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When we arrived in the Netherlands, we had three full days in the country before we boarded a boat for our European River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. At first, we (logically) considered staying in Amsterdam – a city that we love and one that can easily entertain us for weeks – but we were on a streak of visiting new places (Primostek, Slovenia; Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia were our previous stops) and we were in a new-city groove. Our focus shifted from the big city of Amsterdam to the historic and charming city of Haarlem – just 12 miles away. During our three-day stay, we packed our days with sightseeing and discovered the top 5 things to do in Haarlem, Netherlands.
Top 5 Things to Do in Haarlem
Our list of the top 5 things to do in Haarlem are based on our experiences while visiting. We stayed for three days, but our list of Haarlem things to do can be seen in a single day (which works well for Amsterdam day trips). Below, you can find information about the Haarlem hotel we stayed in and how to get from Haarlem to Amsterdam.
Grote of St. Bavokerk (Great Church of St. Bavo)
Churches abound in the city of Haarlem, their steeples rising above the gabled houses to create a lovely skyline. The Grote of St. Bavokerk, however, is the Haarlem church that can’t be missed. Not to be mistaken for the Haarlem Cathedral (confusingly named Cathedral of St. Bavo), Grote of St. Bavokerk is located in the center of town on the Haarlem grote markt (big market square). Main features of the church – once Catholic, now Protestant – are the 255-foot-tall tower, the Haarlem organ (dating to 1738, with more than 5,000 pipes), the choir, stained-glass windows and more than 400 gravestones – all of which make the church one of the top Haarlem attractions.
Information about opening hours and pricing here.
Molen De Adriaan (Haarlem Windmill)
Molen De Adriaan stands on the bank of the Spaarne River at the edge of Haarlem’s old town. Built in 1778 atop a former guard tower, the Haarlem windmill has been used to crush stone, tobacco and grains. Due to fire in the 1930s, the windmill had to be completely reconstructed and only reopened in 2002 – and is now one of the top things to see in Haarlem. Inside there is a museum and tours of the windmill are also possible.
Information about opening hours and pricing here.
Jopenkerk (Jopen Brewery and craft beer bars)
Wherever we are in the world, we seek out the flavor of local craft beer. The task can be difficult in some cities, but in Haarlem – a city with a long history as a beer-brewing town – it is easy. While there are several bars in Haarlem that serve craft beer, Jopenkerk is the Haarlem brewery that ranks the most popular. At the brewery, which is located in the Haarlem city center inside the former Jacob’s Church (thus the name, Jopenkerk), the brewers use classic Haarlem beer recipes that date to the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as produce other unique and award-winning brews. If you are not into beer, you can still take a break from your Haarlem sightseeing for a bite to eat at the Jopenkerk restaurant.
Corrie ten Boom House
The Corrie ten Boom House is one of the best places to visit in Haarlem to learn about the history of the city during World War II. Now a museum, the house was occupied by the ten Boom family for more than 100 years – from 1837 until 1945. In 1943 and 1944, the devout Christian family opened their home to Jews and others trying to escape the Nazis. A false wall was built in Corrie’s bedroom, where people could be hidden. Her room and the hiding space are visited on the tour and are must-see Haarlem sights.
Tip: Before going to the museum, read the book, The Hiding Place, written by Corrie ten Boom.
The Corrie ten Boom House museum and tours are free (donations accepted). Information about opening times here.
Hofje (Courtyard gardens)
In the city of Haarlem, there are at least 20 courtyard parks, called Hofje, which are open to the public. The trick is: you can only go in if you can find the door. The secret gardens – most of which date to the 17th and 18th centuries – once served as the communal area for the houses that surrounded them and today they are peaceful, green retreats in the Haarlem city center. The oldest hofje in the Netherlands, Hofje van Bakenes or Bakenesserkamer, is in Haarlem and dates to the year 1395. As people dwell in the homes around the gardens, the hofje aren’t exactly Haarlem tourist attractions, but visiting them was certainly one of our Haarlem highlights!
Information about the hofjes and locations here.
Sightseeing Haarlem Bonus: Market at Grote Markt Haarlem
The market at the Grote Markt Haarlem is one of the top things to do in Haarlem, but the market only takes place on Saturdays. If you visit on a Saturday, be sure to check out the Haarlem Markt booths overflowing with fresh produce, meat, cheese, flowers and other goods. Peruse the booths for picnic items or buy fresh flowers to brighten your room!
For Haarlem shopping every other day of the week, stroll The Golden Streets in the city center. The historic shopping streets are lined with hip stores and trendy boutiques.
Information about Haarlem markets and shopping here.
Our Top Tips for your Trip to Haarlem, Netherlands
More Haarlem Activities
We have shared our Top 5 Things to Do in Haarlem, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Here are a few more suggestions for your Haarlem visit:
- Art lovers, check out the Frans Hals Museum.
- History buffs may like to visit the Teylers Museum, the Netherlands oldest museum founded in 1778.
- For those more interested in outdoor activities, consider one of the Haarlem canal tours or a bike ride through the tulip fields.
- Tour Haarlem with a professional Haarlem travel guide (you can book a private tour through Viator) or wander the city sights on your own to find hidden gems, historic buildings or quirky sights (like the Haarlem Red Light District).
Places to Stay in Haarlem
During our visit to Haarlem, we stayed in the centrally located Ambassador City Hotel, which we liked for its proximity to sights and uniqueness. We had a spacious room that looked right out to the Grote of St. Bavokerk. It was also well-priced within our budget. However, there are many Haarlem hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center, which you can search for here.
If budget is a concern, we have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Haarlem holiday apartments can also be searched on Airbnb, (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!), FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
Getting from Amsterdam Central to Haarlem
The Haarlem-Amsterdam Train is the easiest way to get between the two cities. However, if you are closer to the west side of Amsterdam, Bus #300 may be faster.
- Plan your Amsterdam to Haarlem Train journey here.
- Plan your Haarlem to Amsterdam Train journey here.
- Haarlem to Amsterdam Train Cost: €4.30 one way
More information about traveling from Amsterdam Central to Haarlem can be found on the I amsterdam website. For more information on Amsterdam public transportation or to plan your journey, go to the the ns.nl website.
Before You Go
- Haarlem is a walkable city…but only if you have the right shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Make sure to have a good guidebook before arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: Have you visited Haarlem, Netherlands? What were your top things to do in Haarlem? Give us your best tips in the comments below!
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