Everyone knows about Amsterdam, but not everyone has been to Haarlem; a great city for shopping, museums and culture just a 20-minute train ride from the capital. If you’re staying in Amsterdam or have a stopover in Schiphol Airport, make the most of it with my list of the best things to do in Haarlem.
Haarlem is around 12 miles from Amsterdam, but is much less visited in comparison. However, it still has the same iconic canals, cobbled streets and cultural things to do as the capital. It’s also home to the country’s oldest museum and its newest hofjes (courtyards), as well as an endless option of bars and restaurants.
The city is located close to the River Spaarne (which is where it gets its nickname of ‘Spaarnestad’ or Spaarne City. Historically, Haarlem was the main trading city in the province, but then Amsterdam came about and sort of took over. But today, Haarlem is a mix of lots of history with cool, modern places to hang out.
It’s really easy to get to Haarlem from Amsterdam, where the train takes around 20 minutes (although the fastest ones are around 9 minutes) and can cost under a fiver. Haarlem is also really easy to get to from Schiphol Airport, where the train journey also lasts around 20 minutes and is fairly cheap. You can also easily get a bus. If you have a long stopover at Schiphol, heading to Haarlem is a great way to pass the time.
So whether you’re planning to visit the city for a few hours, a day trip, a week or longer, it’s handy to know the best things to do in Haarlem. From wandering around the traditional windmills to grabbing a pint at a local brewery, you’ll find a range of Haarlem activities in my list to fill any trip duration.
11 Top Things to Do in Haarlem
Some of the best activities in Haarlem include visiting museums, historic squares and houses, or trying different local beers, catching a film and shopping for antiques!
1. See masterpieces and modern art at Frans Hals Museum
Named after the 17th century portrait artist Frans Hals, the museum showcases historical works as well as modern pieces by other Dutch artists. It’s spread across two locations (HAL and HOF) that you can reach easily by walking across the historic town in less than 10 minutes.
The Frans Hal HOF Museum location is an old courtyard building that houses lots of historic pieces from the Golden Age. Across the way, the HAL location has more contemporary art, such as photography and video art. Both are worth seeing with equally impressive collections – if not for the lovely scenic walk to go from one to the other. Your tickets also cover you for both museums too.
2. Take a guided tour of Corrie Ten Boom House
The Ten Boom Family home was the place where many Jews took shelter during World War II. You’ll need to book a guided tour to go round the open house-museum, but you’ll be able to see old family photographs and different objects, as well as the house in its original condition.
The tours also provide a bit of background to Corrie Ten Boom and her family, as well as details of how they were able to hide Jews during the war. They take place in Dutch or English every day from Tuesday to Saturday and last about an hour. You’ll need to reserve at least five days in advance though.
3. Wander around Grote Markt
The Grote Markt has been the heart of Haarlem for centuries. It has many great buildings around it like the former Fleshers’ Hall, built by Dutch architect Lieven de Key in the early 15th Century. There’s also the town hall (Stadhuis), which used to be a palace for the counts of Holland, and the Frans Hals Museum – HAL.
In my opinion, one of the nicest ways to experience all the architecture surrounding the Grote Markt square (and one of the best things to do in Haarlem generally) is by grabbing a coffee or beer and just taking it all in. It’s such a nice area to just be in, and you can do this at several little bars and restaurants like Fortuyn Haarlem or Cafe Studio.
4. Go to church
Haarlem has lots of historic churches that all have beautiful architecture. Some of the most prominent ones are Grote Kerk or St. Bavokerk in Grote Markt, Waalse Kerk Haarlem, Baknesserkerk and Nieuwe Kerk.
They all have their own stories too, such as the St Bavokerk’s conversion to cathedral status but reverting back during the Protestant Reformation and its famous Müller Organ. And the role of Waalse Kerk Haarlem in housing refugees from Wallonia in Belgium and French Huguenots. A lot of them also have stunning interiors, organs and artworks to see too.
If you like seeing Gothic or Dutch Renaissance architecture, then making plans to visit the churches of Haarlem is one of the top things to do during your trip.
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5. Visit the Netherlands’ oldest museum
Teylers Museum is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. It houses an extensive collection of paintings, ancient fossils, minerals, instruments, and books, and the 200-year-old Oval Hall is an attraction in itself.
In other areas of Teylers Museum, you’ll also be able to see original sketches from famous artists like Rafael, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo.
The museum was built in 1778, and is the only one in the world with an authentic 18th-century interior (The Oval Hall). This neoclassical area was designed to be used for research, public demonstrations, special viewings of works, and still serves these purposes today. Generally, the museum was intended to be a temple and muse for scholars, which makes it quite a special place to visit.
6. Go on a windmill tour
Windmills are one of the stereotypical images you conjure up when thinking about The Netherlands. There are still over 1,000 in the country, with many still in use today. So if you’re visiting, one of the best things to do in Haarlem is to go on a tour of the city’s iconic windmill – De Adriaan.
The original windmill was constructed by Adriaan de Booys, an industrial producer from Amsterdam. Over the years, it changed owners and uses, working to produce cement, tobacco, and more. But it was completely destroyed during a fire, leading to a reconstruction of the original in 2002.
Today the windmill is still in use, and you can learn more about it with guided tours that last about 45 minutes. There are various floors to explore with exhibitions and interactive experiences, as well as panoramic views from the top.
7. Sample local Haarlem beers at De Jopenkerk Brewery
If you love beer, a trip to the De Jopenkerk Brewery is definitely a must-visit for you. It’s an old church that was converted into a brewery, where you can see Jopen beers being made.
