Haarlem’s spectacular Gothic Cathedral

Welcome to the beautiful Grote Kerk, Haarlem’s spectacular centrepiece in the middle of the city’s historic centre. It is one of The Netherlands’ best examples of Gothic architecture, and a symbol for the city. The Grote Kerk, surrounded by marketplaces, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops, is one of the most impressive sights to see in Haarlem.

Copic marker urban sketching Haarlem gothic cathedral
Haarlem’s Grote Kerk, Gothic Cathedral in winter

The cathedral is also known as the Church of St. Bavo, or St. Bavokerk. Don’t confuse it with Haarlem’s other cathedral, the neo-Baroque Cathedral of St Bavo. The Grote Kerk is the tallest of the two, so you can’t miss it! It is open to any visitors who would like to take a look inside.

The Grote Kerk was built and added to over several centuries. An original church stood here from 1307, but burned down. It was replaced with the current transept structure (the basic transverse cross-shaped structure) around 1445-1455, which was further heightened from 1480-1495. From 1456 to 1470, the nave was constructed, and in 1502, the ornate central tower was added to complete the cathedral.

Visitors can take a look inside the Grote Kerk, and there are guided tours as well.

Inside Haarlem’s Grote Kerk

One of the most impressive features on the inside of the cathedral is the Müller organ, which was the largest organ in the world when it was built in 1738. It was famed throughout Europe, even attracting such legendary composers as George Frideric Handel, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (who was just 10 years old) to come and play it.

There are many stained glass windows inside the Grote Kerk, but few of the original pieces survive. In their place, the Grote Kerk has many pieces taken from other churches and cathedrals which had been torn down, as well as stained glass from modern artists.

The cathedral has been the subject of many paintings by Dutch masters as well, such as The Great Market at Haarlem (1696) by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde, a Dutch master who used the straight lines and monumental scale to produce a piece with great clarity.

Another prominent artwork is Saint Bavo saves Haarlem from the Kennemers (1673), which shows a scene from 1274 (before the the Grote Kerk’s construction). Here, Saint Bavo swoops down from the sky to defend Haarlem from the people of the Dutch region Kennemerland.

Visiting the Grote Kerk in Haarlem

Not sure how to get to Haarlem? No problem! This beautiful city is just 20 minutes train ride from Amsterdam Centraal. Once you get off at Haarlem Station, it’s just a 10-15 minute walk to the Grote Markt (and once you get close, you can’t miss it)!

The Grote Markt Weekend Marketplace

Rain, snow or shine, every Saturday the Grote Markt just next to the cathedral has a great open air market. You can find lots of fresh foods here, like meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and bread. There are plenty of flowers for sale (at really great prices, so treat your loved one!), as well as wheels of Haarlem cheese, and those Dutch specialities that everyone loves – fresh, caramely stroopwafels! Of course, frites are well represented at the market. Make sure you order your cone of fries with a healthy dollop of mayonnaise!

Drawing of Haarlem christmas markets with the st bavokerk cathedral

If you wander around a little further, there is usually a food truck that sells haring, brine-treated herrings served on bread, with onions and pickles. Or, you can eat a whole herring the Dutch way – hold it over your mouth and eat the whole fish! From time to time, the Grote Markt hosts other events too, such as live music, local festivals, and mini-carnivals with rides!

Let’s grab a Dutch beer!

The last thing left to do, having admired Haarlem’s Grote Kerk, is to sit down for a nice Jopen, Texel or Amstel beer at one of the many bars. Most of the time, chairs and tables spread out all across the Grote Markt, each one facing the cathedral. Park your bicycle up against the cathedral, take a seat, and relax! A beer and a cathedral view. The perfect Haarlem experience!