Beer bars and balcony breakfast in Haarlem (the Netherlands)

Just so you know, this post is about Haarlem in the Netherlands, not Harlem in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam). Harlem (NY) is however, named after Haarlem in the Netherlands. But apart from it all being Dutch at some point in history, those two Ha(a)rlem’s have very little in common.

So, where’s Haarlem?

The city has almost 156 000 inhabitants and is the capital of Noord-Holland (Holland is not the name of the country, but two provinces) – and you’ll easily get there from Amsterdam, as it’s only  a 15 minute train ride away.

What does beer have to do with Haarlem?

Haarlem has a long history of beer brewing – a very important industry in the city. Until the 16th century, the water used for beer, was taken from the canals in the city. But, as the canals got more an more polluted, the water could no longer be used. From the 17th century, water was transported to the breweries from Brouwerskolkje (I bet you a pint you’re not gonna remember that name). The canal that leads to there, still exists and is now called the Brewers’ Canal (Brouwersvaart).

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What did I get up to in Haarlem (besides drinking beer)?

While my significant other and I were road tripping through the Netherlands, Haarlem just happened to be our destination of choice. Conveniently located near Amsterdam, which is where I celebrated my 30th birthday, the day before visiting Haarlem – and close to Alkmaar and the famous cheese market (went there, did that). And it’s also close to Zaanse Schans, a charming little windmill village.

We went to all of these places – and many more. We followed a busy “to-do” list most of the time while visiting the Netherlands, and frankly, scheduling in two days of downtime in Haarlem was probably the best idea we had, while creating our itinerary. We needed that. And we needed those two nights of self-pampering at Haarlem Hotel Suites.

The suite had the comfiest beds ever, and our balcony was spacious enough for the two of us to hang out in the sun, drink beer, eat chips and dip and just take a breather – and get fat and drunk while doing so.

Waking up to the staff serving us a large, varied and tasty breakfast in the room, just made the experience even better. I felt like a queen. Privileged, spoiled and pretty effin’ fabulous, I dined on the balcony, wearing nothing but an oversized bathrobe and slippers. The sun was shining, the church bells were ringing and my boyfriend was just as happy as I was. If I could do this every day, I would. Hands down.

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When we weren’t busy stacking up on calories while relaxing on the balcony or while cocooning on the couch in front of the TV, we visited downtown Haarlem and its many beer bars. Our absolute favorite was the Jopenkerk – a former church converted into a bar, restaurant and brewery. The beer menu was so overwhelming I had to ask the waiter for suggestions. The first beer I tried was slightly too bitter for my liking, but the second one was a very pleasant surprise. When the waiter introduced it to me as a sour (open fermentation) beer brewed with algae, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It sounded strange, but I trusted his opinion and gave it a try. And to my surprise, it was oh so delicious, and I just couldn’t resist ordering a second one. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with old sour dark beers!

We also discovered a nice – and very instagrammable – little cafe called Native, while strolling along the streets and doing a bit of shopping. As a self proclaimed coffee addict, I am sure I would have ordered a latte or a cappuccino, if it hadn’t been so warm outside. Besides, most of the other guests at the cafe were sipping on lemonade, so I ended up ordering the same thing. An ice cold glass of elderberry lemonade. Tasty and refreshing!

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Haarlem is more than just beer and lemonade (or coffee), but checking out the bar scene is definitely a must-do while in town. If you’ve already been to Jopenkerk or you’re looking for yet another beer bar suggestion, I’ll advice you to check out Uiltje Bar, Brewery and Taproom . They offer free tours in the brewery every weekend, host events and serve great craft beer and finger food.

And the city, what does the city of Haarlem look like?

It looks like a typical Dutch city. Charming Flemish architecture, nice little canals, quaint town square (Grote Markt) , beautiful churches, busy restaurants and lots and lots of bicycles everywhere.

It was the perfect place to be for two people in need to calm down and throw that itinerary out the window, tune out and just take some time to really appreciate high quality beer and blend in with locals.

