Haarlem is a peaceful city at the rowdiest of times, but even such a serene place needs its fair share of oases. Collectively known as Hofjes - leafy courtyards enclosed by rows of sweet little homes - these green spaces initially served as monastery gardens in the Middle Ages.
Eventually they took on broader roles for hospitals and inns, or as refuges for orphans, widows and the elderly. These private squares also give clues about Dutch social concerns and the origins of the modern welfare state. Most hofjes date from the 15th to the 18th centuries and are open to viewing on weekends only, but you can usually take a discreet peek any time. Ask the tourist office for its walking-guide brochure, Hofjeswandeling .