Haarlem was one of our top destinations in the Netherlands during our last Europe backpacking trip. It was a must-see for us, an itinerary set in stone, mainly because we wanted to see the Müller organ (a magnificent and gigantic piece of great craftsmanship with 5000 pipes and 30 meters in height that was once played by famous composers like Handel, Franz Liszt and Mozart, the latter when he was only 10 years old) at the Grote Kerk van St Bavo, and largely because we’ve heard how beautiful a Dutch city Haarlem is.
We were in Haarlem on our third day in the Netherlands. We specifically set that day as our Haarlem day because there was going to be a Müller organ show/recital that day and organ shows of that kind were hard to come by, especially when you’re only there for a visit as we were.
On a side note, a funny thing actually happened on our way to Haarlem: we got lost! Or to be more precise: we got off the train a station earlier than we were supposed to. We should have disembarked at Haarlem Station, but instead we got off at Haarlem Spaarnwoude, a small railway station east of Haarlem. So instead of seeing the historical cobbled streets of Haarlem, we were greeted by a large modern and quite sterile industrial structure of IKEA! Really funny, if we weren’t so flustered at that time. We asked around but nobody seemed to know how we can get to the town center using public transport. At any rate, after an hour of futile searching and asking questions, we just retraced our steps back to the station, studied the maps on the boards (under the sweltering heat of the sun!) and managed to figure out that we were indeed one station short of Haarlem central station. So we boarded another train—good thing we bought a day ticket with unlimited train rides for the day—and eventually found our way to Haarlem.
Haarlem is Europe at its finest. This classic Dutch city is brimming with majestic canals and cobbled streets, and is home to historic buildings, magnificent churches, grand museums, cozy cafes and fine bars. It’s the perfect day trip from Amsterdam, only around 20-30 minutes by train.
Our first stop was, of course, the Grote Kerk van St Bavo, the Gothic cathedral with a 50m-high steeple, located opposite the town hall. It’s a definite must-see when you’re in Haarlem. It’s difficult to miss since it’s located in the main town square.
We paid homage to the grand Müller organ, listened to the show (beautiful music!), and enjoyed a free hour-long and very educational tour generously provided by a very helpful manager of the church.
Next stop was Corey ten Boom’s house a few blocks away. Corey ten Boom is a popular figure because back during World War II, she helped many jews and Dutch resistors by hiding them in a secret compartment in her bedroom in that house. Her story is told in the well-known book The Hiding Place; we wanted to see the famous tiny secret hiding place. The ground floor of the house is now a watch store; we had to use the side entrance to gain access to the daily tour in English.
As it was the weekend, a bustling weekend market was underway. We were happy to see that and joined the crowd in browsing the food, flowers, clothes and many other bits and pieces on sale.
We went people-watching, too, joining the many who were also doing the same, in one of the street-side cafes in the Grote Markt.
We took a walk around afterwards, enjoying the panoramic view of grand canals, colorful gabled houses, cobbled streets and magnific windmills.
Don’t miss Haarlem when you’re in the Netherlands, much more when you’re just a stone’s throw away in Amsterdam!