Christmas In Haarlem – What To Do, Eat And See In The Spaarnestad

The Dutch city of Haarlem comes alive during Christmas, with the arrival of markets, parades, and of course, the arrival of Sinterklaas. It’s a time to explore the lights and decorations in the old town, eating gourmetten with family, going crazy with sweets such marzipan and pepernoten, For visitors and locals alike, spending Christmas in this beautiful Dutch city is the perfect way to enjoy the end of year festivities.

November – Sinterklaas Arrives In Haarlem

The Christmas festivities in The Netherlands usually begins in early November, with the first Saturday after the 11th of November being the day Sinterklaas arrives. Traditionally, Sinterklaas (also known as Saint Nicholas) arrives by boat into a port town in The Netherlands, which changes every year. Traditionally, it’s said he comes from Spain. The boat is called the Pakjesboot 12 (parcel boat), a traditional black and red steamboat which was built in 1910. He then disembarks, and parades through the city on horseback, while children cheer and sing Sinterklaas songs. Sinterklaas’ assistants, Zwarte Piet, hand out pepernoten biscuits (small, spiced cookies).

In Haarlem, the boat travels up the river Spaarne, mooring outside Teylers Hofje and the Molen de Adriaan, by the bridge at Koudenhorn. The parade continues up to the Grote Markt, where Sinterklaas takes to the stage and meets the children.

Sketch of Sinterklaas arriving in Haarlem for Christmas on the Pakjesboot Boat
Sinterklaas arrives on the Pakjesboot

Sinterklaasavond

The 5th of December is Sinterklaasavond (Saint Nicholas’ Eve), and is the time for families to get together. Sinterklaas gives gifts to children on Sinterklaasavond, and adults exchange gifts as well.

Haarlem Christmas Markets (Kerstmarkt)

In mid-December, Haarlem’s market squares and streets transform into one of the biggest Christmas market events in The Netherlands. The Christmas markets takes place in Haarlem from 12-14 December in 2020.

Drawing of Haarlem christmas markets with the st bavokerk cathedral

The market stalls set up in the Grote Markt next to a huge Christmas tree. Over 300 stalls sell cheeses, meats, herbs and vegetables, flowers (of course!), fries, herring, and much more. Then, of course, there are the special Christmas items to be found, such as home-made handicrafts, cups of mulled wine, and chocolates in the shape of Christmas trees. There are cinnamon-flavoured stroopwafels to pick up, as well!

Christmas Music In Haarlem

There is plenty of live music that takes place during the Christmas markets, with small choirs wearing santa hats tucked in amongst the market stalls. Along streets such as Grote Houtstraat, you might find local brass band groups tooting Christmas songs with horns and trumpets.

A Christmas service takes place in St Bavokerk on the night of In the evening, live music sets up on a stage in the Grote Markt, and plays throughout the evening.

Drawing of cartoon figures playing trumpets at Haarlem Christmas market

Christmas Food In Haarlem

Haarlem has many Christmas specialties to look forward to during December, and many of it can be found in the markets. Grab a cup of mulled wine to get started, a hot cup of spiced red wine. Some sweet treats at Christmas time include kerststol (a sweet fruit bread, made with spices and candied fruit, lemon zest and raisins), olieballen (a deep fried dough ball served with powdered sugar), spiced speculaas cookies (similar to a gingernut biscuit), pepernoten (small biscuits similar to speculaas, but more crunchy) smoked meat sandwiches, and the perennial favourite, stroopwafels.

For the main meal, Christmas is the time of year to enjoy gourmetten, a hotplate placed on the centre of the table, where people fry their own neat, vegetables and even pancakes on little raclette pans. Stamppot is also popular, although it’s not strictly a Christmas food – a mashed potato mixed with vegetables such as kale, carrots and peas, served with meat and gravy, or rookworst, a smoky Dutch sausage.

Drawing of a packet of stroopwafels with a stroopwafel placed on a coffee cup

Haarlem Winter Beer Festival

Run at the same time as the Kerstmarkt, the Haarlem Winter Beer Festival is a chance to taste over 20 different beers, including some from Haarlem. It can be found set up at the Boerenplein with a large tent and winter themed chalets.

Christmas Day in Haarlem

The 25th of December is a much quieter affair in Haarlem, with most of the seasonal celebrations taking place on Sinterklaasavond and the markets of early December. However, Eerste Kerstdag is still a public holiday and people visit their families for big dinner celebrations. Kerstman (Santa Claus) also comes around to deliver more presents!

Tweede Kerstdag – Boxing Day

Boxing day is called Tweede Kerstdag (second Christmas Day), and is a public holiday. With the festivities mostly over, Tweede Kerstdag is generally for relaxing.

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Whether you visit Haarlem for Sinterklaasavond, or during Christmas on the 25th of December, Haarlem is all about ambience. Wandering around the Christmas markets with a cup of mulled wine, and enjoying the parade and the concerts is a great


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