Haarlem Station is an under-appreciated architectural gem in The Netherlands. I was sitting on a lacquered wooden bench, a Hema coffee in one hand, and I couldn’t help admiring one of The Netherlands’ most beautiful stations. It is airy and serene, the only Art Nouveau-style station in the country, and a pleasure to travel through.
For a time, I commuted from Haarlem to Utrecht, and I had plenty of time to take in the design, artwork in the tiles, the sense of air and space, and the exquisite stained glass windows. Just 20 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal, Haarlem station is a building that every visitor should check out!
Art and design of Haarlem Station
Haarlem station has 6 platforms, linked by staircases and elevators to underground tunnels that lead to the north and south of the station. There is a grand frontal facade that leads to the Stationsplein. Amazing stained glass windows lead visitors through to pretty arrival and departure rooms with wonderful colourful ceilings.
The platforms of Haarlem Station
From the platform, the most conspicuous building is the decorative Art Nouveau central office and waiting rooms. It’s a mashup of brick sections with wide archways, slick tileworks and colourful murals set into the walls.
Other sections are lofty lacquered wooden galleries that glitter with tiny window panes, and peek out overhead like balconies. Above me was written ‘Eerste Klasse’ a throwback to another age of when trains were separated by class (unless you take the Thalys, of course). You may have seen Haarlem station’s platforms before, in the film Ocean’s 12 (although it was depicted in the film as Amsterdam Centraal).
Overhead, a bright and airy ceiling adds to the grandeur. Light flows in through great side windows, and the elegant structure is held up by simplistic girders dotted with lumpy rivets, true to the organic-yet-industrial aesthetic of Art Nouveau. When it rains, Haarlem station roars as the raindrops drum down against the metal.
Tiles and artworks
Haarlem station has several great artworks on the walls, made from tiles and telling the story of the station’s history. One plaque from 1939 memorialises a century of railway travel in The Netherlands, with train engines from 1839 and 1939 depicted in a Delft Blue style.
Another shows the 1867 building, the Beijnes workshop, which serviced locomotives and constructed train carriages on the other side of the Stationsplein. It operated for over a century, before the company moved to Beverwijk and eventually closed in 1963.
The exterior of Haarlem Station
Haarlem station has an unmistakable stained-glass facade the follows with the arches favoured by Art Nouveau architects. The exterior facade has a large central arched window constructed with hundreds of small square stained glass pieces, hiding coats of arms in the design. There are also smaller curved arches and typical red bricks commonly found in Haarlem.
In the ticket office, the reward for looking up and admiring the ceiling is a great view of arched woodwork crawling over a yellow-painted ceiling, reminiscent of Gothic ribbed vaults. These rooms also have some large arched window displays that echo the facade, with tiny blue stained glass panels making up the window.
From the ticket office, we can see the stained glass window of the front of the station from the other side, offering a much clearer view of the coats of arms embedded in the glass. Embedded in the glass are the coats of arms for Haarlem, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enkhuizen, and other cities. Outside, as you find in all Dutch train stations, is space for hundreds of bicycles to be parked.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Haarlem was recovering from a 70-year recession. The crumbling city walls in the north of the city were dismantled in 1821 to save on upkeep costs, and turned into large parkland areas. By 1830, Haarlem looked like a city in crisis. Traffic via the tow boat from Amsterdam to Haarlem through the Haarlemmertrekvaart canal dwindled, whilst road traffic went up.
On 20 September 1839, Haarlem station first opened. It was The Netherlands’ first train line, and ran between Haarlem and Amsterdam, The Netherlands’ first stations. This ‘Oude Lijn’, the Old Line was pioneered by Frederik Willem Conrad, and would eventually be extended out to The Hague in 1840 and south to Rotterdam. Whilst the tow boat companies protested the fact that the railway ran parallel to the canal, the rest of the city welcomed the new transport with open arms.
The first incarnation of Haarlem station was constructed of wood and designed to be temporary. The city saw improvements thereafter, as the Phoenix textile company and Beijnes royal carriage factory brought work to the city. The construction of the first permanent station in Haarlem occurred in 1842 in a neo-classical style on the Jansveld. In 1853, the temporary station from 1839 was demolished. In 1867, a new line linked Haarlem to Uitgeest in the north, and the station underwent renovations by P. J. Mouthaan to enclose the station facade. In 1881, Haarlem was linked to Zandvoort at the Atlantic coast.
In 1900, the HIJSM railroad company proposed upgrading Haarlem’s 1842 station, to allow for elevated roads and tunnels to smoothen road traffic. A drawbridge was to be built over the Spaarne river, and the rail network was to be electrified. Since the late nineteenth century, it was becoming clear that stations needed modern designs to appeal to passengers, and take on a status of pride in the city, as well as being functional.
P.J.H Cuypers applied this thinking to the grand design of Amsterdam Centraal station. Inspired by Paris and Vienna, architect Dirk Margadant adopted an Art Nouveau style, with separated arrival and departure areas. Construction was completed in 1908. Hotels, shops and a main square outside the station improved the appeal of the station area.
The statue of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer is on display in the Haarlem Stationsplein, a legendary folk hero from the 1573 Siege of Haarlem. Against Spanish besiegers, she helped fortify the city by carrying earth and rebuilding the line as the city walls were damaged in the fighting. Over time, her exploits and bravery were increasingly exaggerated, and by the nineteenth century, she was appearing in paintings leading armies to war.
Practical information about Haarlem station
Haarlem station connects several lines all around the country. They are:
- Amsterdam to Zandvoort aan Zee, on the Atlantic coast.
- Amsterdam to Hoorn in the north of The Netherlands.
- Amsterdam to Leiden and Den Haag, running south.
- Amsterdam continuing further south to Dordrecht, via Den Haag and Rotterdam.