I'm sort of ashamed to say that I had no plans of actually visiting the St. Bavo Church (or Grote Kerk) when I went to Haarlem. I had planned to look at the church from the outside, but didn't actually plan on going in it. As cheap as it may sound, I don't generally like to pay to go into churches because while I think so many of them are beautiful, and it always stuns me how people in the past could build something so big and grand without the technology that we have today, I'm no church connoisseur. It just so happened that by the time I got to Haarlem, I had just missed the tour for the Corrie ten Boom house, so I had some time to kill before the next English tour. Because we had around an hour before we wanted to line up for the next tour, we decided to check out the St. Bavo Church. I'd say it was the best unplanned stop of my trip!
For €2.50, you will get to enter the church and also get a detailed brochure highlighting all the points of interest in the church. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the visit so much. Normally when I visit a church, I just admire the architecture, but I don't know the meaning behind the stained glass windows, or the sculptures. With the St. Bavo Church, I was able to see the significance behind the various artifacts in the church.
The church is decorated with a beautiful wooden ceiling. I spent a good amount of time just looking up at the ceiling while I was there. Then, when I could tear my eyes away from that, I was able to appreciate the other details in the church such as the 1500 gravestones that make up the floor of the church. The famous painter Frans Hals is also buried here.
Some other highlights of the St. Bavo Church include the brass lectern that's shaped like a pelican, the old tapestries hanging on the columns, and a wooden panel from 1518, that has the unfinished model of the church painted on it. Not only was it interesting to see how they had planned out what the church would look like, it was also intriguing to see what the city of Haarlem looked like back then.
But the main highlight for me was the organ, which covers one whole wall of the church. It really is a stunning organ; intricately decorated with statues, painted in a rich maroon colour, and gilded with gold. This organ was so famous that Handel and Mozart traveled to Haarlem to play on it. We were actually very lucky when we visited. There was an organ player there practicing on the organ so we got to hear the instrument and it was breathtaking! Check out the video below for a sound clip!
Want to get here?
Cost: €2.50 per adult
Directions: It's a ~15 minute walk from Haarlem Central Station. Exit the station from the doors that say 'Centrum'. Then turn right to get to Kruisweg street. Head left onto Kruiseweg and walk straight down. You'll see it once you reach Grote Markt (the market square).