Haarlem is known for its history, museums, art, cultural highlights, boutique stores and gastronomy. It’s 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. Still, I never really took the time to explore the city. Iamsterdam and VisitHaarlem invited me to visit beautiful Haarlem and make a report. How cool is it to discover a city and cultural highlights near your hometown! In this article you’ll find many tips about what to do in Haarlem, including the best things to do in terms of art, cultural highlights, activities, boutique stores, fancy coffeeshops and restaurants. Haarlem is the perfect destination for a daytrip from Amsterdam, to escape the busy center of the Dutch capital, or a multi-day journey when you are visiting the Netherlands.
Things to do in Haarlem
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 cobblestoned streets, historical buildings and medieval architecture and is worth exploring for a day or a long weekend, as the city offers an incredible amount of things to do.
Tips for photogenic spots
1. Windmill de Adriaan
Haarlem offers a lot of photogenic spots and you will find them by just strolling and looking around. During your first visit to Haarlem, make sure you take a photo at the De Adriaan Molen, on the Spaarne. If you are an early bird and the weather allows it, try to catch the sunrise. Or the sunset. It’s 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 a lovely view from a 12 meters high platform overlooking the city and river.
2. Cute streets and houses with flowers at 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 kept shooting and being the last to join the guide and group.
The center of the Vijfhoek, is located around the square de Vijfhoek, famous for its local café buurtcafé de Vijfhoek
3. Monumental buildings | What to do in Haarlem
The Gravenstenenbrug with the two crow-stepped gable houses in the background is a photo spot you definitely have to visit. The Gravenstenenbrug is a drawbridge located across the Spaarne river and a beautiful spot for pictures.
4. De Amsterdamse Poort – City gate
A picture at the Amsterdamse Poort, the old city gate of Haarlem, from the 15the century, can’t be missed. During my next visit, I’m planning to take a picture with myself on it!
At Station Spaarnwoude, artworks by graffiti artists are located on two quay walls of the station. If you are in the area, stop for a photo! It’s something, that I’ll be doing soon.
What to do in Haarlem? | Cultural highlights
1. De kathedrale basiliek Sint Bavo – Dome Cathedral
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. And I am actually also suprised about the fact that I have never been here before. 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.
The cathedral is already impressive from the outside and I couldn’t resist taking pictures right away. 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 guide explains me that he could walk around for hours both indoors and outdoors, explaining stories and background information. And I believe him immediately. There is so much to see.
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. The colors and decorations are almost always beautiful. In this church you will find two stained glass pieces of art that deserve special attention. On the north side this contains blue (cold) colors, as it points towards the north. On the southern side, warmer colors, such as orange and yellow can be seen. How I would like to understand and read the displayed images and stories in the decorations myself!
The highlight is a visit to the towers. Via steep stairs you climb to the top of the 60 meters high tower, from where you have a beautiful view of the surroundings. Do you want to learn more about the cathedral during your visit? At the entrance you can book an audio tour where you can listen to many stories about the cathedral.
2. Saint Bavo church & grote markt | Things to do in Haarlem
One of the most iconic landmarks in Haarlem is 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 famous square with many shops and terraces. Because of its 78 meters high tower, this landmark can be seen from different points in the city and even from outside. It’s impossible to miss!
Did you know that the organ in 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.
3. Haarlem hofjes – Haarlem things to do
Haarlem is a real garden city and home to 21 hidden courtyards, surrounded by old mansions, used as alsmhouses (charitable housing). These 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 beautiful view of the courtyard of the Proveniershofje, A picturesque setting!
Haarlem tips | From Bavo to Bavo. 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’s really worth exploring as it covers a big part of the historical city center and you can do it all by yourself. You can doanload the pdf here.
What to do in Haarlem | tips for art
1. 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, called Summer Children TV, featuring summer activities for children that took place here. 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. The building and decorations are beautiful. This museum is all about discoveries: about 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.
The museum also houses a wing with temporary and changing exhibitions. During my visit, Raphael and the Italian renaissance were featured. Very worth the visit, if you are intrested in art and history!
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. Make sure you also take a picture on the first floor!
2. 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 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.
The museum has two locations: Hof, 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.
