The Netherlands has an abundance of unique and historic cities with quaint houses, canals, cute restaurants and cafés, most also surrounded by typical Dutch countryside. But no place combines this better than the remote and northernmost city and province Groningen.
This student city houses several universities, is buzzing with nightlife, has many cute squares with a big range of restaurants and is full of history. The city’s origins even date back to 1040, after which Groningen became an important area of commerce when trading through the northeastern sea was expanded via the many waterways and canals created throughout the city.
Northernmost province of the Netherlands
But the surrounding countryside and province of Groningen, bordered by the Wadden Sea, is also worth exploring and makes the perfect combination of tranquility and nature with a visit to this lively city.
Although most tourists generally visit Amsterdam and the other big cities Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague when in the Netherlands, venturing more north to experience true heritage and the peace and quiet of the Dutch countryside is well worth it.
But also for Dutchies who are looking for a unique family trip, romantic weekend getaway, or a longer staycation, a visit to Groningen combined with the nearby villages, is a great idea and can cater to everyone’s taste.
In this blog I will tell you all about this combination, which we experienced ourselves on a recent 3 day trip to Groningen + province. I had been to the city many times before on daytrips and weekend visits, however the last time was already 10 years ago, and I never ventured outside the city, my loss, so I discovered.
Exploring Groningen city by boat
A boat trip through the city’s canals was also new to me, and something I can highly recommend to do in a private sloop with captain Jeroen of DiepSloep.
Seeing Groningen from the water provides a unique perspective and is very relaxing and safe, as you can book this luxurious 8 person boat privately.
Jeroen is a true local and will tell you everything about the city’s history, its canals, the many unique buildings, and art under the bridges, which really adds to the experience.
In 1 hour you can see much of the city already, but in a 3 hour boat tour you can experience even more of the surroundings as well, and will be spoiled with drinks and snacks. You can also book it with lunch or dinner on the boat.
The city's commercial history is visible in the old warehouses on the docks, lined with authentic boats, the unique waterways leading to open sea, and the multitude of town squares and church towers, dominating the cityscape on several sides.
Get an impression of some of the most unique city sights of Groningen seen from the water through many of our own pics in this gallery, and don't forget to swipe:
How to get there?
Groningen is the biggest city in the north of the Netherlands, located near Leeuwarden. It's a 2 hours’ drive from Amsterdam airport and 2,5-3 hours by public transport with direct train connections. Therefore I would recommend to go at least 2 days, as with so many nice activities, terraces, shops and sights to see, staying overnight is a must.
Where to stay in Groningen city?
Hotel Miss Blanche
Although there are plenty of great hotels to choose from we stayed in a beautiful junior suite of hotel Miss Blanche, set on the most historic and unique street of Groningen: Hoge der A.
The old warehouses here give a glimpse into the past when ships filled with merchandise sailed on an off. Nowadays many terraces can be found along these quays, but also no less than 28 state and 11 municipal monuments, almost felt like stepping into a painting!
This boutique hotel has 39 rooms and 7 suites spread out over 8 buildings, offering something for everyone. Each room and suite of Miss Blanche is different, with their own character. We stayed in a junior canal suite, very spacious, with a nice living room, own kitchen, and a big rooftop terrace with perfect view over this photogenic street.
The modern, clean, yet stylish interior and decor with personal art pieces from the owner’s collection, the comfortable bed, good WIFI, coffee maker, fridge and super central location in Groningen made this suite feel like our own city apartment. Get an impression in this gallery, and don't forget to slide:
Do note that that our suite was located on the second floor without elevator, but there are other suites available which do have one.
Hotel Miss Blanche also has its own bakery, a café, cocktailbar, and 2 restaurants, all located on the same street. You can have breakfast and lunch at the bakery, but we chose to order it to our suite, and enjoy it with this view:
Find out more on their website: HotelMissBlanche.
Where to eat in Groningen city?
From food festivals, to local breweries, hip vegan restaurants, quaint cafés, craft experiments to unique tasting rooms, Groningen offers a range of foodie experiences for everyone! These are the 2 restaurants we sampled during our visit:
Block & Barrels
If you’re a real meat lover, and appreciate craftmanship, then this unique pub experience/restaurant is the place to be! Situated in a side street of the main shopping area, this place with spacious and buzzing rooftop terrace is something you must experience for craft beers and the finest cuts of meat.
The menu is diverse, with only pure Dutch meats straight from the butcher, the presentation is cool and rugged and the interior masculine, yet hip. See for yourself, and don't forget to slide:
And find out more at: BlockandBarrels restaurant.
Situated in a unique building on the most central and historic city square; de Grote Markt, this café/restaurant has just opened a few weeks ago.
Whether you want to have a quick lunch with panoramic views over the city square, eat outside on the vibrant terrace, have dinner, or just some drinks and dance the night away, it’s all possible here!
With their diverse all day menu you can decide on what to eat and when, starting from 11 till late in a great setting. Find out more: Werkman Groningen.
