Are you looking for the perfect day trip to a charming Dutch town near Amsterdam? Then you must go to Haarlem Netherlands, only a 15-minute train ride away. Although it resembles Amsterdam with its pretty canals, historical landmarks, museums, and cozy cafes, it has far fewer tourists. It’s the perfect size to explore in one day and on foot. Of all the day trips from Amsterdam, Haarlem should be at the top of the list. Use this guide to plan the top things to do in Haarlem. (Updated: November 222)

Getting to Haarlem from Amsterdam

The fastest and easiest way to get to Haarlem from Amsterdam is to travel by train. From Amsterdam’s main train station, Amsterdam Centraal, purchase your ticket (€4.70 in 2022) and you will arrive in Haarlem in 15 minutes. It’s that easy. As this is a popular route, trains to Haarlem operate pretty frequently. 

buildings on square

READ MORE | Need any planning inspriation for Amsterdam, check out my guide

Best Things to Do in Haarlem

Explore Old Town

Half the fun of visiting Haarlem is simply walking around and taking in the beautiful sites. The best spot to begin to explore the city is Haarlem Old Town. It’s impossible to miss the city’s main cathedral, Grote Kerk or Great Church referred to as St. Bavo church. This impressive cathedral dates back to the early 14th century and is one of the first tourist attractions you’ll see as you enter the main square called Grote Markt Square. It’s here where 10 streets converge and the hub of daily life takes place. From the market stalls selling flowers, fish, cheese, and bread. Watch locals crisscross through on foot or bike. And, where cafes and restaurants spill out their tables and chairs just waiting for the arrival of their customers.

church and cobblestone laneway

This is the heart of Haarlem. It has a certain quintessential European charm and if you enjoy people-watching, this is the perfect spot to sit, observe and enjoy a drink or meal. Many of the iconic Golden Age Dutch artists captured this very square and all its activity. The other historic building of interest is the 14th-century Town Hall. The site of Haarlem’s City Hall actually dates back to the 1100s when a wooden building once stood on this site. Also, did you know that Harlem NYC was named after this beautiful city?

Stroll the Streets in Haarlem

Venture out from the market square by taking any one of the small winding streets. You will quickly discover the vast number of boutiques lining the streets full of unique specialty shops. Scattered throughout several streets you will find everything from antiques to small art galleries to big brands to local independent shops. Even for those non-shoppers, it is a great place to wander and no doubt something is bound to pique your interest.

But, for those serious shoppers, be sure to check out the best-known streets of Grote Houtstraat, the Barteljorisstraat, and the Zijlstraat. As well as, the streets of Schagchelstraat, Kleine Houtstraat, Anegang, Warmoesstraat, Koningstraat and Gierstraat. Locals call their shopping district de Gouden Straatjes or streets of gold. These notable streets have earned Haarlem as the Netherlands’ best shopping destination. Traveller’s tip: most shops don’t open until 11:00 or 12:00 pm. 

Discover Haarlem’s Hidden Courtyards

Another way to explore the city is to stroll through Haarlem’s hidden courtyard gardens, known as Hofjes. There are 21 of these Hofjes hidden gardens scattered around the town, some of them are marked on google maps, and others are a bit more secretive. All of them are concealed behind large townhomes and are tucked away behind unassuming doorways or unassuming alleyways. It may require a bit of curiosity and luck to stumble upon all of them. Of all the Haarlem places to visit make sure you seek out a couple of these. 

laneway with houses

Historically, these gardens were surrounded by charitable housing since the 17th century for poor, unmarried, or widowed women. Today, these quiet sanctuaries are open to the public and are considered the best Haarlem hidden gems. The oldest Hofjes in Haarlem dates back to 1395 and is a must see site.

