Most families traveling with kids are on a bit of a budget, I know we are! And let’s be honest… who doesn’t love free things to do? There are loads of things to do for free in Haarlem, but you need to know where to look. So if you’ve visiting Haarlem with kids, let us help you a bit and tell you what fun free things you can do in our lovely hometown.
- 1 Petting zoos & animals
- 2 Museums & history
- 3 Parks and playgrounds
- 4 Other activities
Petting zoos & animals
A petting zoo (also called petting farm, children’s farm or ‘kinderboerderij’) is the perfect place for kids to see and touch animals. Petting zoos in The Netherlands are generally free to visit. Read on to discover our favorite petting zoos in Haarlem.
Kinderboerderij de Houthoeve
The largest petting zoo in Haarlem is Kinderboerderij De Houthoeve in the Haarlemmerhout Park. This petting zoo, with a deer park, is within easy walking distance of Haarlem’s city center and a fun and free family activity for families with younger kids. De Houthoeve has a small but nice play area for kids. At De Houthoeve you’ll find horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, deer, llamas, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. There’s a cute little restaurant called Theehuis de Haarlemmerhout about 1-minute walk from the petting zoo, where you can enjoy a nice pancake or sandwich. De Haarlemmerhout Park itself is nice and green and a great place for a picnic.
Location: Hertenkamplaan 3, 2012 CV Haarlem
Kinderboerderij De Schoterhoeve opened its doors in 1953, making it the oldest petting zoo in Haarlem. It’s located in the Noorder Sportpark in Haarlem Noord and a bit smaller than De Houthoeve. This petting zoo has a small playground and there are pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and different species of birds. During the weekend you can combine both the Schoterhoeve and Artisklas in one visit, they’re very close by.
Location: Sportweg 1, 2024 CN Haarlem
Miniature Zoo Artisklas Haarlem
Artisklas Haarlem is the smallest official zoo in The Netherlands and is run completely by volunteers. Please note that it’s only open during the weekend! Check their website for the opening hours. It’s located at the edge of the Schoterbos, next to the Noorder Sportpark. It’s very small scale, but the animals are well taken care of and the volunteers take the time to tell you all about them. The zoo consists of four small cabins and some outdoor housing for the animals. You’ll find various species of reptiles, but also some interesting mammals, such as a polar fox, mink, mongoose, skunk, porcupine and a raccoon.
Location: Arthur van Schendelpad 1, 2024 CP Haarlem
Kinderboerderij ‘t Molentje (Heemstede)
Our favorite petting zoo isn’t in Haarlem itself, but in Heemstede which is about 15 minutes away by car or 30 minutes by bus. It’s quite easy to reach by public transport. Kinderboerderij ‘t Molentje is located on the edge of a nice forest called Groenendaalse Bos and near a large playground Speeltuin Groenendaal. The playground isn’t free, but quite cheap and of course the petting zoo and forest are. ’t Molentje is the oldest Dutch municipal petting zoo, with a rich history dating back to 1951. This is a large petting zoo with over 200 animals of about 40 different species.
Location: Burgemeester van Rappardlaan, 2104 WP Heemstede
Geitenboerderij Ridammerhoeve (Amsterdamse Bos)
About 20 minutes by car or an hour by bus from Haarlem Central Station you’ll find goat farm Ridammerhoeve, located in the middle of the Amsterdam Forest. Entry to the farm and the nice playground is free. Besides goats you’ll also find sheep, chickens, pigs, cows and horses at this organic farm. There are lots of areas where kids can see and pet the goats and when there are baby goats, you can buy a bottle of milk for a small fee and feed them. At the farm store you can buy various organic cheeses, meats, vegetables and herbs and there’s also a small restaurant that sells delicious organic cakes and sandwiches. The Amsterdamse Bos is a very nice area to visit, with various options for playing, swimming or renting canoes or paddle boats.
Location: Nieuwe Meerlaan 4, 1182 DB Amstelveen
Museums & history
Visiting a museum in The Netherlands can easily set you back €10-20 per person. Fortunately there are a few museums in Haarlem that are free to visit or that offer free entry for kids up to 18.
If you’re staying in The Netherlands for longer than a few days and plan to visit at least 5 of the larger museums, it might be worth it to invest in a Museumkaart, which gives you free entry to over 400 Dutch museums.
