You could do worse than spend a day exploring Haarlem’s hofjes – small, unpretentious complexes of public housing built for the old and infirm in the seventeenth century. The best known and perhaps most accessible is the one that was home to Frans Hals in the last years of his life and now houses the Frans Hals Museum. But there are others dotted around town, most of them still serving their original purpose but with their gardens at least open to the public. The most grandiose is the riverside Hofje van Teylers, a little way east of the museum of the same name around the bend of the Spaarne at Koudenhorn 64. Unlike many of the other hofjes, which are decidedly cosy, this is a Neoclassical edifice dating from 1787 with solid columns and cupolas. To the west, the elegant fifteenth-century tower of the Bakenesserkerk on Vrouwestraat is a flamboyant, onion-domed affair soaring high above the Haarlem skyline, that marks the nearby Bakenes Hofje, at Wijde Appelaarsteeg 11: founded in 1395, it is Haarlem’s (and indeed the country’s) oldest hofje, with a delightful enclosed garden. Five minutes’ walk away, the Hofje van Oorschot, at the junction of Kruisstraat and Bartelijorisstraat, dates from 1769 and is also rather grand. To the south of here, the Brouweshofje, just off Botermarkt, is a small, peaceful terrace of housing with a courtyard behind, and windows framed by brightly painted red and white shutters, while the nearby Hofje van Loo, on nearby Barrevoetstraat, is equally diminutive, and open to view from the road.

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