Many people will think of Amsterdam when they hear of the Netherlands. If you’ve been to Amsterdam, you’ll know how beautiful it is, and also how crowded it can be. Every year millions of tourists visit Amsterdam; however, other Dutch cities are competing to attract some of these tourists. You will hear names like Rotterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag (The Hague), but few will mention a little gem in the north of the country: Leeuwarden.
Where is Leeuwarden?
Situated about 20 miles from the north-western coast of the Netherlands lies Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland and European Capital of Culture 2018, boasting over 600 monuments, several museums, and the house of artist M.C. Escher.
The city has a rich history dating back to the 9th century. Leeuwarden was granted city rights in 1435, and you can still find quite a few buildings dating from that time in the city centre.
This askew tower was the result of a rivalry with the capital of the neighbouring province, Groningen. The goal was to build a higher church tower than Groningen’s, but what the Liwwadders (as the people of Leeuwarden are called) didn’t know was that the construction site was on the edge of one of the three terps (mounds) that made up the city before the area silted up in the 1300s.
During construction, the church tower began leaning sideways and the builders tried to compensate for it, but at a height of around 127 feet they simply stopped building! Since then, the unfinished tower has become a symbol of the city.
From the top of the Oldehove you can enjoy a beautiful outlook over the city. Until the 31st October the tower is open to visitors every day of the week from 1pm to 5pm. The admission fee is 3.50 euros (about 3 pounds).
Shopping and culture
From the Oldehove you can go for a stroll through the Kleine Kerkstraat where you can find many small stores selling regional products, especially cheeses and meats, as well as Frisian treats.
The province of Friesland has a strong cultural identity that differs from the rest of the Netherlands, and outside of the cities you will not hear Dutch spoken often, as the native language here is Frisian.
Compared to Amsterdam, the city centre of Leeuwarden is smaller and less crowded. You will find many shops, and lots of these are small and run by the owners. And, like in lots of Dutch cities, you will see a large number of cafes located alongside the main canal running through the city centre.
If you prefer beautiful medieval buildings, take a detour down the Grote Kerkstraat. This street leads to the Protestant church, called Grote Kerk. This was of special importance to the Dutch royal family, which is reflected in the architecture and decoration. Besides the Grote Kerk there is the Catholic Sint-Bonifatiuskerk, which is also worth a visit with its beautiful leaded windows. The whole of the city centre has many beautiful buildings to discover.
How to get to Leeuwarden
The nearest airport is Amsterdam, from which you can go by train directly to Leeuwarden. You can find hotels all over the city: most are located near the main railway station, and from there everything is within walking distance. The climate is mild, with average high temperatures around 20C to 25C (68F to 77F) during the summer months.