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Middelburg, Netherlands: The hotel with the parrot and the desperate need of beer

While planning our cross-country Netherlands+tiny bit of Belgium road trip, a city called Middelburg made its way into our itinerary. Why Middelburg?

Well, we just needed to fill in a gap between Alkmaar and Ghent (Belgium) and had already seen most of the interesting cities and touristic sites in between.

And we wondered; would we enjoy Middelburg as something more than just a random place to pass through while on our way to somewhere else? Or would Middelburg just be the insignificant hook-up you have while getting over a relationship before jumping into another?

Unlike most of the other destinations on our trip, we had absolutely no idea what we’d get up to in Middelburg, apart from drinking beer at some terrace bar. And believe me, sticking to that plan was as easy as pie!

Upon arrival at the hotel (Hotel de Nieuwe Doelen) I was given the key to a suite. I didn’t even realize I’d booked a suite in the first place, so I was pleasantly surprised. Whether the hotel had made some kind of mistake, or I simply just happen to have goldfish memory, remains a mystery. Before you ask, I didn’t pay a high price for the room!

Our suite was enormous and even had a jacuzzi in the bathroom. Did I use it? Heck yeah!

Before heading out to explore the city of Middelburg, we also discovered that the hotel has its own mascot: a parrot. One that talks. Well, it mainly just says “hello”. But how freaking awesome is that? I’m jealous. I want my own parrot too!

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So what did we get up to in Middelburg?

Not much. We were way too warm, sweaty and sticky to even function like normal human beings and all we wanted was to sit down somewhere in the shade with an ice-cold beer.

But we did force ourselves to walk around a bit and actually see the town center before escaping the heat and seeking refuge at whatever bar we’d happen to find.

We had picked up a city map at the front desk of our hotel, and studied it while wandering around.

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What seemed to be the most interesting landmark in the city, was the beautiful town hall, which is also where most of the terrace cafes were located. How convenient!

We struggled to get any clear photos of the Town Hall due to the sun blinding my eyes, my lens, everything – and me not being tech savvy enough to figure out how to take good photos even when the sun is getting in the way (I’m a slow learner).

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We also saw the Abbey Tower of Long John. Apparently you can climb all the stairs to the top and get a great view of the city. We would have done that if we weren’t so dehydrated from the sun. And lazy.

By the canal, we saw a lot of beautiful houseboats of different colors, decorated with flowers. I could definitely see myself living in one of those and waking up to the view of the canal every day. Now, that would have been spectacular!

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We finished our walk around town, and treated ourselves with a couple of well deserved pints at a terrace cafe on the main square. In lack of better things to do, I did a whole lot of people-watching and completely ignored my boyfriend for a sec. Totally not on purpose. And just like a toddler, my boyfriend will also do anything to get my attention – especially things that piss me off.

This time, he decided it would be funny to take sneaky paparazzi photos of me from awful angles, while I was sitting there, looking at people, drinking beer or texting. They were the ugliest pictures I’d ever seen and he refused to delete them. Sadly, they’re also the only photos I have of myself from Middelburg, so I might as well post one. The only one where I was actually paying attention to him and mocking myself as much as he was mocking me. What a healthy relationship!

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So, is Middelburg worth your time?

As unmotivated as I may have seemed to be – it was mainly due to the weather and not the town itself. Middelburg is actually a pretty charming little gem and I’d love to go back. And stay at the same hotel, obviously.

Because, how could you not stay at a hotel that has its own parrot?!

What else is there to do in Middelburg?

  • Are you traveling with children? Do you like theme parks? Visit the Mini Mundi miniature park, amusement park and indoor play area!
  • Another activity for the kids is the Kinderboerderij de Klepperhoeve – a farm/petting zoo with plenty of activities for the little ones.
  • Do you like to visit botanical gardens? Bring your camera and prepare to take some stunning photos at Middellandse Zeetuin Uilenbroek.

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