Haarlem, the official capital of Noord Holland province, has lots going for it. Here’s our top 10 of the city’s fabulous things.
1. Teylers Museum
The Teylers Museum www.teylersmuseum.nl is somehow reminiscent of a set from an Indiana Jones film. It could be the fossils and prehistoric skeletons or the old scientific instruments on display. Most likely, it is the Oval Room with its display cases filled with mineralogical treasures, complete with dusty, hand-written labels. The Netherlands’ oldest museum, Teylers opened to the public in 1784. The magnificent building facing the Spaarne River also houses a collection of paintings from the Dutch Romantic School and hosts temporary exhibitions.
Walking across the Haarlem’s Grote Markt on a Sunday without the distraction of a free festival is a rare experience during the summer months. More common is the sound of live music combined with the smell of stroopwafels and Belgian fries. Annual festival events include Bloemencorso – the flower parade and festival (April), Bevrijdingspop – live music (May), Houtfestival – world music and international food (June), Haarlem Jazz (August), the Jopen Bier festival (September), and arrival of Sinterklaas (November).
3. Het Dolhuys
It’s name means the mad house and, yes, the Dolhuys www.hetdolhuys.nl is the National Museum of Psychiatry. The permanent exhibition contains the effects of previous inmates, including recorded personal accounts of their own experience of living with a psychiatric illness. Don a stethoscope to listen to the audio guide; jump on a computer and complete the psychological tests; check out how psychosis can influence art; and then end up in the museum café contemplating your own sanity over a glass of wine
4. De Egelantier
De Egelantier on the Gasthuisvest is a rambling old building housing a multitude of culture clubs. From belly-dancing; comic-drawing; capoeira; learning a new language; sculpting; singing, tuba-playing, street dancing, and at least 40 other cultural pursuits – the creative vibe permeates the place. In addition, there is a delightful little café for parents, partners and the members of the general public -seeking somewhere relaxed, with a view of the inner-courtyard, to while away some time.
5. Salsa classes at Haarlem railway station
Haarlem Railway Station was built in 1839 so that people wanting the novelty of travelling by train had somewhere to aim for when they boarded in Amsterdam. The current station, rebuilt around 1907, is the only Dutch station in Art Nouveau style and remains a beautiful place to wait for a train. But there is more to Haarlem station than trains and architecture. Each week in the waiting room on platform 3a, you can take a salsa class. (www.salsamotion.nl).
Not just an ethnic grocery store on the Botermarkt (Tuchthuisstraat 2, 2011XK Haarlem), but an Aladdin’s cave of culinary treasures. This is the only place in Haarlem where you can find all the ingredients essential to follow the recipes by chefs Yotam Ottolenghi, Nigella Lawson, and Jamie Oliver. The shelves are stocked with sauces, pickles, jams, spices, and never before seen tins of things from all over the globe. Mabrouk is a greengrocer, butcher, and specialty delicatessen. It smells delicious, looks good, and inspires even the most resistant cook to get creative.
7. Easy access to the beach
Living in Haarlem means that you can jump on your bike and dig your toes in the sand in about 20 minutes. Yes, avoiding the long queues of motorists growing surly, slowly inching towards the beach and then impatiently searching for a parking place – is another fabulous thing about this place. For people with young children or those who don’t want crowded beaches, the artificial lake, t’Wed in Zuid Kennemer National Park, is a popular place for swimming, playing in the sand, and picnics on long summer evenings.
8. De Oerkap
Feeling lazy? De Oerkap ( www.deoerkap.nl ) located just outside Centrum on the banks of the Spaarne, is the city beach or Stadsstrand and open in the summer months. Popular with almost everyone, it is a wonderful place to relax and watch the boats go by as you indulge in a cold beer and try to keep an eye on your children who have stripped down to their underwear to play in the sand. The kitchen makes unbelievably good pizzas, and you can have you bike repaired next door at Fiestco in between your visits.
Saturday markets in the Grote Markt are loved by locals and visitors alike. Flanking the Saint Bavo Cathedral, stalls sell fresh flowers, nuts, cheeses, breads, merguez, fresh seafood, bike parts, Turkish dips, French flans, clothes and much more. Throughout the week, farmers’ markets, flea markets, book markets, and antiques markets can be found in the Botermarkt and in neighbourhoods outside Centrum. Add to this the large scale bimonthly junk markets, less frequent art and craft markets, and the festive Christmas markets and you’ll be sure to find a market selling exactly what you did not know you wanted.
10. Little Amsterdam
Finally, an important point contested by some, but never by Haarlem residents. What is fabulous about Haarlem is that it is a mini version of Amsterdam. Haarlem has canals, 17th century buildings, a plethora of museums and galleries; grand cathedrals; a colourful history; designer stores; an abundance of restaurants and cafes; a busy programme of arts and cultural events; easy access to other parts of the country, or further afield via Schiphol airport. All this, but without the tourist masses! Haarlem residents are living the Dutch dream. Gezellig!