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I loved visiting the Netherlands but unfortunately haven’t made it past Amsterdam, so I was super excited when Lisa from FlipFlop Globetrotters offered to share a list of things to do in her city of Haarlem. You can read her post below.
A lot of the tourists that visit The Netherlands never make it past Amsterdam which is a shame, because our little country has so much more to offer.
If you’re staying in Amsterdam and want to see a bit more of Holland, why not visit the lovely city of Haarlem? It’s much smaller than Amsterdam, not as touristy and only about 15 minutes from Amsterdam by train. With history, shopping, dining, culture, Haarlem has it all.
If you don’t want to stay in busy (and expensive) Amsterdam, Haarlem is a great choice. It’s easy to visit Amsterdam, close to the beach at Zandvoort and Bloemendaal, not far from the historic city of Leiden and about 40 km’s from Alkmaar with its famous cheese market. The Hague, Utrecht and Rotterdam are also easy to reach by train.
You can read the full guide of things to do in Haarlem below so you can plan what to do in Haarlem around the best Haarlem attractions.
Haarlem is the capital of the province Noord-Holland, located in the Western part of the Netherlands. It has a population of over 158,000 people (to compare, Amsterdam has about 838,000).
The history of Haarlem dates back to pre-medieval times and in 1245 Haarlem was granted city rights. In 1911 the Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker introduced his plane de Spin (Spider) by flying around the tower of the Sint Bavokerk on queen Wilhelmina’s birthday.
You can visit The Netherlands year round, but in the winter months (October to March) it can be quite cold and there’s a lot of rain. In January and February temperatures will most likely drop below the freezing point and there might be some snow. The best months to visit are April to September, but definitely make sure to check the weather reports before you book. High season is in July and August during Holland’s summer holiday. These are generally the warmest months.
The prices for food and drinks will remain more or less the same, but accommodation is more expensive and attractions can be very busy during high season.
Haarlem is our hometown, so we’re probably biased, but it has a very nice historic city center, great shopping and a lovely atmosphere with lots of small restaurants. Amsterdam is an experience in itself, but Haarlem will give you the opportunity to see the authentic Dutch way of life.
Just so you know, all of our foreign friends who have visited fell in love with ‘our’ city. Check out our itinerary for a day trip to Haarlem with kids and continue reading for our list of the 10 best things to do in Haarlem Netherlands.
The Netherlands have always been a bicycle riding country and about 84% of the population owns one or more bikes. The distances are relatively short, there are no hills to speak of and lots of bike paths. For short distances it’s often faster to go by bike and by car.
Dutch people ride over 15 billion kilometers per year on their bikes. That’s about 880km per person per year. In total there are about 19 million bikes in Holland.
So, no surprise THE way to discover more of The Netherlands is by bike. In Haarlem you can rent a bike for about €13 per day. Bike rental companies usually offer child seats (on the front or back of your bike, depending on your child’s age) for about €4 a day. They can also show you some of the best routes (or you can check Routeyou.com for bike routes in Haarlem).
There are bike paths everywhere in the city, as well as bike racks to park your bike (make sure to lock it!). It’s nice to just ride your bike in the city, but you can also reach the beach (Zandvoort, Bloemendaal) or the tulip fields near Lisse by bike. Visiting the Dutch tulip fields with kids is fun, but do remember that April is the best month to go. You can even ride your bike to Amsterdam – it takes a little over an hour from Haarlem.
Het Paradijsje (‘little paradise’) is easily our favourite playground in Haarlem. It’s in a very cool location, hidden in the city center (Witte Herenstraat 36). If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it.
It’s a playground specifically for younger kids with no big climbing frames or slides, but a large sandbox, some swings and lots of ride on cars and little bikes to play with. It only has one entrance/exit, so you can easily relax at one of the picnic tables while your kids roam around.
You can get a cup of coffee, tea or lemonade for €0,50 and they sell some snacks. We usually bring our own sandwiches or buy some food in the city and eat our lunch at the playground.
It’s open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and the entrance fee is €1 per child (parents are free).
