Looking for an alternative to Amsterdam? Look no farther than Haarlem, the Netherlands — just a 15-minute direct train ride from Amsterdam, or a 35-minute train ride (with transfer) from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Check 9292.nl for specific information.
Local travel is so important right now, and always. That’s why I’ve partnered with Amsterdam & Partners and Visit Haarlem by joining their press trip to learn more about this lovely city. You all know how much I love working with Amsterdam & Partners because they are always showing me places and activities that I hadn’t yet discovered. As always, my opinions are my own.
Its accessibility makes it easy to get to-and-from without much fuss. It’s a great place to stay to get more of a neighborhood and small town feel while still being able to see whatever you want in North Holland. My friends who live there absolutely love it and I love visiting them. It just feels all comfy and cozy while offering a lot to the visitor.
If you only have a day in Haarlem, I’m so glad you’re taking time to visit! But, I really feel that to get the full effect, two days would be great. Then you can take day trips, or stay a few days in another city. I know a lot of people base themselves in Amsterdam and take day trips, but it’s just as easy from Haarlem. That brings me to my first point.
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20 reasons to visit Haarlem
1 | Haarlem is a great jumping-off point to visit more of North & South Holland. It has excellent access to Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. You don’t have to stay in Amsterdam to have a great time in the Netherlands. And yes, that’s coming from someone who lives in Amsterdam. So, there you go.
2 | If you’re looking for a great city vacation with easy access to the beach, look no farther. With a direct route by train (10 minutes) to the popular beach (Zandvoort) or a 30 min bus to a more local beach (Bloemendaal aan Zee), it’s a great mix of opportunities.
3 | It’s the capital of North Holland and is older than Amsterdam. If you take a proper tour in any Dutch city, this should be it. There’s so much to learn and it’s really interesting!
4 | It houses the oldest museum in the Netherlands with an insane variety of collections. I’m not a museum person and yet, the Teylers Museum seriously impressed me. A science geek at heart had me swooning over the oval room. It’s one of those places that you kick yourself for when you’ve never been and didn’t know about it. Now, you do. You’re welcome 🙂
5 | Local markets are a must-do thing here. I love the Dutch markets so much and you will, too! Head to the Grote Markt on Mondays and Saturdays from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm for an epic sight. It’s so fun to meander through the stalls. Be sure to get a fresh stroopwafel! Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays, the Botermarkt is open also, from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Or just pop by a local restaurant in the early afternoon and people watch. These markets have all kinds of goods so it’s a great place for a treat or a souvenir!
6 | Haarlem holds a great Christmas market which isn’t as common as you’d think in the Netherlands being a neighbor to Germany. Check their website for specifics on dates because it’s only one weekend and you wouldn’t want to visit in December and miss it!
7 | Hofjes like Hofje van Bakenes are a special treat for anyone who loves a little greenery in their lives. Is it just me or is it calming just being in a garden? Hofje just means little garden and are typical through a gate or door and surrounded by homes. They are open to the public and free but remember people live there so be respectful! Here’s a self-guided tour so you can see a few.
8 | They have nice hotels, like the Carlton Square hotel. It’s walkable to everything and has a great restaurant called Zocher. I’ve stayed there twice and had dinner in Zocher, it was all a nice little getaway for us!
9 | See Haarlem by the water because it’s a Dutch city, and that’s a given. 🙂 But seriously, any city you visit with water running through it (and in Europe, I’d almost say that’s most of them). You can take a canal cruise with a tour boat or rent your own!
10 | This city is a photo-lovers dream. There are really old and beautiful buildings to swoon over, and it’s a perfect place to take a walk and wander with your thoughts. Your camera (or phone) will get a workout here 😉
11 | Go shopping in the Golden Streets. Have a fun day out exploring the local boutique stores with their local flair. You’ll also find the cutest cafes along your way as well. I find that we all need some leisurely days as we travel, and strolling along and shopping sounds like the perfect day to me!
12 | The food scene is incredible. Whatever your diet, you’ll find impressive spots here. Jopenkerk is a classic because it’s a brewery in an old church and is a must visit in Haarlem. It’s loved by locals and visitors and I recently just discovered they make their own gin! You bet I had a G&T 🙂
13 | It’s a great place to cycle! I mean, yeah, all of the Netherlands is, but I don’t recommend visitors using a bike around Amsterdam because it’s incredibly busy and the crowds make it difficult to feel comfortable. But taking a bike tour of Haarlem would be a great way to get your Dutch cycling in and seeing this historical city.
14 | Are you a fan of the Dutch Masters? Then the Frans Hals Museum should be on your itinerary. This museum combines the old and the new which is pretty fascinating! Seriously, if you’re an art fan, Haarlem will make your artistic heart sing.
15 | Those interested in WWII history might want to visit the Corrie ten Boomhuis. Similar to the Anne Frank House, you’ll get to visit the home of a family that hid their Jewish neighbors in a fake wall. It’s still as it was in the 1940’s so you a peek into the space people lived in while they were hiding from the Nazi occupying forces.
16 | If you love churches, you’ll love Haarlem. You cannot miss the Cathedral of St Bavo. It is all kinds of epic and you have to see it to believe it! Of course, you can’t walk through Haarlem without seeing The St. Bavo Church in Haarlem because it towers over the Grote Markt — the major square in Haarlem.
17 | In an old medieval insane asylum and place where they put those with contagious diseases, you’ll find Dolhuys. It’s a museum different from ones you may be used to visiting. It showcases works from scientists, artists, and writers that likely had mental illness or disability. You may look at the world a bit differently after your visit. The Dolhuys is currently under renovations, so check the website for updates on their re-opening.
18 | It has a windmill. Yep, the Molen de Adriaan is a windmill within easy walking distance from the shopping streets and allows visitors. Take a guided tour and visit the platform that gives you an unbelievable view over Haarlem. Every trip to the Netherlands deserves a visit to a windmill, right?
19 | Discover Napoleon’s palace. That Napoleon! He named his brother King of Holland and therefore his brother lived there for a while. Now it’s part of the government but people still call it Napoleon’s palace. Fun fact: Thomas Jefferson visited this home when the original owner, Henry Hope, lived there. He was kind of a big deal and had many famous visitors! The park around it is also very impressive and not to be missed.
20 | There’s plenty to see, do, and eat while not being overly crowded. I find it to be a pleasant place to go and stay because it feels manageable. Does that make sense? You get to feel what it’s like to live in a real Dutch town that isn’t designed around tourists but welcome them with open arms.
I hope this has inspired you to look beyond Amsterdam and discover a gem in North Holland. Everyone loves Haarlem, and I think you will, too! If you go, definitely let us know in the comments, or send us a picture and tag us on social media. We absolutely LOVE when our advice is helpful for you! And when you let us know that, we get all warm and fuzzy inside 🙂
Also, if you’ve discovered a wonderful place that deserves more attention, please tell us! We love exploring more and a little farther. What I really want to share with all of you that there will always be more beyond the one city everyone knows and loves and “has” to go to. Digging a little deeper will help you have a more unique experience and will leave you with more lasting memories.