Things to do in Haarlem blog post was first published on Culture Tourist on 6 February 2019 and updated on 23 February 2024.

If you’re looking for a lovely Dutch town to visit on a day trip from Amsterdam, go to Haarlem. Located only twenty minutes from the Dutch capital, it’s a charming town filled with history, beautiful architecture and excellent restaurants. I lived in Haarlem for five years and am still visiting it regularly, so consider this a local’s Haarlem Travel Guide. Continue reading to learn more about its history, best museums, cafes, restaurants and what to do in that lovely Dutch town.

Things to do in Haarlem

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You can visit Haarlem on a day trip from Amsterdam, The Hague or Rotterdam. However, it’s a wonderful city with so many great things to do, you can easily spend a few days exploring it. If you decide to spend a night in Haarlem, check out some of my hotel recommendations at the end of this article about the best things to do in Haarlem.

How to get to Haarlem from Amsterdam

Haarlem is located only twenty minutes by train from Amsterdam. Trains depart every ten minutes and usually go from platforms 1 and 2 at the Amsterdam Central Station. You can check their website for the time schedule. Checking in and out is easy at the train station. You can use your credit card and check in and out with it. However, if you prefer getting a train ticket, you can buy your train ticket from Amsterdam to Haarlem using this link.

Read more: 18 Best exhibitions in Europe in 2024

Interesting facts about Haarlem

The New York City‘s neighbourhood Harlem was named after this Dutch town. People from Dutch Haarlem who moved to New York (called New Amsterdam back then) during the 17th century named their neighbourhood after their home town. The name is still in use today.

During the 14th century, Haarlem was the Dutch capital. It was a historical residence of the Counts of Holland, who ruled the country back in the day.

In 1620, Haarlem had around 100 breweries. You can try some original recipes at the Jopen Brewery in Haarlem today.

Haarlem has more museums per inhabitant than any other Dutch city. It’s also home to the oldest museum in the Netherlands, Teylers Museum.

The medieval town centre is still mainly intact. While strolling around it, you’ll stumble on some very old houses, making you feel like you stepped back in history.

What to do in Haarlem

Admire Art Deco decoration at Haarlem Train Station

Address: Stationsplein 11 L, 2011 LR Haarlem

If you travel to Haarlem by train, the first building you’ll see upon arrival is its train station. Don’t rush outside immediately! Take a few moments to explore that beautiful place. Built in the Art Deco style, it’s one of the oldest train stations in the Netherlands. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first Dutch electrical tram connected it with the city centre.

Haarlem’s Train Station even starred in a Hollywood movie! It portrayed Amsterdam Central Station in Ocean’s Twelve, filmed in 2004.

Try one of the best Dutch fries at Friethoes

Address: Kruisweg 43, 2011 LA Haarlem

If you feel hungry once you arrive at Haarlem, quickly stop at a small restaurant called Friethoes. They’re only serving fries to go, but trust me, those are the best fries in Haarlem. And probably some of the best in the Netherlands!

On your way from the train station to the main square in Haarlem, you’ll walk through the street filled with small shops and restaurants. You’ll also pass by Nieuwe Gracht, where you can see one of Haarlem’s most beautiful canal views. It’s also one of the most popular photo spots in Haarlem.

Read more: Best day trips from Amsterdam

Wander around Haarlem’s medieval town centre

An excellent way to explore Haarlem is by wandering around and getting lost in its historic streets. Stroll around the small streets around the Grote Markt. They are filled with small shops, restaurants and bars. You’ll see various traditional gables on top of the houses. You can often spot the year they were built written on them, too. I always like to look for the coat of arms and different decorations on these beautiful houses, too.

Take a guided tour

The best way to learn about the city’s history and the everyday life of its residents is by taking a guided tour. If you’re more interested in history and culture, check out The Rise of Haarlem guided walking tour. Here is the Haarlem small group tour that will take you to some of the most interesting locations in the city. Both of them will give you a great insight into the city’s history, main attractions and places locals love.

Explore Grote Markt

Address: Grote Markt, Haarlem

Like in other Dutch cities, the main square in Haarlem is called the Grote Markt. It’s one of the most beautiful town squares in the Netherlands. Some fantastic historic buildings surround it, and you can find all the examples of traditional Dutch gables in its houses.

During the warmer months, you can enjoy having a drink on some of its cafes’ terraces. My favourite place there is Grand Cafe Brinkmann. Each Saturday, a farmers market is organised at the square (more about it later in this article).

Admire St. Bavo Church (Grote Kerk)

Address: Grote Markt 22, 2011 RD Haarlem

This massive church on Grote Markt is one of the city’s symbols. Built as a Catholic cathedral, it was later converted to the protestant church. Because of its past, it’s not a cathedral anymore. Haarlem’s Cathedral of St. Bavo is located in the southern part of the city. You can visit this beautiful church any day of the week except for Sunday. Each Saturday at 2 pm a guided tour in English is organised there.

With its beautiful decoration Grote Kerk’s wooden ceiling is my favourite detail in this fascinating church. However, check out its floor, as well. This is where the graves of many notable Haarlemmers are located. Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals is the most famous among them.

