Haarlem Unseen

Haarlem Unseen
7 unlikely things to do in mini-Amsterdam

29 November 2015

Just a short train ride (15 minutes) from Amsterdam’s Central Station, the little town of Haarlem is a quick and easy half-day or leisurely day trip from the sprawl of the capital city. It’s a collection of quiet streets, chintzy home furnishings stores and secondhand boutiques that make for a unique browsing experience. And there are enough cafes of quality to allow you to rest in between. 

Mackerel brings you seven things you’re not likely to find in most guidebooks. We hope you will discover something to call your own in the city that dates back to 1245 and which literally means, “home on a forested dune.”


The Dutch, with their straightforward, self-deprecatory humour, acknowledge that they aren’t great on local cuisine, but they do have an immaculate sense of interior design. Haarlem has a classy, and affordable collection of stores. There are too many to recommend here, so just browse and see what catches your fancy. Of course, the larger the object, the harder it’ll be to cart home.


There are a dime-a-dozen tourist cheese shops in Amsterdam, often with big wheels of cheese to lure unsuspecting tourists, who have no idea of relative sticker prices. Its always best to search out local cheese shops, which often stock cheese produced from around the town. I bought a couple of slices of cheese from Kaashuis Tromp (Zandvoortselaan 175); one was a pesto cheese and the other a local farm cheese aged three years.


You can find all kinds of knick-knacks that you never knew you wanted in Haarlem. One of the advantages of ambulating a small town is that everything is within easy reach. I snagged my loot from Via Mi (Wagenweg 8C), but you should also check out stores like Zazoe, Belle Elaine and Stijlloods if you’re into vintage and other collectibles.


The Corrie ten Boom museum (Barteljorisstraat 19, free entry at fixed times) is a house dedicated to the heroic woman whose family was responsible for saving hundreds of Jews in World War II. Listen to a lovely old lady tell the story of Corrie and her erstwhile family and marvel at how the hiding place remained undetected by the Nazis throughout the years. Despite losing her sister, father and numerous other members of her family to concentration camps Corrie never wavered in her faith. She used to say, “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”


After an afternoon of wandering, get seated in any one of Haarlem’s cafes for a spot of afternoon tea with coma-inducing cakes. We picked the Chocolate Company (Kruisstraat 14) for a late morning pick-me-up of hot chocolate and Bij Babette (Kruisstraat 31) just a little further down the road for an afternoon tea set. For 22.50 euro per person you get canapes, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, mini desserts, flapjacks, bonbons and unlimited tea. Quite a mouthful!


Off the main thoroughfare, Haarlem shows its true age, but in the most genteel of ways. Hidden behind a nondescript door is a narrow brick lane leading to the Hofje van Bakenes, an almost surreal courtyard (hofje) dating back to 1395. Encircled by a smattering of low-rise houses, the courtyard teems with life, history, and warmth. We walked by a gathering of ladies chatting animatedly as birds pecked around for an evening snack. Haarlem’s city centre hides more than 21 ‘hofjes’. Exclusively for women, they were built for the poor and pious by Christian communities in the 14th century.


If you’re tired of shopping, take a stroll amidst the ancient trees and paths of Haarlemmerhout Park, just south of the Centrum. There’s a herd of deer wandering about within very natural boundaries, so natural in fact, that we nearly got too close to them. If you have time, rent a bike and cycle about 8km out to the beach at Zandvoort for a sunset amidst miles of coastal sand dunes.

There isn’t much to do in Haarlem at night, so make your way back to the station for the quick hop back to Amsterdam. Haarlem is Holland without the masses of tourists, and we hope it stays that way. Gezellig!

Text and photos: Marc