Traveling to the Netherlands and wondering if Haarlem is worth visiting? This post is for you.
I have posted often about Amsterdam, but it’s time to talk about Haarlem.
Haarlem is right next to Amsterdam and has pretty much everything that Amsterdam is famous for. Canals, narrow houses, romantic bridges, hofjes (Dutch courtyards), museums, and lovely nightlife. There’s also a historical windmill next to the water.
Planning a last-minute trip to Haarlem? I’ve got you covered. Below is a quick list of essential tours and my hotel recommendations:
Top Tours in Haarlem:
- Tylers Museum Entry ticket – This is the oldest museum in the Netherlands and is about science and art.
- Frans Hals Museum: Frans Hals was a famous Dutch artist and this museum is a must-visit.
- Haarlem Sightseeing Boat Tour with Snacks and Drinks: This is the kind of tour where you will most definitely have a lot of fun as you sit and explore Haarlem from the water.
- Haarlem Highlights on Bike: The best way to explore any part of the Netherlands is on a bicycle.
Haarlem Hotel Reccemondations:
- Hello, I’m Local: This is a boutique hotel and hostel that’s in a pretty part of Haarlem near the canals. The atmosphere is amazing and will suit solo travelers, couples, and friends. I wouldn’t recommend this for families with small children.
- Carlton Square Hotel: This is a perfect place to book if you’re with your family or if you are traveling for work. The rooms have a desk and there are also conference rooms. The breakfast here is amazing.
Table of Contents
Canals, Narrow Houses, Bridges – Haarlem has it all
Amsterdam isn’t the only city in the Netherlands with canals, narrow houses, and cute bridges. Haarlem has them too!
The reason why I visit Amsterdam over and over again is because of these things and they make the city so pretty.
I was amazed to see that Haarlem has everything that Amsterdam has and perhaps even more. Haarlem also has coffeeshops (with weed) and smart shops.
Now don’t get me wrong – both Amsterdam and Haarlem are good in their own way. Amsterdam’s canal ring is bigger and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so is unmissable. But Haarlem’s canals are like Amsterdam’s too in many ways.
So, is Haarlem worth visiting? Hopefully, this section answers that question to some extent.
Haarlem is Walkable
How amazing are the travel destinations where you can easily walk from one place to another and explore everything on foot? Haarlem is one of those places.
Haarlem is tiny, so you can easily reach from one point of interest to another by foot. This is because most of the famous things to do in Haarlem are close to each other.
For slightly longer distances, you can get on a rental bicycle but I didn’t need one because I didn’t mind a 2-kilometer walk along the canals.
This ease of travel made my solo time in Haarlem an amazing experience.
Scared of Riding a Bicycle in Amsterdam? Haarlem is easier
So what’s the best way of exploring Dutch cities and countryside? Of course on a bicycle. I get it, there are some parts of the world where cycling isn’t the most common way of commuting. If that’s the case then cycling in Amsterdam may be a scary thought for you.
I have news for you – cycling in Haarlem is easier than in Amsterdam because of the low crowds.
The first time I moved to Europe, I was cycling after 15 years! On my first visit to Amsterdam, I couldn’t even imagine I’d ride a bicycle there. I did eventually do that on my third visit because I now cycle everyday in Germany
If you are nervous about cycling, in Amsterdam then Haarlem is the perfect place to start. We cycled from Haarlem to Zandvoort, and then to a lovely cycling path that goes near the MH17 memorial and the Schiphol Airport. Here’s our cycling itinerary for exploring Haarlem and around.
Haarlem also has a Windmill – De Adriaan
One of the first images that comes to my mind when I think of the Netherlands is an old-school windmill. Haarlem has one and is along the River Spaarne.
Haarlem’s windmill is called “De Adriaan” and dates back to 1779. It is an iconic sight and looks lovely in Haarlem’s skyline. I loved walking along the River Spaarne and photographing the windmill.
Windmill De Adriaan was destroyed by a fire in 1932. The locals collected money and paid for the rebuilding of the windmill, but it didn’t work out. This windmill reopened 70 years after the fire in 2002.
Although Windmill De Adriaan is fully functional as a mill, it now functions as a tourist attraction with a museum inside.
I’m not the kinds to visit museums but a nice way to enjoy the beauty of Windmill de Adriaan is by sitting in the restaurant next to it – Restaurant Zuidam and enjoying a drink or two with the view. I did this too!
Haarlem has a Fun Nightlife
We all know already that Amsterdam has a fun nightlife, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience Haarlem’s pub scene.
Firstly, there’s the rooftop bar that’s almost hidden because it is on top of a parking garage. It is called DeDAKKAS, where you can enjoy a few cocktails as you watch the view of the entire Haarlem town and a spectacular sunset.
DeDakkas was actually recommended to me by a local resident and I absolutely enjoyed it for my post-dinner drinks.
After that, walk to the old town area Grote Markt to Oude Groenmarkt. It is dotted with bars and brown pubs, so you can just go from one place to another and enjoy a drink. We went to a place called La Plume, which is right next to the church.
Affordable Compared to Amsterdam
Let’s be honest. This region in Western Europe – Germany, France, and the Netherlands isn’t affordable at all. But the bigger cities like Amsterdam are so expensive and in comparison, the smaller towns like Haarlem are a tad cheaper.
