Why Haarlem is the perfect Amsterdam alternative

Thinking of visiting Amsterdam? Then why not use Haarlem as your base? Only 17 minutes away from Amsterdam Centraal by train, packed with culture, cute architecture and canals. Haarlem is the perfect Amsterdam alternative.

My last visit to Haarlem was on a press trip funded by Visit Haarlem
Molen de Adriaan golden hour Haarlem Netherlands
Molen de Adriaan, Haarlem

Why Haarlem is the perfect Amsterdam alternative

17 minutes away by frequent trains, less crowded and much cheaper. Haarlem has everything you want in a Dutch city. Frans Hals lived and worked here. It is home to the first ever museum in The Netherlands, there are canals, it’s shops are regularly voted the best in The Netherlands and there is a handsome market place lined with tempting bars and cafes.

How to get to Haarlem from Amsterdam

Trains from Amsterdam Centraal station take 17 minutes to get to Haarlem and cost from €4.90. Don’t worry too much about the timetable as there are 146 trains a day.

Visiting Haarlem with the Amsterdam card

Many places in Haarlem are included in the Amsterdam City Card. What is not included is the travel between the two places, as the City Card covers only travel within central Amsterdam. You options for travel are to either buy individual tickets for each journey or if you plan trips to the seaside or elsewhere think about the Amsterdam and Region Travel Ticket which comes in 1, 2 and 3 day versions costing from €21 – €40.50.

What to do in Haarlem

Looking down a narrow street in Haarlem, the perfect Amsterdam alternative with St Bavo Kerk in distance
See St Bavo at the end of every street

Haarlem is an art and culture lovers heaven. It has excellent museums. You can walk in Frans Hals footsteps and visit the church where he is buried. The cute streets are lined with tempting shops and cosy cafes.

Frans Hals Museum

Civil guards paintings by Frans Hals at the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
Three of the seventeen Frans Hals painting in the Frans Hals Museum

The Frans Hals museum is really two museums, the HOF and the HAL. The HOF is housed in a former Old Man’s House and is home to 17 Frans Hals paintings, including one that contains a self portrait. It houses the Municipal Collection of Haarlem that includes Judith Leyster and is kept up to date with new acquisitions. Over at the HOF in the former meat market modern art is the centre of attention. Download a Frans Hals pod walk from the museum website to Haarlem to discover the many places he lived in the city.

  • Frans Hals Museum
  • HOF, Groot Heiligland 62
  • HAL, Grote Markt 16
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
  • Admission: €17.50 one ticket for both venues, free with Amsterdam card

Teylers Museum

Teylers is the oldest museum in The Netherlands. It was founded by Pieter Teyler and is a glorious mix of art and science. At its centre is a spectacular oval room, which is the only surviving 18th century museum room in the world. In its cases are a cornucopia of fossils, minerals and other wonders of the natural worlds. Elsewhere in the museum you will find paintings Rembrandt and Michelangelo. An absolute treat.

  • Teylers Museum, Spaarne 16
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: €16.50, free with the Amsterdam card

Molen de Adriaan

The banks of the river Spaarne were once dense with windmills now there is just one remaining. Molen de Adriaan started life back in 1779 as a mortar mill grinding stone, then it became a snuff mill and then flour. In 1932 the mill was very badly damaged by fire but was so beloved by the residents of Haarlem that they fundraised for 70 years and the mill was reopened in 2002 as a museum. Inside you can see a collection of model mills and discover the full story of the mill. From the mill balcony you get fine views across the city.

  • Molen de Adriaan, Papentorenvest 1-A
  • Open: Summer Monday – Friday 1pm – 5.30pm, weekends 10.30am – 5pm. Winter Monday/Wednesday/Friday 1pm – 4.30pm, weekends 10.30am – 4.30pm
  • Admission: €7.50, free with the Amsterdam card

Grote Kerk

St Bavokerk or Grote Kerk roofscape Haarlem Netherlands
Grote Kerk, Haarlem

Twirl around almost everywhere in central Haarlem and you will see the tower of the Grote Kerk or St Bavokerk peeping up over the rooftops. St Bavo’s is one of the buildings that forms the edge of the Grote Market. It is a beautiful late Gothic church. Frans Hals worshipped here and is buried here.

