Heemstede formed around the Castle Heemstede that was built on the Spaarne River around 1286. Before 1296, Floris V, Count of Holland, granted Heemstede as a fiefdom to Reinier of Holy. During the 14th century, a village formed near the castle, which was destroyed and rebuilt several times in this period. The most famous resident of this castle was Adriaan Pauw, who bought it in 1620. In 1653, Bennebroek split off from Heemstede, becoming a separate fiefdom.
Growth was slow, and in 1787 Heemstede counted 196 families. Even at that early date Heemstede had already gained the reputation it has today, of being primarily a "bedroom community" for the cities of Haarlem and Amsterdam. Wealthy city families left the cities in the summer, escaping "canal fever" which caused illness from the putrid canals. As a result, many estates were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of which (partially) remain until today such as Oud-Berkenroede, Berkenrode, Ipenrode, Huis te Manpad, Hartekamp, Bosbeek, Meer en Bosch, Meer en Berg, and Gliphoeve.
In 1857, the municipality Berkenrode was merged with Heemstede. In 1927, the northern portion of Heemstede, including a large part of the Haarlem Forest, was in turn added to the city of Haarlem.
Hartekamp: Heemstede summer home of George Clifford, who hired Linnaeus to write his 'Hortus Cliffortianus', a detailed catalogue of the plant specimens in the herbarium and gardens of Hartecamp. George Clifford's house is closed to the public, but the surrounding gardens are used as a campus and are open to visitors.
Linnaeusbos (Linnaeus Forest): Originally a part of Hartekamp that was planted by George Clifford and documented by Linnaeus. In 2007 Heemstede will celebrate Linnaeus's 300th birthday.
De Naald: The 'needle' is a monument placed by D.J. van Lennep to honor Witte van Haemstede, the savior of Haarlem at a battle which on April 26, 1304 and to honor the wounded of another battle fought against the Spanish on July 8, 1573. Both battles supposedly took place right at the corner of David Jacob van Lennep's house Huis te Manpad, where the monument stands.