Read more: Frans Hals Exhibition at the Rijksmuseum 2024

Check out the statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster

Address: Grote Markt, Haarlem

Laurens Janszoon Coster is another famous Haarlem’s former citizen. He is an alleged printing press inventor. You’ll find his statue at the Grote Markt. Laurens Janszoon Coster claimed he invented a printing press at the same time as Johannes Gutenberg. But, unfortunately, he couldn’t prove it. Nevertheless, many people consider him a true inventor. That’s probably true for many citizens of Haarlem because, in that Dutch city, you can find two of his statues (another one is nearby, Prinsenhof).

Visit Haarlem Town Hall

Address: Grote Markt 2, 2011 RD Haarlem

The former home of the Counts of Holland, the Town Hall is today one of the most beautiful buildings in Haarlem. Built in the 14th century, it still shows Haarlem’s importance during the Dutch Golden Age. Visit it and explore its interior with beautiful wall paintings.

TIP: Haarlem’s Tourist Information Center is located on the ground floor. Visit it to get a map of the city, booklets about Haarlem, and to learn about events, guided tours and things to do in Haarlem.

Explore Hoofdwacht (the Guard House)

Address: Grote Markt 17, Haarlem

Built in the 13th century, Hoofdwacht is the oldest building in Haarlem. It was used as the Haarlem’s city hall when it was first built. However, it had several purposes throughout the history. It was a printing shop (perhaps, that’s why the Laurens Janszoon Coster statue is right in front of it), home to some noble families, headquarters of the civic guards, and even a prison.

Read more: Is the I amsterdam City Card worth it?

Admire Haarlem Vleeshal

Address: Grote Markt 16, 2011 RD Haarlem

Built at the beginning of the 17th century, Vleeshal was the only place in Haarlem where fresh meat was sold during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it’s home to two museums.

You’ll find Haarlem’s Archaeological Museum in its basement. It’s a great place to learn about Haarlem’s history, see archaeological findings and meet one of its oldest citizens. The museum is child-friendly and a great place to visit with kids. The ‘Hal’ building of the Frans Hals Museum is on its upper floors. They usually organise excellent contemporary art exhibitions.

Explore hofjes at Witte Herenstraat

Address: Witte Herenstraat, Haarlem

Witte Herenstraat is one of the oldest streets in Haarlem, and it’s famous for many hofjes or little courtyards located there. You will find many old houses in that charming street. Look for the old doors with the name of the hofje above them. After you get inside, it will feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a great way to learn more about Dutch history.

TIP: In most of those old houses, people still live. Take care of that while visiting them and don’t disturb its residents.

Visit Saint Bavo Cathedral in Haarlem

Address: Leidsevaart 146, 2014 HE Haarlem

Saint Bavo Cathedral is outside the city centre but only a 15-minute walk from the main square. It’s a Catholic church which construction was finished in 1930. Joseph Cuypers, son of Pierre Cuypers, who designed Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and its central train station, built the church.

In a small museum inside the cathedral, you can learn more about it and see some artefacts from Haarlem’s Catholic past.

Read more: 20 Most iconic churches in Europe

Try traditional Haarlem beer at Jopenkerk

Address: Gedempte Voldersgracht 2, 2011 WD Haarlem

During history, beer brewing was one of the most critical industries in Haarlem. The city was one of the largest beer producers in the Netherlands. In 1620, around one hundred breweries were active in the town. You can try some of the beers made after those old recipes at the Jopen Brewery. They have a restaurant in a former church in central Haarlem called the Jopenkerk.

TIP: If you’d like to taste some Jopen beers while cruising Haarlem canals, check out this Jopen beer cruise.

Explore Haarlem’s flower production history

Another industry Haarlem was famous for during its history was the flower trade. Because of that, one of Haarlem’s nicknames is Bloemenstad, meaning the Flower City in English. It was a vital trading centre during the tulipmania in the 17th century. A part of that history could still be felt each April when a big flower parade is organised in the city.

TIP: Check the Flower Parade dates and info on this link.

Shop at Saturday Market at the Grote Markt

Whenever I’m in Haarlem on Saturday, I start my day by visiting its food market. It’s organised at Grote Markt, and you’ll find a variety of food producers from Haarlem and the surrounding region there. Some of my favourites are Vishandel Jak for fish and seafood, Empanadas Maxima, Waldo cakes, cheese and olive stand. It’s a great place to feel like a local for a day and something to put on your list of things to do in Haarlem.

TIP: If you’d like to explore more of Haarlem foodie scene, join this food tour!

Take a walk along the Spaarne River

Houses along the Spaarne River are where Haarlem’s wealthiest citizens lived during the Dutch Golden Age. That’s why you’ll stumble at numerous beautiful buildings there. You can start your walk at the De Waag building, continue walking towards the Teylers Museum and de Adriaan Windmill, and turn left at the Nieuwe Gracht.

TIP: A great way to explore Haarlem canals is by taking a canal cruise. Smidtje canal cruises depart from across the Teylers Museum on the Spaarne River. They will take you on a one-hour long canal cruise around the city, during which you can enjoy the view of Haarlem from the water. Get your online ticket for the canal cruise on this link.

