Haarlem is known as the "City of Flowers". This historic market town is at the centre of a famous tulip-growing region in the northwest Netherlands and flower markets regularly fill its cobbled streets. It was the birthplace of Dutch Golden Age art, some of which can be seen today at the Frans Hals Museum. Strolling around, you might spot a few of the city's hofjes (concealed courtyards) that date back to the 14th century. With cyclists on sturdy-framed Dutch bikes sailing merrily along the Spaarne River and the city's canals, Haarlem has a definite local feel.
You can stay at a boutique hostel in Haarlem centre or choose accommodation with a spacious green garden at the city's fringes. Wherever you stay, it's easy to get around on Haarlem's bike paths and most hostels offer bicycle rental. You can expect a Haarlem hostel to have a café and communal room for socialising with other travellers, free Wi-Fi and contemporary interior design. Look out for extras such as a cosy fireplace or a leafy sun terrace where you can drink coffee in the mornings.
The centre of Haarlem is the Oude Stad district. Here you'll find shopping along the main roads: the Grote Houtstraat, the Barteljorisstraat and the Zijlstraat, as well as boutiques and independent shops on the narrow side streets. Oude Stad is filled with laid-back terrace bars where you can sit back with a beer or two; try Klokhuisplein and the banks of the Spaarne. Head west for Zandvoort beach and sand dunes at Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. The small nearby village of Spaarndam has a statue of Hans Brinker (a famous figure from Dutch folklore) and a pretty harbour.
Sights in Haarlem include Grote Markt central square, where you might see markets, festivals and performances. It's presided over by the Grote Kerk, an imposing Gothic church where legendary composers Handel and Mozart have both played the 5,000-pipe organ. History buffs can explore Holland's oldest museum, the Teylers Museum, for art, natural history and science. The reconstructed wooden Molen de Adriaan windmill sits picturesquely on the banks of the river.
Haarlem is just 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam Centraal and you'll arrive right in the centre, 10 minutes' walk from Grote Markt. From Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Haarlem is a 30-minute drive or a 45-minute journey on bus number 300. Get around like a local by bicycle or walk through the city's pedestrian-friendly centre. To see Haarlem in comfort, you can also take a boat tour along its waterways.