Groningen is the northeasternmost province in the Netherlands. It is mainly agricultural with its capital, also called Groningen, as the only big city around. Although the flat countryside may seem uneventful at first glance, there's plenty of heritage and typical scenery to discover. This area was the stage for one of the oldest human efforts in Europe to conquer the water and shape the landscape through ditches, terps and pastures. There are picturesque villages, historical mansions and ample opportunities to just enjoy the laid-back countryside life in this most northern part of the Netherlands.
Cities and regions
|Groningen city (incl. Haren, Ten Boer)|
The provincial capital and by far the largest city in the Northern Netherlands. It is a vibrant student city where historical buildings and modern architecture go hand in hand. Combined with an excellent museum, good shopping opportunities and its nightlife, this is one of the prime destinations of the region.
|Westerkwartier (Zuidhorn, Leek)|
Wetland and bocage area in the Western Quarter of Groningen province.
|Het Hogeland (Winsum, Roodeschool, Loppersum)|
The northern clay area with picturesque villages on artificial dwelling mounds.
Small city with busy port and industrial area.
Very picturesque canals with the famous "hanging kitchens".
Centrally-located in the province, this region is known for the largest natural gas field of Europe. The 16th-century Fraeylemaborg manor house is here.
|Veenkoloniën (Stadskanaal, Veendam)|
Groningen's Peat District, with a landscape characterised by long, straight canals with linear settlements, and vast agricultural areas in between.
The eastern region, known for its rapeseed fields, Oldambtmeer lake, 'windmill city' Winschoten, and Bad Nieuweschans spa town.
|Westerwolde (Ter Apel, Vlagtwedde)|
In the southeast of the province, this region is famous for the fortified villages of Oudeschans and most notably Bourtange.
- Bourtange — an old Dutch fortified village
For centuries, the city of Groningen has acted as a city-state, trying to dominate the surrounding agricultural areas. In the 16th century, the city and the surrounding areas (the Ommelanden) were merged to become one province in the Dutch republic. The official name of the province at that time, Stad en Lande (City and Countryside) shows how two separate areas were merged. Although in later centuries the animosity between the city and its surroundings has decreased, until today there is a clear division of the city on the one hand, and the remainder of the province on the other hand.
Apart from this division between city and Ommelanden, each of the regions in the countryside has its own story. The large presence of extremely exploitative landowners in the east of Groningen during the late 19th and early 20th century left a relatively strong communist movement. The area is therefore regarded as the last stronghold of the communist party in the country. In this region, the Oldambt, very large farmhouses of the wealthy landowners are ubiquitous. In the southeast, in the so-called 'Peat Colonies' (Veenkoloniën), peat was dug and used as fuel (mainly in the city), resulting in a characteristic landscape of canals (for drainage and transport) and linear villages. In other areas, such as the Hogeland region in the north, the landscape has been shaped by battling the water of the Wadden Sea, with traditional artificial dwelling mounds (wierden) and the sea dikes. On the other hand, the southwest of the province, in the Westerkwartier region, has a slightly higher elevation and its landscape resembles that of neighbouring Drenthe province.
The city of Groningen is the economic, political, and cultural capital of the province, and its large university, hospitals, and shopping facilities are important for the wider region. Traditionally, agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy in the remainder of the province. However, nowadays this is much more diverse. In 1959, one of the largest natural gas fields in Europe was discovered near the village of Slochteren (Midden-Groningen). Furthermore, there is a large industrial area in the port city of Delfzijl, and also the port of Eemshaven in the Hogeland region is important.
While some locals speak a Low Saxon dialect called Gronings, everyone also speaks standard Dutch. English and German are widely spoken. Especially at markets and fairs, many buyers will be German.
It is easiest to arrive in Groningen by train into the city of Groningen. Groningen city, although on the edge of the province, is a transport hub; lines running to the north of the province join the main rail network here.
Convenient services run from the south of the country. Regular direct services run from The Hague via Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, and Zwolle, and from Rotterdam via Utrecht and Zwolle (the blue lines on the map). From Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport the journey typically takes 2 hr 10 min.
Frequent scheduled buses are available to Groningen city from larger towns in the Northern Netherlands, including Emmeloord, Heerenveen, Emmen, Assen. German bus companies, including Flixbus, offer regular direct bus connections from Oldenburg and Bremen, and multiple daily connections from cities including Hamburg and Berlin. Long-distance domestic services include those from Enschede and Eindhoven.
