If you want to avoid Amsterdam and are looking for a city that is comparable to our capital, you soon end up in Haarlem. With 150,000 inhabitants and many places of interest, historic houses and canals, this city is not called little Amsterdam for nothing. Haarlem is within easy reach by train 20 minutes from our capital. Ideal for a day trip or weekend break. Read everything you need to know about the provincial capital of North Holland: Haarlem!
Mini Travel Guide Haarlem
History Haarlem – A journey through the past
Haarlem began as a small settlement at the time of Roman rule. But from the 13th century onwards this place really started to grow into a city with possibilities. A short overview of the most important historical events you can read below…
Haarlem develops from a small village into a settlement with city rights.
More important than Amsterdam?
The city is developing well both industrially and culturally. An influential textile industry, shipbuilding and beer breweries emerge and Haarlem’s art of painting flourishes. Not Amsterdam, but Haarlem is the place to be!
The city is being punished by the Spaniards
Like the rest of the Northern Netherlands, Haarlem revolted against Spanish rule. The inhabitants of the city seem to lose the battle. It leads to hunger, plague and Spanish punishments. Around 1580, the Spaniards left and an invasion by French and Flemish immigrants led to a boom for the linen industry.
Haarlem in the Golden Age
Many wealthy Flemings settle in the city. So did the painter Frans Hals. He lived here for the rest of his life and many of his works are now on display in the Frans Hals Museum. In 1631, a canal was built between Amsterdam and Haarlem to promote trade between the two cities.
First rail link
The connection between Amsterdam and Haarlem remains large. 2 centuries after the construction of a draught channel, the first railway connection between the two cities will be built. The first train in the Netherlands runs on 20 September 1839.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Haarlem?
From Amsterdam Haarlem is good to do as a daytrip. But for those who would like to spend a night in this historic city, you can easily stay in the old centre, located south of the train station.
The oldest hotel in town is the classic boutique hotel Lion d’Or. This hotel started in 1839 as a tapping shop and has been used to accommodate guests since the 1920s. Nowadays, Lion d’Or has a classic look in a modern jacket. It is located opposite the train station and is an excellent base from which to explore the city of Haarlem.
Sights – 6 x what to do and see in Haarlem
Haarlem is an old city with all beautiful historic buildings, canals and cosy gardens and courtyards. A selection of the nicest historical sights of the city can be found below…
1. Discover the Frans Hals Museum
Although Frans Hals (1582-1666) was born in Antwerp, he worked and lived in Haarlem all his life. He belonged to one of the Dutch Masters and was compared to his contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn in terms of prestige. He mainly painted archers’ pieces, a group portrait of guilds. In addition to the work of Frans Hals, you will also come across paintings by other Dutch Masters, such as Rembrandt, Ferdinand Bol and Jan Steen.
The Frans Hals Museum is housed in an old men’s home, an old people’s home from the 17th century with a beautiful courtyard garden. The museum is also known as the Museum of the Golden Age.
2. Lunch on the Grote Markt
The center of the city is characterized by the Grand Place. On this large square there are a number of special buildings, such as the St. Bavo Church and the Town Hall. On the square stands a statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster. He was, especially in the Netherlands, seen as the inventor of the printing press. Nowadays the German Johannes Gutenberg is known as the real inventor of the art of printing.
On the Grote Markt there are a lot of nice and cosy restaurants and cafes. But the most famous café of the city is surely grand-café Brinkmann. This business opened its doors in 1879 (in a different building than the current one) and for years it was the pub where most of the liquor of the Netherlands was sold. Since 1902 it has been located in the building De Kroon on the Grote Markt and is still one of the busiest catering establishments in the city.
Jopenbier: After an old Haarlem recipe
In 1994 Haarlem celebrates its 750th anniversary and to celebrate this the Jopenbier is introduced. This beer originates from an old Haarlem recipe from 1501. At that time Haarlem had more than 50 breweries. The brewery of the Jopenbier is located in the old Jacobus church and for a tasty snack and drink you can go here. In the year 2020, the Jopen brand is one of the best-known producers of specialty beers in the Netherlands. For more information visit the website of Jopenbier.
3. As Mozart on the organ of the St. Bavo Church
The most famous church of Haarlem is the St. Bavo Church. This church is located on the most famous square of the city, the Grote Markt. It was built in the 15th century and is one of the hundred most important government buildings in the Netherlands.
The organ of the St. Bavo was built by the German Christian Müller between 1735 and 1738. The organ case is partly made of gold leaf and on completion was the largest organ in the world. Some great composers have touched this organ at one time or another, including Mendelsohn, Handel and ten-year-old Mozart in 1766.
4: The oldest museum in the Netherlands: the Teylers Museum
Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) was a wealthy Dutch businessman. He had a great interest in art and science and left it in his will that his wealth and collection should have the aim of promoting art and science in the Netherlands. Soon a knowledge centre was built in Haarlem behind Pieter Teyler’s house. This knowledge centre is now known as the Teylers Museum. This museum owns the oldest museum hall of which the interior is more than 2 centuries old. The collection consists of physical instruments, fossils, prints and paintings by, among others, Rembrandt and Rafäel.
Pieter Teyler van der Hulst is buried in the St. Bavo church.
5: The Hofjesstad: A walk through Haarlem
Every Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., the local tourist information office organises city walks with city guides who will tell you about the history of Haarlem. For example, the guide will take you along the many courtyards (inner gardens) that the city has to offer. The walk takes about 1.5 hours and can be booked in advance via the website of visit aarlem.
Prefer to explore the city by boat? That is also possible. From April to October you can make a daily boat trip of 75 minutes and visit the many sights of the city. For more information visit the website of Haarlem canal tours.
6: The dome cathedral: Cathedral basilica Sint Bavo
The cathedral basilica Saint Bavo was built at the end of the 19th century. It is located southwest of the historic centre and was developed by Pierre Cuypers’ son, Joseph Cuypers. It is a striking building in eclectic and neo-Romanesque style. In May 1948 it was elevated to basilica by Pope Pius XII. Like St Bavo’s Church, it is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St Bavo.
Transport – How to get to Haarlem?
By train: From Amsterdam Central Station it is 20 minutes by train to Haarlem Central Station. This route is officially known as the oldest railway connection in the Netherlands. The first train ever to travel in the Netherlands was from Amsterdam to Haarlem on 20 September 1839. From Schiphol Airport it is about 35 minutes by train to get to Haarlem. Look for more information on the website of the Dutch Railways.
Next destination? Take the train and continue your journey to Zwolle…
And what did you think of historic Haarlem? Feel free to leave a message below!