Take a Haarlem Canal Tour

If you are looking to give your legs a rest but still want to see more of the city, take a guided tour by boat to see and hear about the local history and architecture. The Spaarne river winds itself through the heart of the city and into various canals, the oldest being the Bakenessergracht, the Singels, and the Nieuwe Gracht. It’s such a relaxing way to see some of the best Haarlem points of interest and get your bearings before setting off to explore more.

river with houses and bridge

Learn about Haarlem through its Museums

For cultural enthusiasts, you have the choice of 15 museums. The most popular and definitely the best ones to visit are: 

  • Teylers Museum is an art, natural history and science museum established in 1784. The building in itself is worth viewing, as it is the first and oldest museum in the Netherlands.
  • Frans Hals Museum is an art museum that showcases the largest collection of Frans Hals artwork in the Netherlands. This happens to be the oldest art museum in the Netherlands and offers visitors a second location called Hof, which means it is two museums for the price of one.
  • Molen De Adriaan Museum is located under the largest windmill in Haarlem and provides all the interesting insights into these iconic Dutch machines. Part of the draw in visiting this museum is having the access to the windmill’s 12 m high balcony that offers city views. 
  • Ten Boom House is a museum dedicated to the Boom family who created a safe place for Jews to hide during WWII. 

windmill

Haarlem is the birthplace of Dutch Golden Age painting. So visiting an art gallery is a top thing to do in Haarlem. And, if you do, almost all artists during this period captured this city on oil canvas.

Experience | Visit Haarlem’s historic Windmill De Adriaan and learn about the 250-year-old mill. Explore the interior and see the inner workings of the mill and take in views of Haarlem from the windmill’s deck, click here to book your spot.

Where to Eat in Haarlem

Haarlem has no shortage of places to eat. Here are some I tried, and recommend:

  1. Yoghurt Barn, the perfect spot to start your day for a light breakfast offering delicious homemade yogurts, baked goods and coffee. 
  2.  Restaurant Metzo, is a rustic modern interior spread over three levels overlooking a narrow alleyway in the historic center. The menu offers modern takes on Mediterranean classics and the food was delicious. 
  3. The Jopenkerk, is a former church turned brewery. It is situated just outside the historic city center. You can decide to simply enjoy the sampling of the local beer or take part in the tour of the brewery that ends with a beer-tasting session. There is plenty of outdoor seating and is packed on a sunny day.
  4. Native, is the perfect spot for hipster coffee lovers. It is tucked away on a quiet side street and is definitely a local’s hangout spot. 

Other Popular Day Trips from Amsterdam

If you enjoyed your day trip to Haarlem, check out these other unmissable places that are near Amsterdam:

  • Utrecht – my guide to spending a day in this quintessential Dutch town
  • Dutch Countryside – my guide to visiting typical Dutch villages of Volendam, Edam, Marken
  • Keukenhof – Visit the world’s largest spring garden, and benefit from direct and easy travel from Amsterdam city center to Keukenhof Gardens. Bypass the lines and see the stunning flowers and floral displays at your own pace.

As a holidaymaker…

Is Haarlem worth visiting? Oh, most definitely! With so many historical buildings, pretty streets, and sites with far fewer tourists, this city is a hidden gem, offering you that quintessential Dutch experience. Add Haarlem to your day trip list, even if you have limited time in Amsterdam, you’ll want to come here. 

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71 Comments

  1. Harlem is picture-perfect and I can’t believe it’s only a 15-minute ride by train away. Lovely place with a charming Old Town. In general, I feel this town is a very “Dutch” place, all of the places I’ve been to in the Netherlands and Belgium have been absolutely gorgeous. The mews and secret gardens would do it most for me. I have a weak spot for historic gardens as they tend to have a lot of detail and are often cozy and intimate.

  2. Haarlem looks so beautiful! I love the windmill on the water and all of the colorful buildings! I always love finding secret gardens in cities – they’re like hidden places of peace in a world of chaos.

  3. You do get to some marvellous places in Europe. I’d heard of Harlaam, as I know Amsterdam well, but have never been there. Now I wish I had – those houses are beautiful and sitting in that main square witha coffee and pastry just people watching would be my idea of an idyllic rest stop while exploring.
    I never knew The Netherlands’ oldest art gallery was here – something that would entral me to visit.
    I love how the modern gabled building in one of your pictures compliments, rather than jar against, the older one next to it. Town planning definitely has control here.
    Haarlem is on the list to go and visit when I am next in Amsterdam.

