If you make it to Amsterdam and want a little excursion, I’d highly recommend spending 24 hours in Haarlem to see the natural beauty of the Netherlands without the busy city and massive tourism.
Yes, Haarlem, New York takes its name from this Dutch town. Did you know that New York City used to be called New Amsterdam, and New York State used to be called New Netherland? That was more than a century before the Revolutionary War.
I haven’t been to Haarlem, New York yet, but I’m guessing Haarlem, Netherlands is more beautiful. It’s only a 19-minute train ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station. Located near the beach, there’s plenty of nature to explore. The town is small but has a beautiful church (as does every city and town in the Netherlands), iconic canals, and plenty of restaurants to try your favorite Dutch dish.
As soon as you arrive, head to the city center to grab some kibbling (Dutch fish and chips) on Botermarkt Street. Stroll through the old town where you can visit the St. Bavo Church, the Teylers Museum, and the Windmill De Adriaan. After that, take a break at Frenchie Restaurant where you can get some healthy food and drinks while petting the French Bulldogs.
For accommodations, cross the canal to the east and stay at the Hello I’m Local Hostel. They are a gorgeous, boutique hostel with both cozy, private rooms and pod dorms. It takes less than 10 minutes to get there on foot from the city center. Make sure to try one of their amazing breakfasts too.
Before returning to Amsterdam, rent one of the bikes from the hostel and make your way out to the beach. You can visit the coastal village of Bloemendaal aan Zee, or head just north of there for some more secluded beaches (which are still pretty busy in the summer). That’s also where you can stop at the Parnassia Beach Pavilion for lunch or a cold drink.
When you’re ready to back to Haarlem, instead of taking the path along the highway, make your way into the sand dunes due east from Parnassia. You’ll quickly come to the Kennemerland National Park where you’ll find a huge range of wildlife including Scottish hairy coos (Highland cows), deer and birds aplenty. Just make sure you use Google Maps to follow the trails, as the park is massive and it’s easy to get lost. My phone was dead by then, so not only did I get lost, I also didn’t get to take any photos!
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Amsterdam. I prefer Rotterdam, but if you are in the most popular city in the Netherlands and need a break, 24 hours in Haarlem is a great option.