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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Cool stuff in the Netherlands: Visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market!

I don’t know about you, but I love cheese. I actually love it so much that I’m sure it’s the main reason why I have my love handles and enormous thighs. Because, not a single day goes by without me eating some kind of cheese at some point of the day.

Last week, my partner and I went road tripping through the Netherlands – and ate A LOT of Dutch Gouda, every single day. We claimed we did it to be cultural, but let’s face it, we’re two fatties who just love everything food-related (and especially cheese).

Being someone who loves to try local specialties when I travel, I am always interested in learning about the traditions, the food culture and participate on local culinary events and celebrations wherever I go. So before going to the Netherlands, we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t miss any kind of event related to Dutch cheese. Because..cheese.

Which is how we ended up visiting Alkmaar for the weekly Alkmaar Cheese Market!

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Uhm.. What exactly is this Cheese Market?

The Cheese Market is the main attraction in town!

From April until the end of September, you can watch the art of cheese trading, according to a tradition which dates back to 1365.

The cheese would be delivered early in the morning, the cheese market masters and traders would then check to see whether the cheeses had been well stacked, and then lots of cheese – something like 30 000 kilos (2200 cheese wheels) would be lined up and ready for purchase.

…And you’ll get to watch all of this at the market!

The most fun part of the cheese market is watching the kaasdragers (cheese porters) identified by their differently colored straw hats, carry the farmers’ cheese on barrows and take them to the weighing house.

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Alright! What else is there to do at the market?

Taste cheese, buy cheese, eat cheese, eat stuff that isn’t cheese, drink beer at one of the nearby terrace bars, buy souvenirs from the artisan market behind the cheese market – or visit the cheese museum. After all this is THE cheese town!

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The Cheese Market sounds awesome! When can I visit?

The Cheese Market takes place from 10 am until 1 pm – every Friday (from March 31st until September 29th). This year there is also an evening market on certain Tuesdays (visit Kaasmarkt.nl for more information)

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I don’t know Alkmaar…How do I get there?

If you’re taking your car, I advise you to park it a bit outside of the main center, or in a parking garage. Street parking can be a bit tricky on busy days like these!

If you’re traveling from Amsterdam by train, there’s a direct connection to Alkmaar from the Amsterdam Central Station (trains depart four times pr hour).

If you’re traveling from Den Helder, Hoorn or Haarlem, there’s also a direct connection to Alkmaar and trains depart twice pr hour.

Shopping for souvenirs?

Pick up a Dutch handmade household item from “the old-fashioned shop”!

BOOM (since 1835) is a family-run traditional shop in the old historic quarter of Alkmaar. For nearly 200 years, this family business has been selling handmade Dutch items including traditional wooden clogs, brushes and ropes in Alkmaar – the cheese capital of the world!

The shop is museum-like and presents timeless Dutch products and good old-fashioned personal service. Loved by locals and tourists alike, this little gem is easy to recognize by its big yellow clog/wooden shoe next to the entrance!

For more information, check out Ouderwetsewinkel.com

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just me being cheesy (oh no, I didn’t just pull that joke, did I?)

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