The Dutch province of Groningen is very diverse. Bordered by Friesland on the west, Drenthe on the south, Lower Saxony (Germany) on the east, and the Wadden Sea on the North, it’s known as an agricultural, industrial, metropolitan, and nature destination. Find out the best things you can do in Groningen below.
Sights and Activities in Groningen
#1 Groningen City
Groningen city is the capital of the Groningen province. It’s known as a ‘studentenstad‘ (student city) due to the prominent presence of the University of Groningen and Hanze University of Applied Sciences. It’s said that 25% of the city’s population is made up of students (local and foreign). For this reason, the city is always bustling with activity, offering numerous pubs, cafes, restaurants, shops, museums, music concerts, fairs, festivals, and more throughout the year.
On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the city’s square is transformed into Grote Markt, a big open market that features nearly 200 stands. An impressive amount and variety of food are sold here. Due to the city’s cultural diversity, there are many food items here that you likely won’t find in other markets.
At the north-eastern corner of the Grote Markt is the Martinitoren (Martini Tower). Climb the 97-meter tower, and you’ll get an impressive view of the city. Don’t worry, you don’t need to climb all 300 steps in one go. There are ‘stop gaps’ along the way from where you can see the city from a lower level. There is also a beautiful carillon (a musical instrument used to play bells), and some unused church bells hanging from gigantic wooden harnesses.
Groningen city is also known as a shopping mecca and is considered a great alternative to Amsterdam shopping. The Herestraat is the ‘shopping street’ of the city. You’ll find vintage stores and concept shops next to internationally known brands.
#2 Wadden Sea
The Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the world’s largest tidal flats system. Stretched along a coastal strip of around 500 km, the Wadden Sea is shared along the coasts of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.
The Groningen section of the Wadden Sea offers visitors the chance to do some mudflat walking. You can do this on your own (just be sure to check tide conditions so you’re not caught unaware), or you can sign up for a mudflat walking tour. Tour options include private mud walks, group mud walks, and mud walks ending in a boat tour back to where you started.
Of course you can also just walk along the shores and watch coastal birds. If you’re lucky, you might spot a seal here.
Lauwersoog is a popular seaside village, from where you have excellent views of both the Wadden Sea and the Lauwersoog harbor. Start the day early by walking along the beach and then have lunch at the beach. We visited Het Booze Wijf restaurant, a nautically-inspired restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike. Don’t forget to try the kibbeling (Dutch fish nuggets) during your visit in Groningen!
The National Park Lauwersmeer is another must-visit in Lauwersoog. In addition to its numerous walking paths, it’s a great place for water-related activities. You can do anything from swimming, canoeing, surfing, sailing and kitesurfing. Thanks to it’s untouched habitat, it’s proven to be a bird-lovers paradise offering various bird watching stations. It’s also not surprising to catch a glimpse of Polish Konik horses and Scottish Highland cattle in the park.
A different experience is to take a ‘night walk’ along the Lauwersoog harbor, where you can see the silhouettes of sailboats and ships at sea and the twinkling lights from Schiermonnikoog island in the distance.
#4 Fort Bourtange
Fort Bourtange is a star-shaped fortress built during the Dutch Revolt of the 1560s. Today, it’s an open-air museum where visitors feel like they stepped back in time. The fort was rebuilt to replicate how it looked in the 1740s.
Fort Bourtange itself and its grounds are open for free to the public. You only need to purchase tickets (from the Visitor Information there) to go inside the many museums that dot the place.
The fort is open all year-round, but for a special treat, you may want to check when they hold re-enactments of the Battle of Bourtange (usually in summer). If you travel during winter month, don’t miss the Bourtange Christmas market.
It’s also possible to spend the night here. Book a “captain’s or soldier’s room” in one of six available lodgings inside the fortress.
#5 Pieterburen Zeehondcentrum
Pieterburen Zeehondcentrum, established in the early 1970s, is a seal sanctuary. It’s the biggest seal hospital in Europe. Each day, numerous veterinarians and seal nurses look after sick, injured or orphaned seals.
A visit to Pieterburen Zeehondcentrum allows you to see the various stages of rehabilitation that seals undergo at the center. There are also feeding presentations, exhibitions, and the Wadden Garden, which features multiple florae unique to the region. It’s a great opportunity to see the seals from very close!
If you’d like to observe seals in their natural habitat, hop on board a Wadden Safari. You can also buy tickets to boat excursions where the main activity is releasing healthy seals back into the wild.
#6 Groninger Borgen
If you’re interested in how the nobility lived in the olden days, visit any of the 16 Groninger Borgen (Groningen estate houses) in the province. The most beautiful is the Menkemaborg in Uithuizen, an estate in the Baroque style with lovely gardens and a moat. The Verhildersum in Leens is a country estate that showcases numerous buildings, impressive gardens with bronze sculptures, a coach house and a museum.
Getting Around Groningen
Hiking routes abound in the province. Some popular ones are the Lauwersmeer Loop (8 km), the Grote Markt Groningen Loop (7.5 km), and the Pronkjewail Path.
The Pronkjewail Path, dubbed a ‘hiking adventure like no other’, is 250 km long and takes hikers to various ‘hidden gems’ (e.g., estates, shops, museums, etc.) across the province of Groningen. Trail tickets are only available from April to October, and it’s up to you how long you want your hike to be.
Groningen province offers excellent cycling routes. As in many other cities in the Netherlands, bikes are used both for leisure and to get from one place to another. In Groningen city biking is the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective mode of transport here. You can rent a bike or use your own. Make sure to lock it when you park it to prevent theft.
Thanks to an excellent bus network, taking the bus (Qbuzz or Arriva) is the most common form of public transport to navigate the province.
Accommodations in Groningen
The types of lodging available differ depending on where you are in the province. There are hotels and bed and breakfasts to suit every budget in the city. ‘Nature rooms’ or ‘nature houses’, as well as chalets, campsites, and bungalows, are offered for rent in the more scenic areas. Farm stays and fort stays are possibilities for the adventurous.