Haarlem Netherlands: Why Go and What To Do

“Welcome to the safest country in the world” our tour guide confidently informs us.

And you know what? I truly felt it.

As a woman traveler, there are so many precautions fed to you by loved ones, by the media, by anything you read on the internet and the list goes on and on and on.

But, here I stood late at night (in search of food), walking in a dark desolate street in a country I had just stepped foot in for the first time mere hours ago and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t looking over my shoulders. I wasn’t tightening my grip for my belongings. It was felt immediately. In the air. In the strangers, I met. And this is where my unexpected love affair with Haarlem began.

So where is Haarlem and why should it make your travel bucket-list? Haarlem sits west of the very popular city of Amsterdam, a 15-minute train ride away. It has a small town vibe but it is rich in its history which is worth exploring.

Let’s talk a bit about the dutch people. Here’s what you can expect.

They are friendly and approachable.

They believe in karma and good-doing.

They are genuinely inquisitive and listen with the intent to learn and engage.

They are accepting and welcoming of other nationalities.

Wait, this is a big deal.

Why? Too many countries tolerate other cultures but it is vastly different to see a country practice a truly welcoming reception. Yes, welcoming! Expect to be spoken to in dutch by almost everyone you meet here but once you give away your background with your lack of a dutch response, they will gladly convert the conversation to English.

As a US passport holder, I never felt like I was looked at as ‘other’ here — because, the integration is so strong in this country, their immediate assumption of you, regardless of how you look, is dutch. No question, this is a beautiful thing.

If you are just beginning your research on this gem of a city and are in need of a quick run-down of what to look out for, here’s our personal “you won’t regret it” list:

Where To Eat

No Regrets: Bitterballen and Craft Beers

No Regrets: Eggs Benedict Crepe, Any Tosti Offering, Fresh Mint Tea

What To Do

What Is It? A story about a brave young woman who helped hundreds of jews escape the Nazi’s in WWII. Her story was fascinating and just as much worth learning about as that of Anne Frank’s. If you get the chance, read the book or watch the film, ‘The Hiding Place’ based on her triumphant life and then go check out her original hiding place in Haarlem!

What Is It? An important landmark of the city, a protestant church (used to be a Catholic cathedral) that is a bit unusual. First, the floors of this church are gravestones. Yup, you read that right. You will literally walk on gravestones throughout your visit. Second, the famous grandiose organ in this church was played by 10-year-old Mozart. Need we say more? Go check it out.

What Is It? An 18th-century windmill with epic views of Haarlem. The river that runs in front of it, along with the other local shops around it gives this area a “Postcard Goals” vibe! A must snap for your Instagram. We highly recommend the guided tour to really get the most out of this experience.

Most Importantly…

Get lost and explore!

Whether you prefer to travel like a tourist or a local, be sure to make this city a stop in your Netherlands adventures.