There is an airport about 10 km outside the city of Groningen, in Eelde (Groningen Airport Eelde). This airport is quite small, with mainly charter flights from Southern Europe, but also scheduled flights from Copenhagen, London, and Gdansk, amongst others. Via Copenhagen Airport, many European and worldwide destinations are available with one transfer. Other flight connections require a train journey; Schiphol Airport is the biggest and best connected airport, but Bremen is a similar distance away by train (2–3 hours) and well served by budget airlines. Train tickets for Schiphol are €25.70 one-way (2016).
Groningen is well connected to the national motorway network, with the A7 (Amsterdam-Friesland-Groningen-Germany) and A28 (Utrecht-Zwolle-Groningen) being the key road connections. From Amsterdam, Groningen is clearly signposted, with the fastest way (approximately 1h 30m - 2h 15m, depending on the location in Groningen province) being via motorways A1, A6, and A7).
Best way to get around the province is by car or bike. As the province is quite spread out, take a car if you have not much time to spare. In general, the roads in Groningen are quiet and serious traffic jams are rare, although rush hours tend to get busy in and around the city of Groningen.
Parking a car in the city of Groningen can be expensive, and especially on Saturdays the parking garages may be full. You can park your car at a park-and-ride facility (P+R), and travel by bus to the city centre for a small fee
Car rental is available in the city of Groningen, at Groningen Airport, and in several of the larger towns throughout the province.
By public transport
From the city of Groningen, most towns and villages across the province can be reached easily by train and/or bus. Trains by Arriva run to amongst others Delfzijl, Roodeschool, Zuidhorn, Winschoten and Veendam. Buses, both within Groningen city and throughout the province, are operated by Qbuzz. During daytime, larger towns throughout the province can be reached from Groningen city at least twice per hour. Connections that do not involve Groningen city may be more cumbersome.
Some buses in the country side require prior reservation ("bel bus"). Another option is the so-called "treintaxi", a cab that operates as a mini-bus and connects trainstations with private addresses (even in nearby villages) for just a few euro.
Apart from the provincial capital city Groningen, there is also a lot to see in the so-called 'Ommelanden' (the countryside surrounding the city, i.e. the remainder of the province). There are many picturesque villages, little fishing communities, little castles ('borgen'), churches, and windmills.
The most visited museum in Groningen province by far is the Groninger Museum in Groningen city, showcasing modern and contemporary art of local, national, and international artists. (> 200,000 visitors annually). Other popular museums include the open-air museum of star fort Bourtange, the Ter Apel monastery in Westerwolde, the heritage railway and railway museum STAR in Stadskanaal, and the Veenkoloniaal Museum on the history of the 'Peat District' in Veendam. In addition, many of the 'borgen' as listed below house a museum.
Some more intimate, less visited, museums that are well worth a visit include the Abel Tasman Museum in Lutjegast (Westerkwartier), on the famous Dutch 17th century seafarer and namesake of Tasmania that was born here, and the Kapiteinshuis (Captain's House) in Nieuwe Pekela (Veenkoloniën), on the maritime history of the Peat District region.
'Borg' is the local name for a former stronghold or villa. There used to be more than 200 'borgen', but many of them have been demolished in the 19th century and less than twenty are remaining. However, several of these surviving 'borgen' are in a good condition and can be visited. Some of them are in use as a museum. More information on the 'borgen' is available in the articles on the respective towns/regions.
- Fraeylemaborg in Slochteren — 16th century borg with English landscape style garden, with a historic house museum
- Menkemaborg in Uithuizen — 14th century borg, with a museum showing life in the 18th century
- Borg Nienoord in Leek — 19th century borg with beautiful gardens and the Dutch National Carriage Museum
- Borg Piloersema in Den Ham — 17th century borg now in use as a restaurant and hotel
- Verhildersum in Leens — 14th century borg, decorated in 19th century style
There are several churches in the province that are worth a visit. The 13th century Martinikerk, in the centre of Groningen city, is the largest church of the province. Its clock tower, the Martini Tower, is 97 metres high, and from the top of the tower you have a wide view over the city and surrounding regions. Other famous churches include the 12th century church of Midwolde (Westerkwartier), the Walfriduskerk in Bedum (Hogeland) with a tower leaning more than the tower of Pisa, and a few churches in 20th century Amsterdam School architecture style, e.g. the Oosterkerk in Groningen city and the Zaalkerk in Musselkanaal (Veenkoloniën).
