Best things to do in Haarlem
Find out more about those top places in Haarlem
Barely fifteen minutes by train outside Amsterdam, the small city of Haarlem feels like a different world. Beyond the buzz of the Netherlands capital, Haarlem is a classic sleepy Dutch city with cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, stepped roofs and medieval windmills, which punctuate the skyline. Following Haarlem’s conversion to Protestantism in the 16th century, the city enjoyed a golden age of art and commerce, which is displayed for all to see at the Frans Hals Museum. While the quaint city center is enchanting, just beyond Haarlem’s city limits is the expansive Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, which boasts some of Europe’s largest sand dunes. The national park is crisscrossed by cycle pathways and pony trekking trails making it an exhilarating day trip for people of all ages.
For anyone interested in the art of the Dutch Golden Age, a visit to Haarlem’s Frans Hals Museum is a highlight of the Netherlands. Housed in a former poorhouse where the artist Frans Hals spent his final years, the museum has an astonishing collection of works by Hals and other Haarlem based artists, which were produced during the Netherlands gilded 17th century.
Less than 5 kilometers west of Haarlem lies one of the Netherlands hidden gems: stretching along the North Sea coast are a series of towering dunes that have been formed by the tides and the winds over the past millennia. For the best experience, take a cycling tour of this unique landscape to see Scottish Highland cattle, wild horses and learn about the area’s wartime history.
One of the Netherlands finest churches, the Grote Kerk van Saint Bavo is simply a joy to explore. Housing a treasure trove of Renaissance art works, alongside the world’s largest 18th century Müller organ, and topped by a precipitous Gothic spire, the church has a plethora of attractions. If you are interested in its rich history, including a connection with a young Mozart, guided tours are available.
Rising above the Haarlem skyline is the De Adriaan Windmill, one of the finest examples of windmill architecture in the Netherlands. Today the windmill houses a museum exploring their role in Dutch history while you can also take guided tours of its inner-workings.
The Corrie ten Boom House, better known as ‘the hiding place’, is Haarlem’s best and most harrowing World War Two-era attraction. Belonging to the Boom family, the house was used to hide Jews and Dutch resistance fighters from Nazi occupiers during World War Two in a series of secret rooms. The house can be explored as part of a guided tour that reveals its hidden secrets and what life was like under German rule.
The Haarlemmerhout is the Netherlands oldest park. Dating from the 16th century, the park is today immaculately landscapes with a collection of beech, chestnut, oak, linden and maple trees lining its many pathways and lakes. What is more, during the summer months Haarlem’s main park transforms into the city’s living room with a host of world-class art exhibitions, concerts and theater performances taking place.
Much like its larger neighbor Amsterdam, Haarlem’s streetscape is defined by the constant presence of canals. To see the city from the water, take a romantic boat tour that will take you past all the main attractions including the De Adriaan Windmill and the Grote Kerk van Saint Bavo.
On Saturdays Haarlem comes alive thanks to the always-thrilling Grote Markt, where you can buy just about anything. Traders selling fresh fruit, fine cheeses and iconic Dutch snacks, such as stroopwafle, sit side by side with stalls flogging antiques, vintage clothing and vinyl records.