Living in or visiting Haarlem? Information and useful links for students, locals and tourists.
Information about Haarlem
Haarlem is located on the river Spaarne, about 20km west of Amsterdam. It has been the centre of the tulip bulb-growing district for centuries, for which it bears the nickname bloemenstad (flower city). This charming city embodies the Dutch word “gezellig”, with its many canals, restaurants with terraces, quirky boutique shops, windmills and medieval architecture.
A short history of Haarlem
Haarlem’s history dates back to pre-medieval times, however, it was on November 23, 1245, that Count Willem II granted Haarlem city status (stadsrechten). In 1270, a defensive wall was built around the city to keep it safe from sieges from the surrounding area of Kennemerland. Haarlem prospered and in the 14th century, the city was the second largest city in historical Holland. At the end of this century, a 16,5-metre high wall and 15-metre wide canal was built to improve the city’s defences.
The Spanish army besieged Haarlem on December 11, 1572. The city managed to stand against the whole Spanish army for seven months, but ultimately had to surrender. Many defenders were slaughtered, and properties were plundered.
Almost the entire city burnt down in 1328, since most of the city’s buildings were made out of wood at this time. The St.-Bavokerk church was so severely damaged that it took Haarlem more than 150 years to rebuild it. The city suffered a second fire in 1347, and a third large fire in 1351, which destroyed the Count’s castle and the city hall. Still, the great fire of October 23, 1576, impacted Haarlem the most; over 500 buildings were destroyed.
Golden age: Beer & tulips
After the siege and the fire of 1576, a third of Haarlem was ravaged. However, during the Golden Age, it flourished once again. The beer brewing industry and tulip mania were to thank for that. In 1620, more than 100 breweries could be found in the city. Nowadays, the only brewery that is still located in Haarlem is Jopen. Whilst tulip mania is over, Haarlem is still a major trading centre for tulips. If you travel to Rotterdam by public transport during the spring, you will see many bulb fields between Leiden and Haarlem.
The 18th and 19th century
During the 18th century, the centre of trade moved towards Amsterdam and Haarlem slowly declined. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the city’s economy would pick up again. During this time, the city walls were torn down.
What certainly helped the city’s economy bloom once more, was the very first train track in the Netherlands. This track ran between Haarlem and Amsterdam. Instead of having to travel for over two hours, people could now reach Amsterdam in just 30 minutes. Nowadays, it will only take you 15 minutes by train to get to Amsterdam.
What to do in Haarlem: Sites & Activities
If you are visiting Haarlem, be sure to do at least one of the following:
Visit the oldest museum in the Netherlands
Teylers Museum was the first museum in the Netherlands. Its collection includes art, fossils and minerals, scientific instruments and coins. The building itself is a work of art as well, the Oval Room will have you in awe. Another museum worth mentioning is the Frans Hals museum, which houses about a dozen paintings by Dutch master Frans Hals, as well as works by other renowned Golden Age artists, including Jacob van Ruisdael and Jan Steen.
Take a canal tour
Just like Amsterdam, Haarlem is home to many canals. Take a guided canal tour to learn more about the city or rent a boat and admire the city from the water.
Admire the hofjes
There are many hidden green spaces in Haarlem. These charming courtyards are called hofjes. There are 21 unique hofjes in Haarlem; the oldest dates back to 1395. You can visit the hofjes for free during weekdays. In the weekend, most of them are closed.
Shop till you drop
If you like shopping, you will like Haarlem. The city features many exceptional boutiques. You can find some of them on the street De Kleine Houtstraat. This street has won the honorary title “Best Shopping Street of the Netherlands” twice already. It is also part of the “Gouden Straatjes”, or the Golden Streets of Haarlem. The other six are: Schagchelstraat, Warmoesstraat, Gierstraat, Koningsstraat, Zijlstraat and Anegang. Most major shopping chains are located on the street De Grote Houtstraat.
Sit at a terrace
People in Haarlem love to wine and dine. So, it should not come as a surprise that the city is host to more than 200 restaurants and cafés. This means there is something for everybody! A lot of restaurants in Haarlem are located around the large Catholic cathedral, the St.-Bavokerk, and the central market square. During the summer, when the sun shines, locals and tourists alike will be sitting at one of the many terraces these restaurants boast.
Annual events in Haarlem
Haarlem hosts a series of fun events each year, such as:
On May 5, the Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany in 1945. Bevrijdingspop is one of the many free festivals taking place this day.
Haarlem Jazz & More
Enjoy smooth jazz in the centre of Haarlem, for free.
The Christmas market in Haarlem is one of the nicest in the Netherlands. Expect many stalls with Christmas-y stuff, glühwein, hot chocolate milk and bratwurst.
For the foodies. For four days, Haarlem’s finest restaurants offer small dishes for a small price at the central market.