Haarlem is a small Dutch city brimming with history, subtle charm and style. It is one of the oldest cities in Holland and also considered one of the most beautiful. Located just 12 miles west of Amsterdam, Haarlem makes for an easy and convenient day trip. Take the train into the Haarlem station – the only station in Holland built in the Art Nouveau style – and make your way to the city center, which offers a variety of options to entertain and amuse, whether your interests are art and culture, shopping or trying out the plethora of gezellige cafés and restaurants.

History and Culture

As you arrive in Haarlem, one of the first things you notice about the skyline in the windmill. De Adriaan plays prominently in Haarlem’s history and when the windmill was built in 1779, De Adriaan produced cement and paint. By the time it was sold in 1803, it had become a tobacco mill. Sadly, a fire destroyed the windmill in 1932, but in 2002, exactly 70 years later, De Adriaan was rebuilt and reopened to the public.

Today, there is a small museum that recounts the windmill’s history. Though De Adriaan is fully functional and capable of grinding grain, these days it is mostly visited on weekends and holidays by tourists.

The city center is where you will find Grote Markt, the beating heart of Haarlem. It is on and around this square that you will find a number of Haarlem’s must-see sights, including one of the best-known landmarks in The Netherlands, St. Bavokerk, or the Grote Kerk (the great church). Inside the gothic style church you’ll find one of the world’s great organs, used by many famous composers, including Mendelssohn, Handel and the then 10-year old Mozart on his visit to The Netherlands in 1766. In his epic novel, Moby Dick, Herman Melville even compares the inside of the whale’s mouth to “the great Haarlem organ”.

Netherlands City Spotlight: Haarlem (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)

Dating from 1784, the Teyler Museum is the oldest museum in The Netherlands. The museum began as a private collection of wealthy cloth merchant and banker, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, and is famous for its extensive collection of prints and drawings from many of the old masters such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt, as well as for its eclectic collection of fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, medals and coins.

Visitors are also encouraged not to miss the Corrie Ten Boom Museum. Just as Anne Frank famously told of hiding in an attic in Amsterdam, Corrie Ten Boom writes about her own experiences in the book The Hiding Place. The Ten Boom family, devout Christians and active members of the Dutch resistance, risked their lives to help Dutch Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in their home. The museum has been refurbished to appear as it did in the 1940’s and visitors can see the small room, hidden behind a wall in Corrie’s bedroom, where the Ten Boom family hid and saved the lives of 800 Jewish people.

Another monument you will find at Grote Markt is Vleeshal. Built in 1603, Vleeshal, or meat hall, was the only place in Haarlem where meat was sold from 1604 until the 18th century. Today the renaissance style building is home to two museums: the Archeologish Musuem Haarlem and Museum De Hallen, which, is used as an exhibition gallery by the Frans Hal Museum. The Frans Hal Museum is located nearby in a 17th century building formerly used as in alms house for elderly men. The museum houses a large collection of paintings from the Golden Age of Dutch art. In addition to numerous works by Frans Hal, the museum includes paintings by Jacob van Ruisdael, Pieter Saenredam and other members of the Haarlem painters’ guild, of which Hal was a member.


Haarlem is a popular shopping destination and was voted the best shopping in The Netherlands several years running. The trendy shopping set a Guinness World Record for the longest red carpet with the 16,893-foot carpet that was rolled out for Haarlem Shopping Night in 2011, leading customers to the myriad of shops in what many call Holland’s shopping capital, showing the world that this small Dutch city is big when it comes to fashion.

Though Haarlem no longer holds the world’s record for longest red carpet, shoppers continue to get the red carpet treatment in the pedestrian-only city center, known as the rode loper (red carpet), where exclusive home furnishing shops, swank fashion boutiques, shops selling antiques and other curios are found, as well as a number of popular vintage stores.

How to Get There

Haarlem is a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam, with trains leaving Amsterdam’s Central Station every 10 minutes, and is a 30-minute train ride from The Hague, with trains leaving every 20 minutes. For schedules and ticket information go to www.ns.nl.

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*Originally published in Access Magazine, Winter 2011  and recently updated.