15 Best Things to Do in Haarlem (the Netherlands)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Haarlem is a neighbouring municipality to Amsterdam and is the capital of North Holland, with a metropolitan population of 155,000. The history of this city dates back to pre-medieval times when early settlers sought trade on the North Sea and had to gain passage through Haarlem to reach Amsterdam.

From the 13th century onwards there has been some form of major town or city at Haarlem, and it has played an important role in the politics of the Netherlands.

During the 1500’s, the manufacture and trade of linen and silk became a prominent economical tool and saw the growth of Haarlem’s population.

Despite decline in the 18th century, the 19th century saw a resurgence for Haarlem with the advent of the cotton industry and today it stands as a prosperous city.

The myriad of amazing historical buildings such as the Grote Kerk and Cathedral of St Bavo, and Haarlem’s proximity to Amsterdam mean it is a wonderful tourist destination.

Lets explore the best things to do in Haarlem:

1. Grote Kerk

Grote KerkSource: flickr
Grote Kerk

Situated in the Grote Markt Square, the Grote Kerk, or St. Bavokerk is the premier church in Haarlem and stands as one of the cities most recognised landmarks.

Constructed in the 1500’s after the destruction of the previous wooden building, the Grote kerk has stood ever since as an imposing structure in the heart of Haarlem.

With a plethora of beautiful stained glass windows, a huge ornate Organ (That has been played by Mozart and Handel), and a beautiful design featuring wooden ceiling beams, this church is a wonderful religious structure.

2. Landmark Windmill

Landmark WindmillSource: flickr
Landmark Windmill

Windmill’s are synonymous with the Netherlands and this country has a host of historic windmills that have stood the test of time.

Haarlem is home to the Moeln De Adriaan Windmill which was originally constructed in 1778 – The structure that stands today however is a reconstruction as the original was burnt down in 1938. A guided tour is available of the windmill and its museum, during which you will discover about its history, and the history of Haarlem, and also about the process of milling grain.

Don’t forget to cross the river and take some stunning photos of this wonderful landmark – It takes pride of place on the Spaarne river and stands out against the surrounding landscape.

3. Cathedral of St Bavo

Cathedral of St BavoSource: flickr
Cathedral of St Bavo

There are not many cathedrals in Western Europe that match the extravagance and sheer immense design and scale of the Cathedral of Saint Bavo.

For a relatively quiet city, you would not expect to find such a structure here; however the cathedral has stood since the late 1800’s.

Originally constructed to replace the former church of St.

Joseph, the cathedral is now the main Roman Catholic Church in Haarlem-Amsterdam.

Featuring a fantastic Neo-baroque design, the exterior has a multitude of turrets and towers, two front facing bell towers, and a huge central dome.

Inside, the ceilings appear to reach to the sky with high archways and many colourful stained glass windows.

A truly awe-inspiring building, the cathedral dominates the surrounding skyline and offers a great look into the religious history of Haarlem.

4. Frans Hals Museum

Frans Hals MuseumSource: flickr
Frans Hals Museum

One of the most visited and informative museums in Haarlem, the Frans Hals Museum features a large collection of artworks from its namesake, and also a variety of modern art.

Aside from the fantastic collection of artwork, the actual building and inner courtyard of this museum are wonderful to behold too – The courtyard features several small hedge mazes, flower arrangements and seating areas, and the building has a typical Dutch design with much decoration.

Possibly the most interesting collection here is the art work of Frans Halls – You can see his glorious paintings and learn about the life and career of this Golden Age artist.

5. Teylers Museum

Teylers MuseumSource: flickr
Teylers Museum

A stately building on the river Spaarne, the Teylers Museum offers a triad of attractions in the form of an art, natural history, and science collection.

A marvellous centrepiece of this museum is the oval room which is floor to ceiling with wooden panels, and decoration.

Within the confines of this fantastic museum you can find a collection of prehistoric fossils and minerals, paintings and drawings from Michelangelo, and an extensive library.

This varied museum offers a great range of exhibits to suit everyone’s taste and is a truly fascinating place to visit.

6. Bloemendaal Aan Zee beach

Bloemendaal Aan Zee beachSource: flickr
Bloemendaal Aan Zee beach

The stretch of coast that sits parallel to Haarlem is extremely beautiful with many stretches of golden sand and well maintained seaside resorts.

Bloemendaal Aan Zee is one such resort, and can be accessed via the major N200 highway that runs through the centre of Haarlem.

After a mere 20 minute drive, you will reach this delightful resort – Don’t worry as there is plenty of public parking available.

Here you will find over 4.3km of sandy beaches, a host of bars, restaurants, beach shops and amusements – A typical seaside resort and a great place to take the family on a sunny day.

7. Haarlemmerhout

HaarlemmerhoutSource: flickr

Haarlemmerhout has the honour of being the oldest public park in the country and has changed little in its design since the 1500’s.

Predominantly woodland, the trees stretch for an endless distance and have many trails to walk through.

