My favorite part of traveling is finding those hidden gems…those places that the only locals and travelers who do major research seem to know about. Haarlem is one of those places. Simply put, it’s a real place that isn’t touristy. Yet, it’s completely charming with it’s canals, gabled buildings, and side streets that are postcard-perfect.
You won’t find a bunch of touristy shops and restaurants in Haarlem. Really, it’s nice to go for a breath of fresh air. As a resident of Amsterdam, I appreciate the lack of coffeeshops, red lights, and drunken visitors. Instead, it’s easier to explore the area. Wander around the canals, find unique and specialty shops, without worrying too much about bikes or trams.
My favorite thing to do to really understand a new place is to get lost. We’ll see a clock on a tower high above other buildings and zigzag the streets to find it. Sometimes we’ll follow our nose to a local bakery to enjoy a snack. And coming to a beautiful park or garden is always worth the adventure.
Like many cities, you’ll find markets. Saturdays or Sundays are your best bets for those. We even managed to join in the holiday celebration for Christmas where there’s a major market! Various stalls line the streets downtown with speakers set up along the length playing the perfect mix of Christmas music. As an accompaniment, there were carolers and bands playing in old Christmas costumes.
With a tasty white glühwein in hand from Zocher (I’m not a red glühwein fan…sorry!), we meandered through the market looking for holiday cheer and tasty food. Both were in abundance! I’m not sure how many times I caught myself micro-dancing (is that a thing, where you’re just barely moving, but definitely dancing?) and singing or humming along to music. Is there anything better than that?
Maybe…just maybe there is.
When a meal is the highlight of your evening, that’s pretty darn awesome. You know we like to eat…and we’re pretty picky about it. So, when we had an amazing meal at Zocher (inside the Carlton Square hotel), we were so happy that we just wanted to have ourselves rolled to the elevator since we ate so much!
Our best advice is to seriously consider the specials. We did, and it was a great decision. I got the Côte de Bœuf with salad and fries while Sean got Dorado (Mahi Mahi) with sweet potato puree and asparagus. I know, I know. Fries at a nice restaurant? Don’t judge. I love fries and the Dutch do it well.
We paired our main dishes with a beer and wine and then prepared ourselves for the house special for dessert, called Gateau Chaud. It’s pretty close to heaven on a plate with chocolate molten lava cake with mandarin ice cream and Grand Marnier salted caramel sauce.
I want more. Right. Now. Oh, a second piece of advice: don’t overlook the cocktail list! Much cheaper than Amsterdam and they do beautiful G&Ts. Though, the whole restaurant is beautiful, so that’s not surprising. Feel free to take a peek into the sunken kitchen. It’s all on display for you to watch. Can’t hide anything there!
After a long week, a quiet weekend away was just what we needed. We are so happy we took the time to visit Haarlem, especially because we now can’t wait to go back. There’s more exploring to do, churches to wander through, and a canal cruise to take. Being so easy to get to from Amsterdam, there’s just no reason not to head over and so many reasons you should!
Pin for later!We want to thank Carlton Square for inviting us for a complimentary stay while we visited Haarlem and for the wonderful dinner. We are delighted to share our experience with you, our readers, because we want you to have the best experiences out there. I would never share a positive experience if it was not one. That is a promise.