Urban Trail Haarlem- The Fastest Way to See the City


This weekend I took part in the fastest way to see the highlights in Haarlem. What did I do? I ran 10 kilometers as part of the KLM Urban Trail Series.

I don’t know about you but I personally love it when an experience is somewhat outside of the box. Sure, it’s great to go see a museum, or a park, or…anything really, but with an added dose of interest, I’m in.

It was only Wednesday last week that through a running group of fellow parents, I even learned of this event. The KLM Urban Trail Haarlem. The idea to run 5 or 10 km through the city and literally through its buildings was too fun to pass up. So, I quickly enrolled, just in time since I could only sign up for the last wave, starting at 10.50h.

Cold but Bright and Sunny

On Sunday, after defrosting and de-icing my car windows (bbrrrr, cold), I made it into town about an hour before my start time. The sun was out, and so were lots of runners.

Not strange, of course, since the first 3 waves were underway already. Leaving the parking garage, I ran into a woman in full running gear and asked her how it had been. It was the weirdest, one-sided conversation ever. If it was you…I’m so sorry for breaking your stride!  She was actually in the middle of this run, making it up the stairs to one of the locations on the route. OOPS.

The city by this time was starting to fill up with regular Sunday visitors, other racers were making their way around and the last two waves were gathering on the Grote Markt. It made for a great atmosphere.

Runners gather in St Bavo for start of Urban Trail
Urban Trail Haarlem runners gather in St Bavo

Tents erected on the main square had different stations with ranges of start numbers, and there were no line ups. Of course, I don’t know what it had been like for the first wave but for my experience, well organized.
With nothing else to achieve and it being pretty cold, lining up at the Saint Bavo church seemed the quickest way to get a little warmer.

Trail Running Field Division

As it turned out, I’d lined up in time to become part of the head of wave 5. Something I did not regret when I saw how each wave was divvied up in smaller groups when they were allowed to start. Little by little we made it into the church and saw the warm-up and pep talk wave 4 got. The excitement and joyous anticipation were almost tangible. Not least due to the music played by the organist!

Though everyone in a wave takes part in the warm-up and the cheering and then counts down from 10 to one, you don’t all start at the same time. And rightly so! Yes, I too expected it to be that way because at the time of registration you already sign up for a particular start time.
But, with approximately 700 people per wave, you simply can’t all make it to and through each building at the same time. It’d mean a lot of pushing and shoving from those who’d be faster than others. And trying to duck the low lintel while descending the couple of worn steps into the first museum would surely end up in falls. So, though it took a while to empty out the church before our wave could start, it was the right thing to do.

Runners emerging from subterranean Archeological Museum Haarlem during Urban Trail run around the city.
Archeological Museum Haarlem at Urban Trail run

Archeology on the Urban Trail

After waiting almost an hour, I was rearing to go and as said, I was one of the first of my wave, YEAH. So much fun!! Off we went.

The first stop: the Archeological Museum, located on the Grote Markt as well, and mostly underground. The run takes you through this, at places low and tiled space, underneath its arches and vaulted ceilings and out the other side back onto the main square. From the brief look I did get, I’m going to visit this free (!) museum (Wed – Sun  between13.00 17:00hrs) soon with my kids.
If you don’t have kids but love archeology, digs and/or education, they’re still looking for volunteers . Not sure about language requirements other than Dutch, but who knows?

Continuing the Trail through City Hall and the Cinema

Ducking out from the museum, we ran into City Hall and what a lovely building with the atrium in the middle. Then it was just a short run to the Pathé Cinema. I don’t know what it was like for those visiting for a movie but I had to squeeze past cinema-goers on the escalators and it’s actually quite fun seeing the bewildered looks. Are most people really aware of the race? Seeing as I interrupted a runner when parking my car, I guess not. And truthfully, why would you? When you’re going to see a movie, you don’t expect to be passed by droves of people in running gear, going up and down escalators and stairs.

What organizing must have taken some of these businesses to ensure their regulars would not feel pushed out, and the runners had a one way through. Something the next point on the run showed in a great way. After Pathé Cinema you choose to either go the 5 or the 10km route and since I was still feeling fresh and rested, I sprinted towards Poppodium Patronaat.

How I’d love to see the actual route they’d set in this venue. There are different podia big and small and at different levels where normally bands play, music festivals (ranging from techno and rave to disco oldies, R&B and soul, and even a silent disco) take place. The route is very well laid out as I follow all the arrows around, but I feel entirely disoriented as I dance through. Up and down and round and round until I make it out the back. Back into the sunshine and the cold.

Urban Trail Meets Historic Center and Stadsschouwburg

After navigating the different levels through the buildings and the very different stairs with some high, others low, some deep and some shallow, it’s nice to find a more natural rhythm to run to. Quite literally too when we make it through the characteristic narrow streets of the historic city.
We run through a little playground where we get high fived by toddlers. Too sweet. I opt out of the slide and continue on towards the beautiful Stadsschouwburg.

Jos Brink Hall in Haarlem Theater upholstered in red velvet with semi circular and 2 storied balconies.
Stadschouwburg Haarlem – Jos Brink Hall

We run in through the doors to the red velvet upholstered Jos Brink Hall, towards the podium, up the stairs and behind the curtains and leave through the side wings.
If you ever think of theater and what a hall would look like, this is it. What an amazingly attractive venue and how fantastic that they too, open their doors to 3500 runners!