The Teylers Museum is the oldest museum in The Netherlands. It’s the only place in the world where you can still see the original interior of an 18th century museum. You should visit it for the building alone, it’s stunning. It’s also the home of a curious collection of weird and wonderful items.
The collections of the Teylers Museum include valuable old books, paintings and drawings, fossils and minerals, old coins and a large amount of ancient scientific instruments. It’s a fascinating place and even though it doesn’t appear to be so big, every inch of the available space is used to display artifacts.
The museum isn’t much fun for very young kids, but kids age 4+ will love it.
Admission fee for the Teylers Museum is €12,50 for adults, €2,- for kids 6-17 and kids 0-5 get admission free of charge.
While the traditional Dutch cuisine isn’t very imaginative, Holland has a lot of nice treats. Who doesn’t love a slice of bread with chocolate sprinkles, a Dutch kroket (deep fried snack with meat ragout inside) or a ‘patatje oorlog’ (fries of war) with mayonaise, raw chopped onions and peanut sauce.
Dutch pancakes, poffertjes (puffy mini pancakes) and stroopwafels are always a hit with kids. There are a lot of pancake restaurants in The Netherlands and even pancake boats and pancake cruises. Pancake restaurants will generally also serve poffertjes. Most restaurants with a decent kids menu will have pancakes available, but the best pancakes in town are served at Nurks in de Hout, a pancake restaurant in the Haarlemmerhout park.
In the summer months you will also find a mobile poffertjes stand (‘poffertjeskraam’) at the Grote Markt. You can buy stroopwafels in any supermarket, but in Haarlem the tastiest stroopwafels are made fresh at the large Saturday market in the city center.
Just looking for a cafe where you can get some food and your kids can play? Check out these child friendly lunch places in Haarlem.
In The Netherlands there are a lot of petting zoos (kinderboerderijen). In total there are about 550-600 and you find them mostly in the urbanised areas. Most of them stem from the 1950’s and were meant to teach city folks about farm animals and where their food comes from.
There are a number of nice petting zoos in and around Haarlem. Typical animals you will find in a Dutch petting zoo include goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, peacocks, turkeys and donkeys. The larger ones often also have a meadow with deer.
Kinderboerderij de Houthoeve is the largest petting zoo in Haarlem. It’s located just South of the city center, in the Haarlemmerhout park and also has a small playground.
Entrance to the petting zoo is free.
The Sint Bavokerk is located at the Grote Markt, the main square in Haarlem’s city center. It’s one of Haarlem’s most prominent landmarks. Even if religion is not your thing, it’s still worth visiting this late Gothic cross-basilica.
The first mention of this church was in 1245 and it has a rich history. Inside you’ll find a massive Müller organ from 1738 which both Händel and Mozart have played on. When you walk around, you walk on some of the 400 grave stones that are embedded in the floor.
Kids will love the three ship models from the 16th and 17th century hanging from the ceiling of the church. My toddler son really enjoys visiting the church because there’s so much to see. When visiting with slightly older kids, it’s definitely worth looking up some of the history before you go.
You do have to pay an entrance fee, but it’s only €2,50 for adults. Kids 0-12 can go free provided they’re accompanied by an adult.
The city of Haarlem has a rich history and with each new building project more history is revealed. Quite recently they discovered human remains from the 16th century while digging for underground trash disposal units in the city center!
On the Grote Markt, underneath the Vleeshal (meat hall) you will find Haarlem’s archeological museum. A small door and narrow staircase lead to this underground museum. The entrance is really unassuming and you’d never suspect such a cool little museum.
All the displays are low, so kids can see everything really well and they have some fun activities. There’s an area where kids can play as an archeologist. They can dig up ‘artefacts’, there’s a sorting tray where kids can determine what people used to eat and the museum also has some puzzles that look like shards of pottery.
A small video unit lets you select videos to watch about archeology in Haarlem. The archeological museum a great choice when you’re on a budget too. You can see the museum in the video below:
Entrance to the museum is free.
Haarlem has won numerous rewards for being the best shopping city in The Netherlands. Besides the larger chains, such as Hema, Kruidvat and H&M, the city center is home to a lot of small independent shops.
