When we mentioned we were travelling to the Netherlands, we had a suggestion from a fellow traveller to stay a little out off the city of Amsterdam, in the town of Haarlem. It turned out to be an excellent idea, thanks Thomas.
We stayed for six nights in Haarlem. Coming directly from our visit to Morocco it was no surprise that we were struck by the relaxed vibe of the town, what a contrast.
The short walk to our small Airbnb apartment passed over canals and along bike only and pedestrian friendly streets. The apartment was located along a leafy lane just off the main street, and just around the corner from the main square, Grote Markt.
Our first morning in Haarlem coincided with the popular Saturday market in the square, a perfect opportunity to try some fresh local produce. We were able to stock up on fruit, bread and dips, and had our first taste of our soon to be a favourite snack, stroopwafel.
Europe was going through a hot spell, which was nice for us travellers to have sunny weather but the locals were struggling a bit. With everyone around us on bikes, we decided that we had to join them. We hired a couple of bicycles, the two youngest in a cargo bike, and rode the 10km to the beach. Only once we were on the bike track we realised it was Sunday, and most of Haarlem had the same idea.
Although we considered Haarlem to be a mini version of Amsterdam, we couldn’t avoid visiting its big Brother altogether. It was only a 20-minute train into Amsterdam, and to get an overview of the city we went on a free walking tour. The guide was a very entertaining Irishman, who took us through the red light district and showed us the ‘coffee shops’, which fortunately mostly went over the heads of the kids.
After the tour, we visited Anne Frank’s house. Thankfully we had pre-booked tickets, we don’t recommend lining up to buy a ticket in the afternoon, the line was ridiculously long. It was a quality museum that led us through the house slowly revealing her inspiring story. As the kids’ first introduction to the holocaust, it was a personal story they could relate to and a platform to try to explain why this horror could happen. There is a house with a similar story in Haarlem, the Corrie ten Boom Museum (see, a small version of Amsterdam) which we did not visit.
With our family’s interest in science, history and art, the Teylers Museum in Haarlem was a perfect fit. The museum was established in 1778 and has not changed a lot since then. We spent a fascinating couple of hours exploring the old exhibits. The kids’ treasure hunt had an extra challenge, having to translate it from Dutch as we went along.
What would a visit to The Netherlands be without visiting a windmill? The Molen de Adriaan in Haarlem was rebuilt quite recently. The very helpful and knowledgeable volunteer guide did a great job explaining the workings of a windmill as we climbed inside through the different sections.
The tourist sites aside, Harlem was a wonderful place to enjoy the essentials of the Netherlands: the bike culture, canals, unique foods, and friendly (tall, good-looking) people. On our final evening, we had a sunset walk along the quieter canals which ring the town, and got a glimpse of the life of the locals on the water and on the banks of the canal. A fitting end to a great Dutch experience, we loved our time here.