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Haarlem is a dream. It has grand architecture, outdoor cafes, canals, and great museums all without the crowds of some of the larger cities in the Netherlands. Haarlem is amazingly photogenic and easy to get around. And, only 15 minutes away by train, Haarlem makes an ideal day trip from Amsterdam.
We spent one full day exploring the squares and seeking out the hidden gardens of this beautiful city. There were more than enough things to do in Haarlem to fill our time, and we could have stayed much longer without running out of things to see and experience. To squeeze more out of your Haarlem trip, consider staying over—accommodation rates may be more affordable in Haarlem, which makes it an ideal base for exploring the Netherlands.
Things to do in Haarlem
The center of Haarlem is compact, so it’s easy to visit a lot of sites in a short period of time. These are some of the sites and attractions we loved in the city.
See St. Elisabeth Gasthuis
Some of the prettiest buildings in the city, the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis is a former hospital complex across from the Frans Hals Museum. The idyllic row of step gabled facades was built in 1612.
The buildings are remarkable for their age and heritage and for the fact that they now house historical and cultural museums. But what made me stop and notice them was just how perfect they are. Dutch in every way—lined with flowers and ivy, their red bricks glistening in the sun, the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis is worth a quick stop if you’re in the area of Groot Heiligland.
Stop by the Boardroom Café
Between the train station and the center of Haarlem, you’ll find the Boardgame Café. This cute stop is ideal to rest your feet and grab a bite to eat while being entertained in a unique way.
The Boardroom Café has over 500 types of games for different interests, skill levels, and ages. They run regular tournaments and have experts available to help with game selection and rules. While you play, you can have pizza, sandwiches, or other snacks from the café.
Learn about courage at Corrie ten Boom House
A visit to the Corrie ten Boom house presents guests with the story of regular Dutch citizens who intervened to save the lives of Jews in danger during World War II. In their unassuming watch shop and home above the store, the Ten Boom family housed Jews and members of the Dutch resistance hiding from the Nazis.
Called by their deep Christian faith to protect people from Nazi persecution, the family put their lives on the line to help others. From providing stolen ration cards to offering a safe-haven in their home, they protected those waiting to move to other safe houses or to escape from the Netherlands entirely.
The Corrie ten Boom House, now a museum, is one of the best places to visit in Haarlem to learn about about the impact of World War II on the Dutch people. You can see the house and the false wall they built to provide a hiding place for people in need, and you can learn about the family’s arrest and imprisonment. Tour hours are limited, and it’s usually necessary to schedule well in advance to visit the popular Haarlem attraction.
Relax at the Wijngaardtuin
In Haarlem city center, the Wijngaardtuin is a patch of green in the middle of some of the city’s oldest buildings. This garden oasis is an ideal hideaway to relax with a book or a picnic in the grass. Situated among the tulips, flowers, and trees, you can listen to the bells of St. Bavo Church nearby.
Get outside at Grote Markt
I’m a sucker for city squares and Grote Markt is no different. Ringed by restaurants, cafes, and St. Bavo Church that dates from the 15th century, this area is one of the best places to see in Haarlem.
Much of the town square has looked just this way for centuries, so Grote Markt gives off a feeling of substantial history and a bustling modern city at the same time. With open air cafés, festivals, concerts, and the regular Saturday street market filling the area, there is always something to see here.
Unlike Amsterdam, where Dam Square and many of the other squares are crowded beyond capacity, there’s still plenty of room to relax and enjoy the slower pace and space in Haarlem.
See the organ at St. Bavo’s Church (Grote Kerk)
A visit to the Grote Markt isn’t complete without peeking inside Haarlem’s grand church, St. Bavo’s Church (aka Grote Kerk). This building has endured a lot—fire, lightning strike, and the Dutch Reformation that changed it from Catholic to Protestant, to name a few. But it has survived and remained more in-tact than many other churches in the Netherlands with a similar level of importance.
Take a look inside to see its elaborate interior and its central attraction—the organ once played by Handel and a 10-year-old Mozart is one of the most popular things to see in Haarlem. There are more than 400 gravestones embedded in the floor, including those for notable Haarlemmers such as Frans Hals and Pieter Teyler van der Hulst.
Note: The Grote Kerk should not be confused for the similarly named Haarlem Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Bavo.
Take a walk through history at Teylers Museum
One of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, the Teylers Museum is full of all kinds of curiosities. There are natural objects that will leave you intrigued and educated and some others that will have you scratching your head and wondering if you’ve just seen a unicorn skull. The collection includes fossils, scientific instruments, gems, and much more.
The Teylers Museum also has a significant collection of paintings and drawings that include the works of Dutch Romantics and greats like Michelangelo and Raphael. Don’t miss the peaceful hofje in the middle of the museum where you can relax outside on a nice day. If you’re coming on a day trip from Amsterdam, make sure to use your iAmsterdam card for free admission.
