I’ve uncovered the best things to do in Haarlem, where historical charm and modern allure blend beautifully between tulip fields and the North Sea. From diving into the Teylers Museum to soaking up the vibrant nightlife, Haarlem has diverse attractions for me and every visitor. Keep reading to discover my top picks and hidden gems in this enchanting Dutch city.
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Table of Contents
- Haarlem captivates with its perfect blend of history and contemporary culture.
- The city offers a variety of attractions, from architectural marvels to vibrant nightlife.
- Local cuisine and shopping reveal Haarlem’s dedication to tradition and quality.
Discovering The Best Things To Do in Haarlem
In my exploration of Haarlem, I will share with you the city’s rich historical tapestry and guide how to effortlessly navigate its charming streets.
Haarlem, located in the Netherlands, is a history-rich city where the past resonates through cobbled lanes and monumental buildings. Just a short train ride west from Amsterdam, Haarlem serves as the lively capital of North Holland. This old city, which dates back to pre-medieval times, flourishes on the banks of the River Spaarne, boasting a wealth of historical sites and a well-preserved city center that vividly encapsulates its storied past.
Navigating the City
Navigating Haarlem is a delightful experience. The city’s layout is centered around the main square, Grote Markt, making it walkable and easy to explore on foot. Cycling is my transportation mode of choice. To see as much of Haarlem, do yourself a favor and rent a bike.
The Old City is pocketed with hidden gardens – the Hofjes – tucked away behind ancient facades, which I find to be peaceful sanctuaries from the lively urban thrum.
Cultural Heritage and Museums
For anyone with an interest in Dutch art, history, or science, the city’s museums offer a profound look into the past, with collections ranging from the Dutch Golden Age to scientific discoveries.
Teylers Museum, the Netherlands’ oldest museum, fascinates me with its original 18th-century decor and unique combination of art and science. Its exhibits include an intriguing variety of fossils, minerals, historical books, and scientific instruments. As a public knowledge institution, Teylers Museum not only showcases Europe’s artistic and scientific endeavors but also creates a bridge between historical developments and current advancements.
Frans Hals Museum
The Frans Hals Museum is notable for its collection of works by Old Masters, especially Frans Hals himself. Here, I immerse myself in the world of Dutch art, viewing pieces that are quintessential to understanding the Golden Age. The museum also hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions and artworks, ranging from modern-day creations back to historical drawings, effectively narrating the evolution of art through the centuries.
Corrie ten Boom House.
The Corrie Ten Boom House offers a poignant glimpse into a family’s efforts to hide Jews during World War II. Corrie, a concentration camp survivor, later promoted forgiveness in America.
Tours of the museum are free, volunteer-led, and require advance booking due to high demand. It’s tough to get in without a reservation, but there’s a waitlist for no-shows.
Note: Don’t opt for Dutch or German tours unless you understand the language, as you won’t grasp the story, and there are no translations.
The guided tour is moving and focuses on a faith-based story, which might not suit everyone.
Religious Monuments and Architecture
Haarlem, a city renowned for its splendid religious edifices, boasts a wealth of history and architectural beauty. In my exploration of Haarlem’s religious monuments, I’ve discovered that they not only reflect the city’s rich cultural heritage but also its religious diversity. Visitors can appreciate the intricate designs of structures that have stood the test of time, each telling its own story of faith and community.
St. Bavo’s Church
The Church of St. Bavo serves as a prime example of Gothic architecture and is a pivotal landmark in Haarlem’s Grote Markt. Its impressive organ has seen the likes of Mozart and Handel at its keys. The church’s towering presence couples with its historical significance, making it a must-visit for admirers of Protestant religious history.
The church, characterized by its stunning architecture, commands attention with its formidable structure. Visiting this church allows me to immerse myself in a deep sense of history and architectural grandeur. you have to pay to get in, though. It is only a couple of euros. you can also get a guided tour. More info found here.
Outdoor Activities and Attractions
Haarlem offers a variety of outdoor activities and attractions that cater to nature enthusiasts and those looking to appreciate the city’s historical charm. The Spaarne River provides picturesque views, while the iconic windmills and beaches offer unique ways to experience the natural beauty of the area.
The Spaarne River
I always recommend a leisurely boat tour along The Spaarne River to fully appreciate the serene waters and historic buildings that line its banks. Visitors can hire a boat or join a guided tour, taking in the sight of traditional Dutch architecture and the occasional rower skimming along the water. If you want to SUP on the river, check out Freemovement.nl
Windmills and Scenic Views
For those interested in historical engineering marvels, De Adriaan windmill is a must-visit landmark, standing proudly on the Spaarne Riverbank. This reconstructed windmill offers guided tours that reveal Haarlem’s milling history and provide sweeping views of the city—one of the most picturesque spots for my photo album.
A short trip from Haarlem takes you to the stunning beaches. Here, I enjoy the expansive coastline that offers a perfect escape for sunbathing, swimming, or just a relaxing walk along the shore. The beach’s proximity to natural dunes makes it an ideal place for those looking to combine their love for the water with an appreciation of the area’s unique landscapes.
If you are not used to riding a bike, take a cab or take the train to Zandvoort. If you have a car I would recommend going by car to Bloemendaal aan Zee (GPS), you have to pay for parking.
Arts, Entertainment, and Nightlife
I can spend days admiring various art galleries in Haarlem, each offering a unique perspective on both local and international art scenes. Check out the Spaarnwouderstraat.
Theater and Live Performances
Live performances in Haarlem are a treat for the senses, and the city’s theaters offer a wide range of shows from classical plays to avant-garde productions. The Stadsschouwburg Haarlem is a prime venue that delights me with its high-quality performances and stunning architecture. It’s a top attraction for enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable entertainment experience.