Visit De Adriaan Windmill

Address: Spaarnwouderbuurt, Haarlem, website

De Adriaan Windmill is one of the most photographed places in Haarlem. The original windmill was built at the end of the 18th century. However, after it burnt down, it was rebuilt in 2002. A small museum inside tells its history. You can also visit a nice restaurant within a windmill offering a beautiful view of the Spaarne River. This beautiful windmill is a lovely place to visit in Haarlem.

TIP: If you’d like to explore and learn more about this interesting place, book the Windmill De Adriaan tour here.

Best museums to visit in Haarlem

Frans Hals Museum

Address: Groot Heiligland 62, 2011 ES Haarlem

One of the most famous Dutch Golden Ages painters, Frans Hals, lived and worked in Haarlem. So, it comes as no surprise a museum with one of the largest collections of his work is in Haarlem, too.

The museum is located in the building from the 17th century, built as a home for elderly citizens of Haarlem. Frans Hals Museum has two locations. The one dedicated to Frans Hals’ work, Hof,  is located at the old building on the Groot Heiligland 62. The other one, Hal, where you can see modern painters inspired by his work, is at the Grote Markt 16.

If you have time to visit only one museum in Haarlem, visit the Frans Hals Museum.

TIP: Buy your skip-the-line ticket for the Frans Hals Museum on a link here!

Teylers Museum

Address: Spaarne 16, 2011 CH Haarlem

Located in a beautiful classical building next to the Spaarne River, Teylers is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. Within its collection, you’ll find Michelangelo’s and Rembrandt’s artwork, together with a fantastic natural history collection. It’s also where the top of Mount Blanc is stored. Quite an unusual exhibit, right?

Teylers Museum often organises fantastic temporary exhibitions, so check their website before you visit.

TIP: Get your online Teylers Museum entrance tickets on this link.

Corrie ten Boom House

Address: Barteljorisstraat 19, 2011 RA Haarlem

This inspiring museum is located in the house of the Ten Boom family in Haarlem. They lived there between 1837 and 1945. It’s also a place where they were hiding Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The museum can only be visited on a guided tour (they are organised both in English and Dutch). So, be sure to reserve your spot on this link.

Archaeology Museum Haarlem

Address: Grote Markt 18K, 2011 RD Haarlem

This small museum is one of my favourite places in Haarlem. Located at the old Vleeshal building at the Grote Markt in Haarlem, you won’t spend more than 30 minutes in it. The museum displays archaeological findings from Haarlem and the surrounding area. My favourite there is Cornelis. It’s a skeleton of a man who lived during the Middle Ages in Haarlem. It was found during the archaeological research at the Botermarkt. Reconstruction of his face is made, so you can see what a man living in Haarlem eight hundred years ago looked like.

TIP: This museum is child-friendly! From building the fortified city with blocks and playing with puzzles to looking for archaeological artefacts in the sand, visiting this museum should be on your list of things to do in Haarlem with kids.

Explore Haarlem surroundings

Haarlem is surrounded by beautiful nature, so expand your trip and spend a few more days in that lovely Dutch town. Here is what you can see just outside the Haarlem.

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park

If you want to see Dutch dunes and spend a day in nature, visiting the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park could be a great idea. It has beautiful nature, many cycling routes, and walking paths. During some of my visits, I’ve also seen deer and highland cattle there.

Read more: Biking through the Dutch dunes

Go to the North Sea beach

Did you know a beautiful sandy beach is only 20 minutes away from Haarlem? It’s a perfect place to walk next to the sea, swim in summer or enjoy a coffee or breakfast with a nice sea view. Take a city bus no. 81 from or a train to Zandvoort aan Zee from Haarlem Station. It’s a popular place among the locals, especially at weekends.

Read more: What to see in Amsterdam area: Art & architecture

Shopping in Haarlem

Haarlem has been pronounced the best shopping city in the Netherlands several times. It’s small so you can find many different shops within walking distance. Besides some big brands, there are many local shops with Dutch brands. You’ll find most of them on the streets between the Grote Markt and Gedempte Oude Gracht. However, some of the best fashion stores are in the Zijlstraat.

Where to stay in Haarlem

Haarlem is a compact city you can explore on foot, so I recommend looking for a central accommodation. I stayed in two hotels in Haarlem and loved them both. That’s why I’m recommending them here, too.

Hotel Lion D’Or

Located right next to the Haarlem train station, this hotel has cosy, modern, spacious rooms and a great breakfast. It’s perfect if you’d like to explore Haarlem on foot. But, also, if you’d like to go on some trips outside Haarlem, too. You can book the hotel using this link.

Amrâth Grand Hotel Frans Hals

This hotel has more of a feel of a historic grand hotel. Located just a few steps from the Haarlem main square and the Spaarne River. You can book the hotel on this link.

Haarlem is a charming Dutch town worth a visit. With the help of this travel guide, you will find all the exciting things to do in Haarlem and enjoy your trip to that lovely town.

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