Groningen is the northernmost province of The Netherlands. Although it’s a quiet place, there’s much more to do than you might expect. These are the best things to see in Groningen.
About the province of Groningen
Groningen is the northermost province in the Netherlands and has nearly 600,000 inhabitants, of which over a third live in the city of Groningen. In Groningen, they speak several languages, both Dutch and West Low German (a mixture of German and Dutch) are an official language in the province. In addition, Frisian is also spoken in some parts of the province (especially in the southwest).
Long ago, the landscape of the province resembled the current Wadden Sea. At high tide, everything flooded and that is why people mostly lived on wierden (artificial hills), of which you can still see a lot in the landscape. The current province was founded in 1594, so it has now existed for over 400 years.
The best things to see in Groningen (province)
If you like peace and quiet, a vacation in Groningen is a very good idea. What are the best places to visit in Groningen? I’ve lived in Groningen for most of my life, and I consider these as the 15 best things to see in Groningen.
Groningen (the city)
Of course, the city of Groningen cannot be missed in this list of beautiful places in Groningen. Personally, I even think this is one of the most fun cities in the Netherlands (although I am perhaps a bit biased because I lived there for over four years).
Groningen is a real student city and therefore has many cafes and bars. In addition, there are also many beautiful sights in Groningen, such as the Groninger Museum, the Martini Tower, the Forum, and the many hidden gardens.
- Best place to stay: Hotel Miss Blanche
Bourtange is a fortress, which is now mainly a museum. It is an incredible place to visit and it feels like you’re walking in a town from the eighteenth century. It has existed since 1580 and was built at the time to keep an eye on the supply route between Bourtange and Germany. The fortress has since been continuously improved until it fell into disrepair in the 1960s. It was then completely rebuilt and it looks like the town in 1742. Nowadays, Bourtange is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Groningen.
- Check the official website for more information.
- Best place to stay: Hotel Vesting Bourtange
Pieterburen is a small village in the north of Groningen with a lot of tourist attractions. It is best known for the Zeehondencentrum, a rescue center for seals. Pieterburen is also the place where the most famous long-distance hike in the Netherlands starts: the Pieterpad.
Other beautiful things to see are Domies Toen (a botanical garden) and the gothic Petruskerk (don’t forget to take a look inside, it’s gorgeous). Pieterpad is also a good place to do a Mudflat hiking excursion.
- Best place to stay: Waddenhoes Gastenverblijven
Lauwersmeer National Park
Lauwersmeer National Park is one of 21 national parks in the Netherlands. It’s located on the border of the provinces of Groningen and Friesland. Due to the many floods, the Lauwerssea was closed off with a dike in 1969 and this is now called the Lauwersmeer. A new nature reserve was created full of birds and in 2003 this became National Park Lauwersmeer.
There are some beautiful trails, but you can also go for a swim during a hot day. Lauwersmeer National Park is an official Dark Sky Park and one of the darkest places in the Netherlands. This allows you to see the starry sky very well and with a bit of luck, you can even see the Milky Way!
- Check the official website for more information about Lauwersmeer National Park.
- Best place to stay: Slaaphuisjes LauwersmeerPlezier!
Did you know that there are many borgen (a former stronghold or villa) to see in Groningen? There used to be about 200 and there are 16 left. You can visit a number of them, including the Menkemaborg in the village of Uithuizen. This deposit was created in the fourteenth century and has been well preserved.
It is now a museum and it gives a good picture of the life of the high society in Groningen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. You can also see a maze in the beautiful eighteenth-century Dutch garden, one of the few in the Netherlands.
- Best place to stay: Hotel het Gemeentehuis Uithuizen
Kiekkaaste (Nieuwe Statenzijl)
The hamlet of Nieuwe Statenzijl is located in the far east, just 150 meters from the German border. It has only six houses and two tourist attractions: a beautiful lock complex and the Kiekkaaste. The Kiekkaaste is an incredibly photogenic birdwatching hut and is attracting more and more visitors. It is therefore a picture to see and one of the most quiet places in Groningen.
- Best place to stay: Thermen Bad Nieuweschans (six kilometers from Nieuwe Statenzijl)
Niehove is located in the Westerkwartier (a municipality in the southwest of the province) and is one of the most famous mound villages in the Netherlands. In 2019 it was voted “most beautiful village in the Netherlands” by Elsevier (the most popular weekly news magazine in The Netherlands). The entire village is a protected townscape and is situated on a mound. In the center is a small church from the thirteenth century. Tip: in the village, you will find the restaurant De Eisseshof, where you can enjoy delicious Indonesian food.
- Best place to stay: Groningen Buiten B&B in Zuidhorn (about four kilometers from Niehove)
All inhabited Wadden islands belong to the provinces of North Holland and Friesland, but Groningen also has a few Wadden islands, but these are uninhabited. There are three of them: Rottumeroog, Rottumerplaat, and Zuiderduin and together they are called Rottum. It is a beautiful nature reserve and home to birds and seals. You can visit the island of Rottumeroog during guided excursions.
