Swap busy Amsterdam for idyllic Haarlem in just 15 minutes.
Did you know that just 15 minutes from Amsterdam there is another idyllic city full of fun and culture? Haarlem grew its riches in the Golden Age and because of its geographical proximity to both the city of Amsterdam and the coast it was seen as a perfect place to trade.
And that you can tell from looking at the architecture, just take a look at the grand city hall, the Sint-Bavo church, or the oldest museum in the Netherlands: the Teylers Museum. And the numerous almshouses with their famous hidden courtyards. In the 17th century you would find 40 of them, today 22 still remain.
Haarlem is also known for its cozy array of restaurants, cafes and coffee corners, it’s shopping and some world class museums. Including a restaurant on top of a parking garage overlooking the city. But more about all of that later.
Oh, and if the above didn’t want you to go already. Haarlem also has excellent beach access. It’s just a 10-minute train ride to Zandvoort (beach) or you can get to either Bloemendaal aan Zee or Zandvoort by bike in about 30 minutes.
Getting from Amsterdam to Haarlem
Getting to Haarlem is the easy part. The mode of transport is also a no brainer: the train. 8 trains per hour whisk you in just 15 minutes from city center to city center. No parking issues and due to it’s high frequency no planning. Just get a ticket, hop on board and go explore this great “other” city next to Amsterdam. We love it, we're sure you'll love it too.
Tip:before you exit the station in Haarlem don’t forget to take a look around at the magnificent platforms of this old railway station before you go downstairs to exit they look magnificent.
Once you arrive in Haarlem it’s time to explore
When you get to Haarlem you soon realize the city center is compact. Haarlem is a perfectly walkable city.
Due to its close proximity to Amsterdam there will still be quite some tourists but it will be significantly less compared to Amsterdam. Which we think is a good thing.
From the station it’s a short 10-minute walk to the “Grote Markt” square along the “Kruisweg” and the “Kruisstraat”. The big market square is the beating heart of the city. Here you’ll find numerous cafes with outdoor terraces, the famous Sint-Bavo church, the city hall, the famous meathall, that today forms (together with the fish hall, and the Verweyhal) an annex of Frans Hals museum.
While walking towards the “Grote Markt” you’ll already pass the first Almshouse and it’s courtyard: “het Hofje van Oorschot”. Founded by an Amsterdam merchant in the 18th century for poor elderly ladies. Today it’s not accessible to the public but you can peek inside through the wrought iron gates. You’ll find it on your right hand side. It’s across from the Hema department store.
Even though Haarlem is compact you’ll soon notice Haarlem might take you a bit longer to navigate because even before you get to the main square, you’ll have already passed some really good cafes which offer great coffee, cakes and sandwiches and all kinds of interesting shops. Try not to stop and take a break.
So let's talk about a few good options: If you want to go for a cozy Dutch living room type of cafe (a good choice is "cafe Volkslust" (Kruisweg 67), or something modern like the organic salad bar: SLA (Kruisweg 68b), or our personal favorite in this area: Jetties (Kruisweg 57).
If Herman and I visit Haarlem Jetties is often our first (and last) stop. We love the home made pastries and pies, they're so good!
Please don't ask for recommendations, we're always debating ourselves what to choose. We've never tried something bad.
Kruisweg 57, Haarlem
What is that you would like to do? It's time to make choices
As you can already tell Haarlem might be compact, but if you have just a day to spend here you'll have to make choices because there is much more to do than humanly possible in one day.
Dutch people usually visit Haarlem for three reasons:
- Visit one of the world class museums
For tourists (and to Dutch people just as much) we would like to add a number four to this list: admiring the grandeur of the 17th century golden age architecture in this city.
So let's go over each one of these and look at the choices we have:
1. Shopping in Haarlem
If you love to shop Haarlem won’t disappoint. The city is full of unique, one of a kind stores, tucked away in beautiful shopping streets, called the golden streets.
The first of these streets you’ll already find when you make your way from the train station to the Grote Markt. The Barteljorisstraat is another well-known shopping street and plenty more follow when you walk around the city center. Like the Grote Houtstraat, Angegang and more. The Kleine Houtstraat and the Schagchelstraat are known for their one-of-a-kind boutiques.
From the main Dutch chain stores to one of a kind boutiques to trendy concept stores, there is something for all.
PS trivial fun fact: the Barteljorisstraat is well-known in the Netherlands because it’s one of the streets in the Dutch language version of the Monopoly game.
2. World-class Museums in Haarlem
Connie ten Boom house
If you know anything about Haarlem you might expect us to start with the Teylers museum or the Frans Hals museum. But we like to start with the Connie ten Boom house. One, because of its location, just half way between the train station and the main square. But also because this museum has left a big impression on us personally.
