A sightseers’ paradise
Whilst many Holland-bound travelers plan Amsterdam as their destination of choice, they are definitely missing a treat in the form of Haarlem, a wonderful city just 40 minutes by bus from Schiphol Airport or a mere 15 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station.
Haarlem is by no means the less interesting sister, being granted city status in 1245 and since enduring a Spanish siege, a great fire, French rule and not least, the Second World War. The city is encircled by a river and canals, making the centre solely for cyclists and pedestrians with cars relegated to the other side of the canal. The absence of vehicles makes for an extremely quiet and peaceful city centre experience, interspersed with bicycle bells. This is still very much a bustling hive of activity, so do watch out for those bikes.
Great Market Square or Grote Markt to the locals, is one of the largest city squares in Holland, presided over by the unmissable Great Church (Grote Kerk) with accompanying bell tower which can be seen from across the city – no chance of getting lost then. The bell tower chimes out an amazing performance every 15 minutes which sometimes lasts for half an hour and the grand organ in the Church was once played by Mozart. The Great Market is surrounded by some of Haarlem’s hundreds of bars and restaurants, set up perfectly for people-watching whilst enjoying everything from Spanish tapas to traditional Dutch cuisine.
With around 640 shops in the centre of Haarlem, it has been voted Best City for Shopping on numerous occasions – a well deserved accolade with such a diverse range of shops on offer. Everything from unique boutiques to world-renowned department stores line the streets so if you can’t find what you are looking for, you didn’t need it in the first place. Be sure however, to ask a local for help, the Dutch are an extremely friendly and hospitable bunch.
Not to be missed is the Saturday market which is well worth a look. Enjoy the tastes and smells of this amazing weekly fixture, offering everything from a horticultural heaven to a cheese-lovers paradise. This is surely the Netherland’s finest street market.
Several residential communal gardens are open to the public and if you are lucky enough to stumble across one, they are definitely worth exploring. Peaceful, well-kept spaces – real oases in the heart of the city.
Haarlem really offers the best of both worlds. A full and authentic Dutch experience in a more relaxed environment than it’s big sister Amsterdam – on a noticeably smaller budget too. If you want to experience where the good people of Amsterdam go home to at night, Haarlem is the place to be.
Oh and before you leave, you must try the Dutch version of frites and mayo, a simple but delicious tradition that just does not taste the same anywhere else in the world.
Get there with KLM’s daily flights to Schiphol Airport
Blog author: Lorraine Chisholm