One of my favourite cities to wander around is Haarlem in the Netherlands. The relaxed chilled vibe gives Haarlem a villagey feel even though it is a city. Only 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam, Haarlem has cobbled streets to stroll down, gabled houses to admire, museums to visit, and delicious food to try and is one of the best day trips from Amsterdam.
This article refers to a visit or visits made before the travel restrictions put in place to deal with the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak around the world. Please take into account the advice from your local government before planning any travel and click here to see the current UK government advice regarding Covid-19
Pick up an I Amsterdam City Card to get discounts on entrance into many of the museums and attractions as well as discounts on public transport. It can be ordered for 24 hour up to 120 hour durations.
10 things to do in Haarlem
Grote Kerk: St Bavokerk
Standing in the centre of Haarlem is the imposing gothic Grote Kerk – also known as the St. Bavokerk – with it towering 75-metre high spire. The church is built in the shape of a cross 140 metres in length and dates back to the 15th century when building began.
The Müller Organ was built in 1738 and has 3 manuals, 68 stops, and 5,000 pipes. The largest pipe is 40 centimetres in diameter and 10 metres long. The organ is considered to be one of the finest in the world for decoration and tone and it was played on by a young Mozart.
The interior is walls are beautifully decorated with many items dating from the Reformation including the lectern and choir. The wooden ceiling is exquisite and there are many stained windows. The gravestones of Frans Hals and many other lunimaries of Haarlem are in the church.
Address: De Grote Kerk, Grote Markt 22, 2011 RD Haarlem
In front of the Grote Kerk is the beautiful Grote Markt square. Lined on all sides by bars and restaurants; stop for a coffee, lunch, dinner or drink and watch the world go by. When it is cold out, most have fabulous heaters and blankets to keep you warm, and parasols to keep you cool in the summer.
On Saturdays the square turns into a market place filled with stalls selling delicious produce. Choose from meats, freshly baked breads, cheeses, bright plump fruit and vegetables, all manner of Dutch and international delicacies.
At the lower end of the market are the flower and plant stalls. There are flowers of every hue and colour, all fresh and waiting to be taken home.
Frans Hals Museum
Dutch Painter, Frans Hals’ paintings from the Dutch Golden Age are celebrated in the Frans Hals Museum. Hals was born in Antwerp, but came to Haarlem when he was a small boy. He lived the rest of his life in the city and he is buried in the Grote Kerk.
The museum is divided between two locations; The Hof in Groot Heiligland and the Hal in the Grote Markt.
The Hof was once a home for old men, where they could live out their lives in peace. In 1908, the buildings were acquired by the municipality and were used for exhibition the municipal art collection. Parts of the building were demolished and rebuilt and in May 1913, the Frans Hals Museum was opened to the public.
The Hof houses the world’s largest collection of Frans Hals’ work along with works from the Haarlem Academy of painters which he established. As you walk through the many rooms the paintings are artfully placed alongside artefacts, furniture and sculpture.
Address: Frans Hals Museum – Hof, Groot Heiligland 62, 2011 ES Haarlem
Teylers Museum is the oldest in the Netherlands dating back to 1784. The art and science museum sits facing out over the Spaarne river and inside you will find the extensive collection of scientific objects and painting and drawings including items by Michelangelo and Raphael as well as many of the Dutch Romantics. There are also fossils, minerals and scientific instruments and books.
The museum is free to get into with your I Amsterdam City Card if you book in advance.
Address: Spaarne 16, Haarlem
Corrie Ten Boom Museum
A black understated door in Barteljorisstraat leads you into The Corrie Ten Boom Museum. The museum traces the history of the Ten Boom family over three generations from 1837 to 1945, a living memorial. This devout Christian family who fostered the children of missionaries and devoted their lives to serving Haarlem’s religious community and general people.
During the Second World War, Corrie Ten Boom and her family showed great courage and determination and hid Jews, fugitives, and members of the Dutch underground from the Nazis. With other families in the area, they saved over 800 lives. Sadly the family was reported to the Nazis and by the end of the war, most of the family had died. Corrie Ten Boom was one of the survivors.
After the war, Corrie Ten Boom wrote a bestselling book – The Hiding Place – which details the dangers the family faced in helping and providing a safe hiding place for the refugees. She went on to travel the world spreading God’s love before her death in 1983 at the age of 91.
In 1988 the Corrie Ten Boom Museum was opened where visitors are guided through the house by volunteers. There is no charge for individual visitors, but there is a blessing box for contributions. Groups of 10 or more need to be prebooked.
Address: Centrum, 2002 CE Haarlem
Have a beer tour in de Jopenkerk
Housed in a former church, de Jopenkerk is now renovated and is home to a microbrewery, restaurant and grand-café. It is open for lunch and dinner and of course, drinks. Try one of the famous Jopen beers while you eat or take a tour around the brewery.
Address: Gedempte Voldersgracht 2, Haarlem
de Adriaan Windmill
If you would like to see inside a windmill, head to the Molen de Adriaan. The windmill is within walking distance of the centre along the Spaarne River.
It is worth paying for a guided tour of the windmill which will give you detailed information about the history and workings of windmill. There are models and interactive installations to explore. Try to get out onto the windmill’s deck for stunning views over Haarlem.
There is a souvenir shop and coffee area to sit while waiting for your tour or afterwards. Please note that there are some steep stairs to climb.
Address: Papentorenverst 1A, Haarlem
Take a canal trip on the Spaarne River
For a relaxing tour around Haarlem, take to the waters with an organised cruise on the River Spaarne. With a guided tour, you get to hear about the history, art and architecture of the Haarlem, in the comfort of the boat.
Go electric on a Greenjoy boat
To see Haarlem from the water at your own pace, hire an electric boat from Greenjoy. Available for up to 8 people, you can take your lunch aboard and meander around the waterways and be eco-friendly at the same time.
Greenjoy provides online booking and you activate the boat with your phone. They provide suggested routes for you to follow.
We meandered through the back canals followed by swans and ducks, who were after the leftovers from our lunch.
I always find that the best way to get to know a place is to take to the streets and wander about it. It is amazing what places you can discover: little alleyways that lead you to artists’ ateliers; a shop front decorated in comics; a violin makers; funny little buildings squeezed in between others and don’t forget to look up and see the architecture and the chimney pots!
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Larch has had wanderlust all her life, travelling as much as she can whenever she can. Now in her 50’s, she writes about her adventures on her travel blog The Silver Nomad to encourage travellers of all ages to look at different destinations. In early 2019, she qualified as a CAA PfCO Drone Pilot and now travels with her DJI Mavic Pro and Mavic Mini to capture aerial videos and photos to enhance her work.