The Netherlands has many castles, but Castle De Haar near Utrecht is our favorite. This photogenic castle is exactly how you used to draw castles as a child: with a moat, impressive entrance gate and many turrets. The fully furnished rooms of De Haar are wonderful to stroll through, with the special central hall as the absolute highlight. Prepare for your visit to the largest castle in the Netherlands with our tips and background information.
Read more: interested in more Dutch castles? We wrote a list of the 12 most beautiful castles in the Netherlands.
De Haar, Haarzuylens or Slot Zuylen?
The castle has had many names which can be confusing, especially since a second castle with a similar name is also located near the city of Utrecht. The castle is called Castle De Haar on the official website, a reference to the Van de Haar family linked to the castle’s early history.
Over the years, the castle has been called by many other names. The noble family that once founded the castle was called the Van Zuylen family. Combine that with the family name De Haar and you have Haarzuilens, Haarzuilen or Haarzuylens. The town where the castle is located is now called Haarzuilens. But Ter Haar, De Haer and Huis De Haar also appear in the history books.
Please note that Slot Zuylen is an entirely different castle, not that far from Castle De Haar. We can also highly recommend a visit.
The history of De Haar Castle
The history of De Haar goes back a long way to the time when a castle of the Van de Haar family stood here. When a Van de Haar daughter got married in the Van Zuyen family in the fifteenth century, a union of two names was created that lives on in the nickname of the castle to this day.
But the castle you see today is mainly the work of Baron Etienne van Zuylen. In the nineteenth century, he inherited the family castle in a bad shape. He found the financial means to restore his family domain by marrying Hélène, a wealthy daughter of the De Rothschild family, in 1887. The couple contracted the famous Dutch architect Cuypers, who also designed the Rijksmuseum and the central station in Amsterdam. He restored the castle in medieval style, just as we know Castle De Haar today.
The Baron and Baroness had quite an extravagant life. They provided the castle with every possible comfort, making it even more luxurious than the palaces of the royal family at the time. They installed running water – also hot – electricity, an elevator and central heating, even though they never lived in the castle full-time.
The Van Zuylen family had quite a few guests to impress with their luxurious castle. Thierry, a grandson of Etienne and Hélène, took up the extravagant life of his grandparents. From the 1960s onwards he actually only used the castle in the September months. This month was the highlight of the Dutch social calendar with all the big parties that the Van Zuylens hosted at Castle De Haar. They hosted big stars like Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot and Yves Saint Laurant and the Dutch royal family was there as well.
Ownership of the castle was eventually transferred to a foundation established for that purpose. The châtelet next to the castle – a small castle itself – remained in possession of the Van Zuylens though. The family has stipulated the right to continue to use the castle for one month a year. So the September tradition has been continued, although there seem to be no more extravagant parties.
A visit to De Haar Castle
Kasteel De Haar has 200 rooms, making it the largest castle in the Netherlands. So make sure you allow enough time for your visit, although you will of course not be able to see all 200 rooms.
The highlight is the unique main hall. The hall is more of a cathedral than a castle with its dramatic Gothic arches and statues. The hand of architect Cuypers is clearly visible in this unique design. The Catholic architect was known in his day for his Gothic designs as if his buildings were Catholic churches, though in a predominantly Protestant Netherlands. His designs also caused quite a stir at the Rijksmuseum: the Protestant king even refused to attend the opening.
You will also be amazed in the other rooms of the castle. All rooms are fully furnished, as traveling back in time. Each room has signs with background information, but it is even more fun to ask the room guide to tell you more about the castle. These volunteers have a wealth of information and their stories make the castle come alive.
When visiting the castle, make sure you also have time to visit the beautiful landscaped garden. The castle grounds are more than 55 hectares.
A ticket for Haarzuylens Castle costs € 17 for the castle and € 6 for the park for adults. Parking costs an additional € 6. You can buy your tickets online in advance.