Haarlem, The Netherlands
I should be an unofficial ambassador of Haarlem of sorts since I cannot stop blabbing about it. But for whatever reason, I never run out of things to say about this small city west of Amsterdam. It feels like a miniature, less touristy version of the capital, but not less charming. A quick train ride from Amsterdam Train Station takes you to this vibrant, young town not short on cobblestone alleys, bicycles, cafes, and boutique shopping.
Promise not to tell too many people, though. We don't exactly want tourist buses there.
Favorite Restaurant | Rijstavel at De Lachende Javaan (authentic Indonesian food)
Favorite Thing to Do | Honestly, just walking around Haarlem where I can never get oriented and always feel like I'm lost is what I love doing here.
Favorite Experience | Riding on the back of the The Dutch's borrowed bike way past midnight after a few drinks. It was in the winter and I felt I was having a uniquely local experience.
Frans Hals Museum
One of Haarlem's hometown heroes, painter Frans Hals lived in Haarlem during what is recognized as the Dutch Golden Age in the 16th century. The museum is in a building that was built in 1607-1610 and was an almhouse first, then an orphanage, before it became the Frans Hals Museum in 1913. The grave of Frans Hals can be found inside St. Bavo's Cathedral, also in Haarlem. Like everything in Haarlem relative to its neighbor, Amsterdam, Frans Hals Museum was quiet and intimate.
Official museum website here.
stylish local boutiques
Souvenir shopping for something uniquely Dutch? Navigate the maze of narrow cobblestone alleys and even if you don't purchase anything, it's an experience in itself wandering and nosying about.
grote markt & random flea finds at BOTERMARKT
Haarlem's main square, pretty much like everywhere in Europe, is right where the church is. This square has been around since the 16th century and it still bewilders me that places like these remain intact until today. Stop by on Saturdays where the market would offer a selection of Dutch food - cheese, herring, stroopwaffels (caramel waffle cookies) made fresh, and produce and fish.
Haarlem has its share of canals and waterways, and historic bridges.
Amrath Grand Hotel Frans Hals | Damstraat 10, Haarlem | Website here.
Right in downtown. (Paid, but safe) Parking next door. Walking distance to the Haarlem highlights. Bookable from the USA via Expedia and the like.