It is especially true in peak summer when everyone who lives near and in Holland wants to go to Zandvoort beach and an insane amount of international visitors start their Euro trips in Amsterdam.
So, this is a reason why I suggested Haarlem as a base for exploring Amsterdam and Zandvoort – because you can usually find cheaper rooms here in comparison. Zandvoort and Amsterdam are more expensive than Haarlem.
Perfect Base for visiting Amsterdam and Zandvoort Beach
Now it is likely that you will read blog posts that suggest Haarlem as a perfect day trip from Amsterdam, but I suggest you pick Haarlem as your base so that you can explore Amsterdam and the Zandvoort beach.
Amsterdam Centraal is just a 20-minute train ride away from Haarlem. Haarlem has cheaper rooms than Amsterdam so it makes sense to pick Haarlem as your base.
If you visit in summer, then you can cycle to Zandvoort Beach from Haarlem, which is also sometimes called Amsterdam Beach. It is just 30 minutes by bicycle. You can also take the train from Haarlem and arrive in Zandvoort in just 10 minutes.
Haarlem is in the middle of Amsterdam and Zandvoort, so it makes sense to stay here when you want a fun summer holiday that has a good mix of city break, beach, and small-town feels.
Haarlem’s Food Scene is Amazing
In my opinion, when a city has a good mix of regional and international cuisine then it has a good food scene.
Exactly for this reason, I found Haarlem’s food scene to be amazing. Now this isn’t a case of Amsterdam vs Haarlem because Amsterdam definitely has an exceptional food scene.
Let me tell you about some notable meals that I had in Haarlem.
Little Jamaica Bistro – amazing authentic Jamaican food will hearty portions. Try the jerk chicken, beef patties, spicy curried goat, and rum punch. The overall atmosphere is like none other and is enough to make me come back to Haarlem.
Restaurant Dane – a high-end restaurant with exquisite food plating and inventive flavors. Each dish was a work of art with a blend of flavors that combined the traditional with the unusual.
Crêpe Affaire – an easy-to-visit casual cafe for Dutch-style pancakes, waffles, caramel-y coffee, and cheesy things.
Restaurant Parck – a slightly formal restaurant with fusion food. I had Thai soup and a spicy chicken sandwich here.
Haarlem isn’t Crowded
Imagine Amsterdam without the crowds – yes that’s what Haarlem is like. I could finally click as many canal photos as I wanted without people, find empty benches to sit on with a view next to the water and get a table in lively restaurants or bars.
In this age of overtourism, it is definitely nice to find a place like Haarlem that’s pretty and doesn’t feel crowded.
Perfect for Families
I have traveled to Amsterdam a gazillion times and once even with my daughter. The crowded city center isn’t easy for small children. Even though we avoid the center, at times one needs to cross it.
On the other hand, I felt that Haarlem had a super relaxed vibe that made it perfect for families with small children.
Exactly for those reasons, Haarlem is easy for also solo travelers and couples. But it is a bit more suited for families with small children as compared to Amsterdam because I’d want to keep my kid away from the Red Light District, sex shops, head shops, and joint smoking tourists. A few are ok but a concentration of them (like in the De Wallen area of Amsterdam) is a bit too much.
Even though I was traveling solo in Haarlem, I saw a lot of German families with small children here and that’s when I decided to revisit with my family too.
So, is Haarlem Worth Visiting?
The simple answer is if you are visiting the Netherlands with your children, then you can skip Amsterdam and visit Haarlem directly.
Another instance where you can skip Amsterdam and stay in Haarlem instead is if you are traveling in the summer. That’s when staying in Haarlem makes a lot of sense because the Zandvoort beach is so close to it.
Moreover, if you are looking for a base to start a road trip in the Netherlands, then I suggest Haarlem over Amsterdam, mainly because the parking costs in Amsterdam are beyond crazy. Moreover driving routes are limited in Amsterdam because it seems the government is slowly phasing out cars.
On the other hand, if you are traveling without small children and have never visited Amsterdam, then you can spend at least one day there (or two or three) and leave Haarlem for another day or a separate visit.
Having visited Amsterdam often, below are my highly rated Amsterdam city guides for you to bookmark.
- Itinerary for 1 day in Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Instagram Spots – 20 Amazing photo spots based on my multiple visits
- Two Days in Amsterdam itinerary
- Weekend in Amsterdam
- Three days in Amsterdam itinerary
- Amsterdam for couples
- Amsterdam travel tips
- Amsterdam travel quotes
Did you know the Schiphol Airport is closer to Haarlem than Amsterdam?
If you arrive in the Netherlands by air, then most likely you will land at the Schiphol Airport, which is also called “Schiphol Amsterdam Airport”. Guess what, it is closer to Haarlem than to Amsterdam by road – only slightly.
So, Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station is 23 Kilometers by car, but to Haarlem Station is 19 kilometers. Actually, this is because the roadway is longer but if you look at the direct bicycle way, then Amsterdam is closer – but no one goes on a bicycle to the Airport with a suitcase, am I right?
Disclosure: I collaborated with the I Amsterdam (Amsterdam city tourism board) for a part of my visit to Haarlem. However, all opinions expressed in this article are definitely our own.
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