Lonely Planet described Haarlem as a hidden gem. According to the travel guide, this city in North Holland belongs to one of the most beautiful places in Europe. And those who have already been there must surely be able to agree. With a number of special museums, historic canal houses and canals, Haarlem is very similar to the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam. It is therefore also called Little Amsterdam. But fortunately Haarlem has its own character and that makes it an ideal destination for a city trip in the Netherlands. In this historical travel guide, you’ll read more about the history and I’ll introduce you to the best sights of the city. Let’s go to Haarlem…
What would you like to know about Haarlem in The Netherlands?
- A brief History of Haarlem
- Sightseeing – 6 interesting places in Haarlem
- Accommodation – Where to stay?
- Transport – How to get there?
A brief history of Haarlem
Haarlem may be called the little Amsterdam, but in fact the little brother is older. As early as 1245 the city received official city rights, Amsterdam only around 1300. And in the sixteenth century Haarlem was one of the most important cities in the Netherlands. Both industrially and culturally, the city developed prosperously. Sectors in which the city made its name were the textile industry, shipbuilding, breweries and the flourishing art of painting. Haarlem was the place to be.
But Haarlem also had to defend itself against Spanish rule at the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). Residents rose up and seemed to lose the battle. The result was famine, the plague, and Spanish punitive measures. Around 1580 the Spaniards left and this led to the arrival of French and Flemish immigrants. Once again the city flourished and the linen industry was an important sector for employment.
Frans Hals was three years old when he migrated to Haarlem with his parents from Mechelen, Belgium in 1586. He spent most of his life in this city, painting some of his masterpieces. He died in 1666. Haarlem also benefited from Amsterdam’s boom period. In 1631, a canal was constructed between the two cities, which significantly promoted trade.
And that connection with Amsterdam has always remained. Two centuries after the construction of the canal, the first railroad line in the Netherlands was built. On September 20, 1839, the first steam locomotive ran from Amsterdam to Haarlem. This was the beginning of industrialization in the Netherlands and the city grew from 20,000 inhabitants around 1800 to 60,000 around 1900.
By the way, did you know that inhabitants of Haarlem are called mosquitoes? This probably originated in the fifteenth century as a term of abuse for pettiness (nit-picking).
Sightseeing – 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 for almost his entire life. He belongs to one of the Dutch Masters and is compared in prestige to his contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn. He painted mainly militia paintings, a group portrait of guilds. Besides 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 located in an old man’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 surely characterized by the Grote Markt (Market Square). On this large square there are a number of special buildings, such as the St. Bavo Church and the city hall. On the square is 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.
At the Grote Markt there are a lot of nice and cozy restaurants and cafes. But the most famous café of the city is surely grand-café Brinkmann. This establishment opened its doors in 1879 (in a different building than the present one) and for years it was the café selling the most spirits in the Netherlands. Since 1902 it has been housed in the De Kroon building on the Grote Markt and is still one of the busiest catering establishments in the city.
Jopenbier: according to an old Haarlem recipe
In 1994, Haarlem celebrated its 750th anniversary and to celebrate, Jopen beer was introduced. The origin of this beer is an old Haarlem recipe from 1501. In those days Haarlem had more than 50 breweries. The Jopen beer brewery is located in the old Jacobus Church and for a tasty snack and drink you can go there. Anno 2020 the brand Jopen is one of the best known producers of specialty beer in the Netherlands. For more information visit the website of Jopenbier.
3. Visit the St. Bavo Church and the organ on which Mozart played
The most famous church in Haarlem is surely the St. Bavo Church. This church is located on the city’s most famous square, the Grote Markt. It was built in the 15th century and belongs to the hundred most important national 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 was the largest organ in the world when it was completed. Some great composers have touched this instrument at one time or another, including Mendelsohn, Handel and the 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. Take a walk through Haarlem, the city of almshouses
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 Haarlem.
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.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Haarlem?
One day in Haarlem is not enough to get to know the history of the city. For those who would like to stay for one or two nights it is best to do so around the Sint Bavo or near 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.
Are you a big fan of shopping? Did you know that Haarlem has been the shopping city of the Netherlands for several years? In the old town you will find a wide variety of nice and cozy stores. But also in the evening you can visit more than 200 restaurants and more than 90 pubs. That weekend in Haarlem should be a good one, right?
Transport – How to get to Haarlem?
The best way to get to Haarlem is by public transport. From Amsterdam Central Station it is a 20-minute train ride to Haarlem Central Station. As you know, this is the oldest railroad line in the Netherlands. From Schiphol it takes about 20 minutes. For more information, check the website of Dutch Railways.
Planning to come by car? In the city center there are several parking garages where you can park your car, but for a whole day it will cost you 25 euros. Another possibility is to park the car at Spaarnwoude station (Ikea) east of the city and then take a train or bus to the center. The same goes for Overveen station west of Haarlem. For more information check the website of the municipality of Haarlem.
Next destination? Take the train and continue your journey to Zwolle…
Do you have more tips, ideas or comments about the city of Haarlem in The Netherlands? Then feel free to leave a message below!