Things to do in Haarlem | activities + tips
1. Rent a boat and be your own captain for the day
Haarlem is just like Amsterdam a perfect city to discover from the water. Of course you can go on an organized boat tour. But one of the best things to do in Haarlem is to rent a boat yourself 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 the boat to one of the many waterside cafes and restaurants, such as the city beach de Oerkap. If the weather is nice, explore the surroundings and sail to the Mooie Nel lake and Spaarndam, a well-known Dutch recreational area.
The boats are small and you don’t need a license. You will get the necessary instructions in advance and you are ready to go. There are many different boat companies. Have a look at Sloepdelen, Boot verhuur Haarlem or Club Spaarne and choose your boat for the day.
2. What to do in Haarlem | Suppen
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. On Friday’s you can join the Friday night sup. A great way to meet new people!
3. Visit Bloemendaal en Zandvoort beaches | What to do in Haarlem?
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, also known as the beaches of Amsterdam. It’s a supernice day trip and you can cycle through kilometres of wild dunes. In summer months beaches and beach clubs will be crowded, while in winter months beaches can be quiet and you might have the place to yourself. It’s an easy ride of 30 minutes.
What to do in Haarlem? Tips for shopping in 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!
These are my 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 wonderful store, with nice clothes, accessories, interior items and the nicest gifts.
- Conceptstore NYHAVN, named after a hip 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 beautiful, contemporary and sophisticated items, including clothing, jewelry, table books and beautiful items for in your home.
Haarlem Tips: There is a nice and free pocketsize book about the Golden Streets available, with many useful tips and background stories about the different shops, buildings and former inhabitants. Want to save paper? Have a look at the website.
Best restaurants & lunch rooms in Haarlem | 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 the most 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. A place to really look forward to!
- Mica is a popular coffee hotspot. Of course to drink delicious coffee, but in my case also lovely teas and cakes ( because I don’t drink coffee). Inside you will find a simple but cozy design, consisting of a few tables. Outside you can take a seat on the bench. It’s a great place for any time of the day.
- Want to experience a bit of New Orleans in Haarlem? Visit The Louisiana. I visited New Orleans twice for work and couldn’t be happier. The music, the vibe, the typical food and the signature cocktails. At the Louisiana in Haarlem you’ll eat voodoo wings, crab cakes and burgers, many typical meat dishes (for the meat lover), such as bourbon ribs and gumbo, and delicious lobster. Of course with cool NOLA blues and jazz tunes.
- Wanna get some beach vibes in the city? Check out the Haarlem City beach: stadstrand de Oerkap, a very laid-back and nice beach restaurant, 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 go back to again because of the beautiful location at the park, the nice interior and the 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 | Where to stay in 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 just wonderful. The Frans Hals museum is around the corner and via one of the golden streets (the small wood street!), you can reach the main market within 10 minutes ready to start your activities in Haarlem. Highly recommended! Otherwise, look for a small hotel around the Kleine Houtstraat.
Tips | How to get around in Haarlem?
Haarlem is a very pedestrian and cyclist friendly city. It is very easy to just walk around. Want to cover longer distances? Rent a bike or scooter at for example Rent a bike Haarlem and explore. They have different bikes and environmental friendly electric scooters for the day (minimum age for scooters is 18).
I always love to go on bycicle tours when I’m in another city. Bike Tours Haarlem is offering tours such as the Old city bike tour, a beach tour and flower tour, including a visit to the flowerfields, bike rental and guide. All tours are a great way to explore the city and surroundings and learn more about the area.
How to reach Haarlem from Amsterdam?
Haarlem is one of the easiest cities to reach from Amsterdam, wich makes it a perfect day trip. From Amsterdam Central Station you will find trains almost every 5 minutes, 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.
Looking for more activity? | What to do in Haarlem
Haarlem can be reached by bike as well. It will take you more or less 1.15 hours from Central Station Amsterdam. There are bycicle trails and it’s a lovely trip when the weather is nice. Just keep in mind that you also have to cycle back, or bring your bike for an additional fee with you on the train.
Do you want to read more city guides about cities in Central– and South America or Asia? Have a look in the archive for a lot of travel inspiration and tips.
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This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)