A Day Trip From Amsterdam to Haarlem, The Netherlands
Words by Bonsuk Awani
No trip to Holland is complete without visiting its capital city, Amsterdam. With myriad multi-colored row houses, numerous canals, and countless bike lanes, Amsterdam is the quintessential Dutch city. While its charms allure many, I dared to venture into a lesser known city in The Netherlands: Haarlem.
I was on a quest for the authentic Dutch experience with less tourists, more spacious grounds to roam, and traditional Dutch cuisine. Transportation in The Netherlands is plenteous with a series of trams, buses, trains (including an underground train system) and bikes. Since most of this Dutch population speaks English, it was never a problem to ask for help or directions if needed.
For a short day trip to Haarlem simply head to Amsterdam Central Station and purchase a train ticket towards the outer borough. In less than forty minutes you will be transported from the bustling metropolis of Amsterdam to the exciting and historical city of Haarlem.
The general disposition of the people in The Netherlands was nothing less than hospitable and the genuine encounters with shopkeepers and other travelers in the city truly makes The Netherlands an incredible country to visit during any season. Though the days are short during the winter, and the sun rises late into the morning, the spirit of the Dutch people will ensure insurmountable happiness as you traverse through the narrow streets of Haarlem. Laten we gaan! (Dutch for “let’s go!”)
Unlike Amsterdam, the capacious organization of Haarlem lends way for curious souls. Lots of open spaces in the city allows one to take in the breathtaking beauty of Holland and appreciate the aesthetic qualities of traditional Dutch architecture. Since Haarlem lies on flat, even terrain, it is easy to spot the famous landmark in the center of the city: De Grote of St. Bavokerk or Church of St. Bavo.
Situated above medieval cobblestones and standing erect in the city center, the church transports one from modern day Haarlem back to 16th century Holland. Ornate stained glass windows outline the facade of the church and complement the brick and mortar that sustains its structure. For the musically inclined, the organ inside of the church, built during the 18th century, is one of the largest in the world. Make a brief stop to this church before venturing deeper into this historically charming city.
Hungry for traditional Dutch street food? Upon exiting Haarlem Centraal Station there are numerous food stands that sell what the Dutch have coined ‘oliebol’ or ‘oliebollen’. These lightly fried dough rounds are sprinkled with powdered sugar or are infused with fresh fruits such as apples, pears, or strawberries. For less than ten euros one can purchase ten oliebollen. These treats are perfect for grabbing a friend to share with while traversing through Haarlem’s narrow cobblestone pathways.
Not a fan of street food? No worries, the national food chain Yoghurt Barn sells four different flavors of organic yoghurt all produces in the Holland countryside; full fat, Greek, goat, and coconut yoghurts are adorned with fresh fruits, nuts, or organic homemade granola. The interior of the yoghurt chain is furnished with grand wooden tables, colorful handmade glassware, and dazzling lights during more festive seasons. It is an ode to ancient Dutch craftsmanship with decorative objects interspersed from various eras in Dutch history.
Sightseeing and sampling the local cuisine are the highlights of any trip when one ventures from their homeland into unfamiliar territory. After a full itinerary, the best way to immerse oneself in another culture is by walking. Haarlem is definitely a city in Holland that can be navigated by foot. During chillier seasons street markets are popular amongst tourists. For the best of Haarlem, prepare to walk through this medieval city with plenty of warm clothes as a barrier to the northern European winds and freezing temperatures. Specialty, or concept stores, are especially popular in Haarlem. From artisanal soaps to hand-woven wool scarves and coats Haarlem offers the best shopping for travelers looking for presents for friends or family. Dille en Kamille is a brand sold in Belgium, France and the Netherlands with deliciously scented candles, organic teas, beautiful hand crafted home ware and wooden toy kits for children. Make this your last stop before leaving Haarlem.
My day trip to Haarlem was nothing less than magical. The ease and efficiency of transport in the Netherlands took me from modern day Amsterdam to bustling and historic Haarlem.
Meandering the streets of Haarlem left me with a strong spirit of curiosity for other smaller Dutch cities in the Netherlands. The choice to go of off the beaten path to a lesser-known city was educationally enriching and personally fulfilling. The essence of travel and getting lost in an entirely new place was the primary goal when venturing to The Netherlands. The winter season may scare a few, but for the brave souls who dare to travel north against brisk winds are in for the adventure of a lifetime.
Delectable street food, charming inhabitants and storefronts, and centuries of history await in Haarlem. So grab your heaviest fleece lined wool jacket, Sorel boots, heavy gloves and dare to venture into Haarlem.