Groningen is a well-kept secret of the northern part of the Netherlands and just two hours from Amsterdam. Discover traditional Dutch landscapes, local delicacies, endless partying and experience life in a vibrant student city that is waiting for you to explore.
Where to go and what to see
Starting from the central square Grote Markt, you will find yourselves standing in front of the City Hall, an impressive building from the beginning of the 19th century, with elements of traditional Dutch architecture of the time. The most well-known trademark of the city is the Martini Tower (Martinitoren), which is situated right across Grote Mark, and those daring enough to climb the 300 stairs leading to the top will be rewarded with a breathtaking view. A friendly piece of advice: wait until the weather is warm and sunny, since the notorious Dutch humidity is even more intense at the north of the country, while certainly, the best time of the day to visit is right before sunset.
Walking around the historical center, your next stop should definitely be the University of Groningen, founded in 1614, and, in particular, the Academy Building (Academiegebouw), which bears also an architectural value. Although it was built at a much later time, it has been constructed in such a way so as to look like it was built in the 17th century. Just five minutes walking from the University, you will discover the west canal of the city, certainly the most beautiful among the four of them, situated in the four cardinal points, and named accordingly.
Next stop, heading towards the north, the Noorderplantsoen, one of the most beautiful parks of Groningen, ideal for some relaxing and peaceful moments for travellers and locals alike. The other famous park of the city, Stadspark, is situated on the exact opposite side of the city centre and is well-known for the deer, rabbits and squirrels that wander around even in the presence of humans. The easiest –and most Dutch- way to get there, as well as go around the city, is one: cycling.
Living like a local in Groningen
What makes Groningen so unique among all the other Dutch cities is not the sights, but its people, since the percentage of students is as high as 25%, making it the city with the youngest population in Holland. This is reflected in the vibrant and full of people nightlife, but also on everyday life since students flood the centre of Groningen 24/7. An abundance of cafès and restaurants can be found all around the university area, with the most notable ones found in Oude Kijk in Het Jatstraat, which you should definitely visit during a short coffee, tea or lunch break. My favourite delicacy of choice would be the famous carrot cake, a speciality of the local cafès, best found in “P.S. koffie, thee & tart”, which offers a variety of breakfast options and cakes.
Walking towards the south you will come across the second large square of the city, Vismarkt, where there is also an organized market three times a week (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday), full of local, as well as exotic products. In Vismarkt you will also have the opportunity to try a famous local specialty, fried fish with potatoes (similar to fish and chips, but better), or even fish and other seafood in a sandwich.
Finally, giving a twist to the known phrase, Groningen is the city that never sleeps! While shops are closing for the night and workers or older people go back home, the city centre welcomes a large number of students and young travellers eager to spend another memorable night. Starting from Grote Markt and heading towards the south this time, you could start your warming-up in one of the many pubs and bars of the centre, with the most notable ones being the “Three Sisters” (De Drie Gezusters), right in the central square, or “the Crown”, on the southern part. Of course, this is only the beginning, since around midnight the clubs of the city, most of them situated in Peperstraat, open their doors for visitors and students, promising non-stop partying and dancing. There is a club almost for every taste, from those with Latin music and atmosphere (Copas, another personal favourite), or with pop and contemporary music (Club Kiwi, Club Kokomo) to those that host special events (Vera) or karaoke nights (Sing-Along). The party goes on until early in the morning, but certainly, no one goes to sleep before trying first some traditional croquettes (with vegetables, potatoes or meat) or the classic cheeseburger.
Once you visit Groningen, Reitdiephaven –the insta-worthy colourful houses right outside the city- should not be missed. They are easily accessible by bicycle, heading towards north-west and within a distance of half an hour, or by bus, which you can take from Grote Markt and will get you there in about 20 minutes. They are worth visiting at any time of the day, in the morning for an early coffee or in the afternoon for a cold beer by the river, with the most ideal time being around sunset.
Another authentic Dutch sight right outside Groningen is the windmill De Helper, close to Haren village, in Paterswoldsemeer lake, where locals dive into the cold waters even in wintertime, while in the summer it is excellent for a “seaside” get-away since there is a beach club, as well as a water-skiing facility. In any case –and season- it is an ideal option for going around, having a picnic and taking in the Dutch nature and scenery, especially if you get there by bicycle, which will take you around 40 minutes. In case you are not that familiar with cycling (or you do not trust your sense of direction), there is also a train departing from Groningen central station and arriving at Haren, with the windmill being half an hour walking from this point.
Finally, for the adventure seekers, the world’s tallest free-standing climbing wall, “Excalibur“, can be found only 15 minutes away from Grote Markt either by bicycle or by bus. Keep in mind though that you should check the opening hours and availability since you’ll have to make an appointment ahead if you are not an experienced climber.
Check also “Gastronomic wanderings in Amsterdam“
How to get to Groningen
- By train from the central station or directly from the airport, it takes about 2-2,5 hours and it costs 25€ (one-way ticket)
- By bus from Sloterdijk station with FlixBus company, it takes approximately 2,5 hours and it costs 7-15€
- By train from the central station, it takes approx. 3 hours and it costs 27€ (one-way ticket)
- By FlixBus, it takes approx. 4 hours and it costs 15-25€
Concerning the train option, there is the possibility of purchasing online a group ticket, for 4 up to 7 persons, with a reduced price, which will cost approx. 10€ each. The price of the bus tickets ranges depending on how much ahead of the date of departure you make the reservation and on the demand, and you should, therefore, book the tickets as early as possible.
Moving around Groningen
Regarding the transportation within the city, it is possible to rent a bike from Swapfiets, either through their website or directly at their store, although in both cases the use of a credit card is required. The registration to the bike service is monthly, but you have the option to keep it only for the few days needed, while the price comes to 16,50€ the regular one and 13,50€ the reduced student price. Another option is renting a bicycle from the central station, with a cost of 3-4€, which requires though the purchase of a train card first (OV-chipkaart) through online registration. The card costs 7,50€ and is used as a rechargeable train ticket, with the amount credited to the card in advance, therefore Swapfiets should be preferred, especially in case you are visiting Groningen just for a few days.
- City Hotel Groningen, close to the heart of the centre and really clean
- The Student Hotel Groningen, great especially for young people
- Hotel Schimmelpenninck Huys, cosy and in a neighbourhood full of restaurants and pubs
- Hotel NH Groningen, just outside the city centre, but easily accessible by bike and in a quiet neighbourhood