Haarlem: A Nice Alternative to Amsterdam

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When visiting the Netherlands, most people feel that they have to make a stop in Amsterdam. However, we’re here to introduce to you a great alternative to the often wild and crazy most populous city in the Netherlands!

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With one-fifth the population and located just a 30 minute drive (or 15 minute train ride) from Amsterdam is Haarlem, the capital city of North Holland.

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Haarlem has everything you would want in a quaint Dutch town including canals, cafes, churches, markets, breweries, bike paths, and plenty of shopping.

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In central Haarlem, you’ll find the the Grote Markt, a car-free market square where 10 streets come together, and where a colorful market is held each Monday and Saturday. Monday’s market focuses on clothing/textile goods, whereas Saturday’s market is a general collection of all things good and Dutch: food, flowers, and crafts.

Grote Kerk

Also, in the central market is St Bavokerk, an impressive Gothic style church. For more about this church, including beautiful interior images, click here.

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 The river Spaarne runs right through Haarlem, so taking a small boat tour is a great way to see the city, learn its history, and simply relax as you cruise the calm waterways of the many canals.

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And what would a visit to a quintessential Dutch town be without a windmill? Molen de Adriaan (pictured below) has been a distinctive feature in the Haarlem skyline for centuries. Originally built in 1778, it took local citizens 70 years to produce enough money to rebuild De Adriaan after a fire destroyed the mill in 1932.  It is open 5 days a week for tours, (closed Tuesdays and Thursdays) so visitors can learn how windmills work, and gain access to wonderful views of old Haarlem from the platform above the river.

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Another great must-see attraction while in Haarlem is the Teylers Museum. To read more about our experience at the oldest museum in the Netherlands, click here.

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Visiting in the summer months has it advantages, like sitting outside at one of Haarlem’s many charming sidewalk cafes.

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We stumbled upon a cafe/bar called Wolkers located along the Spaarne river. In a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere cafe workers serve up homemade breakfast dishes, sandwiches, salads, and a wide assortment of drinks ranging from cappuccinos to craft beer.

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We chose to sit outside as to enjoy our lunch in the sunshine, watching the boats, cyclists, and people go by.

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Another gem located in Haarlem is Jopenkerk, where a historic church has been transformed into an operational and contemporary brewery. Our experience at Jopenkerk was so wonderful we visited twice during our brief stay in Haarlem and put together a completely separate write-up on this gorgeous brewery, which you can read here.

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We feel that the best way to see and experience Haarlem is by foot. We’d encourage you to take a boat ride and/or rent a bike if you want to see a lot in a shorter amount of time.

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However, we found that by exploring the city by foot we were able to slowly take in its charm, character, and surrounding beauty.

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Like we said in the beginning, Haarlem has it all: canals, cafes, bike paths, markets, shopping, parks, breweries, churches, and even breweries in churches!

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If it can fit into your travel plans, we recommend you stay in Haarlem for at least a few days, as there’s just too much to do and see for only a day trip.

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We had the pleasure of staying at Malts B&B Hotel during our visit. Malts offers the personal touch of a bed and breakfast with the privacy of a hotel. As such, their accommodations far exceeded our expectations. Hosts Henk & Annemarie do an excellent job making sure that each and every guest has the most enjoyable stay. To read more about our stay, click here.

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So, while we’re not telling you to NOT go to Amsterdam, we simply wanted to introduce to you an alternative… or addition… for your next trip to the Netherlands!

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Take a look at our (printable) Destination Guide for quick reference information on how to get to Haarlem and what to do once you’re there!

Check out a quick video of this great town below!


  1. oh I loved Haarlem! It was such a beautiful city and not crowded at all! You are so right, it is a perfect alternative to Amsterdam! Actually, while I’m not such a big fan of the Dutch capital I really love all these smaller town that are equally amazing yet so empty you can fully enjoy them!

  2. Really cute town! Ive been to the netherlands a few times, and even studied there for a few weeks, though had never heard of Haarlem. Thanks for the inspiration to get back – will skip Amsterdam next time instead!

  3. Oh my, it looks so pretty! Love the colours in your shots! Thanks for introducing me to lovely Haarlen 🙂

  4. What a lovely place! Shows that you can get outside of Amsterdam and still see some charming spots! I love your photos.

  5. Great post – I have to admit I’ve never been to Haarlem, other than driving through. I definitely should check it out one day since it’s so close!

  6. We have been to Haarlem a few times when we lived in Germany back in the day. We loved it. We went to the Corrie Ten Boom house there. We even did the tour and the gal that gave the tour (back in the early 90’s) actually knew Corrie Ten Boom. I’m sure she has passed by now. It was amazing to practically touch history while she gave us the tour. Might have to add that to our Amsterdam trip in April. Thanks for sharing.

    • We didn’t even make it to the Carrie Ten Boom house during our visit; we simply ran out of time. So much to see and do in this tiny town. All the more reason to go back for another visit!

  7. I agree with you, Haarlem is definitely a place to visit. Perhaps not as an alternative but at least in addition to Amsterdam. On a previous visit to Amsterdam we had to find our accommodation in Haarlem. That was no problem: there are frequent and fast trains between them.

    • Yes, we all have our own opinions and experiences when we travel, so whether you visit Haarlem as an alternative or in addition to Amsterdam, it’s definitely worth a stop when in the Netherlands! Love the trains in Europe! Makes getting between cities a cinch!

  8. What a nice post on my favorite city in the Netherlands! You actually included two of my favorite spots in the city: Wolkers (which was named after a famous Dutch writer, by the way) and the Jopenkerk. If you ever want to drink beer in church, you have to come to Haarlem people!

    For anyone who is considering a visit, you might want to check out my website on Haarlem where I try to give visitors an inside scoop on how it is to live in Haarlem. Experience Haarlem as a local!


    • Hi Dorien! Thanks for checking out our site and for encouraging others to check out yours! Looks like you have some great information to share about this wonderful little town in the Netherlands!

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