Wander around cute streets

Facade of antique print shop Haarlem Netherlands with bicycle parked outside
So many tempting shops

Wandering around is one of the great pleasures in Haarlem, there are many tempting shops and cute cafes to lure you in. Indeed the shops have been voted the best in The Netherlands.

Grote Markt

Town Hall and Grote Markt Haarlem, Netherlands
Town Hall and Grote Markt, Haarlem

Right in the centre of town, ringed by the Town Hall, the Grote Kerk and array of handsome buildings that are now home to bars and restaurants. On Saturdays and Mondays the square is full of market stalls. Food mainly on Saturday and more clothes on Mondays, but a bit of both on both days.

Gouden Straatjes aka Golden Streets of Haarlem

Warmoesstraat, Haarlem, Netherlands
Meandering in the Golden Streets

Haarlem calls its prettiest and biggest thoroughfares the Golden Straatjes or Golden Streets. In the main these are the three streets that run our from the North, South and East corners of the Grote Market. Wander down any of the side streets off these main paths and you are treated a meandering maze of courtyards and alleyways.

Hofjes of Haarlem

Haarlem is famous for its Hofjes or almshouses. There are 21 of them dotted around the centre of the town, each clusters round a small garden. The earliest dates from 1395 and the most modern 2007. Be respectful as you look as these are still private homes.

Pop into the Library

Haarlem Central Library once home to the Civil Guard
Now that’s what I call a library

Haarlem Central Library (Bibliotheek Haarlem Centrum) on Gasthuisstraat is well worth a look. Head through the archway and you will find yourself in a courtyard. The building used to house the Civic Guard and features in many paintings of the members of the Civic Guard. You can go inside, but quiet library rules apply. There is a cafe here if you fancy a coffee in historic surroundings.

Visit the Seaside at Haarlem

Well not at Haarlem but a 10 minute train ride or 30 minute bike ride. Hire a bike and head toward Bloemendal can Zee for beautiful dunes and beach side cafes. By train head for Zaandvoort which is a little more built up but still with lots of golden sand.

Tulips in Haarlem

Haarlem is right in the centre of The Netherlands tulip growing area. Cycling round the surrounding fields in late March and April is a real treat. Bloemencorso, a huge festival of all things tulip happens every year at the end of April. A long procession of floats, featuring tulips, starts in Noodwijk and heads toward Haarlem via Keukenhof. Arrive early and don’t attempt to drive anywhere. Bloemencorso 2024 is on April 20th.

Where to stay in Haarlem

Canal and houses Haarlem, Netherlands
Haarlem canal views

I have visited Haarlem twice. Once when I was 18 and circumnavigating The Netherlands by bike and the other more than 40 years later. I will let you guess where I stayed as an 18 year old and as a grown woman.

Bar area with green velvet seats Boutiquehotel Starts Haarlem Netherlands
Boutiquehotel Staats
  • Stayokay Haarlem Just outside Haarlem, so best visited with a bike or car to get around. Definitely family friendly. OK so things have changed since 1980, but I have stayed in other Stayokay hostels more recently and loved them.
  • Boutiquehotel Staats Small and beautiful townhouse, moments away from Haarlem train station, that has been converted into an hotel. Altogether more grown up than the Stayokay! Each room is individually decorated. There is a guest lounge with comfy chairs, biscuits and coffee on tap and an honesty bar. There is a restaurant and non residents bar but I only ate breakfast there which was excellent.

Where to eat in Haarlem

As I wandered around the street of Haarlem I saw many, many tempting cafes and restaurants. This is where I ate and drank.

Wooden platter with sandwiches
Sandwiches at Frans Hals museum
  • Dané Definitely not a place to pop in and out of, the food at Dané is exquisite, I had a tasting menu and every mouthful was extraordinary.
  • Frans Hals Museum cafe. I am a big fan of the museum cafe as a genre and the Frans Hals cafe is a very good example. Cool design and excellent food. I had sandwiches and they were great.
  • De Jopenkerk Museum cafes and church cafes … two of my specialist topics. De Jopenkerk is housed in a beautifully restored church and is many things. It is a brewery, you can see the beer being brewed, a cafe/bar that is open daily from 10am-1am and a more formal restaurant. You can book for the restaurant which is not open every day or just pop in for a drink or a snack at the cafe/bar. We popped in after dinner.

Haarlem is an excellent Amsterdam alternative but if you fancy staying further away consider Leiden or The Hague, both a bit further away but with with many fast trains a day from both to Amsterdam.

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