We made a trip through the Netherlands for our first holiday in Europe. It was in April and we wanted to see the Keukenhof Gardens and Amsterdam. I will devote individual posts to both of those locations, but wanted to write separately about a few of the smaller towns we passed through along the way. I wrote another post about Delft, and here I’d like to write about Leiden and Haarlem. I have to say, as an aside, that we made this trip by car, which enabled us to take these side trips fairly easily, and we love travelling that way. I love to plan our trips and have an itinerary for what we hope to accomplish at each destination, but I also love what we find when we save some free time for a few detours and to just explore.
We stayed in Leiden for our trip to Keukenhof because we found a good package at the Holiday Inn Leiden that included meals and Keukenhof tickets. Buying tickets this way made the trip planning pretty simple, though may not be how everyone likes to do things. The Holiday Inn was clean, well-kept, and very family friendly. They had a welcome package for our son with some activities inside. The hotel had a pool and indoor play area for children. There did not appear to be a lot to do or get to by foot in the immediate surrounding area of the hotel, but we didn’t have a lot of free time, so that was OK for us. We did set out by car one evening to drive into Leiden’s city center and enjoyed the sights. We didn’t have the opportunity to see or do anything else, but it was a lovely city. It was also a short drive to Keukenhof from the hotel.
We visited Haarlem on our way from Leiden to Amsterdam. Haarlem, much like Delft and Leiden, is what I would consider a quintessential Dutch city with canals, bridges, bikes, beautiful architecture, and historic churches and squares. In Haarlem, we enjoyed a walk along the canal and into the Grote Markt, doing some window shopping along the way. We took some time to visit the Grote of St.-Bavokerk Haarlem which was stunning. Like all the churches we have visited in Europe, there were many beautiful details in this church, but the highlight here is the historic organ which has been played by both Händel and Mozart. The church’s website has more history about it and says that it is the most depicted musical instrument in the world.
We enjoyed an American style lunch at the Thrill Grill and topped it off with a dessert of ijs (ice cream) from Tante Saar, which we were able to eat while enjoying the view by a canal. Our stops in Leiden and Haarlem were brief and probably do not do them any justice at all, but we enjoyed them. They are beautiful cities worth seeing if you have the chance, especially if you prefer staying out of bigger cities. Much like Delft, Leiden and Haarlem both give a nice sense of life in the Netherlands.