Haarlem

Travel Column

By Joey Düker

Big cities like Amsterdam have a lot to offer. But they also involve cheap tourist attractions, masses of people and clamour. The city of Haarlem is a great alternative to the hectic rush of metropolises. 

A quick look at a map seems to show that Haarlem is a seaport. Although the city does border on the coastal dunes of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, you cannot access the sea from the city. Early November is not a good time to visit Dutch beaches anyways, so let’s take a look at what the town itself has to offer.

Thrill-seekers will say “not much”. Haarlem is a sleepy place and if you are looking for action and adrenaline, you might want to hop off at Amsterdam Centraal. However, if you are tired of Amsterdam’s sights, weed stench and tourist crowds, Haarlem invites you to stroll around its beautiful streets and enjoy the calm atmosphere.

Haarlem is full of ornamented buildings and impressive churches. The Grote Markt is most outstanding: you can easily reach it by heading out of the train station and following the road straight ahead (as you can see, getting around Haarlem is not too difficult). In the centre of the Grote Markt looms the Grote Kerk with its iconic bell tower, surrounded by a bunch of cafés. Check out the massive and famous pipe organ inside.

Apart from the magnificent architecture all over the city centre, Haarlem has a number of interesting museums. The Frans Hals Museum features Dutch masters, but unless you are an art history major, you might consider it a bit pricey. A better choice is the Teylers museum, the oldest museum of the Netherlands. Not only does it exhibit art, the Teylers also features natural history and science. The building itself is worth a visit and inside you will find old, bad-ass scientific apparatuses, fossils, paintings, and stones. Stones! Can you believe that?!

If I would have to describe Haarlem in one word, it would be ‘picturesque’. It is a quiet place and there is not much to do, yet the town’s beauty makes a short day trip worthwhile.

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2 thoughts on “Haarlem”

  1. Joey, a nice piece on one of Holland’s most beautiful cities! However, I must disagree with you that Haarlem is a “sleepy place” and that there is “not much to do”. As someone who’s been going to Haarlem all his life at least 2/3 times a year (I have family living close by), I firmly believe these statements do by no means represent the city of Haarlem. As a place in which creativity, beautiful old buildings, tons of restaurants and cafes, great shopping streets, beautiful parks, chill bars, bustling clubs and museums are combined, it is one of the highlights for both tourists and Dutch citizens to visit in Holland. I would recommend Haarlem to people who like you said, want to get out of Amsterdam to a town that is definitely more relaxed, but most definitely also for people who want a great day of shopping, or wanna party till the early hours in a club like Patronaat or Stalker or just for a nice beer in the fantastically renovated Jopen-church (which is now a bar and a brewery, the beer they brew was also served in the bar some months ago).

    1. Thank you very much for your contribution and constructive criticism, Guido. I am glad that someone uses the comment section and then even chooses to enrich this website by giving additional pieces of information.

      In my humble defense, I want to point out the following:
      1) The article addresses UCU students who plan to go on a day trip. Within 5-8 hours, one can only do so much and, usually, strolling around town is what you do the most when visiting any given town for a day (as opposed to eating in a restaurant, going on a shopping spree, bar hopping, or clubbing. That you can do all these things in Haarlem and possibly even better than in other cities may well be; but I’m assuming that these are not a day-trip-traveller’s first priority when it comes to choosing a travel destination). In addition, Haarlem’s atmosphere is much calmer – or “sleepier” – than other potential travel destinations (e.g. Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Groningen, Den Haag, Maastricht, etc).
      2) Yes, I did end my article by using the phrase “not much to do”. But I hope this is not what stuck to the reader’s memory. I enjoyed Haarlem very much and aimed at naming the most apparent positive aspects of it (read: the impression I had as a first-time visitor being there for a couple of hours).
      3) I have a word limit and cannot name all great spots and activities (I am well aware of how lame that sounds, haha).

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