The Connie ten Boom house is a tribute to a brave woman: Connie ten Boom and her resistance work in the Second World War. She survived German concentration camps and lived most of the remainder of her life in the USA teaching the world about forgiveness. For that reason she is much better known in America than here in the Netherlands. And you'll notice that if you want to visit the museum, or better said the house. American visitors are, by far, in the majority.
Tours are completely free and given by volunteers. You can only go on a tour if you have a reservation or when there is space on standby (which rarely happens on English language tours). It’s good to know that the house is only accessible on a tour, you can’t explore on your own.
If you want to go on an English tour make sure to make reservations well ahead of time because they are popular. You can do so, free of charge, via their website. It's free. Dutch tours usually have better availability but the story is what makes this museum special. Thus go on a tour in a language that you'll be able to understand. They won't make translations during a tour in Dutch or German, and they actively discourage people going on a tour in a language they don't understand.
In this house you can literally feel and experience how it must have been like to hide in an ordinary home, just above a regular shop. The fear, the logistics of hiding of people, the resistance. It's a very personal experience that made a lasting impression on us. We highly recommend you go. We’re sure it will be a highlight of your trip as well.
PS: One side note about religion which we think is important here: We, for example, are not particularly religious and Connie ten Boom was a very religious woman. And so are the volunteers who run these tours. Faith, god and values are the main topics of these tours and we have to admit there were moments that felt intense and uncomfortable. Like we're outsiders who were not supposed to be there. But that is ridiculous of course.
Tour guides are warm and passionate and they show you who they are, and who Connie was. The story is in no way less impressive when you are not religious.
The Teylers Museum Haarlem
The Teylers Museum is the first and thus the oldest museum in Holland. It opened to the public in 1784! And no that is not a typo.
The oval room is the center point of the museum. This stunning library type of room is definitely a highlight to your visit. Did you know even Napoleon visited this museum in person and stood in the same oval room as where you can stand now? He visited in October 1811. This museum literally is living history.
The collection of the museum is a mix of art, natural history, and science. Creating a very eclectic mix of artefacts. Here you can find the actual top of the Mont Blanc mountain or drawings from Michelangelo. Herman is always fascinated by the natural art part of the museum, and in particular the science part. My favorite part of the museum are the paintings of Haarlem and its surroundings. Plus the oval room. It’s stunning. It's called the museum of wonderment for a good reason we think.
The Teylers Museum is also known for large temporary exhibitions attracting visitors from afar. Just check out the museum's website for current exhibitions.
Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem
The Frans Hals museum is another famous museum attracting people from around the world. It's also an old museum again as well. It's open since 1850.
Today there are two locations. The original building where you can admire the old masters, including Frans Hals' work. And at the other location (The Halls at the market square) you can enjoy more contemporary works. The saying: ”opposites attract” is taken quite literally at this museum. From the classics of the 16th and 17th century by the Dutch masters to abstract works created today.
If you like to enjoy both, know your museum ticket is valid for both locations. At the museums website you can find out more about current exhibitions, prices and opening hours.
3. Where to eat in Haarlem
Haarlem is a food hot spot. And giving recommendations almost feels unfair to all the other great restaurants in this city. Because it’s chock full of them. Serving classic food in cozy cafes to modern fusion kitchens from around the world. Our best advice is to follow the crowds. If it’s busy, it’s usually good.
A special experience for certain when the weather is good is to enjoy a meal outside on one of the many outdoor terraces. The main market square is full of them. And once the sun is out the Dutch flock to them like there is nothing else in life. Getting every sun ray they can get.
Are you looking for a special spot in the city? Then the De DAKKAS is quite amazing. It’s a rooftop greenhouse on top of a parking garage. It has its own kitchen garden and a large terrace with tables to enjoy the views of the magnificent big church and the dunes towards the beach. Together with a good glass of wine and some great food, some homegrown, it's a pretty good place to be.
De Witstraat 1a, Haarlem (on top of the parking garage “De Kamp”).
4. Enjoy the beautiful architecture of this city.
This might be the easiest task to accomplish. Just stroll around and enjoy the sights, that is all there is to it. The Sint-Bavo church, the city hall, the museums, the streets around the Frans Hals museum, are all just beautiful. You can feel the past just by looking at them.
Ps the area around the main location of the Frans Hals museum is also home to a few of the gorgeous almshouses with the inner courtyards. Like Het Bruiningshofje, het Wijnberg hofje, Hofje van Loo and Het Brouwershofje.
The city of Haarlem has posted quite a few different walking routes on its website. They’re free to download to take with you. Whether you’re interested and want to learn more about the cities architecture, or explore the hidden courtyards. It’s a great way to explore the city and learn more about its history.
The Beaches near Haarlem
Your day is probably jam packed with activities inside the city. However, if you have time left (or you can squeeze in an extra day - something we can only highly recommend - ) you should consider heading for the beach. It’s so easy to do from Haarlem.
