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For a full list of what to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Holland based on our experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.
This weekend was a long one here in Germany with today being Unity Day - a holiday recognizing the unification of East and West Germany - and we just returned from a little getaway to the Netherlands. It seems Holland is our go to place, but we just love it so darned much. The weather is typically nice (or at least nicer than here in Aachen), the people are kind (and almost all speak English!), and we've yet to be disappointed by any Dutch city we've visited.
This time, we ventured to the beach - a little town called Bloemendaal aan Zee - right on the North Sea. We had a great, modern condo with an ocean view, and although it was quite chilly and windy, we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
The awesome thing about this area is that it's only about 10 minutes by car from the city of Haarlem. We've been to Amsterdam a couple of times now but had never ventured west to this area. After going there, I'm deeming it one of the Netherlands' (and possibly Europe's) best kept secrets.
When I was prepping for our trip, I tried searching online for things to do and see, great places to eat, and where to find the best coffee in Haarlem, but my searches didn't turn up many results. I was ever so slightly concerned but figured we'd, at the very least, stumble upon some decent spots for a meal or a cup of joe. Well, let me tell you - DO NOT let the fact that Google isn't teeming with travel blogs about this North Holland city make you think for one second that it's not worth visiting.
It has all the beauty of Amsterdam's canals and Dutch architecture, but with a quaintness a large metropolitan city just doesn't offer. It's actually much like a version of Amsterdam's Jordaan neighborhood, which just happens to be our favorite part of the city. There are a few major landmarks - churches and museums and the like, and the city is filled with the most beautiful alleyways seemingly everywhere you turn.
We started our Saturday with hot, fresh stroopwafel at the outdoor market in Haarlem's main square and spent the remainder of the weekend eating and drinking 'til our hearts (and bellies) content at some of the best establishments we've encountered in our time in Europe. Our first stop was MICA Coffee Bar, where we enjoyed a delicious pour over coffee and housemade chai latte and had a friendly chat with our barista.
After our lunch, we did a little shopping on Haarlem's main street - Grote Houtstraat - as well as the smaller Kleine Houtstraat, filled with the most adorable local boutiques and specialty stores. Once the shops closed at 5 o'clock, we still had some time to kill before the restaurant opened for dinner, so we headed over to the local Jopen brewery (housed in an old church!) for a quick libation.
What happened next can only be described as a miracle. In North Holland, of all places, we found real, wonderful, glorious Mexican food. Those who know me know that Mexican food is my all time favorite and is IMPOSSIBLE to find here. I'm not exaggerating when I say I almost cried when the good folks at Cantina 023 delivered hot tortilla chips and the best spicy homemade salsa to the table.
On Sunday, after some early morning snuggles with Miles (the best!), we grabbed breakfast at the little cafe next to our condo and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon relaxing on the couch as the rain fell outside. Once it cleared up a bit, we ventured back into Haarlem, where we had our caffeine fix and a yummy slice of carrot cake at NATIVE.
We then headed to Roast Chicken Bar, where we indulged in yet another delicious dinner. Quite honestly, this place looked like it could have been straight out of Nashville, Tennessee. Their menu has one entree - chicken - roasted over charcoal on a open spit at the entrance of the restaurant. I can honestly say I've never had such a flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth bird in all my life. For our sides, we had fries with homemade mayo, grilled corn, and apple compote. The food here was so good, we went to their brunch restaurant, The Egg Store, on our way out of town for the most delicious smoked salmon benedict and pulled BBQ chicken with waffles. I could make the trip all the way back to only eat here.
If you're heading to Amsterdam or are anywhere near enough to make a day trip, I highly recommend Haarlem! I've fallen in love with it, and I'm sure that you will, too.
If you'd like to check out some of the places we enjoyed in Haarlem and the North Sea coast, here's a complete list with a few additional details included:
where to stay in bloemendaal and haarlem
We wanted to stay at the beach where we new it would be quiet and relaxing (even though it was cold and windy as all get out), and this apartment was perfect. The rental staff was so super nice, and the view was amazing. There were a couple of restaurants within walking distance, and the nearest grocery store is just a short drive away in the next town over, Zandvoort. I would definitely recommend it if you're craving the salty air.
However, if you'd rather have the conveniences of Haarlem, there are a ton of really great apartments on airbnb.
where to eat and drink in haarlem
Coffee: We're kind of coffee snobs, me and the mister, so wherever we go, we make it our mission to find the best cup of joe around. MICA Coffee Bar and NATIVE were both absolutely excellent. We had both drip coffee and chai lattes at each that were heavenly. The food was also excellent - I highly recommend the avocado waffle at MICA served with perfectly crisp pickled red onions and pesto.
The Egg Store and Roast Chicken Bar: This place was so good for dinner, we went back the very next morning for breakfast. Their dinner menu consists of one entree - their perfectly roasted chickens. Not only are the bird and all the sides scrumptious, but it's super kid-friendly food, too.
Cantina 023: While I realize that everyone may not be jonesing for Mexican food like me, this place really was legit. By far the most authentic we've had in Europe. And the salsa is SPICY.
Jopen Brewery: Not only is this a cool place to see... I mean, it's a brewery in a church. Come on, now. But they've also got a great beer selection.
what to do in bloemendaal and haarlem
Feel the ocean breeze: Visit the beaches at Bloemendaal aan Zee (quieter and calmer) or Zandvoort (more to do, but also busier). The beaches here are absolutely beautiful, and even in the cold weather, there were plenty of surfers and kite fliers to watch.
Shop: Haarlem has some great shopping... it's actually considered one of the best places to shop in the Netherlands. Visit the many local and designer boutiques for anything from antiques to the most stylish clothing.
Sightsee: Step in the beautiful St. Bavo's Church, where Handel and Mozart have played the organ. Wander the streets and alleyways and stop to take in the beautiful doors and front step gardens. Read The Hiding Place, and then visit the Corrie Ten Boom house to learn about how this brave family helped to save many Jews in Haarlem during WWII.