If you are in Amsterdam and looking for an interesting day trip, we can recommend a visit to the typically Dutch city of Haarlem, affectionately known as Amsterdam’s little sister. Haarlem is less than 20 kilometers away from the Dutch capital Amsterdam and can be reached very quickly by train in just 18 minutes. We spent a whole day strolling through the idyllic old town and show you the most famous sights.
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Things to know about Haarlem (Netherlands)
Haarlem, a picturesque city in the Netherlands, is located about 20 kilometers west of Amsterdam in the province of North Holland on the river Spaarne (location in Google Maps). The town has a long history dating back to the 10th century, when it was founded as a fortified settlement. Over the centuries, Haarlem played an important role in trade and the textile industry and was a center for art and culture. Today, the city is known for its historic architecture and charm and is often referred to as the “little sister of Amsterdam”. Here you can look forward to charming alleyways, small drawbridges, historic buildings and the typical Dutch canals.
Haarlem has a population of around 160,000 people. The city’s most famous sights include the Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands, the vibrant Grote Markt with a Gothic town hall worth seeing, St. Bavo’s Church with its world-famous Müller organ, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, De Adriaan Windmill and the Frans Hals Museum, which is dedicated to the work of the famous painter Frans Hals.
By train from Amsterdam to Haarlem
From Amsterdam it is relatively easy, quick and cheap to get to Haarlem by train. Trains leave Amsterdam Centraal station and Haarlem station every ten minutes during the day. Rail traffic on this route is operated by the Dutch railroad company (NS-Bahn). We took the Intercity, which took about 15 minutes and cost around 6 EUR. Once you arrive in Haarlem, you can take a closer look at the station, which is one of the oldest railroad stations in the Netherlands.
The top 10 sights & photo spots in Haarlem
It is only a short walk from the train station to the old town. From here you can explore Haarlem’s most famous sights and photo spots on your own in one day.
Kriusweg into the old town
We walked from the main station via Kriusweg directly into the old town. The market square and town hall are around 800 meters away, which is about a 10-minute walk. In this pedestrian zone you will find small stores and occasionally beautiful Renaissance buildings.
The Grote Markt is the heart of the city center, whose atmosphere and charm immediately enchanted us. The central square is surrounded by magnificent historic buildings with gables and richly decorated façades that make for a real postcard motif. The Gothic façade of the town hall (Stadthuis) is a great sight. One of the most beautiful photo motifs on the Grote Markt for us is the magnificent 17th century building De Hallen, which now houses part of the Frans Hals Museum. The museum houses a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and is one of the most important art museums in the Netherlands.
Another highlight on the Grote Markt is the St. Bavo church, which makes its imposing presence felt on the edge of the market square.
St. Bavo Church
St. Bavo’s Church, officially known as the Grote Kerk (Great Church), is an imposing Gothic-style church that rises majestically above the old town of Haarlem with its 75-metre-high bell tower. The centerpiece of the church is the famous Müller organ, which was built in the 18th century by Christian Müller. This organ is one of the largest historical organs in the world and is famous for its exceptional sound. The church also has a carillon with 50 bells, which regularly plays concerts and melodies that can be heard across the city.
Admission to the church is EUR 4 per person.
The Haarlemmer Houttuinen, also known as Haarlemmer Hofjes, are a charming and historic feature in the city of Haarlem, offering an insight into the rich tradition of the Dutch Hofjes. These idyllic courtyards with surrounding buildings were mostly built in the 17. or They were built in the 18th century and originally served as social housing for the needy and widows. The Haarlemmer Houttuinen are known for their picturesque architecture and peaceful atmosphere, and offer an inviting retreat in the midst of bustling city life.
The most famous courtyards in Haarlem include:
Hofje van Bakenes: The Hofje van Bakenes is one of the oldest Hofjes in Haarlem and dates back to the 14th century.
Hofje van Oorschot: This courtyard dates back to the 17th century and impresses with its elegant entrance gate.
Hofje van Staats: This Hofje was founded in 1707 and is known for its carefully landscaped gardens and white sandstone fountain.
Hofje van Willem van Heythuyzen: This Hofje was founded in 1616 and is famous for its rich history and the colorful doors of the residential units.
Hofje van Loo: Hofje van Loo was founded in 1607 and is known for its beautiful red brick buildings and pretty courtyard with a small chapel.