- More information can be found on this website (only in Dutch).
Photo: Aline Dassel | Pixabay
Zoutkamp is one of the most picturesque villages in the west of the province of Groningen. It is not far from Lauwersmeer National Park and is known for its (former) fishing industry. Here you will find the Fishery Museum, the colorful fishermen’s houses, the Hunsingo lock, and you, of course, can eat very tasty fish here.
- Best place to stay: Naturehouse in Zoutkamp (beautiful wooden chalet with veranda).
Just like Niehove, Ezinge is a mound village and it looks adorable. From a distance, you can see the church with the free-standing tower on the mound very clear. In the village, you will also find Museum Wierdenland, where you can learn more about the special landscape with mounds in Groningen. Slightly north of Niehove is one of the Groninger borgen (castles): the Allersmaborg.
- For more information about Museum Wierdenland, visit the official website.
- Best place to stay: Hemeltjelief bij Caro (translation: Goodness by Caro)
Estate Nienoord is located near Leek in the south of the province of Groningen. Here you can visit the former Nienoord borg and the National Carriage Museum. It is also a fun place to visit with children because there is a swimming castle and family park Nienoord is located here. This is a large playground where model railway construction can also be seen.
- Best place to stay: Carpe diem in Leek
In 2020, the village of Winsum was declared the “most beautiful village in the Netherlands” by the ANWB (the Dutch Automobile Association). It has a cozy city center, historic buildings, two windmills, and the Winsumerdiep (a canal) with the harbor is a feast for the eyes. Also nice to know: Winsum is the end of the first stage of the Pieterpad, the most well-known long-distance trail in The Netherlands.
- Best place to stay: Hotel Marenland Winsum
‘t Roegwold is a place where old nature and new nature come together. The agricultural land between the existing nature areas will be redesigned here, so that new nature can be created. A striking feature is the two-kilometer long club path, which runs right through the swamp. This is one of the most beautiful places to go hiking in Groningen!
- Read more about ‘t Roegwold on this website (only in Dutch).
- Best place to stay: Eco-house in Luddeweer (sustainable house with a surrounding terrace and a huge garden).
Photos: Helga Wildeman
Appingedam is a city in the northeast of Groningen and is known for its hanging kitchens. The Damsterdiep (a canal) runs right through the town and above it three hanging kitchens can be seen: it seems as if the kitchens have come out of the houses. In addition, various medieval buildings can be seen in Appingedam, including the Nicolaïkerk.
- Best place to stay: B&B De vijgenhof
Fransum is a true “hidden gem” because few people know this place. Fransum is a tiny village, with a house, a farm and a church from the thirteenth century on a mound. From here you have a great view of the Groningen landscape. The road to here is unpaved and there are many cycling and walking junctions in the area. Next to the church is a rest point where you can grab coffee and tea and there are also some binoculars so you can look for birds.
- Best place to stay: Best Western Plus Hotel Restaurant Aduard (about four kilometers from Fransum).
A unique stay in Groningen
This article provides a tip on where to stay the night for each location. Would you rather sleep in a very unique accommodation during a holiday in Groningen? These are a few great tips for a special stay in the province of Groningen:
- Nature House in Overschild: sustainable house with a great view of the Groninger Landscape. Centrally located in the province (near ‘t Roegwold and Appingedam), so great as a base to explore all of the best places in Groningen from.
- Nature House in Zijldijk: sleep in an atmospheric former church in the village of Zijldijk. From the kitchen, you have a fantastic view of the landscape, and there is a garden where you can pick vegetables, herbs, and berries.
- Nature House in Niebert: gypsy wagon in the beautiful Westerkwartier. Away from the crowd, it is located in the middle of the meadows. There are many cycling junctions in the area and you can cycle from here to the city of Groningen.
More unique locations to sleep can be found on the website Nature.house.
Best places to eat in Groningen
- Herberg Onder de Linden | Aduard: restaurant with a Michelin star in a beautiful historic building.
- Restaurant De Molenaar | Onderdendam: surprise menu with daily fresh ingredients. Extra fun: you eat in the mill!
- Steakhouse André Dokter | Briltil: the place to go for meat lovers.
- Mr. Smiths Loft | Groningen: street food and cocktails.
- ‘La Belle Epoque’ at Estate Ekenstein | Appingedam: French cuisine.
Are you inspired and do you want to read more about The Netherlands? These are a few great travel guides:
Lonely Planet The Netherlands (Country Guide)
Insight Guides The Netherlands (Travel Guide with Free eBook)
Do you want to discover beautiful places during a vacation in the Netherlands? Read one of these articles for more useful travel tips:
- Hidden gems in The Netherlands: off the beaten path
- These are all the national parks in The Netherland
- 15 great things to do in Friesland (The Netherlands)
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