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City guides

Haarlem city guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in Amsterdam’s less crowded neighbour

Swerve the hubbub while soaking up a slice of Dutch cool in this flower-filled Netherlands city, says Polly Allen

Friday 12 May 2023 14:50 BST
<p>The Binnen Spaarne Canal running through Haarlem in the Netherlands</p>

The Binnen Spaarne Canal running through Haarlem in the Netherlands

When you tell people you’ve been to Haarlem, they usually think of the Harlem neighbourhood in New York, but this couldn’t be more different from the pace of the Big Apple; it’s also less tourist-saturated than neighbouring Amsterdam, only 15 minutes away by train, but still bursting with culture. 

During the “tulip mania” of the 17th century, when the financial craze for tulip bulbs was similar to today’s cryptocurrency bubble, Haarlem was the centre of the tulip trade. These days it’s the endpoint for the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek flower parade every April, with intricately decorated floats passing through the streets, groaning with huge displays – this is miles away from your basic flower arrangement.

Haarlem also has a growing music scene, with a well-established jazz festival, plus 2023’s new Haarlem Vinyl Festival (29 September–1 October), which will draw record lovers from across the globe.

Read more on Netherlands travel:

What to do

Find your new favourite museum

The Frans Hals Museum is spread across two sites, giving a double art fix (tickets €8-16; some concessions free). Paintings by Frans Hals are shown alongside modern art by the likes of Lubaina Himid and Kerry James Marshall.

A statue made of tulips in the Haarlem flowers parade

The Teylers Museum was founded in 1784 to display science and natural history collections, and its age is part of the charm. Peel back layers of history as you browse the wooden specimen cabinets, the beautiful Oval Room and the art galleries of the Netherlands’ oldest museum. A new part of the site opened in 2021: the lovingly restored Pieter Teyler House, once home to the museum founder.  

A ground-breaking attraction dedicated to mental health, the Museum van de Geest, or Museum of the Mind, was named European Museum of the Year in 2022 (tickets €10-20; some concessions free). It’s on the site of a leper colony and plague hospital that then became the local asylum. Tough and emotive subject matter is sensitively handled. Another stirring sight is the Corrie ten Boom House (free, but donations encouraged; guided tours only), where one Haarlem family hid Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of Holland in the Second World War.

Explore the hofjes

Haarlem has some beautiful hidden courtyards with well-kept gardens surrounded by former almshouses, which most tourists overlook. The oldest hofje dates from 1395 but the newest was founded in 2007. Though not all hofjes are open to the public, some can be seen from the street, including van Loo, van Oorschot and van Noblet.

Connect with nature

Discover the city from a different angle with canal tours (April to October). Alternatively, stick to dry land at the Haarlemmerhout, a public park with its own petting zoo, wild deer and walking trails. This is also a music venue, so check the concert schedule beforehand.

Take a canal tour in Haarlem

Haarlemers also love the nearby Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, where you can see wisents (European bison), go hiking, or swim in a dune lake – swimming season is May to October. The National Park stretches from Zandvoort to Ijmuiden; there’s a direct bus from Haarlem to the visitor centre. 

Where to stay

The decor atHotel Lion D’or balances Instagram-friendly aesthetics with genuine comfort. This hotel is also close to the railway station and the main sights.

The Niu Dairy is, unsurprisingly, on the site of a dairy, and it plays into this heritage with some cow-themed decor. Find Niu Dairy next to the Patronaat Music Hall.

The boutique hostelHello I’m Local is a no-frills option. Limited wifi and no TVs – guests are encouraged to play board games or chat.

City Attic Haarlem puts you right by the Grote Markt, above the owner’s tapas restaurant, in a trendy apartment.

Read our best Netherlands hotel reviews

Old almshouses in Hofje van Staats

Where to eat 

Hofje Zonder Zorgen translates as “courtyard without worries”, and this is a worry-free choice for either a simple lunch (€15 for two fresh seasonal soups, salads and desserts) or a four-course high tea (€25pp). 

While Thrill Grill seems meat-heavy at first glance, this upmarket burger joint from Dutch chef and TV star Robert Kranenborg also caters to vegetarians and vegans – you can’t go wrong with the Veggie Korean Thriller. 

Native, on a quiet, plant-covered street, stands out amongst Haarlem cafes for not just the calming surroundings but also its brunch menu and coffee. 

Where to drink 

Jopenkerk is unforgettable: a brewery and restaurant inside a former church, paying tribute to Haarlem’s brewing culture. Beer is brewed here six days a week, and you can watch the process as you sip. Try High Beer, a tasting menu paired with a beer flight (available Thursday – Saturday, 1pm-4pm, €31pp; book in advance). 

Dedakkas is a rooftop bar and restaurant with a varied menu. You don’t need a reservation during the day but definitely book for evening drinks in the greenhouse, where you’ll be surrounded by local photographers’ work.  

Move over Amsterdam: Haarlem has its fair share of gabled houses and canals

Proeflokaal in Den Uiver has a changing menu of beers and spirits, all housed in a former fishmonger’s – look out for the original tiles. 

Where to shop

Haarlem’s shopping scene is award-winning. The seven best-known shopping streets are collectively known as the Gouden Straatjes, or Golden Streets. Many shops are child-friendly, including Meneer Paprika, a children’s toyshop and cafe, andLoco Fabriek, a concept store. 

Away from the Golden Streets, visit Jutka & Riska, a cute boutique selling new and vintage fashion, including eye-catching jewellery.Kunst Centrum Haarlem sells pieces by Dutch brands like Susan Bijl (bags made from recycled materials), Puc (leather goods) and Storytiles (whimsical painted tiles). 

Don’t miss the bargains at the Botermarkt: second-hand clothing on Mondays, and books, music and homeware on Wednesdays, starting from just a couple of euros. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for farmers’ markets and general produce.

Architectural highlight 

TheGrote St Bavokerk, on the Grote Markt, and the Cathedral Basilica of St Bavo, away from the city centre – dedicated to the same saint, but the church is Protestant and medieval Gothic whereas the Catholic cathedral was completed in 1930. The vast basilica mixes several design styles, such as Moorish influences, neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau. 


What currency do I need?


What language do they speak?

Dutch, but English is widely spoken in Haarlem. 

Should I tip?

10 per cent if service is good.

What’s the time difference?


How should I get around?

The Netherlands is bike-friendly, so cycle hire isn’t a problem; however, most Haarlem sightseeing is easy on foot. Haarlem has good bus and rail links to nearby hotspots. Zandvoort beach is just 15 minutes away by train. 

What’s the best view?

It may be a cliche to suggest a windmill in the Netherlands, but the view along the River Spaarne to the impressiveMolen De Adriaan (which you can tour for €3.50-7.50) is popular for a reason. 

Insider tip?

Pay a visit to the Hannie Schaft statue, commemorating the Dutch resistance fighter who was executed by the Nazis in April 1945, when she was just 24 years old. Find her monument at the Kenaupark.

Getting there

You can catch a direct Eurostar from London to Amsterdam and a 15-minute onward train to Haarlem.

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