Capital of culture 2018: Leeuwarden

Capital of culture 2018: Leeuwarden. 8 reasons to visit Leeuwarden, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

And 8 reasons why you should visit Leeuwarden

Leeuwarden is more than just the provincial capital of Friesland, at least, for 2018 it is. As Leeuwarden has been crowned Capital of Culture 2018. You have probably never heard of Leeuwarden, and I really don’t blame you. However, Leeuwarden truly deserves the title and there are plenty of reasons to visit this interesting city in the north of The Netherlands. Not only is it a good opportunity to get to know this lesser-known part of the country a little better, Leeuwarden is interesting enough to spend at least a day or two.

Would you like to plan a trip to Leeuwarden and check it out? Use my complete city guide Leeuwarden and you’ll be just fine.

Leeuwarden is really easy to get to

Haven’t I told you, over and over again, that everything in The Netherlands is easy and quick to get to? Yes, I have. And Leeuwarden is no exception. So, here’s how you get to Leeuwarden.

  • If you are based in the UK, simply fly from London to Groningen (also in the north of The Netherlands) with Flybe. From Groningen, it will take only half an hour by train to get to Leeuwarden.
  • But, most of you will be flying into Amsterdam as there are more flights a day and often very cheap rates to fly into Amsterdam. From Amsterdam catch a train and you’ll be in Leeuwarden in about 2 hours.
  • To use the train, or any other public transport in The Netherlands, you need an OV Chip Card. Simply charge this card as you go.

You can make a road trip out of it

While you’re in Leeuwarden, in the north of The Netherlands, you might as well rent a car and discover some more of the highlights in the north of the country. I think you should definitely check out these 3 highlights in the north of The Netherlands, besides Leeuwarden:

Road trip in the north of The Netherlands: Groningen | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Waddeneilanden, The Netherlands: Ameland | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip in the north of The Netherlands: Pieterburen | Your Dutch Guide

  • Groningen
    About 30 minutes from Leeuwarden is the bustling city of Groningen, one of the most popular student cities in The Netherlands. The city has an exciting nightlife and fabulous shopping possibilities. Check out my city guide Groningen to learn more.
  • One of the Waddeneilanden
    The islands in the north of The Netherlands are called the Waddeneilanden and from Friesland, you simply head to Harlingen harbour to reach the islands of Vlieland, Terschelling or to Holwerd to head to Ameland or Schiermonnikoog. They’re listed on the Unesco World Heritage list and for good reason, as the broad beaches, village and polders are stunning.
  • Pieterburen
    The ‘seal centre’ in Pieterburen not only takes in seals and seal pups that were injured or in need, but treats them in such a way that they can be released into the wild again as soon as possible. The centre also researches threats to the sea around The Netherlands, like plastic soup and pollution. During a visit to the centre, you’ll not only see some cute pups but also learn a little about one of The Netherlands’ most precious eco-systems.

It’s your introduction to Friesland

Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland, a beautiful and peaceful province in the north of The Netherlands, and a pretty special one at that. Friesland is green, has large open spaces and lots of pretty canals and lakes. A pleasure for nature lovers, who feel a little green-deprived in the rest of the country. Friesland’s language ‘Frisian’ is recognised as an official language, so you will often see signs, menus and even websites in both Dutch and Frisian. If you’d like to learn a little more about the history of the province and the city, best visit the excellent Fries Museum.

The museum consists of thee levels. Start at ‘Ferhaal fan Fryslân’ gallery and the story about the 11 Frisian cities, which will absolutely make you see what a unique place Friesland is in The Netherlands.

Capital of Culture 2018, Leeuwarden. Visit Fries Museum | You Dutch Guide

Capital of Culture 2018, Leeuwarden. Shop, eat and sleep at Blokhuispoort | Your Dutch Guide

Capital of Culture 2018, Leeuwarden. Shop at Holy Stitch Leuwarden | Your Dutch Guide

Capital of Culture 2018, Leeuwarden. Sleep in prison! Hostel Alibi | Your Dutch Guide

Shop, eat and sleep in Prison

Get out of jail for free. Or get in there, rather. Leeuwarden’s Blokhuispoort used to be the city prison until a more modern facility was built on the outskirts of town. The historical building is magnificent, however, and therefore I am so happy to see it was preserved. Since it’s rather large it holds many functions. Young entrepreneurs hold offices there, but there are many more options.

