The focus of many a trip to the Netherlands is on Amsterdam – and rightfully so. But the small country has many other cities to visit, and some even make good bases for exploring further. The city of Haarlem, a short 15-minute train ride from central Amsterdam, falls into that latter category. In fact, Haarlem is something of a bedroom community for people who work in Amsterdam – which means there’s no reason you can’t do the same commute as a visitor.
Haarlem lies between Amsterdam and The Hague, and it’s right on a river and not far from the North Sea. In other words, when the weather is good, a home base of Haarlem means you’re that much closer to the beach than you would be in Amsterdam. The city is heavily involved in the country’s flower bulb industry, but the tourist sights are more about local history and the picturesque town itself.
Where to Stay in Haarlem
Haarlem isn’t a big city, and as is the case in most historic European cities your experience will be enhanced if you can stay in or near the center. The train station itself is about a 15-minute walk from the city center, and you’d be best-served by staying in a place that’s within what you consider to be an easy walk from the center. There are buses to get around, too, if you choose to stay further out.
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What to Do & See in Haarlem
The main square in Haarlem is Grote Markt, or Market Square, and it’s a great place to get a bite to eat, have something to drink, or just do some people-watching. On a nice day, you’ll find plenty of locals in the square doing the exact same thing.
The great church to one side of the square, alternately known as the Grote Kerk or Sint-Bavokerk, is Haarlem’s oldest church and the city’s iconic image. There’s an impressive pipe organ inside, and in the summer there are regular concerts held in the church, free of charge.
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The oldest museum in the Netherlands is Haarlem’s Teylers Museum, with sections for both art and science. The building itself is impressive (inside and out), and the museum’s collection includes works by Michelangelo and Rembrandt, as well as many other Dutch artists.
The Frans Hals Museum of Art is located in a former home for elderly men, and although the museum bears the name of a 16th-17th century artist who died in the city, the collection is far more extensive than just the work of Hals himself. Haarlem has a small museum dedicated to the history of the city which is across the street from the Frans Hals Museum.
Amsterdam’s famous Anne Frank House reminds visitors of the far reaches of World War II, and in Haarlem you can visit a house museum that’s an excellent companion to a trip to the Anne Frank House. The Ten Boom Museum, in the former house of Corrie Ten Boom, tells the story of a Haarlem family (Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their elderly father) who built a small room in order to hide Jews from the Nazis. They were eventually discovered, and Betsy and the sisters’ father died in prison, but Corrie lived to see the end of the war and wrote about her family’s story in the book “The Hiding Place.”
As mentioned above, Haarlem’s proximity to the coast means that taking a day trip to the nearby Zuid-Kennemerland National Park can be a great idea during the summer months when there’s a public swimming area open.
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How to Get to Haarlem
Not only does Haarlem lie between the major cities of Amsterdam and The Hague, it’s also on a main train line connecting the two – so getting in and out is extremely simple. There isn’t a direct train route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Haarlem, but since it’s only 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam to Haarlem that’s still a relatively quick trip.
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You can take a bus directly from Schiphol to Haarlem if you like – the Zuidtangent buses (also called 300 buses) run frequently in both directions, but it’s not exactly an express route. Because of all the stops along the way it can take more than a half-hour at times.
Finally, if you feel like cycling between Amsterdam and Haarlem, it’s pretty flat and can be done at not-breakneck speeds in less than two hours one-way!