A Day Trip to Haarlem is the perfect alternative for Amsterdam
After living in Amsterdam for ten wonderful years, deep in my heart, I longed for more laid-back vibes. Let’s be honest, visiting Amsterdam nowadays is like entering a foreign city in a strange country. With all the tourist crowds, Dutch hardly spoken, it doesn’t feel like home any longer.
I decided to move to Haarlem. This city has become my base to explore the North-Sea coasts, green woods, tulip bulb fields and sometimes Amsterdam. The capital is a short, easy and sustainable train ride away. This makes it an easy day trip to Haarlem from Amsterdam.
I believe Haarlem is the perfect alternative, if you are not a fan of tumultuous Amsterdam. But we all do love a 17th-century city with canals. Let me tell you about my hometown, Haarlem.
a city with a lot to see and many things to do
Windmill ‘De Adriaan’ is the icon of Haarlem, situated along the calm river Spaarne. No matter which neighborhood you are in, the windmill is towering over the city. Together with the church towers, it gives a great sense of direction. You can’t get lost.
Walking through Haarlem is such a pleasure as everything is close and nearby. Slow down your pace and take time to discover the different areas, the sunlight, smells and sounds. The soothing canals, friendly locals on a terrace, the historic architecture and its hidden secrets. It has made me fall in love with Haarlem.
I love riding my bicycle to the sand dunes, woods and North-Sea beach. Each neighborhood has its own ambiance.
Continuing along the river’s right shore, you enter the oldest part of the city. Follow the canal on your right, with houses from the 17th century. Here you can find a door to enter the oldest almshouse of the Netherlands. An almshouse was charitable housing provided by rich merchants, the church or a guild. Especially during the medieval era. In the cartouche above the almshouse’s door, you see the year 1395 and some inscriptions in Dutch. Come and see for yourself and see if you can solve the puzzle.
This canal was, in 1245, the city’s north-east border. So in 2022 Haarlem celebrated her 777th anniversary. The houses here, out of brick, have 17th century façades but are build on 14th or 15th century foundations.
Haarlem’s inhabitants are proud to tell their city Haarlem has the oldest museum. Teylers Museum opened in 1778 and is still open today. And the people of Harlem are proud of their oldest daily newspaper; almshouse and the first railway line of the country. Connecting Amsterdam and Haarlem since 1839.
Teyler’s museum is a historic center for contemporary art, set up to spread knowledge. In Spring 2022, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, opened a new part of the museum, Teyler’s house. Without noticing, modern sustainable techniques are incorporated in the house. Brilliantly done!
You feel like you are a couple of ages back in time. After his death, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst wanted his money to be used for art and science. And it was. Minerals, fossils, instruments, paintings, drawings and historical objects are on display.
From my house, it is a pleasant five minutes walk to the shopping streets in the city center. My American neighbor Evan Reeves lives with his wife and two sons two doors down. In an interview he gave to the local newspaper, he tells that in the US, car drivers often threaten cyclists.
In our area in Haarlem, people simply focus on where they are going. Cycling or driving making space for each other in traffic. Without hurrying, drinking their coffee as they go.
We both agree there is magic in the Leidse buurt area. Make time, to visit the Koepelkerk, This cathedral is a beauty, its exterior and interior both. Located in the top five of most important cathedrals in the world. Next to the Sagrada Família, and Westminster Cathedral.
I don’t know about you, but my day cannot start without a good coffee. If I have time, I like to drink a cup at Dakkas. Located on the top of a parking garage, you overlook the city and see it wake up.
If you are in the center’s southern part, Barista at the end of Grote Houtstraat, is an excellent start of the day. Drink a coffee at Dodici, to see the world go bye on the big square, the Grote Markt. Mogador at the Botermarkt or Morris along the Spaarne river are also great spots.
For a great local beer, you have to visit the Jopenkerk. In this former church they are brewing beer following medieval recipes.
‘In den Uiver’ is a typical Dutch brown bar, which I love. With 40 beers on tap, there is plenty of choice.
They all serve delicious local food as well if you cannot live on coffee and beer alone, wink.
The best way to discover the hotspots of the city is by strolling through the city. It is easy to sense the good vibes.
Haarlem’s skyline is so particular due to the Grote of St.-Bavokerk, the ‘Old Bavo’, seen from far away. Its wooden tower reaches 78 meters into the sky. This late medieval cross-basilica is unique in its interior.
Inside, you can admire fascinating wooden ceilings; the world-famous Müller Organ; and enchanting stained-glass windows. There are over 400 gravestones on the floor, including the stone of Frans Hals, the famous painter.
A dependence of the Frans Hals museum is just around the corner of the church. Together with the Frans Hals museum (also in Haarlem) it houses a beautiful collection of the painter.
Feel free to sit down on a bench, and contemplate about a moment of joy or grief in this amazing church. At 12.30pm, when the bells ring, two burning candles, two empty books titled ‘Joy and Grief’ and a pen are waiting for you. You have the opportunity to share thoughts, wishes a prayer and lighten your heart.
Sunday the church is closed and on Saturday you can join a guided tour starting at 2 pm.
In the shadow of the church is my favorite restaurant Toujours. Here I always experience the Flemish, Burgundian ambiance. Which is not strange as Flemish architecture is present a lot in Haarlem. Especially around the ‘Old Bavo’. Lieven de Key was an important Flemish city architect in the seventeenth century.
Nowadays, the ‘Lieven de Key price’ is awarded to renovation projects, or newly constructed premises. The Koepel, recently won both the official and public Lieven de Key price in November 2022.
This is a former, dome-shaped prison, transformed into a university and cinema. It is something quite different and intriguing to walk through this dome-shaped building. Imagine the guards in the center, surrounded by cells captivating criminals.
Hannie Schaft, a woman fighting in the resistance during the Second World War, was imprisoned here by the Germans. You can visit her cell.
If you want to know more about WWII in Haarlem, you can also visit Corrie ten Boom House.
To end this blogpost, I would recommend you to visit Zandvoort or the Kennemerdunes. Rent a bike to experience nature and freedom along the north-sea. Move your legs in a easy continues rhythm, wind through your hair, the sun on your face. This is what Haarlem makes so special, the location between sea and city.
Written by: Wies Dam – Talkabouts.