From water to land, between history and modernity: explore Hoofddorp in the heart of the Haarlemmermeer.
It was a little over a year ago, when I arrived in the Netherlands initially, that I first heard about Hoofddorp. “Hawfff-what?” was my first reaction. I thought it sounded quite funny, kind of like a Harry Potter spell: “Hoofddorpus totallus”!
But anyway. At the time, my Dutch boyfriend and I were busy looking for a place to live in or around Haarlem, and Hoofddorp seemed to me like a perfectly acceptable area to consider. It is, after all, within cycling distance of Haarlem city centre and well connected to both Haarlem and Amsterdam by public transport. That was enough for me. Oh! What a silly foreigner I was then, so ignorant of the Dutch distance standards, so blind to the fact that the 15 kilometres separating Haarlem and Hoofddorp are actually seen as a whole ocean by locals. Translation: it’s too far, niet gezellig.
Every time I brought up Hoofddorp as my possible new hometown, the reactions of literally EVERY Dutch person I met were, to put it mildly, not the most encouraging. The question that came up a lot was: “Why would you do that?” My boyfriend said “hell no” so many times, I worried he might be having a seizure. His mother told me about the deeply traumatising times a few years back when she “had no choice but to” briefly live in Hoofddorp, away from her Haarlemmer roots and her friends. And my sister-in-law, who still lives in Hoofddorp to this day, laughed awkwardly when I asked her about it and actually said: “Well, it’s got everything you need… but you know, it’s not Haarlem.”
As per yourself, dear reader; unless you actually live in Hoofddorp (my condolences) or know someone who does, all you might know about the place is that the number 300 bus line to Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam crosses it. You probably haven’t taken the time to go explore it because, yeah, it’s not Haarlem and it doesn’t have that sassy “je ne sais quoi”.
How am I doing so far? Are you sold on Hoofddorp yet? No? Bear with me just a little while longer, you will love what’s coming next. This is the moment when you might want to sit down, because I am going to tell you something that will most certainly shock you. One year has passed since I first heard of Hoofddorp, one year during which I went there more than a few times, one year during which I actually grew to…like it. There, I said it. I like Hoofddorp. I am officially a social pariah.
So! Let’s talk about all the nice stuff that Hoofddorp has to offer, and find out how you can fill a full day of adventures there, shall we?
150 YEARS IN THE MORNING
The first thing you ought to know about Hoofddorp is this: it is not a city. I know what you’re thinking. It is stupidly huge, has highways, a train station, a hospital, it HAS to be a city. But nope. For the simple fact that it never acquired city rights in the Middle Ages, as up until about 150 years ago, Hoofddorp just didn’t exist. It’s right there in the name; Hoofddorp means “head village” in Dutch. They’re stuck with not being a city for the rest of times now. Ha-ha, sukkels.
The whole area around Hoofddorp, including Schiphol airport, is approximately 4 metres under sea level and used to be a big lake – the lake of Haarlem – which in Dutch is: the Haarlemmermeer. The lake posed a great threat of recurrent floods to the surrounding cities and farms, and was therefore drained midway through the 19th century.
We all know the Dutch have a long history of reclaiming land to water. Since about the 1200s, their war against the forever-annoying elements has been won with dykes, dams, canals and windmills constantly pumping and channelling out the unwanted water. Thanks to the industrial revolution though, exciting new inventions really opened up the possibilities. And that takes us to our first activity of the day, the amazing Cruquius steam pumping station, a world class industrial monument and an absolute must-see for any museum lover.
From Haarlem, cycle south along the river Spaarne until you meet up with the Ringvaart. That’s where the Cruquius stands. This incredible piece of engineering was completed in 1849 and is thought to be the world’s largest steam engine EVER built. The station has eight pumps that each can lift 8000 litres of water with every stroke. Together with two other pumping stations, the Cruquius drained the whole Haarlemmermeer in only three years. It is today an incredibly informative museum where you can learn about steam engines, the evolution of the Haarlemmermeer area, the history of polders in the Netherlands, and much more. The whole visit, including the demonstrations by the staff in traditional clothing (fun!), takes around 2 hours, and there is a lovely tearoom on site if you need a break.
STROLL THE MODERN CENTRE AT LUNCHTIME
From the Cruquius, head south-east across the residential blocks of Overbos and reach Hoofddorp centrum. It will take you a while on a bike (20 minutes), so you may want to travel by car if you are with little kids. Like I said, Hoofddorp is stupidly huge. Personally, I really enjoy cycling there – it’s spacious with quite a lot of trees and waterways, and the roads are wider than in Haarlem.
