest doorways or down seemingly simple alleyways, these city oases are not always easy to find. Find out more about Haarlem’s hofjes.
View Haarlem from the water
The picturesque River Spaarne winds its way through the historic city of Haarlem, and on a sunny day it brims with sailing and boating enthusiasts bobbing along its waters. If you fancy setting sail yourself then you can join an organised cruise or hire a boat. It’s a beautifully relaxed way to explore the city, and a great way to orientate before setting off to explore all the sights in more detail.
Dine like a true bonvivant
With more than two hundred restaurants and ninety plus bars, Haarlem is well known for its gastronomy. There is something for everyone, from simple eateries to exclusive restaurants, of which a few have Michelin-stars. Haarlem also hosts several culinary festivals and other events throughout the year - enough reason to discover all those wine and dine opportunities, or at least a few!
Relax at wellness resort Sauna van Egmond
Health and beauty spa Sauna van Egmond has been top of the list for wellness across the Netherlands for almost 40 years. Housed in a large, stately building with oh-so-stylish art deco furnishings, the spa retreat offers indulgent pampering in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The extensive spa facilities include sauna cabins, a Roman pool, Turkish steam bath and the country’s only Caldarium Maximus – a natural stone room heated to around 60 degrees. Tucked away in a quiet Haarlem neighbourhood, the spa also offers luxury beauty treatments and massages, delicious and healthy meals, and films at the onsite cinema.
Cycle to the beach near Amsterdam
With the Noordzee, Bloemendaal’s beaches and the coastal town of Zandvoort easily reachable by bike, the seaside is just a short trip outside of Haarlem and makes for an enjoyable cycle through kilometres of wild dunes. You might even spot some highland cattle or deer as you meander through the winding cycle paths. In the summer months the beach clubs of Zandvoort and Bloemendaal throb with activity, whilst the winter months offer a serene escape and lovely walking routes. Find out more about visiting Amsterdam Beach.
Ready to find out what else Haarlem has to offer? Take a video tour of the city's hotspots with lifelong resident Mari Koning: