Haarlem is a popular destination in the northwest of Holland and is often called “Amsterdam’s little brother”, due to its proximity to the capital city. It has over 160,000 inhabitants and is made up of countless small alleys, gabled houses, canals and windmills, and has retained its historical charm. Furthermore, it’s located only a few kilometers from the north sea, making Haarlem an easy day trip or add-on to a beach vacation.
Sightseeing in Haarlem
The historic center of Haarlem is famous for its canals, churches, squares and beautiful green courtyards. The city can easily be explored on foot, by bike or even by boat. These are our recommendations for your trip to Haarlem.
#1 Grote Kerk
In the center of Haarlem is the Grote Kerk (literally: big church). This gothic building from the 14th century has a storied history. It’s been struck by lightning, once even burned down for the most part and changed hands several times between denominations. The tower has been preserved to this day, it significantly determines the silhouette of the city and is one of Haarlem’s well-known landmarks. Visitors have access only to the lower part of the church, unfortunately it is not possible to climb it.
#2 Grote Markt
The Grote Markt (literally: big market) is located in the central square and throughout history, has remained the heart of the city. It can be found at the foot of the church Grote Kerk. The square serves as a marketplace on Saturdays, but concerts and festivals are also held there regularly. Around the square there are numerous cafés, restaurants and a few souvenir stores. Numerous small alleys take you in all directions from the square of the city center.
The city center of Haarlem is located around the Grote Markt. If you want to take a walk through the city center and hit the stores, Haarlem is a great place to be. The main shopping area is located north of the main square. From the marketplace, you can use Douglas (to the northwest end) as a good orientation point. If you turn right after Douglas, you will come to Barteljorisstraat, the main shopping street.
The most famous shopping street is Barteljorisstraat, but Grote Houtstraat, Warmoesstraat and Zijlstraat are also great. In Haarlem you’ll find many well-known international stores (from H&M to Superdry), but also many small stores for vintage and second-hand goods. It’s for good reason that the Haarlem shopping district is called De Gouden Straatjes (the golden streets).
On your trip through Haarlem, be sure to visit the famous windmills: De Adriaan Molen and De Eenhoorn. The windmills are open to visitors once a month and there are guides available for visits to the interior. De Adriaan, a windmill dating back to the 18th century, is one of the landmarks of the city. Climb up to the top floor, from where you get a great view over the roofs of Haarlem.
De Adriaan windmill is located very close to the city center, at the crossing of the famous Nieuwe Gracht and the Binnen Spaarne. If you walk north from the Grote Markt along the shopping street (Barteljorisstraat), you will reach the Nieuwe Gracht after about 350 meters. Turn right and walk another 300 meters along the beautiful canal until you reach the bay, then walk straight. You’ll quickly reach the De Adriaan windmill, where you can take some nice pictures of the windmill with the canal in the foreground.
To cross the canal, take the Catarijnebrug (from the crossing about 100 m to the right).
#5 Canal Cruise
After exploring the historic city center by foot, make sure to hop on one of the canal cruises in Haarlem. There are multiple canals across, from small to big, in and around the city that let you discover Haarlem from a whole new perspective.
Haarlem is known for its amazing gastronomy and active nightlife, offering a wide range of restaurants, bars and clubs. After an eventful day it’s easy to relax and enjoy the colorful nightlife. You’ll find many small but nice restaurants and bars in the alleys around the Grote Markt. Haarlem is beautifully lit in the evening hours. Make sure to go out for a leisurely stroll along the canals.
How to Get There & Parking
Some hotels include parking, often free of charge, sometimes for a fee. If you’re only in Haarlem for the day, you will find numerous parking garages in the city. If you want to park centrally, the parking garage De Appelaar, located at the Grote Markt, is a good choice. Parking in the city center is often expensive in Holland (about €20 a day). As in other large cities, it makes sense for budget travelers to park their car outside the city center and walk or take the bus into town.
In the Area
A quick car ride from Haarlem is the North Sea, located only a few kilometers away. You can also cycle to to the North Sea (about 8 km), crossing the beautiful Zuid-Kennemerland National Park.
If you want to travel from Haarlem to the sea, the well-known seaside towns Bloemendaal aan Zee and Zandvoort are great to visit. Bloemendaal is a bit smaller than Zandvoort. The two villages are connected by walking and cycling paths along the beach and through the dunes. Ideal for walking, cycling and relaxing!