Many monuments and information plaques can also be found throughout the park such as the Laurens Janszoon Coster monument which pays homage to the inventor of the printing press, and the Camera Obscura sculpture.

As the seasons change, so does the colour and mood of Haarlemmerhout, but not mater when you visit, your are guaranteed to be stunned by its beauty.

8. Corrie Ten Boom House

Corrie Ten Boom HouseSource: corrietenboom
Corrie Ten Boom House

During World War II, the Netherlands came under Axis occupation and many people went into hiding to escape persecution.

Others sought to help those who were in danger – Corrie Ten Boom and her family did this and opened there home up to refugees to help them evade the Axis forces and persecution.

A museum is now open that details the Ten Boom family exploits and how influential they were i this area of the Netherlands during the occupation.

Furthermore, the house where the family harboured fugitives has been recreated and you

9. Amsterdamse Poort

Amsterdamse PoortSource: flickr
Amsterdamse Poort

Another of Haarlem’s fine historical buildings, the Amsterdamse Poort is an iconic gatehouse that stands near the Spaarne River and was originally used as part of the cities fortifications in the 17th century.

In recent years the gatehouse has been renovated and it stands today in perfect condition and is a wonderful structure to admire.

Walk through the archway and see the main tower, or walk across to the other side of the canal and take some photographs.

Although the building is not open to the public, it is still an important historical structure and a beautiful attraction in the centre of Haarlem.

10. NZH Public Transport Museum

NZH Public Transport MuseumSource: nzh-vervoermuseum
NZH Public Transport Museum

Tucked away in the eastern industrial sector of Haarlem, the NZH Public transport museum offers something different from the usual museums containing artwork and sculptures.

Here you can find an enjoyable collection of exhibits and artefacts relating to public transport methods such as bus and tram.

Its main aim is to preserve the heritage and history of public transport in the Kennemerland region of North Holland and on display are many different vintage tram carts.

You can also find a fine collection of public buses dating back to the 1960’s.

11. Haarlem City Hall

Haarlem City HallSource: flickr
Haarlem City Hall

A fine example of a medieval town hall, the City Hall in Haarlem is located opposite St.

Bavokerk in the Grote Markt.

While part of the building does indeed date back to the middle ages, the distinctive white and red facade was later added in the 1600’s.

If you are exploring the old town centre and the Grote Mark, ensure you pay the City Hall a visit to admire its wonderful architecture and history.

12. Proveniershuis

ProveniershuisSource: commons.wikimedia

Another grand building, similar in design and style to the City Hall, the Proveniershuis can be found around a 5 minute walk from the Grote Markt.

This hofje (housing and courtyard) was constructed in the 1500’s and has seen various uses including a house for elderly men, and a nunnery.

Walk through the peaceful courtyard in the centre of the Proveniershuis and see the various flowers, plants, and trees, and take a look at the striking architecture of this historical building.

13. Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe KerkSource: flickr
Nieuwe Kerk

Located in close proximity to both the old town centre and the Frans Hals Museum, the Nieuwe Kerk is a protestant church that has stood since the early 1600’s.

At the centre of this church stands a huge bell tower that has an ornate dome and gilded clock face.

Unusual in design, this church has a classical style that is not like any other structures in the city.

Inside the church is a wonderful decorated ceiling, marble pillars and paintings by the 17th century artists Pieter Saenredam.

can see how they lived and what it was like to live in occupied Holland during this period.

14. Grote Markt

Grote MarktSource: flickr
Grote Markt

The main market square in Haarlem, the Grote Mark sits in the centre of the old town and is home to the impressive Grote Kerk.

Aside from the church, there are also a range of shops, bars and restaurants with outdoor seating areas.

Relax with a coffee, enjoy a fine Dutch meal, or partake in a little retail therapy.

Markets, events and fairs are often held in the square so depending on the time of your visit, you may be lucky enough to see something special.

Filled with wonderful architecture and quaint medieval style buildings, the Grote Mark and surrounding streets are a great place to visit.

15. Take a day trip into Amsterdam

AmsterdamSource: flickr

While Haarlem stands as a fantastic tourist destination in its own right, due to its close proximity to the nation’s capital; it makes sense to combine a stay here with a trip to Amsterdam.

Public transport from the centre of Haarlem takes just 15-20 minutes to get into the Centrum of Amsterdam so you can easily have a day trip here and spend an adequate amount of time to explore.

Amsterdam is a renowned destination and has a fantastic array of sights including the Heineken experience, the Anne Frank House, the wonderful network of canals, and the Rijksmuseum.

15 Best Things to Do in Haarlem (the Netherlands):

  • Grote Kerk
  • Landmark Windmill
  • Cathedral of St Bavo
  • Frans Hals Museum
  • Teylers Museum
  • Bloemendaal Aan Zee beach
  • Haarlemmerhout
  • Corrie Ten Boom House
  • Amsterdamse Poort
  • NZH Public Transport Museum
  • Haarlem City Hall
  • Proveniershuis
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Grote Markt
  • Take a day trip into Amsterdam