First of all, I advise you to have drinks or dinner there, at Proefverlof (which means ‘probation’, nice huh). Having a drink at the bar or by the fire is absolutely lovely, but it’s also very nice to have dinner in one of the old cells. And if that’s not enough, why not stay the night in prison? Brand new hostel Alibi has only just opened its doors and offers both bunk beds and double rooms in the old prison cells. But don’t worry, everything is quite comfortable.

If you’re in luck, you can also do some proper shopping at Blokhuisport. Every 6 months or so, during the Holy Stitch creative festival, (often online) entrepreneurs rent an old cell for a day to sell their goods or host workshops. It’s the perfect opportunity to buy some Dutch design or pretty handmade crafts.

You can climb a leaning tower

Before several villages merged in the early middle ages to become Leeuwarden, what now is the edge of the centre was called Oldenhove. And the church, with its leaning tower, was named after this. Now, it’s not actually the leaning tower of Pisa, but it’s still a pretty church and if you climb the tower, you’re rewarded with a pretty view over the town centre and the region.

Must-see in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands: Oldenhove | Your Dutch Guide

Eating out in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands: Broodje Bewust | Your Dutch Guide

Shop regional products in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Eating out in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands: Wannee (photo by Wannee) | Your Dutch Guide

Food is absolutely excellent in Leeuwarden

Now, I can tell you: The Netherlands are pretty good for excellent dining. You may not expect it, but it’s true. And I was especially impressed with the high culinary standards in Leeuwarden. You have several fun options for lunch, like Waag in the beautiful old weighing building in the heart of town. And Broodje Bewust is the place for the best open-faced sandwiches, with organic products, and really good coffee.

If you’d like to take some local produce home, I highly recommend visiting House of Taste and buy some Frisian cheese or local craft beers. For dinner, you are spoilt for options. Personally, I loved Sems, which is both a wine bar and restaurants. The plates to share look stunning and taste even better. Wannee is also a fun place. Students of the local hospitality college run the place and offer a 6-course dinner for just €30.

Discover some Leeuwarden street art

At first glance, Leeuwarden couldn’t be more Dutch, with its gabled houses, canals and bikes everywhere. But there’s a modern side to the city too. You can join a street art walk to discover some pretty good murals around town. Some with historical themes, others with a more modern take. If you can’t make the tour, this free map also shows you the best (modern) hotspots in town.

Capital of Culture 2018. Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Street art in Leeuwarden | Your Dutch Guide

Capital of Culture 2018. Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Street art in Leeuwarden | Your Dutch Guide

Leeuwarden is for craft beer lovers

Craft beer is immensely popular in The Netherlands. I could probably name craft beers from every decently sized city if you’d quiz me. And Leeuwarden and Friesland are no different. In Leeuwarden, you go for beers with names like Grutte Pier. You can visit the brewery and go for a tasting. Lulk Wiif is also a craft beer from Friesland and is for sale at Priuw, where you can buy the best regional products. Haven’t had enough yet, hop into traditional pub Café de Stee (near the train station) for a glass of Oldehove.

Would you like to take a chance and visit Leeuwarden Capital of culture 2018, when visiting The Netherlands?

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Capital of culture 2018: Leeuwarden, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

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  • Reply
    April 21, 2018 at 3:03 am

    Beer, cheese, adorable seals, and eating in an old prison, this place sounds amazing! All things I would love. #weekendwanderlust

  • Reply
    April 21, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I must admit, I’ve never heard of Leeuwarden before. It looks very charming . I would love to spend a night or two in that prison.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2018 at 10:17 am

    My neighbour is from the German side of Friesland, and we’re hoping to visit her holiday house up there sometime soon. We’ll definitely head over to the Dutch side too.

