A fun day out with your child doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, in or just outside Haarlem there are lots of fun things you can do that don’t cost anything at all. Anxious to know what places we would pick?
Free things to do in or near Haarlem with children:
Cycling along the river Spaarne and playing at Speelbos Meermond
When you start in the centre of Haarlem, it’s very nice to cycle along the Spaarne via the Noord and Zuid Schalkwijkerweg. At the very end of the Zuid Schalkwijkerweg you can cross the water with a little ferry that takes you to the tea house next to Cruquius pumping station. There is no charge for the ferry. Go back again, using the bridge opposite the pumping station this time, and head for Heemstede. Not long after crossing the bridge, on your right-hand side and just before the shops, you’ll find a wooden sign for Speelbos Meermond. Follow the path to get to this perfect little place for children. At Speelbos Meermond children can climb, build huts and play with the slide and the zipline. In summer a big part of the playground is covered in flowers. A wonderful sight.
Websites: destroomboot.nl (in Dutch) and speelbosmeermond.nl (in Dutch)
Gazing over the city
‘Mummy, when are we going up to the top floor of my favourite store again?’ This is what my daughter asked me the other day, while pointing at the lovely building that used to house department store V&D. Up to a few years ago we often enjoyed the view over the city from the restaurant on the top floor. Fortunately, we can still show our children the beautiful view over Haarlem. Another great place to look out over the city is the little tower on top of ’t Kopje van Bloemendaal. And it’s not just Haarlem you can see from there. You can also enjoy a lovely view of the dunes and the sea. A bit of advice based on my own experience: Leave your ‘bakfiets’ at home! It’s hard work to get to the top of this 43 meters high hill with a ‘bakfiets’ and an incline of 10 percent…
Enjoying the swings and the pets at Floragaarde
It’s easy to have a fun-filled afternoon at Floragaarde. The playground has a great enclosed area where little ones can play safely. There’s also an area for slightly older children, where they can enjoy the swings and the climbing frames. Floragaarde has a basketball field and a small skatepark as well. Right next to the playground you’ll find the Huisdierencentrum (pet centre). You can just walk in and take a look at the rodents, the rabbits, the reptiles, the birds and the chickens. You can also ask any question you might have about (keeping) pets. Every now and then the centre organizes children’s activities for free.
Websites: speeltuinfloragaarde.nl (in Dutch) and haarlem.nl/nmehaarlem/huisdierencentrum (in Dutch)
Getting cultured up in the centre of Haarlem
Why not visit some of Haarlem’s ‘hofjes’ with your little one? The impressive Teylershofje for instance or Hofje De Bakenesserkamer, the oldest ‘hofje’ of Haarlem. Is your child a cat lover? Then don’t forget to visit the Proveniershofje, where you’ll always find cats playing outside. Also recommended is the Archeologisch Museum Haarlem. The museum offers free admission for both children and adults. There’s a treasure hunt that helps children learn things about the history of Haarlem and some of the treasures that have been found there by archeologists. Children can also have a go at being an archeologist themselves.
Websites: hofjesinhaarlem.nl (in Dutch) and archeologischmuseumhaarlem.nl (in Dutch)
Hiking and spotting wildlife in Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland
Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland is big. The park extends over 3800 hectares and stretches from Zandvoort to IJmuiden. It has lots of great places to go to with children. When you enter the park via the entrance called Koevlak, for example, your little one can run up and down the sand dunes. And on a warm day you can have a picnic or go for a swim in the dune lake ‘t Wed. At Koevlak you’ll also find a playground and the visitor centre of the park. The free exhibition at the visitor centre will teach your children all sorts of things about the plants and the animals that live in the park. Does your child like large animals? Then you should really go to the Midden-Herenduin (entrance in Driehuis) or the Heerenduinen (entrance in IJmuiden). You are very likely to run into some Scottish Highlanders or ponies. Elswout in Overveen is great for going to see deer.
Website: np-zuidkennemerland.nl (in English)
Listening to beautiful stories
Make sure to pay an occasional visit to the library. Children can borrow books for free and they can also listen to beautiful stories. Every Wednesday afternoon there’s someone reading to children from 4 to 6 years old at the libraries of Bloemendaal, Haarlem Noord, Haarlem Oost, Haarlem Schalkwijk and Hillegom. Bennebroek library has reading sessions for toddlers on Wednesday mornings. Please note that your child will be read to in Dutch. Children’s book store Kiekeboek also often organizes reading sessions. Sometimes in Dutch, sometimes in Spanish.
Websites: bibliotheekzuidkennemerland.nl (in Dutch) and kiekeboek.nl (in Dutch)
Playing or going for a picnic in the Haarlemmerhout
Taking your child to the ‘Hout’ (short for Haarlemmerhout) is bound to be a success. You can go for a walk, look at the deer, pet the goats at the animal farm, go to the playground… There are lots of things to do. On a warm day the big field is a lovely place for a picnic. In the summertime there are some great festivals in the Haarlemmerhout, such as the Houtfestival and Parksessies. Both festivals have children’s activities that are free of charge.
Websites: houthoeve.nl (in Dutch) and houtfestival.nl (in Dutch). Parksessies doesn’t have their own website (yet) but they do have a Facebook page.
Enjoying the beach
Collecting seashells, getting some fresh air, flying a kite, building sand castles, splashing in the sea… Whether it’s spring, summer, autumn or winter, the beach is always a great place to go to with children. And when you grow up in or around Haarlem you’re lucky enough to have many kilometers of beach ‘in your backyard’. Do you usually go to Bloemendaal or Zandvoort? Why not try a different beach sometime? Like the wonderful and wide beach of Wijk aan Zee. Or Noordpier Beach, just outside of Wijk aan Zee, in Velsen-Noord. At Noordpier Beach you’ll find lots of beautiful seashells and you’ll see fishermen and sea birds. It’s also a perfect place to watch massive ships sailing into the Noordzeekanaal.
Websites: vvvzandvoort.com (in English) and vvvijmuidenaanzee.nl (in English)
Text and photos Hofjes and main photo: Eva Cameron-Bakker
Other photos: Nicoline van Slingelandt
Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram for even more child friendly tips or buy the book MUGJES (in Dutch), with over 100 locations, tips by locals and fun activities in Haarlem (and surroundings) for kids aged 0 to 7.