Dutch beaches are not only perfect on warm summer days either. Also on a windy autumn day, or even when it’s raining, a walk along the wide sandy beaches, watching the wild sea and its waves is meditating. And with year round restaurants located literally on the beach you don’t even need to be outside enjoying the scenery.
Just sitting indoors with a hot cup of coco (of course with whipped cream) and some apple pie (with the rain ticking on the windows, sitting near the fire pit) can be just the thing you need.
Twice an hour (on warm summer days, six times per hour) a train connects Haarlem to Zandvoort beach in just 10 minutes. Then from the station it’s literally a 2-minute walk to have your toes in the sand.
We have to say Zandvoort is not particularly a nice looking town. But its easy access makes up for that. And there are many trendy beach restaurants on the beach that are perfect for a meal, a cup of coffee with apple pie, or a glass of wine with some bites to eat. All with the ocean and the wide sandy beach as your background. Not too bad if you ask us. And it's not difficult to get away from the less than inspiring architecture of the town. Just walk away on the beach and it soon blurs out.
Another beach town nearby: Bloemendaal aan Zee. This place is not as busy as Zandvoort and is well known for its trendy beach restaurants and clubs. You can get there by bus 81 in about 15 minutes or by bike in less than 30 minutes. You can also walk along the beach between both towns. It will take you around 40 minutes (one-way).
Going by bike is actually a great alternative to public transport if you want to head for the beaches. You’re there within 30 minutes, it’s well signposted, and you pass through an actual national park: Nationaal park Zuid-Kennemerland. The Dune landscape is just breathtaking. Ps there is no access charge to cycle through this national park. And you’ll beat the crowds on sunny days as well who come by train or car.
Renting a bike in Haarlem is easy
You can rent a bike at different locations in the city. Two rental companies are conveniently located near the train station (we’re not affiliated with either one of them): Rent a Bike Haarlem and Green Bikes. You might want to consider renting an electric e-bike if you plan to do some more biking that day for example to the beaches. But whatever you do choose a bike with more than one gear. In the dunes there is some elevation and a single gear bike won’t make you very happy, we can promise you that.
Where to stay in Haarlem?
When you’re thinking about an overnight stay or a few days we have a few hotel recommendations for you below. But you can also perfectly well use your Amsterdam hotel as your base since Haarlem is so easily accessible from the city. But sometimes it's just nicer to be there, there. And costs are usually a bit less outside of Amsterdam.
Stay in Haarlem City Center
Two beautiful hotels right in the old city center are:
The Brass Hotel Suites Haarlem
The Brass Hotel Suites is just around the corner from the Grote Markt. It offers luxurious suites, a rain-shower bathroom and breakfast delivered to your suite. Not a bad way to start your day. Check prices and availability here on our partners website booking.com.
Korte Veerstraat 3, Haarlem
The Amrâth Grand Hotel Frans Hals
The Amrâth Grand Hotel Frans Hals. This comfortable hotel has a spectacular location across of the Sint-Bravo cathedral. Guests are love this fact in their reviews. The hotel is located in a historic building. The rooms are cozy and have all the amenities you'd expect. If we have to add a tiny negative note is that the history of the building doesn’t show in the modern decor of the actual rooms.
If you want to check out prices and availability for this hotel you can do so here.
Damstraat 10, Haarlem
Outside of the city center of Haarlem
Van der Valk Haarlem
We also want to mention the Van der Valk hotel Haarlem. Located at the edge of the city center close to a main access road. It’s not as conveniently located than the two hotels above. However, it can still be a great base since it’s just a 20-minute walk to the old city center. Or a 10 minute bus ride (bus 300, every 7 minutes) to the train station.
The hotel itself is new and modern. With very comfortable rooms and great beds. This hotel chain is locally known for its excellent breakfasts. And this location is no exception. The buffet is extensive. Make sure to try some Dutch specialities like Hagelslag on Beschuit with real butter (ask staff to locate these items).
You can check out prices and availability here.
Toekanweg 2, Haarlem
Did this post about Haarlem help you?
We really do hope this post made you excited about visiting Haarlem and it gave you plenty of ideas to fill your day. Please don’t try to do everything at once. The tips above are more than you can (or should) do in a single day. Haarlem is very much about experiencing its atmosphere and vibe. And you can only do that when you slow down a bit.
So pick the things that sound best to you and save the rest for another day (or trip).
If you enjoyed our travel tips in this post about Haarlem then please join the conversation and let us know in the comments at the bottom of this page. We'd love to hear what you think. Have you been to any of these suggestions? Are you planning them for your next trip? We'd love to know.
Looking for more inspiration just like this post about Haarlem?
We have written more one day itineraries for Holland. They're well worth a read.
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