Have you ever visited Southwest Friesland in The Netherlands? There are many historic cities that are amazing to explore!
Why should you go to Southwest Friesland?
Friesland is a province in The Netherlands, all the way in the north. It has three islands and the mainland is famous because of all the lakes. During the summer months, you will see a lot of sailboats here, and in the winter, people love to go ice skating on the lakes and the canals. Maybe you’ve heard about the Elfstedentocht. This is a 200-kilometer ice skating trip that will take you through eleven (elf) cities in Friesland.
In Southwest Friesland, you’ll find seven of these cities. They’re all really scenic and have an interesting history. You will see many different historic buildings and beautiful views of the waterways in this area. It’s really nice to combine several cities in one city trip and find the beautiful treasures in each town. I was invited by the tourism board of Southwest Friesland (Waterland van Friesland) to explore four of these cities: Workum, Hindeloopen, Stavoren, and IJlst.
Workum is a beautiful small town with many historic and typical Dutch facades. It’s a great place to stroll around and search for small interesting details. I really loved this town, especially the historic harbor (Blazerhaven, a museum harbor with old wooden sailboats) and the Façade stone wall (a facade that has old façade stones incorporated. Do you like Dutch paintings? You might want to check out the Jopie Huisman Museum, a museum with the works of the famous Frisian painter Jopie Huisman.
From Workum, it’s really easy to explore the Frisian Lakes by going on a bike trip! You can rent a bike at Fytsmakkerij Scheltema. I can highly recommend the Brekkenroute, I will tell you all about this route in a future blog post.
Hungry? Go for lunch or dinner to Restaurant Sluiszicht. Good food and a great view. When it’s sunny, it’s great to sit outside.
The moment I stepped into the historic center of Hindeloopen, I fell in love. I felt like walking around in a museum! The beautiful bridges, the narrow streets, the historic buildings, I loved walking around in this town. At night, I walked over the dyke (the town is right next to the large Lake IJssel) between the sheep and watched the sunset.
The Frysian ice skating museum
Are you interested in ice skating and would you like to learn more about the famous Elfstedentocht? Then you must visit the Frysian ice skating museum that’s located in Hindeloopen. They’ve got the largest collection of ice skates in the world and lots of items that belonged to skating legends and the Elfstedentocht. You can even see the ice skates and the stamp card of the Dutch King. He skated the Elfstedentocht in 1986 under a pseudonym, so nobody knew that he took part in it until some people started to recognize him.
Where to go for lunch? Restaurant “De Friese doorloper”. This restaurant is part of the ice asking museum and they serve at least 50 different kinds of Dutch pancakes. So delicious!
Where to go for dinner? Restaurant Sudersee. The fish is fresh and cooked in a delicious way. If you don’t like fish it’s not a problem because they also serve excellent meat and vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is located next to the dyke, so after dinner, you can go for a walk and watch the sunset over Lake IJssel.
Where to stay? Bed & Breakfast Sinnestriel. This Bed & Breakfast is located right next to the ice skating museum. The owner is an artist (she makes beautiful portraits) and you can clearly see it in the decorations of the room. In the morning, she will serve you a delicious breakfast.
The third town I visited during my city trip to Southwest Friesland is Stavoren. This town is also located on the shore of Lake IJssel.
The saga of the Lady of Stavoren
Have you ever heard the saga of the lady of Stavoren? It’s about a wealthy merchant’s widow. She lived in a house with golden floors and owned most of the ships in Stavoren. She wanted the most valuable cargo in the world and send away her best captain to get it for her. After a long search, he came back with grain, which he found to be more valuable than gold because it can multiply.
She was really mad and made him throw all the grain in the sea. Years later, this became the downfall of the Lady of Stavoren and the city of Stavoren. Right where the grain was thrown in the ocean, an island arose. Ships couldn’t get into the harbor anymore and the ships moved to other towns to trade their goods.
Whether this is a true story or not, nowadays you can still see the statue of the Lady of Stavoren overlooking the sea.