It makes my imagination runs wild and free; I always feel like I am in one of those badly written American TV shows set in the suburbs. You know, the ones where at any point you can run into some drama, like a hysteric middle-aged woman chasing after her senile poodles or whatever… And all those teenagers wandering around! Hoofddorp is truly the place for tortured souls.
Sorry. Let’s get back to the subject at hand. I am not going to lie; you don’t go to Hoofddorp to be swept off your feet by the beauty of the buildings. The city centre lacks the charm and charisma older Dutch cities have. I mean, it looks like this:
Sad, isn’t it? To be fair, I took this photo in bad weather and, in reality, it doesn’t look all THAT bad. It reminds me a little bit of the newest neighbourhoods in the Scandinavian cities of Oslo and Copenhagen – very square, very clean, very trying-to-be-arty. And there is plenty to do for you to occupy the beginning of your afternoon. The Polderplein shopping mall has indoor galleries with all the shops you could need and some big chains you can’t find in Haarlem, such as Primark or MediaMarkt. The city centre also has a cinema, several nice restaurants and eateries (if you get hungry, go and try the homemade burgers and yummy pork ribs at Brute Burgers), and the culture building – “het Cultuurgebouw” – which hosts a library (with toys as well as books), theatre workshops for kids, and many other entertaining and educational activities for all ages.
By the way, for those of you who heard the rumours about there being a Jopenkerk in Hoofddorp: it’s true – or at least, it WAS true. It is, as of this year, permanently closed, due to lack of business. Crazy! That’s how indifferent the world is to Hoofddorp, even beer doesn’t get people there. The building itself is still standing though, and interesting little factoid, it is the oldest church in the Haarlemmermeer. Here is hoping that another beer brand takes it over, as it would be a shame to see it go to waste!
If you are a sucker for architecture, like myself, there is another must-see in Hoofddorp that is worth your time: the three cable-stayed bridges over the Hoofdvaart, which were designed by the world renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (see the main photo above). Created to be the signature structures for the Haarlemmermeer, the bridges were built at the main crossings over the Hoofdvaart in the main town of the municipality (Hoofddorp). Common elements shared by the bridges, like the steel pylons, although varying in size and inclination, clearly indicate those separate structures are part of one family and one single work of art.
RELAX AND BREATHE FOR AN AFTERNOON OF NATURE
The very best thing in Hoofddorp, in my opinion, is the fantastic Haarlemmermeerse Bos – the forest of the Haarlemmermeer. First of all, it’s massive. Run, walk, cycle, golf, horse ride, whatever you want to do, there is space to do it there. It’s all man-made so do not start imagining a dense jungle where you could spot some exotic birds or something. This is Dutch nature we are talking about; it’s very neat, it’s got some pigeons, and it was clearly planned carefully. And it’s great.
I went there for the first time with my young nephews and it is absolutely tailored for kids: it’s got many playgrounds, some piles of dirt (I think they call those “sand dunes”) for them to climb, abandoned wood to build tree houses, and there is a big lake in the middle where you can swim in the summer.
Just next to the Haarlemmermeerse Bos, across the highway, is the Big Spotters Hill, which is an artificial hill built in 2002 for the Floriade (a once-in-a-decade flower festival) and from the top of which you can admire the sunset over Haarlem to end your day in Hoofddorp on a romantic note. My favourite part about going there is to entertain myself observing all the wannabe Rambos with their orange headbands and their flashy shorts sprinting to the top of the stairs… Man, just have a chocolate bar and be happy, life is too short.
From Hoofddorp to the Haarlemmermeerse Bos you probably cycled on the Geniedijk (and ran over some sheep? I know I almost did). This dyke is part of the Stelling van Amsterdam, the line of fortifications which was built around Amsterdam and designed to create floods just high enough to repel the enemy on foot, but too low to allow for boats to pass – too bad the airplane was invented, like, 10 years later. It was a good idea, but the fortifications never really got used.
On the dyke you will see many abandoned bunkers, and a cute renovated fort – Fort Vijfhuizen – where you can have lunch or even host a party, have your wedding, etc. Not that you’ll be in the mood to get married after seeing Hoofddorp, but you never know.
If you did this whole day on a bike, congratulations, as you will have cycled roughly 40 kilometres! Time to take it easy now.
I hope you enjoyed reading, and see you next time for more unique days out ideas!
This is Chapter 2 of author Lucile’s day-trip chronicles – View Chapter 1 here