Archeologisch Museum Haarlem
The archeology museum is one of our son’s favorites. This small but interesting museum is located in the cellar of the old meat hall (Vleeshal) at Haarlem’s central square, Grote Markt. The low displays of Archeologisch Museum Haarlem are the perfect height for kids and kids love the small digging pit where they, as proper archaeologists, can dig up pieces of pottery and bones. Kids can also discover how hard it is to piece together a vase from lots of small pieces and find out how archeologists learn what people used to eat by sorting through a sorting tray representing a cess pit. Entrance to the museum is free, but opening hours are limited so do check their website before going.
Location: Grote Markt 18k, 2011 RD Haarlem
De Vishal (translation ‘fish hall’) is an exhibition space for contemporary and modern visual arts and design. Don’t confuse this location with ‘De Hallen’ of simply ‘Hal’, which is part of the Frans Hals Museum. Originally the Vishal was Haarlem’s fish market for saltwater fish, which is why it’s located at the north side of the church which offers the most shade. On the other side of the church you’ll find the Riviervismarkt (literally river fish market) , where fresh water fish from the Spaarne and Haarlemmermeer was sold. The Vishal association, consisting of 150 professional artists, organizes about 10 different and surprising exhibitions per year. They aim to make art accessible for everyone by offering free entry.
Location: Grote Markt 20, 2011 RD Haarlem
Corrie ten Boom Huis
The Corrie ten Boom House is Haarlem’s equivalent to the Anne Frank House, it’s an ‘open home’ museum that tells the Ten Boom family history. Part of the house is decorated as it was in the time the family lived there and the upper floor is a museum with family pictures and WWII objects. During the Second World War the Ten Boom family hid many Jews and members of the Dutch resistance in a specially remodelled part of their house. It was the Ten Boom’s way to live out their Christian faith. One year before the end of the war Corrie Ten Boom, her sister Betsie and their father Casper were betrayed by a Dutch collaborator and send to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. Only Corrie survived. She wrote many books, including the bestseller The Hiding Place (‘De Schuilplaats’), which was later made into a film. The Corrie ten Boomhuis can only be visited with a tour. Entrance is free, but donations are very much appreciated.
Location: Barteljorisstraat 19, 2011 RA Haarlem
Frans Hals Museum
One museum with two locations that each have their own character. The Frans Hals Museum has an internationally renowned collection of 17th-century art from Haarlem, such as the artist Frans Hals whose name the museum proudly carries. You’ll also find works by a lot of his contemporaries in this museum’s extraordinary collection. But, surprisingly the museum also has a large collection of cutting-edge art by leading contemporary artists from the 20th and 21st century. Very interesting is the museum’s mission to be transhistoric by offering both historic and contemporary art, and a combination of both. Works by Frans Hals can only be found at location Hof. One museum, two locations, one ticket. After you’ve visited one location, your tickets is valid for a week so you can take your time and visit the other location when you feel like it. Which makes this really good value for money. Also, the Frans Hals Museum is free for under 19.
Location Hof: Groot Heiligland 62, 2011 ES Haarlem Location Hal: Grote Markt 16, 2011 RD Haarlem
Hofjes are a proper Dutch phenomenon and can be found not only in Haarlem, but also in Amsterdam, Leiden and other Dutch cities. The oldest ‘hofje’ (Hofje van Bakenes) of The Netherlands is located in Haarlem and dates back to 1395. They’re community kitchen gardens surrounded by small almshouses, an early form of care for the elderly (women only). As opposed to the older ‘begijnhofjes’ or beguinages, the ‘hofjes’ were charitable institutions, privately funded by wealthy benefactors. Not only was this earliest form of social housing a service to the city, but also to their family as the hofjes were linked to the family name. Some hofjes were also established from the estate of wealthy Haarlemmers after they passed away, such as the Teylershofje funded by Pieter Teyler. In the 17th century there were 40 hofjes in Haarlem, nowadays there are 22 left.
The hofjes are an important part of Haarlem’s history. The ‘hofjeswandeling’ (hofjes walk) is a great way to discover these idyllic courtyard gardens and ‘hidden’ hofjes and learn more about the city’s history and layout. You can walk the route on your own, with the online route description.
