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 fifteen minutes from Amsterdam Central Station) Haarlem is often referred to as a scaled-down version of its more famous neighbour. But to think of it in such terms does a disservice to a city that beats with its own vibrant pulse and overflows 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 

Teylers Museum Amsterdam Kees Hageman

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 from The Hague School and Dutch Romantics), 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!

Teylers Museum, Spaarne16

Take a step back in time at the historical Grote Markt

At the historic heart of Haarlem, this vast square is located underneath the imposing Grote Kerk and is the image of the city that many people will recognise. Hosting regular festivals, concerts and markets, the Grote Markt is the hub of daily life in Haarlem and just happens to be one of the prettiest city squares in the country. Go there on a Saturday when the Netherlands’ finest street market rolls out its wares. And don’t forget to visit the Grote Kerk, also known as the St. Bavokerk. The cross-shaped, Gothic church dominates the Grote Markt and inside you’ll also find the tombstones of major figures from Dutch history including Frans Hals, Pieter Teyler and Pieter Jansz. Saenredam.

Find your favourite beer in the monumental Jopenkerk

De Jopenkerk (Jopen Church) is a renovated former church which now houses a grand café, restaurant and microbrewery. Head to the charming venue for delicious food and drinks, and naturally for a taste of the famous Jopen beer! Open for lunch and dinner, this is the place to sit back and sip a delicious brew as you watch the brewing process with a bird’s eye view. 

De Jopenkerk, Gedempte Voldersgracht 2

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. 

The Philharmonie, Long Begijnestraat 11

Explore the history of windmills 

Haarlem Molen de Adriaan 

No 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.

Molen de Adriaan, Papentorenvest 1A

Look into the eyes of Haarlem’s former residents at the Frans Hals Museum 

Golden Age 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 Golden Age art and Hals’ portraiture, and home to the largest collection of Frans Hals portraits in the world. It's just one more reason why Haarlem is one of the most attractive cities near Amsterdam. Frans Hals Museum, Groot Heiligland 62

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’ (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. Check out our top 10 shopping hotspots in Haarlem.

Discover Haarlem’s hidden courtyards

Haarlem hofjes 

Haarlem 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

Restaurant De Zeeuw

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, and has been awarded Gastronomical Capital of the Netherlands in 2019. 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. And as the Luxury Travel Guide European Awards Winner 2018, it’s got the experts’ stamp of approval, too. 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. Not ready to go home yet? Stay overnight at the cosy bed and breakfast and live like a queen – or king – for one more day.

Sauna van Egmond, Van Egmondstraat 4

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 Haarlemand makes for an enjoyable cycle through kilometres of wild dunes. You might even spot some highland cattle 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: