Haarlem is known for its history, museums, cultural highlights and gastronomy. And only 20 minutes from Amsterdam, with the beach around the corner. Haarlem is a city I have been visiting my entire life: To visit a friend, for an event or on my way to the beach. But I never took the time to really explore. Until Iamsterdam and VisitHaarlem invited me to discover Haarlem and make a report. How cool is it to explore a city near your hometown. In this article you’ll find the best things to do in Haarlem in the Netherlands, including tips for art, tours, activities, boutique stores and restaurants. Haarlem is the perfect destination for a day- or weekendtrip from the busy capital.
- Welcome to Haarlem in the Netherlands
- Things to do in Haarlem | Tips for photogenic spots
- Cultural things to do in Haarlem
- Active things to do in Haarlem | 2 x tips
- What to do around Haarlem in The Netherlands
- Mini travel guide Haarlem
- More about the Netherlands
- Pin "what to do in Haarlem" for later
Welcome to Haarlem in the Netherlands
Haarlem is a neighbouring city to Amsterdam and is the capital of the North Holland province. The history of this city dates back to pre-medieval times. Something visible in the entire city. The center of Haarlem consists of many cobblestone streets, historical buildings and medieval architecture and is worth exploring, because if its great amount of things to do.
Things to do in Haarlem | Tips for photogenic spots
Windmill de Adriaan
Haarlem offers a lot of photogenic spots and you will find them by just strolling around. One of the best things to do in Haarlem, is to take a photo at windmill De Adriaan, on the Spaarne. If you are an early bird and the weather allows it, try to catch the sunrise. Or the sunset. It is beautiful.
The windmill houses a small museum nowadays, displaying background information about windmills in the Netherlands. It is possible to enter the windmill and enjoy the view from a 12 meters high platform overlooking the city and river.
Interested in visiting the windmill? You can book your tour here.
Stroll around the Vijfhoek area
If you want to see picturesque squares and streets with lots of flowers, head to the Vijfhoek neighbourhood. It is one of the most beautiful areas in the city. As an Amsterdam girl, I’m not always aware anymore of the beauty of these places. But during a city tour, with a camera in my hand, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The center of the Vijfhoek, is located around the Vijfhoek square, famous for its local café de Vijfhoek.
The Gravenstenenbrug with the two crow-stepped gable houses in the background is one of the scenic things to do in Haarlem, if you want to take pictures. Gravenstenenbrug is a drawbridge located across the Spaarne river.
De Amsterdamse Poort
A quick stop at the Amsterdamse Poort, the old city gate of Haarlem, from the 15the century, can not be missed. It is one of the first things you see when you drive from Amsterdam into Haarlem.
Cultural things to do in Haarlem
Haarlem is filled with historical monuments, including two famous churches, both called Saint Bavo. But one is called the Great Church, located on the cities main square, and the other one is a Cathedral, located just a bit outside the center. The Dome Cathedral of Haarlem is less visited than the Saint Bavo church in the center. It is an impressive basilica, built in the late 19th century by the Dutch architect Joseph Cuypers, who was also responsible for countless other churches and buildings in the Netherlands.
Interesting to know is it, that this cathedral, together with the Sagrada Familia (Barcelona), Sacré-Coeur (Paris) and Westminster Cathedral (London), is one of the most important churches built in the world between 1850 and 1950.
The church was built in three periods, with 60 different artists contributing. Something that can be seen in the countless styles: neo-gothic, neo-romanesque, Jugendstil, the Amsterdam School and even Moorish elements. I have always been impressed by stained glass. In this church you will find two stained glass pieces of art that deserve special attention. On the north you wille find blue and colders colors, pointing towards the north. On the southern side, warmer colors, such as orange and yellow can be seen.
Haarlem tips: Via steep stairs you climb to the top of the 60 meters high tower, from where you have a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Saint Bavo church & grote markt | Things to do in Haarlem
One of the famous things to do in Haarlem is to visit the Saint Bavo church or Great church. This church, with its Gothic architecture, is located in the middle of the city center, and dominates the Grote Markt, the main square with shops and terraces. Because of its 78 meters high tower, the Saint Bavo church can be seen from different places in the city.
The organ of the church was played by Händel and the tenyear old Mozart. Also, well known Haarlem inhabitants such as Frans Hals and Pieter Teyler are buried in the church. The famous organ and the floor with gravestones are largely still in original condition.
Visit de hofjes – things to do in haarlem
Haarlem is a real garden city and home to 21 hidden courtyards, surrounded by old mansions, used as almshouses. These charitable houses were originally inhabited by poor, unmarried and widowed women from Haarlem. Nowadays the courtyards are open to the public and it is super nice to stroll around for a morning or afternoon. Don’t forget to schedule a lunch or high tea in Hofje Zonder Zorgen. A nice lunchroom, serving organic food, housed in a 15th century building with a nice view of the courtyard of the Proveniershofje.
Haarlem tips: One of the interesting things to do in Haarlem is the Bavo to Bavo route, a walk, developed by the city of Haarlem, between the two iconic Saint Bavo landmarks. It is really worth exploring as it covers a big part of the historical city center and you can do it all by yourself.
Go back in time in the Teylers museum
As a 10-year-old girl, I entered this museum for the first time, working on a TV program, featuring summer activities for children. Now almost 25 years later I am visiting this museum again and only now I realize how special this place actually is.
Het Teylers museum is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. It was founded in the 18th century and nothing has been changed since. The historical importance and atmosphere is something you’ll immediately notice when you enter the building. This museum is all about discoveries, including scientific experiments, world expeditions, excavations and discussions about artistic achievements. There are fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, books, prints and paintings, all displayed in an authentic setting with natural light. It feels like going back in time and entering the ancient world of discoveries.
Want to visit the Teylers Museum? You can book your tickets here.
Haarlem tips: Try to book a tour and make sure you visit the 19th century library. It is open exclusively during guided tours. I love the magic of these old libraries.
Visit the Frans Hals museum
One of the things to do in Haarlem, if you want to learn more about Dutch art and history is to visit the Frans Hals Museum. Walking around here made me realize how much I enjoy discovering local artists and historical figures on the other side of the world myself.
Frans Hals actually no longer needs an explanation. Frans Hals, together with Rembrandt and Vermeer, is one of the most important Dutch Masters of the Golden Age. His work can be seen all over the world. In the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem, his birthplace, you will find the largest collection and most important works, such as his group portraits of archers and regents. There are also works by other great masters on display.
Want to visit the Frans Hans Museum? You can book your tickets here.
The museum has two locations: Hof, located in a 17th century mansion, and the Hal location in the center of the city, on the Grote Markt. The buildings are a 5-minute walk from each other and your ticket is valid for both locations.
Active things to do in Haarlem | 2 x tips
Discover Haarlem from the water
One of the best things to do in Haarlem is to discover the city from the water. You can go on a tour or rent a boat and be your own captain. You can sail all the way around the city center, along the Spaarne, Gasthuissingel, Leidsevaart and Schotersingel. Along the way, you can moor to one of the many waterside cafes and restaurants, such as the Oerkap. If the weather is nice, you can sail all the way to Mooie Nel lake and Spaarndam, a well-known Dutch recreational area.
Sup around the city
Want to discover Haarlem in a unique way? Rent a board and sup around the city. Supping (standup paddleboarding) is a popular activity in Haarlem in Summer. You can take a class or just explore the Spaarne and other canals yourself.
What to do around Haarlem in The Netherlands
Bloemendaal en Zandvoort beaches
Haarlem is famous for having its beaches so close. One of the nicest things to do in Haarlem is to rent a bike and visit the beaches of Bloemendaal or Zandvoort. It is a supernice daytrip and you can cycle through kilometres of wild dunes. In summer months beaches and beach clubs will be crowded, while you might have the place in winter to yourself. It’s an easy ride of 30 minutes.
Looking for places to stay around the beach? This is an overview.
Mini travel guide Haarlem
Tours in Haarlem
- Haarlem by bike
- Windmill tour
- Cruise the Haarlem canals
- Daytrip Amsterdam to Haarlem
- Teylers Museum
- Frans Hals Museum
Hotel tips Haarlem
Haarlem is a city with many different hotels. You will find hotel chains, trendy boutique hotels and beautiful bed & breakfasts. I was invited to stay in the Carlton Square hotel, a nice hotel in the city center. The rooms are fully equipped and the beds are lovely. The Frans Hals museum is located around the corner and via one of the golden streets, you can reach the main market within 10 minutes. Otherwise, look for a small hotel around the Kleine Houtstraat.
Looking for more hotels? Check out more hotels in Haarlem here.
Shopping in Haarlem – tips for the Golden Streets
The golden streets are often compared to the 9 little streets in Amsterdam. And that is for a reason. In this trendy Haarlem district you’ll find hundreds of trendy boutique shops, vintage stores, nice coffeebars and restaurants. Haarlem has even been voted best shopping destination in the Netherlands. Don’t forget to have a look at the beautiful facades of the houses.
Tips for shopping in Haarlem:
- Jutka & Riska, one of my favorite stores in Amsterdam, also has a branch in Haarlem. Entering this shop, means going out with a purchase. It’s a store where you just always come across something nice, even if you don’t need anything at all. Dresses, cardigans, jewelry, glasses, hats, all vintage inspired.
- Callysta is a store that immediately catches my eye because of the Frida Kahlo inspired photo on the wall, my big style icon. Inside you will find countless beautiful jewelry, all handmade
- A popular hotspot with a queue of people these days is Olivia Kate. A store, with nice clothes, accessories, interior items and the nicest gifts.
- Conceptstore NYHAVN, named after the neighborhood in Copenhagen, is your place for sustainable shopping. Here you will find special products with a story, from all over the world.
- ID store Haarlem is a store with contemporary and sophisticated items, including clothing, jewelry, table books and items for in your home.
Restaurants Haarlem | 7x tips
What to do in Haarlem and where to go for the best meals and drinks? There are more than two hundred restaurants and bars in Haarlem. There is so much to choose from. From fancy lunchrooms, coffeebars to Michelin-star restaurants, wine bars and simple eateries. New places appear almost every week.
These are my tips for the most lovely places for food & drinks in Haarlem:
- De Dakkas is built on the roof of the Kamp parking garage in the center of Haarlem. You can sit inside, in a real greenhouse, among lots of greenery, or outside on the roof with a view of the center of Haarlem. A sustainable concept that has been created entirely through crowdfunding. There are movie nights and cool exhibitions by Haarlem photographers.
- You’ll eat delicious fish dishes at Fishbar Monk. All dishes are to share, so you can taste as much as possible. There are also many matching wines and bubbles.
- Mica is a popular coffee hotspot. Inside you will find a simple but cozy design, consisting of a few tables. Outside you can take a seat on the bench.
- Want to experience a bit of New Orleans in Haarlem? Visit The Louisiana, because of the music, the vibe, the typical food and the signature cocktails.
- Wanna get some beach vibes in the city? Check out the Haarlem City beach: de Oerkap, located at the Spaarne river. The menu is simple and includes sandwiches, pizzas, snacks and bowls.
- Restaurant Parck is a place I recently discovered and would love to come back because of its nice location at the park and delicious fresh sandwiches.
Haarlem tips | Dinner & drinks in a former church
Looking for a dinner or drink at a special location? In Haarlem you can dine in a former church: De Jopenkerk. The church is now a grand café and brewery with countless beers to taste. You can choose a place on the terrace outside or take a seat in the former church itself.
The tasting menu is also recommended. It is a changing menu with a lot of fish and vegetables. You can also opt for a beer pairing menu, something that should of course not be missed in a beer brewery. Now I must admit that I am not a beer drinker myself, so I do not speak from my own experience, but my fellow travelers were very happy. If you’re planning to sit inside, try to get a spot on the top floor. The interior is super cool.
Tips for how to get around in Haarlem
The best way to discover Haarlem and its many things to do is by foot.
Want to explore te city by bike? You can book an interesting city tour by bike here. I always love to go on bycicle tours when I’m in another city.
How to reach Haarlem from Amsterdam
Haarlem is one of the easiest cities to reach from Amsterdam, wich makes it a perfect daytrip. From Amsterdam Central Station you will find trains, bringing you to Haarlem Central station within 20 minutes. From here it’s an easy walk into the city center. Also from Schiphol airport and other Dutch cities, there are many train connections. By car, you will reach Haarlem within 30 minutes, depending on your point of departure in Amsterdam and the time of the day.
Want to go on a private guided trip from Amsterdam to Haarlem? You can book your tour here.
Need a rental car for your trip in the Netherlands? Use Rental Cars to search and compare your car rental options. A quick and easy tool and no need to have up multiple tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. They also have great discounts and cancellation policies.
More about the Netherlands
Did you like reading this article with tips for what to do in Haarlem? Do you want to read more about the Netherlands?
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