Haarlem: The Brooklyn of Amsterdam

Touring stand-up comic Terry Norman tells us about his recent visit to Haarlem in the Netherlands.

As a somewhat successful stand-up comic, I’ve been to a lot of places. This past December, I gigged in Haarlem, often jokingly described as the Brooklyn to Amsterdam’s Manhattan.

While Brooklyn and Manhattan are boroughs of New York City, Haarlem is a city in its own right. However, being a mere 15-minute train ride from the capital means it is generally written off as part of Amsterdam. This is a common source of frustration for the locals. By the time I left the city, I shared this frustration, along with the belief that it is Haarlem, and not Amsterdam, that is the jewel in the Dutch crown. 

Why Haarlem?
When Haarlem was pitched to me as a possible stop on my European tour, it was presented as historically and culturally rich. Like Brooklyn, independent cafes line its corners and are themselves lined with poets and painters. I was sold. I had performed in Amsterdam enough times by this point to have tired of its nightclubs and stag parties. Haarlem sounded like the antidote.

Getting there
Travelling to Haarlem from Britain means flying into Schiphol Airport. A train from the airport to Haarlem takes 30 minutes and costs about £10. If you want to see some of Amsterdam before remembering why you chose Haarlem instead, you can take an airport train to Amsterdam Centraal, where trains to Haarlem run until 1am.

For my stay, I chose the Hotel Carillon, a modest establishment where I paid just under £70 per night. The Hotel Carillon is pretty basic, so if your trip lasts more than a weekend you should consider somewhere like the four-star Carlton Square, where rooms are about £150 per night.

Things to see and do in Haarlem
Among the most notable of Haarlem’s sights is the Grote Kerk. A breathtaking 15th-century church, the Grote Kerk sits at the centre of Grote Markt, its grand attraction being a 5,000-pipe Müller organ on which recitals are regularly performed.

Constructed all the way back in 1355, the Amsterdamse Poort is the last remaining gate of Haarlem’s 12 city gates. I saw it as part of a walking tour, but canal and bike tours are also available. The canal tours are particularly popular among older holidaymakers. 

Haarlem boasts a selection of museums, with Teylers Museum being my personal favourite, largely owing to its variety. A museum of art, science, and natural history, Teylers is firing on all cylinders.

Come and see for yourself
Haarlem is a city of many sights and sounds, all of which combine to create a truly marvellous atmosphere. The locals play their part in this too: Haarlem residents are obliging and eager to show newcomers around, ensuring you experience the full charm of their hometown.