See inside a hofje
Many cities in the Netherlands have courtyards—big and small—hidden in its cute streets. The history of these hofjes, or almshouses surrounding a courtyard, goes back centuries, in many instances to the Middle Ages. They were designed to provide housing for the elderly and those with low income.
The trick to most hofjes is that you have to know where they are because they’re often hidden behind a plain door just like any other private residence. They are typically open to the public 10am to 5pm (closed Sundays), so if you find one open, you can peek inside as long as you are respectful. You’re likely to find nicely manicured plants or gardens in these serene green spaces.
There are 21 public hofjes in Haarlem. If you have trouble finding one, look through the gate at Hofje van Oorschot or visit the one in the center of the Frans Hals Museum. While these two aren’t typical because they’re larger and easy to see, they give you an idea of what the others look like.
Sample Dutch beer at De Jopenkerk
In many parts of Europe, monks are known for their brewing expertise, ensuring that the Church and imbibing go hand-in-hand. While De Jopenkerk lacks the monks and religion, it’s got the church and the brew.
In the former St. Jacob’s Church, you can sample local beers made from medieval recipes as the church’s stained glass gleams above your head. If the Haarlem-made products don’t move you, you can also sample beer from all over the Netherlands. Stop in for a drink, a tour, or lunch or dinner in their restaurant.
Shop the “streets of gold”
In Haarlem, the main shopping streets are called “de Gouden Straatjes” (streets of gold). Filled with boutiques and specialty food stores, they’re a delight for browsers and shoppers. The most well-known streets for shopping in Haarlem are Grote Houtstraat, Barteljorisstraat, and Zijlstraat, but there are plenty of smaller streets like Schagchelstraat and Kleine Houtstraat where you can find a selection of great stores.
Don’t miss Chocolaterie Pierre, a family-run chocolate shop with truffles and ice cream, or Olivia and Kate if you’re looking for clothing and accessories. Vintage Curators offers unique items and vintage clothes, and you can find teas from around the world at Tea My Dear.
Visit an old-time pharmacy
It’s impossible to miss Drogisterij A.J. Van der Pigge thanks to its unusual sign, a large yawning head, bracing for the medicine to come. Inside, the chemist’s shop is a step back in time. The interior of the family-run business dates to its founding in 1849, complete with antique shelves, scales, and apothecary bottles.
This naturopathic shop focuses on herbal medicine and ancient recipes for healing all types of ailments. Its renowned Haarlemmerolie (Haarlem oil) is known throughout the city for its healing properties.
See the works of the Frans Hals Museum
One of the top museums in Haarlem, the Frans Hals museum is a must visit for art lovers. It houses a sizeable collection of art from the Dutch Golden Age including the world’s largest collection of portraits by Frans Hals, the noted artist who lived and worked in Haarlem in the 1600s. Among the works are many religious-themed pieces taken from churches and monasteries during the Protestant Reformation.
Although many of the works at the Frans Hals museum are centuries old, the museum strives to maintain a vibrant, modern atmosphere. In some instances, contemporary works are displayed alongside the older masterpieces, and, every spring, unique floral creations are spread throughout the museum during the time that coincides with the opening of the famous tulip gardens at Keukenhof.
The flower displays during Museum in Bloom are themselves works of art. We loved them because they made it feel like we were visiting someone’s home rather than an art gallery.
The Frans Hals Museum has two locations. Hof on Groot Heiligland is the home of the 17th-century works. Hal on Grote Markt houses contemporary art, including photography and video works.
Hang out at a rooftop bar
We love a good rooftop bar and DeDAKKAS fits the bill perfectly. On the roof of the De Kamp parking garage, the bar and café has sweeping views of Haarlem.
There are two options at DeDAKKAS—you can grab a spot on the beautiful terrace and look out at the roofs of Haarlem and the tower of Grote Kerk, or you can cozy up inside the greenhouse-style café decorated with local artwork. The choices are equally perfect, but we almost always choose outside when the weather allows.
To get to DeDAKKAS , take the elevator up to the 6th floor of the parking garage. If you’re wondering whether you’re in the right place, you probably are.
Tour Molen De Adriaan
Few things are more quintessentially Dutch than a windmill, so make sure not to miss Haarlem’s Molen De Adriaan, even if you only have time for a photo op. Originally built in 1778, the current mill is a reconstruction because the first one succumbed to fire in 1932.
A small museum traces the history of mills and the role of the Spaarne River in the development of Haarlem. On a tour, visitors will learn more about the importance of windmills in the Netherlands and even get to see the mill at work. The city views from the mills platform are stunning. If you find yourself in need of even more windmills, consider visiting the open air museum of Zaanse Schans just an hour away.
How to Get to Haarlem from Amsterdam
The train from Amsterdam to Haarlem takes only 15-20 minutes, and trains leave multiple times per hour, so you never have to wait long. Haarlem Station is a 15-minute walk from Grote Markt and the city center.