Amsterdam could get quite busy. Especially during good weather summer months. Finding a spot to sit beside a canal can get challenging and you will have to wait in lines to grab a seat at a cafe. If this doesn't sound right, but you still want to be surrounded by pretty ginger bread houses and Dutch "gezelligheid" why not go to Haarlem?!...
I discovered Haarlem by an accident - friends of ours have been camping at one of the campgrounds nearby the city and have invited us to visit them. Even though Netherlands is a dear neighbour, we don't visit that often (we should though!!), but we gladly accepted the invitation and oh, how happy I am that we did.
Haarlem is a mini version of Amsterdam - as a proper Dutch city it is full of charm and fairy tale looks. The old town is as cute as Amsterdam and has as much history too - with pedestrian zone, cute cafes and shops to roam, canals to cruise and adorable facades to dream about. It is as hip as Amsterdam, maybe a little less, but there is still enough vibe for everyone. Another big bonus of Haarlem is that it is located not far from the beach, so on a good day if you rent a bike you could treat yourself to an afternnon of waves and sand spa.
The only thing Haarlem lacks is crowds! And I'm sure you'd agree that noone really likes those.
BREAKFAST & COFFEE
I think I keep repeating myself, but what can I do, I love breakfasts and morning coffee time. So whenever I'm at a new place I would search for those two. Luckily Haarlem is an easy target - it has great cafes spread all over the city.
ADDRESS: Kleine Houtstraat 138
A lovely coffee and breakfast spot serving a great selection of healthy food and drinks. Open daily and is very popular among locals. No English menu, but Dutch speak fluent English.
ADDRESS: Breestraat 23
Another wonderful coffee place opened by ladies! Located on a small cute street it's a great place for people watching while sipping on your coffee. There are snacks too.
ADDRESS: Gierstraat 49
This is actually a chain, but they serve delicious bagels with all sorts of toppings. They also serve gluten free bagels in case you've been looking for those.
There is nothing wrong in doing some sightseeing especially in compact cities like Haarlem. If you want to see the main attractions just wonder around the city center - you won't miss on Grote Kerk - Haarlems impressive gothic church and Stadhuis - an old City Hall building.
Grote Markt (Market) is also worth paying a visit especially on Saturday morning.
As I usually cut my sightseeing to wandering around the city with my camera and see where the path will lead me I just did exactly this and ended up in a beautiful neighbourhood around Grote Houtstraat which was full of cute houses and th typical huge Dutch windows which are never covered with drapes. Spying inside the windows is another favorite activity of mine.
Have a look at this post to learn more about sightseeing options in Haarlem.
For the beach activities aim towards the Camping de Lakens area which is also an awesome campground with glamping, air streaming and basic camping opportunities. It is not as touristy as Zandvoort and they offer all sorts of activities like surfing lessons and yoga in the dunes. That's where we stayed for 2 nights with our friends and enjoyed every minute.
ADDRESS: Kruisweg 43
Located right next to the Haarlem Main Train Station this place is extremely popular for it's french fries. And they are DELICIOUS!!!! It is also a good place to try frikandel - traditional Dutch snack which looks like a hot dog but has minced meat inside.
ADDRESS: Drossestraat 3
It's all about burgers here and delicious ones too.
ADDRESS: Boulevard Paulus Loot 3, 2042 AD Zandvoort
Hippie Fish is worth the ride all the way to Zandvoort. A beautifully designed and set right at the beach this restaurant serves lunch and dinner as well as drinks. Be sure to book ahead if you are planning to visit on the weekend or during holiday times. Have a look here to get the impression of what's waiting for you, since I don't have any photos from the place.
I don't know how Dutch do it, but most of the shops in the Netherlands look so stylish that I always get tempted to add something new to our appartment or to my closet. If not to mine than to the kids one at least. Saying this, Haarlem is no exception and provides great shopping opportunities for every taste and pocket. Have a look at this post with 10 shopping hotspots in Haarlem and this one to get a glimpse of what I'm talking about.
Koningstraat is a good start point for shopping enthusiasts.
ADDRESS: Breestraat 25
One of those "dangerous" shops selling cute miscellaneous items. Even if you enter with a strong intention of "just having a look" you might give in and end up with a gift for your cousin or a friend.
ADDRESS: Barrevoetestraat 3
A treasury filled with home goods, prints and beautiful interrior design items.
ADDRESS: Koningstraat 34
Another "dangerous zone" with a high risk of spending your money. They sell all sorts of items - from plants to notebooks. You might need to dig in, but the choice is HUGE!
ADDRESS: Zijlstraat 26
This is a chain of furniture and home goods stores. The best about them is that they combine modern design and retro furniture under one roof. One of a kind pieces reside side by side with pretty modern creations. Happy hunt!
TRAVELING WITH KIDS
Haarlem is easy to navigate with kids. We had no troubles whatsoever of walking the streets with a stroller. If you plan on renting a bike you can also request a child seat.
Haarlem also has some nice coffee shops and inside play areas for kids - a great combinations of kids playing and adults having coffee under the same roof.
ADDRESS: Koningstraat 19
This cafe, books and toys shop is very popular among locals. It's all about kids here. Parents are coffee dating with friends while their offsprings happily play in the middle of the room with a huge wooden railroad. Needless to say that diaper changing facilities and baby food are on stock. It is a bit old school but it serves it's purpose well.
Olivia made some Dutch friends while we've been having a long chat and a piece of cake.
ADDRESS: Kruisstraat 11
I think I might have enjoyed this place a bit more than my daughter - simply because it was more to my minimalistic taste. A store selling design items for kids and a cafe. Great for nursing or a in between break for your little one.
Haarlem is very easy to reach - it is jabout 15 minutes train ride from Amsterdam Train Station.
You can book your ticket directly over the official Dutch Railroads page.
There are also bus services going from Amsterdam to Haarlem as well as multiple connections from the Schiphol Airport. Have a look at this post for more information on how to get to Haarlem.