The Best Things to Do in Haarlem in the Netherlands: A Local’s Guide

Discovering a city on your own is an incredible experience, but if I’ve found one thing that beats that, it’s seeing a destination through a local’s eyes. In my new travel interview series, I aim to explore some of the most magnificent places in the world by featuring insider tips and tricks from the people who know a city best. And I’m kicking things off by exploring Amsterdam’s lesser known but equally impressive neighbor, Haarlem.

Haarlem, The Netherlands

Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

Meet Maaike Lut, a Dutch writer from the travel blog Travel a Lut. When Maaike moved to Haarlem two years ago, she knew little about the city but quickly fell in love with its charm. From her spot right in the heart of Haarlem, she loves spending her weekends discovering the city’s most captivating corners. I spoke to her about her experiences, her best things to do in Haarlem, and her favorite spots after two years of exploring.

Hi Maaike! What do you love about Haarlem? Why is it special to you?

I love Haarlem because it’s a small city but not too small, so you can stroll through the city for a whole day but it’s not overwhelming. It’s full of great restaurants and it truly has the best lunch spots of The Netherlands: great bakeries, cute coffee places and tiny restaurants with a lot of plants and pastel colors. How awesome is that?!

Haarlem, Netherlands sunset

Sunset in Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

Sounds perfect! What’s your all-time favorite thing to do in the city?

Definitely exploring all the boutique shops that the city has to offer. Haarlem has great boutique shops with beautiful vintage furniture and amazing clothes. Combine this with a good lunch in one of the hipster coffee places and you’ll have the best day.

If a traveler only had 24 hours in Haarlem, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?

Stroll down the city centre and explore the tiny courtyards where people still live. And take a look at all the gorgeous buildings, which are very old. You can’t miss the Kleine Houtstraat and Grote Houtstraat either, the two main streets. Get some fresh nuts and bread at the big market. Are you in Haarlem during the summer days? Relax at the waterfront and definitely go for a boat ride through the canals!

Haarlem, The Netherlands buildings

Some of the gorgeous buildings of Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

What should travelers know about the locals?

The people in Haarlem are very friendly and modern. They always wear trendy clothes, and a lot of people in Haarlem are creative. And they all love the city! Everyone I know in Haarlem loves this city more than any other city in the world.

They seem like some great people to call your neighbors! What’s your favorite thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?

Haarlem is located close to several great beaches, but I really recommend going to Het Wed, a lake where you can relax. Swim in the lake, have a picknic and just enjoy this beautiful area.

Where should visitors go if they’re looking for something a little different?

You can easily escape the city and explore the nature nearby. Go to the beaches of Zandvoort or Bloemendaal or relax at Het Wad. But I really love to hike through the dunes of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen. During a walk, you spot dozens of deer, and the landscape is very serene and beautiful. But Haarlem has more great parks!

Haarlem, The Netherlands guide

Streets of Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

Tell me about your favorite restaurants in this city.

I love Klein Parijs for lunch. You really should order the baguette with spicy chicken; it’s delicious! For dinner you should definitely go to The Waag, which is very cheap, very charming (it’s an old theatre) and very delicious. Are you more into vegetarian and biological food? Just have lunch or dinner at Aangenaam. For coffee, you can go to Mica, for tea, go to Cups and Leafs and for desserts, go to the Dessertbar. Looking for Asian cuisine? Try Bistrobar Indonesia for Indonesian food or Erawan for Thai food, yum! I have waaaay more food tips though.

Yum! Speaking of which, is there any food, dish, or cuisine that you MUST try when you’re there? Where’s the best place to try it?

Definitely! You should try cheese fondue, a very Dutch dish that is age-old. The best place to eat this is at In ‘t Goede Uur. And this place is so beautiful! It’s a gorgeous building and one of the oldest restaurants in Haarlem. The restaurant is tiny, and it feels like you’re stepping a few hundred years back in time. So cool!

What are the most photo-worthy or Instagrammable spots in Haarlem?

Actually, the whole city centre of Haarlem is very Instagrammable, because it’s a very old city with gorgeous buildings. And Haarlem has a lot of small canals which are the best for your Instagram feed.

Canals, Haarlem, Netherlands

The canals of Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

Any must-see museums or monuments?

The most popular museums are The Teylers Museum and the Frans Hals Museum, both located in the city centre. The first one is a scientific museum with many objects, paintings and more. And it even has its own observatory—how cool is that?! The second one offers art of Frans Hals. He was a painter from Haarlem and one of the most important artists of The Netherlands.

What should visitors know about transportation around the city?

You can easily take the bus within the city. Just get your public transport card at the yellow machines at the train station where you can put money on. With this card you can go by train, bus, metro and tram everywhere in The Netherlands. Haarlem only has buses and trains, but that’s all you need. And of course: don’t forget to hire a bike (very Dutch!) and explore the city this way. That’s by far the easiest way to get around.

Haarlem, Netherlands local's guide

Sunrise in Haarlem (photo by Maaike on Instagram)

Looking for even more tips about the best places to go and things to do in Haarlem? Maaike loves helping visitors plan their trip to Haarlem (or Leiden or Amsterdam), so reach out to her at Travel a Lut, or check out her beautiful photos from Haarlem and beyond on Instagram!

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