You might be thinking “Groningen?” Where in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is that?” Like you, I also had no idea where Groningen was, and knew even less about what it was like there. But despite all that I didn’t know about Groningen, I chose this city where I would begin my master’s program at my “home” university–the University of Groningen (or “Rijksuniversiteit Groningen” in Dutch).
It didn’t take long before this unfamiliar place with a weird name (Groningen is pronounced with a harsh g–a brief ‘hacking up loogies’ kind of sound) turned into a place I would consider home and one I am already starting to miss dearly, even if I’m still here! I realize that doesn’t make much sense, but the word “bittersweet” would describe the feeling best.
In this post you’ll discover 10 reasons why you should put Groningen on your “to go” travel list. Groningen has so much to offer and it is not yet widely known, which makes it even sweeter! Most people imagine Amsterdam as the emblem of the Netherlands, but I would say that Groningen definitely offers an authentic Dutch-life experience without the huge toursity scene.
All photos are taken by me in Groningen, please ask first if you would like to use them! 🙂
When people think of the world’s cycling city, they think of Amsterdam. But it may come as a surprise that Groningen is actually winner of this category. Over 50% of all trips in Groningen are made on bikes!
Groningen truly is bicycle wonderland, and it is indeed one of my favorite parts about life in this lovely little city and the reason for it being number 1 on my top 10 reasons to visit Groningen.
To uni, the grocery store, to bars or restaurants, I take my bike everyday and for any occassion. It is fun + exercise + convenience + sustainability all in one! What’s not to adore?
The video below gives an excellent look into how Groningen became a cycling city and shows great shots of the city’s landmarks and what it’s like to bike through the city!
2. Boats, canals, & cute pedestrian streets
One of the first things almost everyone notices and falls in love with in Groningen is the cute canals and the even cuter boat houses that line them. The canals are smaller than what you would see in Amsterdam, and are sprinkled with decorated, uniquely-styled boathouses. Some have gardens, balconies, several floors, or even have paneling that resembles that of a house, except these houses sit on the water.
If you’re not busy admiring the sights of the boats and cute bridges crossing the canals, you’ll be otherwise in love with the cobbled-stone or brick pedestrian streets that gives Groningen the cherry on top of the cuteness cake!
3. Adorable tea/coffee shops
While admiring your surroundings in Groningen either on foot or on bike, don’t forget to go slowly and take in all the lovely tea and coffee shops that are sprinkled through out the city. You will especially find these in the city center or lining either side of the street nearby the university buildings.
From local to international, there is a cafe that suits everyone in town. With big windows that give you a glimpse of the warm cozy lighting and trendy interior decor, these little cafes are just too tempting for the average student’s budget and I may or may not be guilty for treating myself to a latte macchiato, or two.. 😉
The only problem is that there are just too many good ones to choose from! I can say however, the first one we visited upon arrival in Groningen is the Op z’n Kop cat café (you know I simply couldn’t resist!)
4. Restaurants galore for your inner foodie
When your belly starts to rumble after a day exploring Groningen it might be time to discover all the tasty delicacies Groningen has to offer. Groningen might be a smaller Dutch city (population 190,000) but nevertheless this place has international food options for any hungry traveler and for all types of budgets.
From fancy restaurants with live classical music, to bars, bistros, noodle shops, or burger joints, Groningen offers something for everyone! One of our favorites is Mr. Mofongo which is nestled right next to the Academy building (main buidling of my uni) and offers a full bar/restaurant with international cuisine. Try the nachos or Thai green curry soup!
5. Grote (Grand) & Vis (Fish) Markets
Don’t miss out on all the local stalls and shops that come to the Grote and Vis Market!
The “main market” is every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday on the Vis Markt. It is definitely worth a trip to the market while in Groningen, even if it’s just to taste the fresh fish nuggets (“kibbeling”) that are quick-fried and sprinkled with a savory seasoning that leaves you wanting more.
If you love fresh fish, cheese, meats, nuts, bread, pastries, fruits and veggies, flowers, or locally-made goods, then a trip to the market is a must!
You can also find other markets in various neighborhoods in Groningen, but we tend to do all our weekly shopping for fresh fruits and veggies on Saturday at the main market.
6. Shop ’til you drop
All through out the city center, you can find large streets lined with popular clothing stores like Zara, H&M, Hema, etc., but if you take a stride down the side-streets that cut through the city you can find super cute local specialty shops, gift shops, or concept stores. It is surprising how much you notice when you either bike or walk down these streets; each time I find a new store that I put on my “still need to visit” list!
My two favorite so far couple as both a store/café so you can either go in and shop or sit down and enjoy a homemade cake or browse the unique items on display.
7. Vibrant nightlife
Groningen may have the “small town in a city” feeling, but it definitely doesn’t go quiet at night. After all, out of the almost 200,000 inhabitants, nearly 50,000 are youngsters/students under age 35, making Groningen one hip, young place.
Going out isn’t only dedicated to Thurs, Fri, or Sat, but on random days through out the week you’ll find people crowding the bars, clubs, or having fun trying to bike around after having a few drinks (which is so much fun). Actually, of the best nights out we had was strangely on a Tuesday night!
8. History & Architecture
Groningen is a hub for architectural design and beauty. From it’s train station, to the Groninger Museum, and all the unique building shapes in between, Groningen “stands for architecture” and will definitely give you some great photo ops.
My university’s “Academy building” for example, was built in 1604 and makes me feel like I’m a student at Hogwarts. The main railway station is also a special sight to see, from both the inside and outside. There is also the Martini Tower and Martini Church, the city hall, warehouses, the Groningen synagogue, and many other beautiful buildings that invites both the lovers of history and old or modern architecture.
9. City of Talent
It is no wonder Groningen is dubbed the “City of Talent”. Just recently, one of the university’s professors and scientists, Ben Feringa, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemsitry!
“Groningen encourages research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It attracts many young, creative entrepreneurs and invests in outstanding IT infrastructure. Key projects are Wireless Groningen and Target, an expertise centre for large-scale data processing. Internationally Groningen collaborates closely within the Northern Development Axis, sharing knowledge and expertise with the North German cities, the Baltic states and Scandinavia. Groningen is truly a City of Talent.”
10. Dutch countryside
Reason number 10 for why you should visit Groningen is for it’s location. Nestled towards the north of the Netherlands, Groningen is but just a stones throw away from the Dutch islands on the sea, Germany just a few kilometers on your right, and the best of all, the flat, green, Dutch countryside.
Groningen is not just the name of the city, but also represents the Groningen Province. An hour drives away will land you with spectacular views of Holland and will take you to unique towns and landmarks. A quick trip with the car, or a half-day ride on the bike will take you to the village of Geithoorn, where they use boats on a one-way canal or ‘highway’ and is therefore dubbed the “Venice of the North”. In the opposite direction, an hour’s drive will take you to the star-shaped historic fortress, “Fort Broutange”.
As you can tell, it’s no wonder why these past few months I’ve had less time to write, because there is just so much to do and see in such little time! Stay updated for future posts dedicated to each of these day trips!
And with that concludes my top ten list of reasons why you should add Groningen on your travel list!
Thank you for reading!! Have you ever visited the Netherlands or Groningen?? What did you love?
Share this article with friends or family planning a visit to Holland!