On our tour of the old town, we took a look at the Proveniershof, which is opposite the Nieuwe Kerk. The magnificent garden and the well-preserved historical character make this courtyard a popular destination for walks and offer an insight into the way people lived in Haarlem in times gone by.
Alleys of the old town
What we particularly liked about Haarlem were the many small alleyways in the old town. In these small alleyways you will often find cozy cafés, small boutiques, antique stores or art galleries.
Cathedral of St. Bavo
The Cathedral of St. Bavo is one of the most important churches in the Netherlands and, with its imposing size and majestic appearance, an impressive landmark of the city of Haarlem. This Gothic cathedral is of great architectural, cultural and historical importance. Construction of St. Bavo’s Cathedral began in the 14th century and continued for several centuries. The impressive Gothic vault that spans the church is a masterpiece of medieval architecture.
We walked all the way around the cathedral and were able to take beautiful photos from several places.
The canals of Haarlem stretch through the historic city center and have made an important contribution to the city’s history and trade over the centuries. They were mainly laid out in the 17th century, when the city was in its heyday and became an important trading center. Today, the canals are not only historical treasures, but also popular places for walks, boat trips and exploring the city. Charming cafés, boutiques, restaurants and many of the characteristic Dutch gabled houses can be found on its banks.
Banks of the Spaarene & Gravestenenbrug
We really enjoyed the banks of the Spaarne near the Gravestenenbrug. The bridge stretches across the Spaarne River and connects the two banks of the river near the city center of Haarlem. The name “Gravestenenbrug”, which translates as “gravestone bridge”, has an interesting history. The name of the bridge goes back to a historical peculiarity. In the past, especially in the 17th century, the bridge was used as a meeting place for auctions of gravestones. These stones were removed from the local cemeteries to make room for new burials. The bridge therefore became a place where gravestones were sold to the highest bidders.
The Teylers Museum, one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, is also located on the western bank. The museum was founded in the late 18th century and is housed in an impressive building known for its neoclassical architecture and historical significance. The Teylers Museum comprises a collection of science, art and history. Visitors can admire historical scientific instruments, drawings and prints by famous artists such as Rembrandt and Michelangelo.
The corner building Waage of Haarlem, also known as the Vleeshal (Meat Hall), is also a great photo opportunity. This Renaissance building was built in the 16th century and originally served as a marketplace for the sale of meat products. The Waage is characterized by its striking façade, which is characterized by classic elements and decorative details. Today, the Haarlem weighbridge is used for cultural events and exhibitions.
At the end of our tour, we walked to the Amsterdamse Poort and De Adriaan windmill. The Amsterdamse Poort (Amsterdam Gate) is a historic city gate in Haarlem and a remnant from the 14th century. It is the last remaining city gate of Haarlem and was part of the city walls that once surrounded the city. The Amsterdamse Poort is a brick building with two towers and a large passageway in the middle. The two towers are decorated with battlements and onion domes, giving the gate a medieval flair.
Windmill De Adriaan
Close to the Amsterdamse Poort (about a 10-minute walk) is the De Adriaan windmill. This classic Dutch windmill is another Haarlem landmark and a symbol of the city. De Adriaan was built in the 18th century and sits majestically on the banks of the River Spaarne. The mill has been restored several times and is now a museum that offers visitors the opportunity to understand how the windmill works and enjoy the view from a viewing deck.
Is Haarlem worth a visit?
We really liked the old town of Haarlem. Everything is very compactly located and therefore easy to explore on foot in one day and on your own. Due to the direct proximity to Amsterdam, we can definitely recommend a day trip. Especially if you want to escape the sometimes totally overcrowded city center of Amsterdam for a few hours 😉 There were hardly any tourists in Haarlem, which made sightseeing super relaxed for us.
All travel reports of our river cruise with A-ROSAOur 7-day river cruise "Rhine Experience Amsterdam & Rotterdam 2023" with A-ROSA SENA took us through 3 countries from Cologne via Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Dordrecht to Antwerp. A really great trip with major cities, natural highlights and UNESCO World Heritage Sites - a perfect combination for us.
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» Haarlem - Sights & photo spots - A day trip from Amsterdam
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» Dordrecht - Sights & our tour of the city
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» Antwerp - The most beautiful sights in one day
» Cologne - The most beautiful sights & photo spots