Dancing towards Frederikspark

The trail continues to pass between foxtrotting, rumba-ing or I-have-no-clue-because-I-couldn’t-dance-if-my-life-depended-on it- dancing couples. The studio is also partly subterranean but big. At least 30 couples dance in the darkened space lit up with multi-colored disco lights while we make it by.

It’s nice to find some more regular footing again and run part of this Urban Trail through one of the city’s parks. It is just a short detour when we head for my car.

Well, not really but boy, is it tempting. It’s been quite a while since I ran 10km and I’m starting to get tired. My car seems to call for me when I pass it at just 20 meters on my way up to deDakkas.
I visited this glass greenhouse restaurant and city garden earlier for the first time just this week. It overlooks Haarlem’s inner city and as said, sits atop the top level of a parking garage. It has great views and adds that ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ that I like.

No time to dawdle, other than to have my picture taken, that is, and back down the stairs we run. Or… from here on in, I slow to a walk a few times. I start to notice less of my surroundings because I focus more on spotting the neon yellow signs to the next highlight. It feels as if we’re hitting every side street on our way to the back of the supermarket Marqt.
An adorable little girl close to the entrance cheers us on and gives high fives. Number two today!! Thank you!!

Urban Trail Cheering

Bar the guy who nearly ran three of us runners over on his bike, most people we see on the way are somewhat surprised but respond so sweet. They cheer, they clap or give us a thumbs-up.

It must be quite startling if you come downtown unaware of this event and runners emerge from every nook and cranny. Or constantly be overtaken by neon-clad figures. Plus, the first groups of runners are returning home too. They cycle, walk and swing their Picnic (the breakfast sponsor) bags while chatting and gesticulating about their experience.

The general feel on the streets is upbeat and to all of those volunteers ensuring we turn at the right points, THANK YOU. In some cases, they must have been there for three hours flat already and I might be warm because I’m running, they’re not. Yet, they are encouraging and helpful.

Welcome into the Trail Fold

Unbeknownst to me, I’m starting to get close to the finish. Five more stops separate me from it and breakfast. The next stop is a special one, we run over a red carpet right through a Mennonite church. This may not seem that special as we started in another church too, but the earlier waves ran through their Sunday service. Speak of welcoming people into the faith and fold!

Right out the door we head for towards the photo gallery By this stage I don’t actually take any of it in. A shame, I agree.
Outside once more, the Grote Markt and the Sint Bavo are soooo close but the route veers off towards the Bakenesser Kerk. Boxes and chests have been used to cordon off the exhibits that house archeological finds and tables full of tile shards. From what I read about it later, I’ll need to revisit it to actually see what archeological treasures it houses and what this 14th-century building reveals about the city.

Trail through a Sports Centre and the Philharmonie

First I make around another couple of corners up the steps into Sportscenter Kenamju. At this stage, I’m sweaty and getting cold from it so I struggle out of my coat here. I notice the martial arts class doing rolls and the boxing bags hanging down. Since we’ve moved, I’ve been looking for a place to take out my boxing gloves and this might just fit the bill. Better still, when I check the website, I realize they’re closer to me in Zandvoort too. This run is so useful.

Philharmonie Concert hall in Haarlem, taken from the back towards the podium with runners making their way around the hall.
Philharmonie Haarlem during Urban Trail 2019

The remainder of the route passes by the KLM photo activation point, the outline of a photo frame set against a picturesque Dutch background on a bridge over a canal. The sun shines on the singel quay and the canal houses alongside it. How I’d have loved to do a picture with my running buddy (here’s to you Christine!) here to commemorate this route. Unfortunately, she’s in Toronto (sniff).

Almost but not quite

Then running straight towards the St Bavo, it’s almost a slap in the face when I still have to make it through the Philharmonie. Had I realized it was my last stop, it may have felt different but phewww, was it tempting to run straight on. 

Of course, I didn’t.

One because if you do a fun run like this, you want to hit each and every highlight. Second, only the day before I’d been lucky enough to view part of the Holland Symfonie Orchestra and two choirs rehearse, here. I love music in general but have a soft spot for that crescendo that comes from an entire orchestra playing together with choirs to enhance it.

In through the one aisle, past the podium and out the other aisle and then I see it, the blown-up KLM-blue arch with ‘Finish’ on it is beckoning me. WHOOHOOO….YAY!


I finish in 1h11m which considering the route, is not bad at all. Breakfast is served as we enter the St Bavo and medal in hand I Iap up the cups of water and juice and eat my currant roll and banana.

An hour later I’m home, showered and relaxing with a hot cup of coffee in hand, thinking about all that I saw. I hadn’t heard about this run until last week but what a fantastic and fast way to see the city. Now I know there are urban trails in other Dutch cities too, a spark is about to ignite the idea of doing as many of them as possible.

Finish Arch next to St Bavo after 10km Urban Trail run
Finish of the Urban Trail Haarlem 2019

Thank You

First though rest. And a bit more exercise before I take on the next one. KLM what a great idea. To all the staff at buildings that were opened, thank you for this peek inside and all the hard work to ensure everyone made it in and out safely. And to all of those helping in general: setting up tents, organizing routes, negotiating with the cultural high lights taking part, handing out start numbers, taking pictures, securing crossings and allowing for safe passage of both runners and the general public, cheering and everything else. THANK YOU. I had a blast.

Urban Trail Series

For those who’d like to learn more: KLM Urban Trail Series
Would you like to run one of these too and what city would have your preference and why?


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