    • Reply
      April 24, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      Oh, you’ve got the perfect excuse to visit then!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2018 at 12:18 am

    I haven’t heard of this region of the Netherlands. It looks quite interesting to visit though. Hopefully, someday I’ll make it to your beautiful country.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2018 at 10:05 am

    I’ve actually never heard of Leeuwarden before but it sounds like there really is a lot to do! Also how cute is that baby seal?!?!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Oh wow this town sounds like an awesome place to hang! And I love the idea of staying in a converted prison! Sounds like so much fun!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2018 at 3:13 am

    You are definitely right, I have never heard of Leeuwarden before! It sounds amazing though and I am definitely adding it to my ‘must visit’ list!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2018 at 5:18 am

    I have probably heard about this city but cannot remember much about it. I love learning about different places in Europe and it would be great to explore the northern part of The Netherlands. I love the idea of eating some good food, visiting museums and stopping by historic sites. Oh, and I would love to see the seal centre.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2018 at 8:10 am

    I’ve never heard of Leeuwarden before, but I´d love to visit one day – definitely! It´s always so interesting to explore the lesser-known regions. And it looks like Leeuwarden has so many places to see, including those outside the city like Pieterburen (by the way, what they do is amazing) and even my favourite street art

    • Reply
      April 24, 2018 at 12:56 pm

      The north of The Netherlands is often overlooked, even by the Dutch. But it has loads to offer!

  • Reply
    April 24, 2018 at 9:21 am

    That does look like a great place to spend a weekend, and my family would be clamouring to visit the seal centre too. You are right I hadn’t heard of it before though…

    • Reply
      April 24, 2018 at 12:55 pm

      Pieterburen is lovely for families, Sol. Not only do you get to see the cute seal pups, but also learn something about the precious environment in which these fluffballs live.

  • Reply
    Milly Youngman
    April 24, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I love all things prison themed so Alibi sounds like the perfect place to stay for me. I’d never really heard of Leeuwarden but I definitely want to go there now!

    • Reply
      April 24, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      ‘Loving all things prison’, now that made me laugh! I hope you get to visit someday, Milly. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    You always give me good reasons to visit the Netherlands, Esther. Staying in a prison would certainly appeal to my boys, that’s for sure!

  • Reply
    April 24, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    What a stunningly pretty place with lots going on too! Would love to visit Friesland and that seal was sooo cute!

  • Reply
    April 24, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    You’ve listed so many fabulous reasons to visit but for me the main one would be the food.

  • Reply
    Emma Raphael
    April 24, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    There are so many parts of Holland I would love to explore, I have seen very little of it even with a stack of Dutch family! 😀

    • Reply
      April 28, 2018 at 7:30 pm

      LOL! Tell your family to stop distracting you with bitterballen and appeltaart and to show you more!

  • Reply
    April 25, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    I like this place, or it is your photos that make me like it 🙂 Would love to stay at the prison, cool!

  • Reply
    April 25, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Indeed I haven’t heard of Leeuwarden but you’ve certainly made a compelling case for why I need to visit! Love the idea of the prison and drinks at Probation :).

  • Reply
    Karen Beddow
    April 25, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Beer, cheese, seals, and that prison, this place sounds such fun. I think I’d love it.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I like your details and photos. My first stops would be visiting the seals and then the prison.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2018 at 5:51 am

    I already loved the Netherlands, but the more I read, the more I seem to love about it, and want to see more of it! Leeuwarden seems to have a bit of everything. I wish I lived closer so I could visit more easily!

    • Reply
      April 28, 2018 at 7:29 pm

      Oh, I hope you get to visit soon and explore more! Thank you for stopping by.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    Okay… Pieterburen is pretty much my dream. I’ve heard about it briefly before that there was some place in the Netherlands famous for rehabilitating seal pups, and you could even help release them. Now I have the name of it! For sure adding that to my bucket list 🙂

    • Reply
      April 28, 2018 at 7:28 pm

      There is another sea life centre in The Netherlands: Ecomare. Maybe that’s something you’d like as well.

  • Reply
    May 1, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Hope to visit in September. Our family immigrated from there to Canada in 1951. Have been back 7 times still love this city.

  • Reply
    May 2, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Ameland is perfect for a day trip, 3/4 hour boat trip and rent some bikes en discover the island. Ferry to Terschelling is 1 1/2 hour and twice as expensive. Terschelling is more for a longer stay.

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