Harlingen is a town with a long history of fishing and shipping. Harlingen received city rights in 1234.
Harlingen is served by two stations on the railway line from Leeuwarden. From 1904 to 1935 there was a passenger service on the North Friesland Railway, freight being carried until January 1938. Rederij Doeksen operate ferries to the Wadden islands of Vlieland and Terschelling that depart from Harlingen.
The famous Dutch writer Simon Vestdijk was born in Harlingen and used to depict his hometown in his writings as Lahringen.
The town of Harlingen, Texas, in the United States is named after this city because many of the original settlers of the Texas town came from Harlingen.