When the busyness of Amsterdam becomes too much, a fifteen minute journey by train brings you to Haarlem. A small city of around 150,000 people Haarlem has a beautifully preserved and pedestrianised centre focused on the Grote Markt, only ten minutes walk from the railway station.
During the Dutch Golden Age Haarlem was home to Frans Hals and Jacob van Ruisdal and his uncle, Salomon van Ruisdal. Jan Steen also lived and worked in the city for ten years. More recently Haarlem was the birthplace of Harry Mulisch, generally considered one of the greatest Dutch writers, and of Corrie ten Boom whose family sheltered Jewish refugees and Dutch resistance fighters in their home in the city during the Nazi occupation. The ten Boom family home is now a small museum honouring the family.
The Grote Markt is dominated by the Grote Kerk or Sint Bavokerk. There has been a church on the site since at least the 13th century but this particular church dates mostly to the 15th and 15th centuries. Franz Hals and the van Ruisdal’s are buried beneath the floor of the church, among other Haarlem worthies.
The interior of the Grote Kerk is impressive, the two standout features being the beautiful wooden ceiling and the magnificent organ. The organ was originally built in the 1730’s and was at the time the biggest in the world. Mozart, Mendelssohn and Handel have all played this organ.
Beyond the central square are narrow side streets where centuries old buildings stand alongside more modern constructions. A little further out Haarlem’s canals are lined with pleasant and well kept buildings – mostly business premises and people’s homes.
The canal above leads to one of Haarlem’s best known sites, the De Adriaan windmill. Originally built in 1779 the windmill burned down in 1932. Plans to rebuild were drawn up but construction did not start until 1999 and the windmill finally re-opened in 2002.
If you are ever in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit to Haarlem.