Starting point: Haarlem Central Station
The Juttersmu-ZEE-um as it’s officially called displays beachcombers’ finds. Almost anything you can think of, you can find here. It looks like a collection of junk, but each item tells a story! Take a look at all the showcased items, listen to the stories of real beachcombers, watch the information films in the small cinema and take a look at the five sea aquariums to see what sea life you can discover. Of course, in the old days people combed the beach in search of stuff they could use. Nowadays it’s more a hobby and a lifestyle. The museum is run by volunteers and has limited opening hours (Wednesday 13:30 – 16:00, Saturday and Sunday 12:00 – 16:00). Entry is free, donations are appreciated.
Location: Strandweg 2, 2042 JA Zandvoort
Parks and playgrounds
There are a number of parks and playgrounds in Haarlem. Keep in mind that most of the playgrounds that are run by a ‘speeltuinvereniging’ (playground association) aren’t free to visit and often have limited opening hours. Entrance fee is usually very modest though, €0,50 or €1,- per child. But there are also some great free playgrounds and you’ll find small playing areas scattered around the neighborhoods.
Nature playground Paddenpoel
Playground Paddenpoel is part of the Haarlemmer Kweektuin. It’s a free natural playground, where everything is either nature of from nature. Wooden climbing structures, a water pump, lot of gras and green, water and small bridges. Because there’s a lot of water that’s unfenced, it’s not a playground suitable for young kids to play unsupervised. This playground was crowdfunded and realized with the help of a lot of volunteers, sponsors and materials provided by local businesses. In the Kweektuin you’ll also find a gnome path and a cafe called Kweekcafé.
Locatie: Kleverlaan 9, 2023 JC Haarlem
Playground Floragaarde is a playground in Haarlem’s Leidsebuurt (Haarlem West). There’s an area specifically for young kids where they can safely play and discover. For older kids there are some climbing structures and a basketbal field and skate area. For the parents there are some benches and picnic tables. Next to the playground is the Huisdierencentrum Haarlem.
Location: Van Oosten de Bruijnstraat 62, 2014 VS Haarlem
In the most southern tip of Haarlem, Schalkwijk Zuid, in the Molenwijk neighborhood you’ll find the Molenplas. A small local park, with some climbing structures and outdoor fitness equipment. And, best of all, a nice natural swimming area. Open for swimming from the beginning of May. There’s a small sandy area where the littles can swim (watch out, steps can be slippery!) and generally, the water quality is better than at the Veerplas. There’s a restaurant called Molenplas next to this recreation area and there’s also a public toilet. Of course, you can easily bring your own food and have a picnic.
Location: Waertmolenpad 1, 2036 ES Haarlem
City Park Haarlemmerhout
When the weather is nice you’ll find lots of Haarlemmers enjoying themselves in the Haarlemmerhout (or ‘De Hout’ as it’s often called locally). You’ll see them sunbathing, having a picnic or running and playing. The Haarlemmerhout is a large city park at the southern edge of the city center. It’s nice and green, with lots of grass and plenty of large trees that provide shade. In fact, it’s the oldest city park in The Netherlands. In the Golden Age, it was a popular recreation area for the wealthy from Haarlem and Amsterdam. Many of Haarlem’s largest outdoor events are held in this park. The Haarlemmerhout is an easy 10-minute walk away from the Grote Markt. Petting zoo De Houthoeve is located in the Haarlemmerhout, as well as a deer park and Theehuis de Haarlemmerhout, a small but nice restaurant.
Speelbos Meermond (Heemstede)
Not your typical playground with a swing and a sandpit, but an amazing place to spend a day running, climbing and discovering. This play area is quite large and there’s a lot to see and do, like playing hide and seek, climbing and sliding, building huts, everything is possible with a bit of imagination. Especially if your kids love to climb, they’ll have so much fun here. There is water in some areas, so with small kids you need to pay extra attention. Speelbos Meermond is open from sunup to sundown and free to visit. There are no facilities at this play area, so bring toilet paper and your own lunch and snacks.
Location: Cruquiusweg 49, 2102 LS Heemstede
Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland
Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland is one of 20 National Parks in The Netherlands. We love spending the day in this green oasis, surrounded by nature. The national park covers an area of about 3.800 hectares and includes the North Sea beach. There are a number of entrances to this area. At each of the entrances you’ll find both walking paths and bike paths. We prefer the Koevlak entrance, where the visitors center is located. Opposite the visitors center there’s a nice natural playground for kids. A little further along the path you’ll find a play forest and a lovely dune lake called ’t Wed, where you can swim in the summertime. From Haarlem you can either rent a bike and ride to the dunes (it takes about 20 minutes to reach the Koevlak entrance) or you can take a bus. If you want to go by car, there’s a large paid parking area right near the entrance.
