A municipality and capital of the North Holland province, Haarlem is often overlooked in favour of nearby Amsterdam but, with some of the finest buildings, museums and activities in the Netherlands, is still a great spot for a city break.

First mentioned in the 8th century as Haarloheim (roughly translated as ‘place on sand covered with trees and higher than others'), the site was hugely important centuries later as the hometown of the Counts of Holland. However, it was only granted city rights in 1245, courtesy of Count Willem II. Ravaged by fires in 1328, 1347 and 1351 as well as the Black Death in 1381, Haarlem was nevertheless one of the largest cities in Holland by the 15th century. Destroyed by the Spanish after the siege of 1572, this ironically preceded Haarlem’s golden age in the 17th century, as the economy and culture flourished.

Although never recapturing this halcyon era, the 20th century has seen Haarlem flourish once more. Now a centre of flower growing and beer brewing, the city is a national cultural focal point and, as such, one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands.


Most of Haarlem’s best architecture can be found in the Grote Market square, such as the City Hall. Originally completed in 1100 but destroyed by the fires of the 14th century, the current building was the result of the rebuilding project. Impressive in its own right, the Town Hall also contains a number of paintings showing the Counts of Holland between the 10th and 16th centuries. Nearby is the Hoofdwacht, built in the 13th century and the first official city hall.

Also within the Grote Markt square is the Vleeshal. Built between 1602 and 1604 in Renaissance style and the former meat hall (hence the name), it now hosts the Frans Hals Museum (including works by the 17th century Golden Age painter as well as a permanent contemporary art collection) and the Haarlem Archaeological Museum.

Dominating the square is the Gothic-styled Sint-Bavokerk. The largest church in the city, it was Haarlem’s cathedral from 1559 until 1578, when it was converted to Protestantism (the Cathedral of Saint Bavo was built in the late 19th century as a replacement). As well as the impressive façade, the Church is remarkable for housing the Christiaan Muller Organ, built in the 18th century and used by Mozart, Händel and Mendelssohn.

One of the oldest monuments in the city, the Amsterdamse Poort city gate was completed in 1355. Although under threat of demolition throughout much of the 19th century, it was renovated in 1985 and is now classified as a national monument.

Of the many museums outside of the Grote Markt, the most important is the Teylers Museum. Specialising in natural history, it is the oldest museum in the Netherlands and contains, among other things, the 'Haarlem specimen' of Archaeopteryx (otherwise known as the ‘first bird’).

Situated near the public park, the Villa Welgelegen is a further point of interest. Built in the 18th century in neoclassical style, it briefly housed such prestigious visitors as Thomas Jefferson.

Haarlem is home to many national festivals such as the Bloemencorso Flower Parade, which takes place in April roughly.

If you’re desperate for some sport, the local football team, HFC Haarlem, play their games in the Eerste Divisie at the Haarlem Stadion.


Practically all the local markets take place in the Grote Markt square. For general shopping though, look down the connected streets like Grote Houtstraat, Barteljorisstraat and Zijlstraat.

If you’re prepared to travel out a bit, you can find a shopping mall in nearby Schalkwijk.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Haarlem has plenty of outstanding restaurants, the most famous being De Bokkedoorns in Zeeweg 53, classified as a two Michelin star establishment.

There are international alternatives like Specktakel in Spekstraat and French cuisine at Franzen in Kleine Houtstraat.

Haarlem is famous for its Jopenbier and you can find pubs all around the Grote Markt square. There are a number of coffee shops and cafés like Café 1900 in Barteljorisstraat and Café von Gunsteren in Breestraat. The main live music venue is Patronaat in Zijlsingel but, if you’re looking for a more traditional nightclub, Stalker can be found in the city centre.

For a little high culture, be sure to check out the Toneelschuur theatre and art house cinema.

Tourist Information

VVV Haarlem Tourist OfficeStationsplein 12011 LRHaarlemTel: +31 (0)900 61 61 600info@vvvzk.nl


Located just 20 km west of Amsterdam, the best option for visitors to Haarlem is Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. From Amsterdam, you can use the excellent and regular train service to Haarlem.

Being the main airport in the Netherlands, international and domestic connecting flights are available to multiple destinations daily.

British Airways (London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick), bmi (London-Heathrow and Aberdeen), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (London-Heathrow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Manchester) and easyJet (multiple locations) all use Amsterdam Schiphol to and from British destinations.