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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Yoghurt Barn, the perfect spot to start your day for a light breakfast offering delicious homemade yogurts, baked goods and coffee.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.