Bars and Pubs
When the sun sets, the nightlife in Haarlem comes alive with its numerous bars and pubs. For an evening out, I often find myself at places like the Proeflokaal De Blauwe Druif, a favorite among locals and visitors alike, known for its cozy atmosphere and selection of local brews. Each venue offers a distinct vibe, from traditional Dutch bars to modern craft beer hubs.
Shopping and Local Crafts.
Every Saturday, the Grote Markt comes alive with vendors selling a variety of goods. Here, I specifically look for the Food and Meat Market sections where the local produce is simply unmatched. It’s hard to resist the fresh cheeses and the traditional Dutch herring that Haarlem is known for. Stepping into the market buzz, I always feel the pulse of the city’s trade history beating strong. if you don’t like herring, you can always go for the freshly made stroopwafels!
Haarlem’s boutique stores are an essential part of its shopping scene. Be it handcrafted jewelry, designer clothes, or artisan furniture, each boutique offers a personal touch that makes shopping here an intimate affair.
The search for Specialty Products leads me to thrilling discoveries. Local craftsmen create products that embody the spirit of Haarlem. From craft beers that are more like a brewer’s tale in a bottle, to jenever – the ancestor of modern gin, the flavors of Haarlem are both rich and storied. The city takes pride in its local sweets too, with Dutch stroopwafels and liquorice as must-try treats. For sandwiches, I usually go to Jamon e Jamon located in the Schagchelstraat.
Dining and Cuisine
Haarlem offers a delectable variety of dining options that cater to lovers of both traditional Dutch fare and international flavors. Whether you’re in the mood for a cozy café experience or an evening of fine dining, this city’s gastronomic scene won’t disappoint.
Traditional Dutch Restaurants
I find that the heart and soul of Haarlem’s culinary tradition can be best experienced at its traditional Dutch restaurants. Here, you can indulge in hearty stamppot (mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables), rook-worst (smoked sausage), and a variety of seafood including herring and mussels. A local beer from Jopen Brewery complements these dishes perfectly, enhancing the flavors.
- Must-try dish: Stamppot with rookworst
- Recommended beer: Haarlem’s local Jopen beer
If you’re craving a taste of the world, Haarlem’s international gastronomy offers an abundance of options. With restaurants serving cuisine from Italian to Thai, there’s something to satisfy every palate. And there is always Pizza!
- Recommended restaurant: Restaurant Morris for grilled meats and vegetarian options
Cafes and Bakeries
There’s nothing quite like the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods, which is why I recommend visiting the quaint cafes and bakeries in Haarlem. Ideal for a light lunch or a mid-afternoon treat, these spots boast a selection of delicious pastries, artisanal bread, and of course, the iconic Dutch apple pie. For those who enjoy people-watching, the cafes overlooking the Spaarne River offer a perfect backdrop.
- Popular choice: NoNo cakes for a relaxing coffee
Guided Tours and Experiences
In Haarlem, I find that the guided tours and experiences truly enrich one’s visit. From delving into the city’s rich history to savoring its culinary delights and exploring art and museums, these tailored experiences, often with manageable group sizes, ensure that I get the most informed and intimate view of Haarlem’s culture.
When I book a heritage tour, I’m looking for more than just a walk through the city. I expect to learn about the historical context and hear stories that bring the past to life. Highly-rated options through GetYourGuide often come with expert guides who offer both group and private tours. I recommend checking traveler reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor to ensure the quality of the experience. Free tours are available as well, though a tip for the guide is customary and much appreciated for their insight.
The culinary scene in Haarlem is not to be missed. Culinary tours, such as the CuliWalk Haarlem found on Viator, allow me to taste a variety of local dishes and learn about the food culture from knowledgeable guides. I often find that these tours offer a blend of historical facts and gastronomical experiences, complete with recommendations for spots I can enjoy as an adult or with my family. Bookings are essential, and group sizes may vary, but these tours are well worth the advanced planning.
Art and Museum Walks
Art and museum walks are perfect for when I want to immerse myself in Haarlem’s rich art history. These walks can be self-guided or led by an expert who can provide in-depth knowledge about the artists and their works. Group tours also offer the advantage of shared insights and questions from fellow art lovers.
Events and Local Festivities
In Haarlem, the events and local festivities are integral to the cultural tapestry of the city. I’ve found that participating in these seasonal happenings provides a vivid glimpse into the traditions and celebrations unique to this charming Dutch city.
King’s Day: Celebrated on April 27th, King’s Day in Haarlem is a vibrant festival of orange, marking the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. The city comes alive with a sprawling flea market, live music, and various street performances.
Bloemencorso Flower Parade: Every spring, Haarlem becomes the canvas for the grand Bloemencorso, a parade showcasing intricate floats adorned with colorful flowers, traveling from Noordwijk to Haarlem.
Haarlem Jazz & More: Occurring in August, this is a multi-day jazz event with performances by various artists in the Grote Markt and surrounding areas, celebrating jazz and its rich history in Haarlem.
Haarlem Christmas Market: As December arrives, Haarlem’s Grote Markt transforms into a winter wonderland with the annual Christmas Market. Stalls filled with holiday treats, gifts, and warm drinks create a festive atmosphere. reserve some time for finding a parking spot when arriving by car, you will need it.
- Grote Markt: Every Monday and Saturday, the heart of Haarlem hosts the Grote Markt, where you can find fresh produce, flowers, cheese, and more.
- Antique and Book Markets: On select days, Haarlem boasts specialized markets for antiques and books, perfect for finding unique treasures and reading material.
When planning my visit to Haarlem, I prioritize having reliable travel resources at hand and being aware of safety and regulations to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.