Visit Holland - The Netherlands

Haarlem as a historic city

Haarlem  is a lovely historical city, located on the river Spaarne at no more than 20 kilometres from Amsterdam. International tourism finally seems to have discovered the town's many charms, and an increasing number of visitors find their way here each year.

Teylers Museum, one of the main museums, is located along the river SpaarneA quick glance at the city centre makes it obvious why. Haarlem boasts a magnificent old centre with plenty of monumental buildings. As the city was home to several first class Dutch painters, including Frans Hals, there's a lot of art to go around. And if you're into shopping, a day in Haarlem is a day well spent too, as it was best shopping city of the country several times. Other towns may lay claims to that title, but Haarlem's centre undisputably offers a colorful mix of large chain stores, specialty shops, boutiques and art galeries. A broad range of bars and restaurants makes the picture complete. In short, Haarlem is well worth a visit. For those who are wondering: yes, the famous New York City neighbourhood of Harlem is named after this once powerful Dutch city.


The first record of the name 'Haarlem' dates from the 10th century. Located on a busy north/south connection route, the city became the seat of the Counts of Holland. In 1245 the city was granted city rights by Count William II of Holland. Due to the heroic acts of knights from Haarlem during the fifth crusade and their contributions to the siege of Damiate in 1217, Haarlem was granted permission to show a cross and a sword in the city's coat of arms. Originally known for its flower growing district, Haarlem in the beginning was also known for its textiles, shipyards, engineering plants and textile mills. In 1573, the Spanish ended its charter. Then, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Haarlem became known as a mecca for dutch painting. Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Adriaen van Ostade were all located here. Also in the 17th century it became a refuge for Huguenots.

In the beginning, all of the city's buildings were wooden and the risk of fire was always present. Unfortunately for Haarlem, in 1328 most of the city was burnt down. When rebuilding began, yet again in 1347, another fire spread through Haarlem. This time though, it engulfed the Counts' castle and city hall. However, the Count decided that he no longer needed a base in Haarlem and decided to move to Den Haag (Hague). With that, he donated the land to Haarlem and later a new city hall would be built in its place. It would take over 150 years for the city to be rebuilt.

The Grote Markt in 1696, painting by Gerrit Adriaensz. BerckheydeLandmarks and sights
Saint Bavo Church on the market square

* Grote Markt. Haarlem's main market square, with the huge Saint Bavo church right on it, is the heart of the old city. Not only the church, but several monumental buildings can be found on different sides of the square and when the weather allows, it's lined with outdoor café terraces. You'll also see the statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster, locally called "Lautje", a pioneer of book printing who has become an icon of Haarlem. 

* Saint Bavo Church. This impressive Gothic style church has been the heart of the city and its main landmark for centuries. Located right in the middle of the Grote Markt, it was originally built as a Catholic church between 1370 and 1520. In 1559 it finally became the cathedral of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, but less than 20 years later it was confiscated in the name of the Protestant Reformation and it has been a Protestant church ever since. Much of the antique interior remains, including the great Müller-organ that, according to records, has been played by Händel, Mozart, Mendelssohn and other famous people throughout its history. When built, this organ was the largest one in the world, leading Herman Melville in his famous novel Moby Dick to compare the inside of the whale's mouth to the many pipes of Haarlem's great organ. 

* Vleeshal (Meat Hall), Grote Markt 18. From 1604 until the 18th century, the Meat Hall was the only place in town where it was permitted to sell fresh meat. Butchers had to pay rather steep amounts to be granted a spot in the Dutch Renaissance style building that had been designed and built for the purpose. It's now part of the Frans Hals Museum. 

* Hoofdwacht, Grote Markt 17 (Corner of Smedelaan). Built in the 13th century, this is one of the oldest monuments in the city and the first century of its existence, it served as the first town hall. Later, it was used as private housing for several prominent Haarlem families. From April-Sept. the building is open to visitors but only on weekends.

* City Hall, Grote Markt 2. After fires destroyed the Count's castle on this location in the 14th century, this city hall was built. The current façade is slightly younger, and originates from the 17th century.

* Windmill De Adriaan. this beautiful windmill on the benches of the river Spaarne was of the main landmarks of Haarlem for centuries, until it was destroyed in a 1932 fire. Several plans to rebuild it failed due to lack of funds, but in 2002 the windmill was finally fully restored to former glory. It's functional, for tourist purposes, and holds a small museum. €3.

* Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Leidsevaart 146.  editThis cathedral, confusingly named after Saint Bavo too, as is the much older church on the Grote Markt, was built by the Catholics from 1895 to 1930. It replaced the former Waterstaatskerk St. Joseph, which itself was built to replace the confiscated Sint-Bavo church, which had been converted to Protestantism in 1578. The Cathedral became the main cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and holds that function still today. A small museum has been created in the former sacristy, allowing visitors to see some historical artefacts from Haarlem's Catholic past.

Hotels in Haarlem

Map of Haarlem

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