Our morning was going to start with a short train journey to Haarlem but noticing the train terminated less than ten minutes later at the seaside town of Zandvoort, we thought we’d head there first before returning down the line to visit Haarlem.
Unusually for us, we hadn’t researched Zandvoort, otherwise I doubt we would have bothered going. The resort, if one could call it that, lies just a few minutes walk from the station but it held little appeal and was totally lacking in charm. We ventured along the promenade which had a few kiosks selling the usual seaside paraphernalia and one or two beach bars which appeared to be closed, the resort had the same feel as Cleveleys in north west England, having seen better days. I’m sure it looks more appealing in midsummer when the beach bars are open and people are relaxing on the beach.
So, after a stroll through Zandvoort we returned to the station for the short journey back to Haarlem, the capital of the province of North Holland. The city lies at the centre of the Dutch flower growing district being close to Keukenhof Gardens and the bulb fields of Lisse and Hillegom. The medieval centre is a ten minute walk from the station along cobbled, narrow car free streets. Crossing the broad canal into the old town we found that Haarlem had plenty of the charm that it’s neighbour Zandvoort lacked.
Beautiful tall Dutch terraced houses lined the canal with more fine examples of Dutch architecture in the main square. I’m sure the square usually looks photogenic but sadly like Dam Square in Amsterdam, it was filled with a funfair and Ferris wheel obscuring the buildings behind. Haarlem’s shopping centre extends over several streets and has many interesting small shops and cosy cafes. After having our morning coffees in one of these little cafes we returned to our hotel in Sloterdijk for some lunch, the rail journey taking less than 15 minutes.
After a little rest I suggested we set of by train once again, this time to Zaandijk Zaanse Schans to visit the working windmill village at Zaanse Schans. Getting there from Sloterdijk took only ten minutes and then it was a further 15 minute signposted walk to the windmills. Zaanse Schans is a preserved village of traditional houses, windmills and warehouses providing a glimpse of life in the Netherlands in the 18th and 19th centuries. The surrounding region was an industrial area with hundreds of windmills which were used to power the milling of paper, mustard, oil and other products.
Wandering through the village is free but admission charges apply to enter individual museums, workshops and windmills. We enjoyed viewing these characterful houses and looking at the windmills in such a pretty setting. It’s a bit touristy with coach loads of tourists on guided tours but I’d still recommend a visit as it’s a charming open air museum and very photogenic. I noticed that tours to Zaans Schans from Amsterdam cost about €35 but it can be visited easily and at a fraction of the cost by train (15 minutes from Amsterdam) and is included in the regional travel ticket.
For our evening stroll we headed back into the centre of Amsterdam and boarded a tram to Leidseplein and from there wandered along to Vondel Park which had many cyclists. We spotted a heron scavenging in a wheelie bin and saw yet more colourful tulips. Leaving the park as it was falling dark we stopped for drinks in one of the cosy bars along Leidseplein before wandering the streets a little more then returning back to the hotel for the night.