Amsterdam is such an action-packed city that you could easily spend weeks exploring its never-ending range of world-famous museums, restaurants and attractions.
But if you do find yourself with a day to spare and want to see a different side to the Netherlands (and a windmill… because “when in Holland” and all that!) then the beautiful medieval city of Haarlem makes the perfect day trip from Amsterdam.
How to get to Haarlem:
Haarlem is located to the West of Amsterdam, just 15-20 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central station. Trains run every 10 minutes and a standard ticket costs just €5.60 each way, making this a super cheap and easy day out.
Tickets can be purchased in advance via Trainline Europe (don’t forget to sign up and claim TopCashback!) Or you can use one of the self-service machines at Amsterdam Central station, which have translation options and are really simple to use. Once you arrive at Haarlem station, it’s less than a 10-minute walk into the city centre.
Alternatively, you can hire yourself a pair of wheels from one of the many bike hire companies in Amsterdam and cycle the 20k from Amsterdam to Haarlem. Just be sure to ask for a map before you set off, so you don’t end up stranded in a tulip field!
You can even take your bike on the train, if you fancy cycling one way and giving your legs a break on the way back. It costs an extra €6.10 to carry your bike on and you’ll need to board via one of the special marked carriages.
What to do in Haarlem:
Much of Haarlem’s charm can be discovered simply by wandering the cobbled streets, admiring the picture-perfect buildings and canals as you go. But there’s also plenty to see and do in this hidden gem of a city. Here’s a few ideas to help you plan your visit.
Visit the Main Square:
The main medieval square of Haarlem (or the ‘Grote Markt’) is located at the heart of the city and should be your first port of call. From here, you’ll be able to spot the unmistakable architecture of the Vleeshal building, the St. Bavo Church (‘Grote Kerk’) and Haarlem City Hall.
There are cafés and restaurants dotted all around the tree-lined square, where you can sit back and soak up the views with an ice-cold Grolsch, in true Dutch fashion. You’ll pay a few extra Euros for the pleasure, but it’s worth it for the best seats in the house.
Tour De Adriaan Windmill:
Is there anything so quintessentially Dutch as a windmill? You won’t find any of these bad boys in the city of Amsterdam, so this is your chance to see one up close and personal.
De Adriaan Windmill (or ‘Molen de Adriaan’) was built in 1778 but the original structure burnt to the ground in 1932. 70 years later, the windmill reopened to the public and is now one of the most popular and iconic landmarks in Haarlem.
It’s a scenic 10-minute walk along the Spaarne River from the main square to De Adriaan windmill. You’ll soon see the windmill’s sails pop into view and will be able to snap some great shots from across the river.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the history of the windmill, you can sign up for a 45-minute guided tour from the museum inside. From here, you can also access the viewing platform, where you’ll be greeted with some of the best views in the city.
Tickets cost €5 at the entrance or €5.50 if you book online in advance. Check out the seasonal opening times for De Adriaan windmill before you visit.
Hop on a canal tour:
Much like its famous neighbour to the East, Haarlem is known for its canals and an open-boat tour is a great way to experience the city’s highlights.
Haarlem Canal Tours take visitors on a guided journey of Haarlem’s waterways, past famous sites such as De Adriaan windmill and the historic St. Bavo Church. Tickets cost €14 for a 75-minute group tour and private packages are also available. Tours operate between Spring and October (Tuesday-Sunday).
Get your caffeine fix:
Sampling the coffee scene is one of my favourite past-times in any new city and Haarlem did not disappoint. The city has its fair share of speciality coffee houses, tucked away down leafy side-streets and in cobbled courtyards.
My personal favourite was Native; an artsy café with outdoor seating and not another tourist in sight. As well as serving up delicious brews, Native has an organic menu and is the perfect place for a brunch stop.
Just something to be aware of, while we’re on the subject… “coffee shop” has a very different meaning in the Netherlands! So unless you’re looking to get high on something other than caffeine, then you need to stick to “coffee houses” or “cafés” and avoid anywhere with a coffee shop sign.
Hit the shops:
Despite its fairly small size, Haarlem has the biggest range of shops in the Netherlands and is a shopaholic’s dream. Haarlem’s ‘Golden Streets’ (‘Gouden Straatjes’) are full of vintage fashion boutiques, artsy homeware stores and quirky galleries. Whether you’re looking to treat yourself or just want to get a flavour for the Dutch shopping scene, this is a great way to pass a couple of hours in the city.
Smell the tulips:
As well as windmills and canals, tulips are another essential on your Netherlands bucket list. And if you’re travelling in Spring, then you’re in for a treat.
Haarlem is the perfect base for exploring the colourful Dutch tulip fields, with the pretty town of Hillegom just a 10-minute train or 40-minute cycle ride away – not to mention the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens, just over an hour away by train.
The gardens open from late March until mid-May and the tulips are usually in full bloom by mid-April.
Exploring more of the Netherlands? Check out my top tips on how to spend a rainy day in Amsterdam.