    1. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to explore Haarlem sometime in the future. It really is a delight city, with all the highlights of Amsterdam, only far less tourists.

  4. What a beautiful city. I love being able to see a city from the water, so I’d love to do the boat tour of Haarlem.

  5. Haarlem looks stunning! I had to miss out on Amsterdam during my Europe trip due to covid, so will definitely be saving this for when I finally get to go to the Netherlands!

  6. My girlfriends and I are planning a trip to Brussels this summer and were looking for fun day trip ideas. Now I’m wondering if this might be doable from there! Thanks for sharing all of this! Xx Sara

  7. Haarlem is just so beautiful. I have visited before but didn’t nanange to hit up all these spots. Saved for next time! It really is so important to get out of Amsterdam to see it all!

  8. I totally loved this guide! It brings back some very nice memories for me! I visited Haarlem during my Amsterdam trip and i used as a base to take a bike and exploring the flower fields until Lisse! Thanks a lot for sharing!

  9. Haarlem looks so pretty, and as someone who hasn’t yet been to the Netherlands it’s nice to see somewhere other than Amsterdam highlighted too. The market sounds lovely, as do all those hidden gardens. I’d love to go exploring to find them all

  10. When we finally get Amsterdam on the travel plans, we will have to do a day trip to Haarlem. I love the idea os a spot with less tourists but all of the charm. We would love to stroll the streets or get a different view and some history from a guided boat tour. A museum in a windmill sounds like fun. Thanks for the coffee shop recommendation – even if we are not hipsters!

  11. We were fortunate to visit Haarlem on a cycling tour. Such a fascinating city. Hope we’ll get back to explore all these other places you’ve highlighted.

  12. You had me at hidden courtyard gardens! Yoghurt Barn sounds like a delicious treat too. Seems like I will most certainly have to add this to my list for when I visit the Netherlands.

  13. We visited Amsterdam over the summer but didn’t get a chance to visit Haarlem at that time during that trip due to time constraints. Definitely going to visit it next time we are in Netherlands – the architecture and the canals look amazing plus would love to visit the Ten Boom Museum when we are there. I didn’t know that Haarlem is considered the best place for shopping in Amsterdam – how cool. Thanks for sharing all the information.

  14. Haarlem looks so picturesque. Would love to visit here some day. I’ve been dying to visit Amsterdam, it looks like a gorgeous destination. Thanks for sharing this guide. I will include this day trip in mind whenever I get the chance to visit.

    1. I was pleasantly surprised by Amsterdam, it was one of those destinations that you say to yourself “what took me so long”. Thank you so much for commenting.

  15. We were just in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, though we didn’t quite make it to Haarlem! We loved the entire area – the history, the architecture, the food! We’ll have to add Haarlem to our list for next time 🙂

    1. It sounds like you fell in love with the Netherlands as much as I did! I would love to explore more of it too! Thanks for your comment Brianna.

  16. Haarlem was on our list when we went to Amsterdam recently but we didn’t get a chance to visit. Reading your article I really regret not visiting! Your pictures are stunning – Haarlem looks like a supremely charming town. Love your little factoids in the middle too – so interesting that the NYC Harlem neighbourhood is named for this town.

    1. Oh that’s too bad you didn’t get the chance to visit here. Always a reason to return! Thank you for your comment.

  17. Oooh great post! Haarleem looks like a gorgeous part of the Netherlands. I’d love to ride a bike through those winding streets.

    p.s. I love your “did you know” points. I didn’t know any of them!!

    1. Thank you so much Josy for your comment and kind words. Yes, biking is a great way to see the city, we did do that, just not in Haarlem. Glad to hear the Did you Know was new info! 😊

  18. With international trip planning happening in my head currently- hopefully on the horizon of next year, I appreciate that you have dove into writing about a lesser known place. With Haarlem being such a short distance to Amsterdam, it could be such a neat side journey to take…away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. Thanks for the ideas!

