If you’re anything like me and want that beautiful Dutch fantasy of canals and the most stunning architecture around, minus the sex and drugs, then Haarlem is the city for you (read: I left my accommodation booking last minute and in my usual, useless way and thought Haarlem was actually a district in Amsterdam…). I couldn’t have played my cards better if I’d tried. Haarlem, only 15 minutes from both Amsterdam and the airport is every quaint, canal soaked, brick building, cyclists everywhere medieval township you could dream of. The center itself holds a 1600’s century church in its heart, Grote Market surrounded by buzzing bars and restaurants that overflow come evening. Around this cobblestone paths run in every direction, flanked by low lying, narrow building holding the high street stores to charming boutiques (if you’re on the hunt for interior items this is your place, with that killer mix of stunning and affordable, thank me later). A highlight on the gallery scene would have to be De Haalen, I say that as someone who laps up contemporary art, housed here in perfectly curated spaces. The current feature being on muses, incorporating those currently in the spotlight and those of times past it’s a perfect look into our culture and the way we idolise. If you’re keen on the bike Holland experience and not athletically gifted (it remains a mystery how the dutch bike in heels while I still barely manage to stand in them), then this city if perfect for you. With few cars and relatively calm streets you can negotiate these before heading on the the local National Park, 38 square kms of car free bliss; ranging from the lush, green pathways turning costal as you approach the beach (which I will not compare to Australian beaches) it’s a 25km easy ride that is a perfect balance of city and country vibes, and a great opportunity to work off some of the deep-fried Dutch treats. So, for you’re fill of beauty, shopping, cafés (minus smashed avo and feta but more dutch cheese and bread) , bike riding and generally great people Haarlem is for you, and not just by accident.
Sleep: ‘Hello, I’m Local’ boutique hostel is easily the most beautifully designed hostel I’ve slept in to date. With perfect white wash Scandi inspired interiors, lush beds and an eclectically charming dining and courtyard you couldn’t ask for a more comfortable place to sleep. They cater for budget backpackers with their dorms (which are very private), and for those with a touch more cash you can grab a private room for total peace. Couple this with the most charming staff and you have the perfect stay.