Just a short train ride away from Amsterdam you can visit the city of Haarlem. Tiny and picturesque, with a gothic cathedral, a market filled with cheese stalls and a handful of windmills; it nevertheless boasts the largest Christmas market in the Netherlands.
Having first visited at the end of summer on the way to the beach, when we had to take shelter from the sun, now in early December it feels like a different city. The market, previously selling fresh fruit and ice cream, has turned into a celebration of Christmas. There are stalls selling Dutch Christmas treats like Oliebollen, doughnut like balls stuffed with raisins, and Kruidnoten, gingerbread biscuits covered in chocolate. Glühwein (mulled wine) obviously makes its required appearance in stalls covered in Christmas lights.
The market, previously selling fresh fruit and ice cream, has turned into a celebration of Christmas
Christmas markets aren’t always famed for their entertainment, but Haarlem has stage singers and carollers wandering across the city, half of which seems to be filled with market stalls. I spotted a Santa Klaus playing a saxophone and several singers in full Victorian dress.
Of course, to an extent, the market is designed for tourists, but it feels authentic enough to constitute as a proper Dutch experience, and the size of Haarlem compared to more metropolitan areas like Amsterdam and Rotterdam adds to the coziness of the town. Typically for the Netherlands, it’s the perfect blend of Dutch and international influence which is welcoming and accessible for everyone. The Haarlem market is only open for one weekend in December, but other markets across the Netherlands will open and close in the countdown towards Christmas. Germany is often lauded as the capital of Christmas markets, but the Netherlands has its share of festivities which are fun regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
There’s a Dutch word- ‘Gezellig’- which doesn’t entirely translate into English but essentially means coziness; people can be gezellig, places can be gezelling, social situations can be gezellig. Exploring a beautiful Christmas market in my favourite season with new people in a country I’m growing to love is certainly gezellig. Sure, its no Exeter, but if you want to hop abroad for a Christmas market, Haarlem is a great place to do it.