    1. I always try and look for those hidden gem places that are not necessarily on everyone’s radar. Trip planning is so much fun, enjoy and can’t wait to hear where you end up! Thanks for commenting April.

    1. How timely is that? I would love to see it at Christmas time, I am sure it will be the perfect spot for some shopping and the market square will definitely be filled with activity. Safe travels and enjoy!

  19. I love learning about this country and this particular place. My most favorite part is the idea of riding a boat around the area while learning the history and at the same time able to relax our feet from walking around town. Thanks for sharing this as always very informative!

  20. I didn’t know Haarlem in New York was named after this beautiful city! I absolutely love your photo’s – i’ve wanted to visit Haarlem for the longest time so bookmarking this for when I do!

    1. It is the perfect city to be enjoyed on foot, just the right size to do so! Thank you for your comment Nitin.

    1. It is definitely a hidden gem, where Amsterdam gets all the tourists and this city is just as beautiful. Glad to hear you have been inspired to add it to your list. Thanks for your comment Tania.

  21. I love such charming, medieval city with ancient buildings and cobbled stone streets and therefore this Haarlem, a typical “Dutch” town, would really be my favorite. And it good that it is only 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam. It is truly photogenic.

  22. While I do love Amsterdam, I really REALLY love exploring other Dutch towns. I lived in Maastricht for three years, so I know those towns a bit better than the ones up north, but I have been to Haarlem. Great place!

    1. I absolutely loved visiting Maastricht, one of my favourite towns. How fortunate you are to have called that home. I agree, Amsterdam is wonderful, but I really enjoyed visiting those smaller towns too. Thank you for commenting Sage.

  23. This is totally my kind of destination!! Easily accessible yet a world away from the major city nearby. The Grote Kerk looks stunning, especially that beautiful spire on top. The boat tour also sounds lovely. I am looking forward to the day when I get to explore more of Europe in depth and the Netherlands is absolutely at the top of that list. Thanks for sharing, Renee!

    1. Thank you Kevin for commenting. Yes, the church is very impressive and is the center of this wonderful city.

  24. I’m dying to see more of The Netherlands! It is the one country that I feel completely at home and comfortable in. Haarlem has been on my must visit list for some time, but your article REALLY locks it in for me.

    1. You and me both! I am dying to return. I absolutely fell in love with Netherlands and would love to see more of it too! Thank you for your comment Stephanie!

  25. I have never heard of Harleem it looks like a beautiful city to visit. I can see why artist would flock to paint this plan. This will be in my most visit list.

    1. Thank you Wendy for your comment. I am glad to hear that you would add this to your wish list. I hope you get there one day.

  26. Haarlem looks so cute! And I’m kicking myself for missing out on visiting this town when I lived in Rotterdam, couple of years back. I hope to make it back one day. Less tourists is such a plus point! You captured lovely photos 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comment and your kind compliment. It is definitely too bad that you never had the opportunity to visit there while you lived in Rotterdam. That is one city I wish I have visited.

  27. Oh, I just love to wander in these kinds of less touristy, smaller cities. I could spend half a day in the market alone and the rest searching out those hidden courtyard gardens. Lovely photos!

  28. I loved this small market town (I call it small even though it looks big on the map and is full of houses/apartments due to being a commuter town for Amsterdam) and I loved my summer day trip here a few years back. I remember eating cheese and biscuits outside a cafe in the main square. Reading this post and looking at the photos sure did bring back some good memories.

    1. Thank you Daniel for your comment. I am glad that this post brought back some memories for you. It’s funny a lot of our memories are associated with food and relaxing. Proves we need to do more of that when traveling.

  29. I so loved reading about Haarleem. We have friends that live there and hope to visit them one day soon. It looks like a fabulous city with tons of history. I really love all the secret gardens throughout the city and that they provided some solace for the women that lived near them. I definitely want to check out The Jopenkerk!

    1. Thank you Lara for your comment. Haarlem is such a wonderful city that I hope you get the chance to visit one day. You are right, those secluded gardens are beautiful and so serene and continue to exist. We could learn from that compassionate city planning couldn’t we?

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