Jopen Beer was first made in 1992, where Stichting Haarlems Biergenootschap (Haarlem Beer Society) looked to revive old Haarlem beer recipes they discovered in the city’s archives. You’ll no doubt get to try all of the different variations made here if you’re visiting.
You can choose from different experiences too, such as lunch, dinner, and beer-tasting sessions. The brewery also features a Grand Café, an open terrace, a shop and a restaurant on the first floor that caters to groups.
8. Enjoy live music at Philharmonie Concert Hall, Haarlem
Haarlem’s main concert venue is the Philharmonie Concert Hall, which regularly hosts performances by the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dutch Chamber Orchestra. It’s a 19th-century hall which makes seeing live music there extra special and one of the best things to do in Haarlem overall.
9. See some tulips in the surrounding fields of Haarlem
Haarlem lies in the Bollenstreek, a famous bulb-growing region, so is surrounded by lots of beautiful fields of flowers. During tulip season, which spans from the end of March to the beginning of May, you can visit the Bollenstreek and see endless fields of tulips. There’s also hyacinths, crocuses, and daffodils.
One of the most Dutch ways to see tulips is by renting a bike in Haarlem and heading out to the fields. This is such a wonderful way to explore the city and wider countryside when the sun’s out and flowers are blooming.
10. Watch a film at Toneelschuur
This isn’t always on the list of touristy things to do in Haarlem, but it’s one I really like. Toneelschuur is a theatre with two cinemas and two theatres. It has a bit of a quirky exterior following its renovation and redesign by Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
It’s great to watch classic and art house movies or the latest releases, or plays and one-off performances. Toneelschuur also has a cafe that serves amazing coffee and beers too.
If you don’t speak Dutch – don’t worry. They regularly have a screening, organised in collaboration with expatsHaarlem as part of their Expat Cinema, where films are shown with English subtitles.
11. Go antiquing at Antiekmarkt de Dreef
One of the best things to do in Haarlem is antique shopping, so you can take some souvenirs home from your trip.
The Antiekmarkt De Dreef takes place along the pathway next to De Dreef, stretching from Houtplein to Paviljoenslaan. This bustling market operates every year, typically during nine Saturdays spanning from June through early October.
There’s around 90 different stalls where you can find anything from silverware, porcelain, and ceramics to paintings, graphics, and ethnographic pieces. It’s important to note that this isn’t just a standard flea market; the quality of items available is generally high – as are the prices. You can still haggle though and can come away with a great bargain.
If you’re looking for inspiration on what else to buy in Haarlem, check out my post on the top souvenirs in Amsterdam for what the best things to buy in the North Holland region.
Things to do in Haarlem
The historic town in North Holland Province is often overshadowed by the extremely popular Amsterdam. However, my list of the best things to do in Haarlem showcase just how much there is to do in this city. Plus, it’s really easy and cheap to get to from Amsterdam or Schiphol Airport.
It really has a lot of what you’d expect from a Dutch city; history, art, culture, town squares, beer, tulips, windmills and so on. Plus some things you can’t find anywhere else, like the oldest museum in The Netherlands.
But on a smaller scale to Amsterdam, Haarlem can be done in a shorter amount of time. If you’ve only got a day in Haarlem, simply wandering around the historic Grote Markt will give you plenty of opportunities to see world-famous museums and architecture, sample local beers, and relax (or people watch if you’re that kind) in the market square.
Quicklist of the best things to do in Haarlem
- See masterpieces and modern art at Frans Hals Museum
- Take a guided tour of Corrie Ten Boom House
- Wander around Grote Markt
- Go to church
- Visit The Netherlands’ eldest museum
- Go on a windmill tour
- Sample local Haarlem beers at De Jopenkerk Brewery
- Enjoy live music at Philharmonie Concert Hall
- See some tulips (and other flowers) in surrounding fields of Haarlem
- Watch a film at Toneelschuur
- Go antiquing at Antiekmarkt De Dreef
Is Haarlem in Netherlands worth visiting?
Haarlem is definitely worth visiting. It’s a classic Dutch city with cobbled streets, historic buildings, grand churches, renowned museums, cosy bars and cafes, and beautiful canals. Located just a 15-20-minute train ride from Amsterdam, it offers a less tourist-saturated experience too, which is ideal if you hate crowds. The city is also close to the coastal dunes of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park and the popular beaches of Zandvoort and Bloemendaal aan Zee.
How to spend a day in Haarlem Netherlands?
A day in Haarlem can be well-spent exploring its rich history, beautiful architecture, and unique attractions. It’s worth heading to the Grote Markt first, where you can find museums, churches, bars and restaurants, and historic houses. You could then (if you have time) head further out to parks or surrounding tulip fields.
Is it cheaper to stay in Haarlem than Amsterdam?
This generally depends on where you want to stay. Both cities offer a wide range of accommodation from cheaper hostels to higher-end hotels. Haarlem is easy to get around by foot as it’s smaller, however you can always choose to rent bikes in both cities to cut down on costs.
How many days do you need in Haarlem?
While Haarlem is a relatively small town with its historical centre being compact, you can easily visit it on a day trip from Amsterdam.. However, to fully make the most of all the things to do there and see its history, architecture, museums, cafes, and natural surroundings, it’s better to stay for 2-3 days. It’s smaller than Amsterdam so you generally don’t need as long (although you can still do Amsterdam in 24 hours).