Giethoorn is a picturesque village in Overijssel in the Netherlands. It is known as Venice of the North because of its extensive network of canals and 176 bridges. While Amsterdam and Bruges also claim this title, Giethoorn does not just have the canals, but they are still actively used as the main mode of transport.
Giethoorn was founded around 1230 by the Flagellants. Flagellants were fugitives from the Mediterranean that practitioned an extreme form of mortification of their own flesh by whipping it with various instruments. The Flagellants made it the first village built on peatland in the Netherlands. Around the 16th century the villagers started digging the first canals to transport peat. A lot of farmers built their farms at these canals. Most farms are built on small islands that can only be reached by bridges. Over the centuries, the villagers dug so much peat that lakes were created in the surrounding region.
The village is small and has only 2,620 inhabitants. There are no roads in the centre, all transport is done by water over one of the many canals (but nowadays there is a cycling path). Venice has gondolas, Giethoorn has punters, traditional flatbottom boats that are used for transport over the canals. Giethorn has a long shape and is separated in three tiny settlements: Noordeinde, Middenbuurt and Zuideinde. The Dorpsgracht is the central canal that connects these separate settlements. The farms and houses are separated from each other by small canals. The bultrugboerderij is a common type of farm in Giethoorn. It seems to have a large bump because the barn is larger than the house in front.
The village became nationally famous in 1958 when Dutch film maker Bert Haanstra shot his famous comedy Fanfare here. In the 2010s there has been a strong increase in visitors from China. Bus signs and time tables have been translated in Mandarin Chinese.
First you have to go to Steenwijk by train. If you come from Amsterdam, this usually means that you have to get onto the Intercity to Lelystad Centrum and then switch onto the Intercity to Leeuwarden (get off at Steenwijk). Then switch onto bus 70 to Giethoorn. Bus 249 is an alternative that is only available in high season. This bus also operates on weekends.
If you're coming by car, keep in mind that you cannot drive in the centre of Giethoorn. From Amsterdam, follow the signs to Almere, Lelystad and Emmeloord. Take exit 15 of the A6, drive onto the N331 in the direction of Marknesse. Take the exit in the direction Blokzijl/Steenwijk and continue your route along the N333. Follow the signs to Giethoorn.
You get around by boat. Hire a punter and navigate the canals. Anyone can do this, it is not difficult.
Bus 70 connects the centre of Giethoorn with the surrounding area.
- Giethoorn Weerribben Cycle Route (46) - Thatched cottages, narrow bridges and wetlands.
- Giethoorn Wieden Cycle Route (35 km) - Thatched cottages, lakes and wetlands.
There are many small museums in Giethoorn.
- 1 De Oude Aarde, Binnenpad 43, ☏ +31 521 361-313. 1 Mar-30 Oct 10:00-18:00 daily, 1 Nov-28 Feb W-Su 10:00-17:00. A museum showcasing a collection of gemstones, minerals and fossils. The highlight is the largest Aepyornis-egg ever found and a couple of large Amethysts. Also has a terrarium. €3.50, children €2.50.
- 2 't Olde Maat Uus, Binnenpad 52 (next to the Doopsgezinde kerk), ☏ +31 521 362-244. Apr-Oct M-Sa 11:00-17:00, Su 12:00-17:00, Nov-Mar Su 12:00-17:00. A museum about life in Giethoorn around 1900. It is housed in an old farm. €4, children €1.
- 1 Fanfare, Binnenpad 68, ☏ +31 521 361-600. 10:00-21:00 daily. Named after the Dutch film Fanfare that is screened in the restaurant. It is housed in an old farmhouse, but has a modern menu. You can have lunch and dinner here, but also a quick coffee or tea with a Gieterse soes. Live music performances are sometimes given. Free Wi-Fi. €25.
- 1 De Jonge, Beulakerweg 30 (bus 70 to Hotel Harmonie), ☏ +31 521 361-360. A small charming hotel in a quiet area. Its interior is old-fashioned, don't expect a modern or trendy twist. It is also a restaurant with outdoor seating. Full-day packages for activities are offered, including boat rental. The centre of Giethoorn is about 30 minutes walking, but there is a faster bus connection. €91.
Free Wi-Fi in restaurant Fanfare, but a beverage is required.
There are some other highlights in the surrounding area. The villages Vollenhove en Blokzijl can be explored or you can visit the town of Steenwijk. Weerribben-Wieden National Park also makes an excellent onward destination.