The main shopping street is the Grote Houtstraat, but don’t forget to check the smaller streets, such as the Koningsstraat, Zijlstraat, Gierstraat, Schaghelstraat, Kruisstraat and Barteljorisstraat.
Shopping with kids might not be your idea of fun. However, Haarlem has some great toy stores! Find fantastic durable wooden toys at Tante Steef (Zijlstraat 66), wooden and original quality toys at Krokodil (Gedempte Oude Gracht 84) and a great selection of original and fun toys and gifts at Meneer Paprika (Koningstraat 19-21).
For role playing games and board games, head over to Het Spellenhuis (Kruisweg 60). If you’re into children’s books, don’t miss out on Kiekeboek (Gierstraat 29) and comic book lovers should head over to Jopo de Pojo (Kleine Houtstraat 11a).
Dutch people love markets. There’s a market somewhere in Haarlem just about everyday of the week. On Mondays and Saturdays the Grote Markt (big market square) in the city center is transformed into a large weekly market. At the Monday market you can find clothes, fabrics and haberdashery.
The Saturday market offers fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, bread and cheese, but also flowers, plants, clothes, fabrics and numerous other goods. On Saturday the Botermarkt (also in the city center) has a small market with mostly fresh produce. If you’re in Haarlem during the weekend, the markets are definitely worth visiting.
Some of the markets are listed below:
Ok, so this is not the most child-friendly activity on the list. But if you’re in Haarlem, you have to visit the Jopenkerk (Jopen church). It’s not often you find a brewery in a former church.
The interior is quite spectacular. In the 1500’s and the early 1600’s Haarlem was one of Holland’s main beer producing cities. The reason for this was that the river Spaarne that crosses the city had such clean water. In those days the city housed 100+ breweries. Eventually the breweries disappeared, but in 1990 some old beer recipes were revived and produced under the name Jopen. It’s a popular Haarlem beer, with lots of variaties.
Make sure to check the calendar, because sometimes they the Jopenkerk offers activities for kids.
If you still have energy left after you’ve visited the museums, eaten the food and did some shopping, here are some more fun activities.
You can go ice skating on the indoor ice rink (IJsbaan Haarlem, only in the winter months), try your climbing skills at the indoor climbing wall (Klimmuur Haarlem) or play in the snow at indoor ski center SnowPlanet.
In the summer months it’s nice to cool off at the Molenplas or outdoor swimming pool Houtvaart. You can also bike to the dune area or the beach and let your kids run and play in the sand.
If you’re tired after shopping and had a bit too much to eat, Haarlem obviously also has some less adventurous things to do. Why not see one of the latest blockbusters at cinema Pathé Haarlem, watch a lesser known movie at movie house Filmschuur or go to the theatre (Stadsschouwburg Haarlem).
In the summer months it’s great fun to rent a boat and discover Haarlem from the water. Club Spaarne has very reasonable prices for boat rental.
Haarlem has a good bus connection from Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (bus line 300) and good train connections to Amsterdam, Leiden, Zandvoort, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Please note that there are two train stations in Haarlem – the main train station (simply called Haarlem) and a much smaller station Haarlem Spaarnwoude.
From the main train station you can easily catch a bus to other parts of town or walk to the city center. You can pay cash on the bus, but if you’re staying in The Netherlands longer, it’s more budget friendly to get an OV Chipkaart. This is a rechargeable card the size of a credit card that you can use for all public transport in The Netherlands. You can buy the card at Schiphol Airport or at any of the larger train stations for €7.50.
If you’re going to be in Haarlem for a few days and you know how to ride a bicycle, you can also rent a bike. Rental companies often offer discounts if you rent for more than one day.
There’s a lot to do and see in Haarlem. We haven’t even mentioned the open air theatre Caprera, all the cool child-friendly lunch places, pop music hall Patronaat or city beach Oerkap, which is a great place to relax. Haarlem has a lot to offer for kids of all ages and the top 10 above is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re planning to visit The Netherlands with kids, Haarlem is a great place to add to your bucket list.
Have you visited Haarlem? Which places or activities did you like best?
You can read more about Lisa and her families adventures at www.flipflopglobetrotters.com and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.