Haarlem is a historic city a short drive or train ride west of Amsterdam. The capital of the province of North Holland, Haarlem received city rights in 1245. It flourished during the Middle Ages as a centre of textiles and shipbuilding due to its location on the Spaarne River. It also gained widespread fame as a centre of beer brewing and tulips! These days, it’s a vibrant city that’s a delight to explore, especially because its medieval layout and buildings are still predominantly intact. The old town is composed of several islands, separated by various canals and the Spaarne River. I’ve visited Haarlem many times as I have friends who live there. On one of these visits, I decided to spend the weekend there and explore the old town. There are lots of things to see in Haarlem, all of which can easily be covered on foot.
Things to see and do in Haarlem
Haarlem can be reached by train from Amsterdam (±20 minutes, with numerous train services per hour), making it an ideal base from which to visit Amsterdam. The Haarlem Station is located at the edge of the old city centre.
Haarlem walking route
Follow my self-guided walking route below, which starts and ends at the station, and discover why Haarlem is one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands. The pins denote the main attractions along the way. This Haarlem walking route can be done in a day but I recommend spending 1-2 nights so you’ll have more time to visit the museums and explore the surrounding areas. You can also opt to join a guided walking tour.
Haarlem station to Grote Markt
From the station, follow Kruisweg (street) and Kruisstraat into the historic city centre. Along the way, consider visiting the Museumhuis Barnaat (Nieuwe Gracht, 7), an early-19th century city palace with perhaps the best preserved Empire style interior in the country.
As you enter the old town, you’ll quickly notice numerous beautiful, step-gabled houses, some of which date from medieval times.
Just before you reach the Grote Markt (market square), you’ll pass another museum worth a visit: Corrie ten Boom Museum (Barteljorisstraat 19). This house was used during the Nazi occupation in World War II to hide Jews.
Sint Bavo church
The Sint Bavo or Great Church of Haarlem dominates the skyline of the Grote Markt. This 15th century church, in Gothic style, is one of the top attractions in Haarlem.
Admire the towering nave and the church’s world-famous organ. This 18th century Christiaan Müller organ was once the largest in the world and attracted famous musicians such as Händel and Mozart.
Other points of interest at the Grote Markt
The Grote Markt is the focal point of the Haarlem city centre. From here, shopping streets fan out in different directions. I recommend strolling around the square and the adjacent Groenmarkt (Green Market), stop for a drink or meal at Café Brinkmann, a Haarlem institution, and browse around the shopping streets. There’s also a market every Saturday.
Other historic buildings of interest in the Grote Markt include the medieval Stadhuis (City Hall), Hoofdwacht (perhaps the oldest monument in Haarlem, from the 13th century) and the imposing Vleeshal (currently an art exhibition space).
Another restaurant I can recommend in this area is De Overkant (Paarlaarsteeg 10), which serves delicious meals and wines.
West of Grote Markt
From the Grote Markt, head westwards – I recommend the lovely Zijlstraat, with its gorgeous houses, shops and cafés. If you love book stores, don’t miss the nearby De Vries Van Stockum book store. At the Gedempte Oude Gracht (street), fans of early-20th century Expressionist (Amsterdam School) architecture would be interested in De Raak building, the former post-office (which now houses a large gym).
Another point of interest further up from De Raak (SportCity) is the Jopenkerk, home of the Jopen brewery. In the 14th century, Haarlem was an important beer brewing centre. There were numerous breweries and beer was transported in jopen (112 liter barrels) to other cities. The brewing industry declined over the centuries but was revived in the 1990’s, using the original 15th century recipes. The Jopen brewery, housed in a former church (Jopenkerk), is arguably the most famous.
Hofjes and charming neighbourhoods
Head south along the Gasthuisstraat and Tuchthuisstraat past some of the most charming neighbourhoods in Haarlem. Here, you’ll find picturesque lanes, alleys and squares, filled with little gardens. Look out for the historic 15th/16th century hofjes, blocks of houses surrounding a courtyard, such as Brouwershofje.
Note: please keep in mind that these are residential neighbourhoods. Refrain from entering the hofjes in groups and please keep noise levels low.
Turn into the Lange Annastraat and keep heading southwards. Near the Nieuwe Kerksplein (New Church Square), look for the 18th century Proveniershof, the largest hofje in Haarlem.
Turn left at the Kampersingel (canal) and continue to the Frans Hals Museum. At the corner of the Groot Heiligland and Gasthuisvest streets, you’ll see a beautiful row of gabled houses. These are the Gasthuis-Huisjes, built in the 17th century as homes for the elderly.
Frans Hals Museum
The Frans Hals Museum is located in the Groot Heiligland street. Housed in a gorgeous 17th century complex, this museum has many works by the Dutch master as well as other paintings from the same era. Purchase tickets for the Frans Hals Museum.
From the museum, continue northwards along Groot Heiligland. In the Kleine Houtstraat, turn right towards the Spaarne River. The first bridge you’ll see is the Melkbrug (Milk bridge), a historic swing bridge.
Follow the curve of the river and pass the Spaarne waterfront, with its row of beautiful medieval houses. From here, you can also opt to join a canal cruise.
The Teylers Museum in Haarlem opened in 1784, making it the oldest museum in the Netherlands. Founded by Pieter Teyler, a wealthy cloth merchant and banker of Scottish descent, the Teylers Museum has impressive art, scientific and natural history collections. Purchase tickets for Teylers Museum.
From the museum, cross the Spaarne River using the Gravestenenbrug (drawbridge) and continue to the Amsterdamse Poort. Located on the old route to Amsterdam, this medieval city gate is the only one of twelve medieval city gates remaining in Haarlem.
A few minutes’ walk away, you’ll see the impressive dome of the Koepelgevangenis (Dome Prison).
Completed in 1901, it functioned as a prison until 2016. After a major refurbishment, it has reopened as a centre for art, education and start-ups.
There’s also a cinema in the basement. The impressive architecture, especially the dome, makes a visit more than worthwhile. You can also have a peek in the old prison cells.
De Adriaan windmill
Just a short stroll from the Koepelgevangenis, you’ll find one of Haarlem’s most beloved structures: De Adriaan windmill. This 18th century windmill was utilised for different purposes before it burned down in 1932.
After decades of wrangling, the city hall, under increasing pressure and with donations from locals and businesses, commissioned the reconstruction of the windmill, which was completed in 2002. Join a guided tour of this fascinating windmill. The Zuidam café-restaurant next door is perfect for a little break.
Cross the Catharijnebrug (bridge) to the Bakenes neighbourhood, an island with historic houses and hofjes. My favourite points of interest in this neighbourhood are the 15th century Bakenessekerk (Bakenes church), with its ornate, white tower, and Teylers Hofje, a serene courtyard and garden.
Back to Haarlem station
From the Bakenes neighbourhood, cross the Begijnebrug (bridge) and continue to the Begijnhof (beguinage). There, you’ll find the 14th century Waalse Kerk (Walloon church), the oldest church in Haarlem.
The Haarlem walking route ends here, where you have two options: return to Haarlem station or head back into the old town via Jansstraat.
Where to stay in Haarlem
I recommend staying 1-2 nights in Haarlem to have more time to enjoy the city and its surroundings. There are various accommodation options, from cosy B&Bs to luxurious hotels. I stayed at the lovely MAF Haarlem Boutique Hotel in the old town. This small hotel, located in a 16th century building, features spacious rooms and a beautiful restaurant/bar.
Places to visit around Haarlem
There are numerous places around Haarlem that are absolutely worth visiting. At the Haarlem station, hire a bike at one of the bike rental shops and go explore. Here are a few places to visit:
Santpoort is a lovely town bordered by forests and dunes. There are also several points of interest such as the ruins of Brederode Castle as well as the stately Duin & Kruidberg castle.
Zuid-Kennermerland National Park
This national park covers an expansive area of forests, dunes and lakes. There are many hiking and cycling trails that crisscross the park. Look out for the different varieties of deer and birds.
Zandvoort aan Zee
Dubbed Amsterdam Beach, Zandvoort aan Zee is a popular beach playground for the inhabitants of the capital. There are many beach bars and restaurants to choose from, as well as accommodation options.
It’s also the home of the annual Dutch Formula One Grand Prix. I recommend having a meal at one of the beach restaurants and enjoying the sunset.