Explore the harbor
Stavoren is located right next to Lake IJssel and has a large harbor. Especially the harbor where you can find the statue of the Lady of Stavoren is really beautiful. Here you can see fishing boats and lots of colorful houses. It’s great to go for a stroll over the Dyke and watch the ships on Lake IJssel.
Where to eat? Beach pavilion de Potvis. Great food (the fish is to die for) with a great view of Lake IJssel.
Where to stay? Rent a tiny house at campground De Weyde Blick in Warns (it’s about 5 kilometers away from Stavoren). Do you like to have the privacy of your own home or do you want to visit Southwest Friesland with your family or a group of friends? Then I can recommend renting one of the houses at this campground. There’s a small kitchen, so you can cook your own meals. But you can also order a great breakfast box in the morning.
IJlst is the fourth town I visited during my city trip to Southwest Friesland. It’s another gorgeous city and it even has a protected townscape. That’s mostly because of the ‘overtuinen’. In the city center, you’ll see a canal and the gardens of the houses are located right on the canal. The road street lies between the houses and the canal. It’s a very interesting thing to see!
Sawmill De Rat
One of the highlights in IJlst is a visit to sawmill De Rat. This mill was built in 1711 in the Zaanstreek (an area north of Amsterdam) and was moved to IJlst in 1829. Nowadays, they still saw trees to boards like they did 300 years ago. You can visit the mill while they are working. You might even get a guided tour by the miller. Don’t forget to buy one of the authentic cutting boards as a souvenir.
Audio tour: Experience the IJlst of 1868
Would you know what life was like in IJlst back in 1868? You can do a free audio tour while walking through the city. A great way to explore the city and learn about the history of IJlst.
Where to eat? Town tavern Het Wapen van IJlst. Gorgeous old Dutch café where you can go for lunch or dinner. The interior looks like a museum, there are old wooden ice skates everywhere.
It’s easy to combine these four cities during a long weekend, so go out and explore them all during a city trip in Southwest Friesland.
Other cities in Southwest Friesland
Besides the four cities I visited during my trip to Southwest Friesland, there are three more cities you might consider visiting during a city trip in this region:
Sneek is the largest city in Southwest Friesland and is famous because of the historic Watergate. Together with Hindeloopen, Sneek was mentioned by Lonely Planet as one of the best experiences in The Netherlands.
Bolsward is a former Hanseatic city filled with historic buildings. One of the must-sees in Bolsward is the ruin of the Broerekerk. A very photogenic church with a glass roof!
Sloten is a tiny town and so cute! You will love strolling along the waterways and crossing the historic bridges.
I’ve visited all these cities in the past and I can highly recommend going there. It’s a gorgeous region in The Netherlands that still feels authentic.
Would you like to know more about all the cities I mentioned in this article? Check out the website of the tourism board of Waterland.
Art project 11Fountains
In each of the cities that lie along the route of the Elfstedentocht, you can find a special fountain. This was an art project of Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018 (the capital of Friesland, Leeuwarden, was the European Capital of Culture in 2018). Each fountain has something to do with the history of the town they’re located in. For example, in Workum the fountain consists of two lions, which you can also see in the coat of arms of Workum. It’s a great challenge to discover them all!
Visit Southwest Friesland by train
Of course, it’s easy to visit these towns by car, but I prefer to go city tripping by train! All of these cities are well connected by public transport thanks to the carrier Arriva. Check the website of Arriva for timetables and ticket prices.
Would you like to know more about this gorgeous region in The Netherlands? Check out this article: Go cycling and hiking in Southwest Friesland (The Netherlands)
Discover more beautiful places in The Netherlands
Would you like to read more about the most beautiful places in The Netherlands? Get one of these amazing travel guides:
Or check out one of these articles:
- The most beautiful places in The Netherlands
- Fun things to do in Groningen
- The Netherlands: off the beaten track
This article is a collaboration with the tourism board of Southwest Friesland. I only collaborate with companies that are a good fit for this website. I will always share my honest opinion.