Location Koevlak entrance: Zeeweg 12, 2051 EC Overveen
Beach at Bloemendaal or Zandvoort
Who doesn’t like a trip to the beach? Kids generally love to play with sand and water. The beach in Zandvoort can be easily reached by public transport from Haarlem. Take the train from Haarlem Central Station to Zandvoort, or go by bus. Of course, you can also rent a bike. The Zandvoort beach is about 9km away from the city center and the last part is a nice ride through the dune area. A lot of the beach pavilions close for the winter season, but beach pavilion Thalassa (number 18) is open year-round. There’s a fun and colorful play structure for kids right next door. This eco-friendly restaurant on the beach offers amazing fresh fish and other tasty dishes for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Location Thalassa: Boulevard Barnaart 18, 2041 KB Zandvoort
There are a number of weekly markets in Haarlem. A great place to get some fresh fruits and veggies, but also cheese, fish, clothes, fabrics, snacks, those lovely Dutch stroopwafels and lots of other things. The largest market is at the Grote Markt on Saturday, and there are a number of local markets during the week. They usually start at 9:00 and last until about 16:00.
Monday: Grote Markt / Botermarkt
Tuesday: Californieplein (Schalkwijk)
Thursday: Floresstraat (Haarlem Noord)
Friday: Zomerkade near Nagtzaambrug (Haarlem Oost)
Saturday: Grote Markt / Botermarkt
Every Saturday there’s an organic farmer’s market at the Botermarkt and every first Saturday of the month from 10:00-15:00 there’s an eco market at de Kweektuin in Haarlem Noord.
Free festivals in Haarlem
In the warmer months of the year, Haarlem has a number of free festivals.
Koningsdag / King’s Day – April 27
While King’s Day in Haarlem is a bit less crazy than in Amsterdam, it’s still quite festive. Traditionally on this day, the city center turns into a massive flea market. It starts early, so if you’re looking for some good bargains, be on time! The atmosphere is festive and happy… and orange.
Bevrijdingspop / Liberation Day – May 5
The Liberation Day festival in Haarlem is the oldest in The Netherlands. On the evening of May 4th the Dutch commemorate the casualties of wars worldwide with 2 minutes of silence at 20:00 and a tribute on Dam Square in Amsterdam. On May 5th, The Netherland’s official liberation day from the Second World War, we celebrate our freedom. This is done with a massive free music festival that takes place in the Haarlemmerhout Park. Definitely worth going! For kids there’s a kids area (which is usually crazy busy) and you’ll see lots of kids running around during the day. Bring some ear protection for the littles, it can be quite loud. Please note that you can’t bring your own food and drinks. 2 packets of drinks are allowed for kids up til 5, as well as babyfood and formula, but no glass bottles. There’s plenty of food trucks to choose from.
Kleverparkfestival – early June
The Kleverpark festival is a fun family festival in the Kleverpark neighborhood (close to Haarlem Central Station). There are lots of fun kids activities, live music, food trucks and a market with local products. The festival is free to visit, but in order to participate in the activities for kids you need to buy a stamp card and you’ll receive a stamp at each activity.
Houtfestival – end of June
Starting with the Houtnacht on Saturday and the Houtfestival following on Sunday, you’re in for a festive weekend. On four different stages in the Haarlemmerhout you’ll find performances by local and international artists. Not only music, but also dance, theatre, film and art. There are two special areas reserved for kids, with lots of activities such as arts and crafts, but also theatre and music. There’s also a market area and food trucks.
Parksessies – early July
Parksessies is a 4-day art, music and theatre festival that lasts from Wednesday til Saturday. The main stage is in the Haarlemmerhout, but there are also performances and exhibitions in several other locations, such as the Jopenkerk, Provincietuin, Patronaat and Vishal. It mostly takes place in the late afternoon and evening. Not very interesting for young kids, but older kids that are interested in culture and performance will enjoy it.
The last weekend of the summer holiday it’s time for Proefpark Haarlem in the Kenaupark. It’s a food truck festival that also offers numerous activities for kids and live music. Usually the weather is pretty sunny this time of year and this green park is the perfect location for a relaxed picnic. Of course, the food isn’t free but there’s no entry fee so you can also just bring your own food and drinks and enjoy the atmosphere and the activities.