Exploring Groningen province
Although I really like Groningen city I must say that I loved exploring the province even more! Did you know that there are more than 200 touristic venues north and west of the city, one even more quaint than the other?
Cycling through the Ommelanden of Groningen
As you might know I'm a big fan of cycling, so I would certainly recommend to rent a bike at: FietsVerhuurGroningen.
We did a half day trip from Groningen city to the Ommelanden, via this route: VisitGroningen-Wind mee naar de molen route, which takes you to the backyard of Groningen in less than 30 minutes, with nothing but nature and tranquility.
It’s a great route leading you past rivers and through the pure Dutch countryside, with many a sheep, windmills, and flowers, via good cycling paths ending up in the cutest villages of the region. Get an impression through this gallery:
Ommelanden must visits
This cycling route is about 35 kms long and takes less than 2 hours from Groningen and back without stops. But of course it's a shame not to stop several times to really take in the natural sights, sample the artisanal products at the quaint venues along the way, and enjoy the peace and quiet of this rural area. Stops that should not be missed are:
You will pass by several mills, but don’t for get to stop by active corn mill Joeswerd for a quick tour.
This village is worth a stroll for its alleys and streets like the Burgemeester Brouwerstraat, the narrowest street in the Netherlands accessible to cars.
And a refreshing stop at this restaurant:
Situated in a beautiful historic building in Garnwerd this café/restaurant has a nice terrace with direct views upon Reitdiep canal.
The perfect spot for a lunch break, and drinks or dinner in the atmospheric orchard at the back should also not be missed. Find out more at: Bij Hammingh restaurant.
If you have several days to spend a visit to Pieterburen is also a great idea! The most northern village of the province, just a 40 minute drive from Groningen city.
Pieterburen is the starting point of the renowned Pieterpad, and home to the well-known seal rescue center.
But it's also an important access point to the Wadden Sea, where you can walk on the seabed at low tide, or take the boat from nearby Lauwersoog to Schiermonnikoog and Rottumerplaat, 2 of the smallest Wadden islands.
It felt like time stood still here with the quaint houses, small cobble-stoned streets and fields of grain surrounding Pieterburen, leading you to high dikes to protect locals from the ever rising sea.
The perfect place for long hikes to experience that pure Dutch countryside and the unique ecosystem of the Unesco World Heritage Wadden Sea, the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world.
Do note that Pieterburen can get very busy in summer, due to the big holiday park here and many touristic activities offered, such as seal spotting and Wadlopen!
To learn more about the history of the village I can also recommend to visit:
Botanical Garden Domies Toen
This pastor’s garden and church used to be the herb- and vegetable farm of the rectory. Thanks to its ancient exotic plants Domies Toen received the museum- and botanical garden status.
With several different themed floral areas, adventurous pathways, ponds and several benches to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere and beautiful vegetation, we enjoyed these gardens a lot.
The historic tea house with terrace, right next to the gardens and church, is also worth a stop for the pies and refreshments in a beautiful setting. More info: DomiesToen.
Lauwersmeer & Lauwersoog
Just a 25 minutes’ drive from Pieterburen you'll arrive at the gateway to the Wadden Sea; Lauwersoog, located on the border of province Friesland, starting point to many boat tours and home to Lauwersmeer National Park.
This unique salt and sweet water lake offers several activities for nature- and water sports enthusiasts, with various small islands, hiking- and cycling routes.
We visited Waddenpavilion De Noorman, located at the end of the pier in the harbour of Lauwersoog, as north as it gets in Groningen province! Also known as the living room of the Wadden, with panoramic views over the open sea and the best sea food of the region.
Besides a nice restaurant they also offer several excursions here which are worth a recommendation. Guided adventures in Lauwersmeer national park, seal-watching tours, rescue boat expeditions, or private sand-bank dinners, anything involving sea and adventure is possible here.
We did a private rescue boat tour to Schiermonnikoog, very relaxing and cool to see this remote Wadden island for the first time in my life. Find out more about their offering at: Lauwersoog-Noorman.
Where to stay in Groningen province?
If you’re looking for a quaint home away from home and a unique experience, you can stay at a real Saxon farm from 1860: Noordkus in Pieterburen.
A unique Bed and Breakfast with lots of privacy and the comfort of a big garden, located in a quiet side street of the village's center, just a 2 minute walk away.
Although the interior is quite basic, the design is very creative and offers everything you need with a romantic queen size bed, your own coffee and tea maker, a fridge, lovely Mediterranean tiled bathroom, windows with mosquito protection, a spacious garden with plenty of seating options and a nice breakfast included.
Get an impression in this gallery, don't forget to swipe:
And find out more on the website of: Noordkus.
I hope I was able to show you how unique Groningen really is, and why combining the city with the quaint province makes the perfect holiday or staycation option. And is a great alternative in the Netherlands to busier and better-known Dutch cities, like Rotterdam and Amsterdam for example.
Hopefully you'll find our experiences and tips useful, but for more info about Groningen and the event calendar, you can also check the website of: VisitGroningen.nl.