Anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam has many options for a day trip. One of the best is a short train ride away in Haarlem. Whether you are in the mood for world class museums or looking to soak up some famous Dutch atmosphere, this small town has a wonderful charm that provides a perfect addition to visiting The Netherlands dominant city.
The easiest way to arrive is by riding the rails with trains leaving Amsterdam Central several times per hour. Fifteen minutes later you are already strolling out of Haarlem Central. A short walk and you are right in the heart of the old town center.
One of the many ways this makes a nice addition on a trip to Amsterdam is that if you bought the I amsterdam Card, two of the cities biggest museums are included at no extra charge. The Frans Hal and Teylers museums make the trip worthwhile all on their own.
The Frans Hals museum pays homage to the famous local Dutch artist and the work of the Haarlem Academy, which Hals founded. In a country that produced so much great art, this is one of the best collections The Netherlands has to offer. The Teylers museum was founded in 1778, making it the oldest museum in the Netherlands. The museum hosts a nice collection of art, but also contains an impressive number of fossils, minerals, old currency, books, as well as historic science and medical instruments
The center of Haarlem is definitely the market square or Grote Markt. The defining landmark in the city calls the Grote Markt home. The Grote Kerk or Great Church is a gothic style basilica standing over 130 feet tall. It has a long history that has the distinction among other things, having served multiple faiths. Its defining feature is a magnificent organ, which was the largest in the world when it was completed in 1738.
Haarlem is long on architectural and historical treasures. The Saint Bravo Church is rather new by Haarlem standards, having been completed in 1906. A much older building, the old city hall stands opposite the Grote Kerk with roots all the way back to 1250. The Amsterdamse Poort is the last remaining gate to the city that was once enclosed by a defense wall. For a more recent and sobering look at history, the Corrie ten Boom Museum tells the story of the house which served as a hiding place for Jews during World War II. Much like Anne Frank the story of this place is portrayed in a book called The Hiding Place and tragically like Anne and most of her family, the Nazi’s found out about the place and most of the Ten Boom family were killed before the war was over.
The big museums may bring you to Haarlem but what you will likely remember most is the quaint small town atmosphere. While Amsterdam can feel a bit hectic at times, Haarlem is very laid back and cozy. Canals provide a soothing calm as you wander from place to place. A windmill on one edge of town reminds you of the Dutch ability to harness wind into clean energy. Small unassuming green spaces are plentiful and invite you in. It all puts you in the mindset that this is a place to relax.
Those wanting to take advantage of the Netherlands flat terrain while looking like a local can rent a bike. You can ride around town or head for the beach. The coastal town of Zandvroort is a short distance away.
Haarlem is a little slice of Dutch heaven. It epitomizes much of what tourists want out of a Netherlands vacation. Wonderful art, scenic canals a windmill or two, and most of all a laid-back attitude. Haarlem is a can’t miss day trip, a short distance from Amsterdam.