The Netherlands: Dutch Cities | Haarlem, Leiden, & Delft
As mentioned in our previous blog posts, we based ourselves in the small city of Haarlem for our week-long trip to the Netherlands. The city is large enough to offer things to do and see, small enough to be quiet at night and offers ample car parking and train connections. We had a car for the week, so we took advantage of the parking (it’s worth noting the parking is fairly expensive). It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Haarlem, especially when we had the time to wander its back streets and soak up the energy in the main square.
We stayed a short walk south of the main square (Grote Markt) in tangled mess of tree-lined streets just north of Kampersingel. When we first got the chance to explore the area, we stumbled on some very cute streets (Popelingstraat), hopping commercial areas (Kleine Houtstraat) and smaller squares (Nieuwe Kerksplein). Haarlem is also host to a series of canals, our favorite of which was Bakenessergracht—if you follow the canal north, it will eventually land you near the city’s famous windmill, De Adriaan (sadly the original windmill burned down in the 1930s but was rebuilt in the early 2000s). Most stunning to us was St. Bavo’s Cathedral on Grote Markt. We both agree it is the most beautiful church we’ve ever visited, though its beauty is in simplicity and elegance, which combined with the intricate natural wood ceiling made for a serene and reflective setting.
Having spent a week based in Haarlem, we also got the chance to try lots of good food. We really enjoyed visiting the health-food market Marqt and picking up snacks (stroopwafel and Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bars were both big hits) or dinner to make back in our Airbnb (pasta, fresh bread, homemade sauce). Native is a can’t-miss lunch spot with good food and even better service (Rico had the labneh, pomegranate seed and radish sandwich while Britt enjoyed the avocado and beet salsa sandwich). We had heard good things about the pizzeria Woodstone, but we weren’t very impressed. Luckily Crostino Gelateria & Cafe is right next door and we made sure to grab some Bueno and mocha gelato, which was especially refreshing on the unseasonably warm nights that week!
Leiden, another one of the Netherlands’ university cities, is a 40-minute drive (or even shorter train ride) from Haarlem and a perfect day trip. We were hungry upon arrival so we grabbed apple cinnamon and sugar pannenkoeken at Oudt Leyden and bought some stroopwafel in thoughtfully designed tins to take back home and give to friends and family as gifts. The best way to get moving after a heavy lunch was to stroll through the city’s botanical gardens, one of the oldest in the world. The gardens are surrounded on two sides by Witte Singel and there are plenty of benches around to take a seat and relax (which we did!). We walked back toward the city center, past Pieterskerk toward Burcht van Leiden, a fortification built 1,000 years ago. These days it serves as a public park where people can relax and take in the 360-degree views of the city.
One of the first day trips we made on our trip was to The Hague suburb of Delft, famous for its blue and white pottery. The roads between Haarlem and Delft offer some of the best views of tulip fields, with N206 and N208 being particularly colorful. Our first stop was the Royal Delft Factory which is a bit far from the center but very worth a visit. The audio tour was a bit corny but informative nonetheless and it was quite a sight to watch each stage of the creation of Delftware throughout the factory. We even grabbed a souvenir (an authentic small blue and white clog)! Once we got to the center of the town we split a delicious Arab-spiced chicken avocado sandwich and mango smoothie at hip coffee shop Kek and made our way to Beestenmarkt, a picturesque and buzzing secondary square. Delft’s main square, Markt, was absolutely bustling—there were carnival rides set up, vendors selling knick knacks and food and families out and about enjoying themselves, all watched over by Nieuwe Kerk’s massive bell tower, dwarfed only by Utrecht’s Domtoren in the whole of the Netherlands. Much quieter, at the confluence of a handful of canals southeast of the city center lies the attractive 15th century Oostpoort, the only city gate remaining in Delft (which apparently partially serves as a private residence now—how do I sign up!?).
Our visit to the Netherlands was dynamic, ranging from bustling cities to serene parks and quiet seaside towns to expanses of colorful tulip fields. We are so glad to have visited during tulip season—there is something magical about it. While we’ll miss our time there, something tells us we’ll be back someday!