Leeuwarden is the capital city of the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. It’s an old city with a rich history, most of which can be seen in its city center, where houses dating back to the 17th century still exist. In the 16th to 18th centuries, Leeuwarden was the center of silverwork and goldwork. Today, the city is known as the economic hub of Friesland.
Leeuwarden is a great place for a daytrip or a stopover if you are in Friesland. Read on as we share with you the best things to see and do in Leeuwarden.
Leeuwarden City – What to See and Do
Leeuwarden is one of the lesser known places in the Netherlands. However, the city is beautiful and absolutely worth visiting. What we liked most Leeuwarden is the overall cityscape. Similar to Amsterdam, Utrecht and Leiden, you’ll find beautiful canals surrounding a historic city center. The best thing is that Leeuwarden is much less crowded than the hugely popular tourist magnets in the west.
When in Leeuwarden, the best thing to do is to explore the city by foot and visit the sights as you walk around. When the weather is good, a canal cruise is a great idea.
One monument that certainly warrants a visit is the Oldehove. When it was being built in the 1520s, the plans were to create a status symbol for the city. But soon after construction started, the tower began to sink into the soft Frisian clay. They kept building it, trying to compensate. The result is not just a tilted tower, but it is even slightly curved. The tower can be visited from April till October.
2. Frisian Nature Museum
The Frisian Nature Museum shows the rich history of Leeuwarden and its province through art and artifacts divided over four floors of information and adventure. One of the highlights here is the UnderWaterSafari. Using a special vehicle, visitors can take an underwater tour from the bottom of a ditch to the salt waters of the Wadden Sea.
Another highlight is visiting the taxidermists who work full-time at the museum. You can learn how these resident professionals prepare, stuff, and mount skins and other animal parts for display in the museum.
The Museumhaven (Museum Harbor) is for you if marine history is your thing. Located at Willemskade, you’ll find anchored ships that date over a century. Although called “floating monuments”, many of these ships are actually residential today, so you can’t go inside. Still, a walk along the harbor provides an excellent view!
If you happen to be in Leeuwarden on Ascension Day, you must visit Bloemetjesmarkt (Flower Market). On this day, the city center arranges “the Netherlands’ longest flower market”, with over 200 stalls setting up shops to sell various flowers and plants. The event boasts about 30,000 visitors annually. It’s a festive event perfectly capped with a visit to one of the city’s cozy terrace cafes and restaurants.
Another great family-friendly destination is the AquaZoo. What’s special about this zoo is that water animals take center stage here. Enjoy watching flamingos, crocodiles, polar bears, and other water animals splash all day at this park. Highlights include the Penguin Herring Fest and the Seal Safari.
Our tip: If you want to give your child a birthday party they’ll never forget, note that AquaZoo offers children’s party events.
6. The Groene Ster
Actually, the AquaZoo is situated inside a vast recreational area called the Groene Ster (the Green Star), which spans over around 1000 hectares. As you can imagine, there’s a lot to do here. There are beaches where you can sunbathe, swim, surf, sail, and forest and hiking trails. There’s also a midget golf course and an 18-hole golf course.
7. Historical Walking Tours
As mentioned above, Leeuwarden is a rich, old city which is best explored by foot. One of the best ways to know its secrets is by joining a historical guided walking tour. It goes past monuments, canals, and many interesting parts of the historic center.
8. Boating Tours
If you prefer to explore Leeuwarden over water, then take any of the many boat tours offered in the city. There are guided tours using a pram or barge (flat-bottomed boat) that take you through the center. You can also rent a boat yourself and explore the canals in an electric boat.
One of the streets in Leeuwarden, the Kleine Kerkstraat, has been named the ‘nicest shopping street in the Netherlands’ several times. It has many small shops which connect to the Nieuwestad street, a popular destination due to the shops and restaurants along the canal quay.
Our tip: Fridays are open market days in the city. On this day, Wilhelminaplein transforms into one big market where you can buy various delicious foods, pastries, and delicacies.
Accommodations in Leeuwarden
There are plenty of accommodations to suit every taste and budget in this city. There are bed and breakfasts, campsites, farmhouses, and boutique and 5-star hotels. For a unique experience, why not book a room in a prison? Alibi Hostel is the only hostel in the city, and yes, it used to be a prison. So, if you’ve ever wondered how it is to ‘spend a night in jail’, this place offers you the chance.