With the Netherlands being famous as a country of windmills, also the province of Groningen has its fair share, with more than 80 traditional windmills surviving. Most of the windmills in the province are polder mills (for drainage of reclaimed land) or grist mills. Many of the windmills can be visited, although opening times are usually limited (e.g. only on Saturday afternoons, or only by appointment). A famous windmill is the Goliath polder mill in Eemshaven (Hogeland) because of its location among many modern wind turbines, offering great photo opportunities. The town of Winschoten in Oldambt is known as 'windmill city' because of its three windmills in one street in the centre.
When in Groningen province why not try:
- Wadlopen (walking through the mud during low tide). It is a great way to experience the Wadden Sea, starting in the Hogeland region. The Wadden Sea, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an area of great natural beauty full of seabirds and seals. For more experienced "wadlopers" there are even trips to the island of Schiermonnikoog.
- Take a bath or spend a day in the sauna at the Spa of Bad Nieuweschans.
- Try the Groningen City walk, a guided tour through the inner city of Groningen. Lots of interesting buildings (like the Prinsenhof) and stories.
- Take the stairs at the Martini Tower in Groningen city. Climb to the top of the tower and enjoy the view.
There are several lakes in the province of Groningen, with possibilities for swimming, sailing, kayaking, etc. The largest ones, with facilities such as boat rental, are listed below. All of these lakes are interconnected through a dense network of rivers and canals.
- Lauwersmeer National Park — at the border of Groningen's Hogeland region and Friesland province
- Zuidlaardermeer — in Midden-Groningen, at the border with Drenthe province
- Oldambtmeer — artificial lake in Oldambt
- Paterswoldsemeer and Hoornsemeer — two connected lakes at the border with Drenthe's Tynaarlo region, immediately south of the city of Groningen
- Schildmeer — in Midden-Groningen
- Leekstermeer — at the border of Groningen's Westerkwartier region and Drenthe's Noordenveld region
There is a wide variety of restaurants in the province of Groningen. Common cuisines that are available in most of the towns and villages throughout the province include Dutch/French, Italian, Turkish (mostly fastfood), and Chinese/Indonesian. The selection of restaurants in the provincial capital is much more diverse. Especially along the Wadden Sea coast, fresh fish and fish restaurants are available, for instance in Lauwersoog, Zoutkamp or Noordpolderzijl (in the Hogeland region) or Termunterzijl (Delfzijl). Or get yourself a Dutch Pancake (pannenkoek) in the 'pancake ship' that is docked in a Groningen city canal, or at the Nienoord estate in Leek (Westerkwartier region).
A typical dish from Groningen is poffert, a type of raisin cake that is eaten for lunch or dinner, or as a snack. This regional dish is served at Koffie- en Theehuis Tante Til in Enumatil (Westerkwartier). Other typical Groningen food products include Groninger mustard (whole-grain mustard), Groninger worst (dried pork sausage with cloves) and Groninger koek (spice cake with rye and syrup).
Groningen city is famous for its nightlife. Nowhere in the Netherlands will the pubs stay open longer. Especially at the area to the southeast of the Grote Markt (central square), like the Poelestraat, the Oosterstraat en the Peperstraat, there are a lot of pubs that stay open until early in the morning. Dutch pubs, student pubs, Irish pubs, bars, coffeeshops, you name it, Groningen has it. Try café Hooghoudt at the southside of the Grote Markt square Hooghoudt is a local liquor brand (it produces vodka and traditional Dutch liquors like 'Jenever', Dutch gin) and the café acts as a barrelhouse.
Most towns and villages in the province have limited nightlife, but usually there are a few cafés or pubs that are open until after midnight in weekends. There are popular nightclubs in Stadskanaal and Veendam (in the Veenkoloniën region).
In whole, Groningen is a safe place to stay. There are only a few basic rules to follow:
- Lock your car and don't leave valuables in your car.
- Double lock your rental bike; the Netherlands is famous for bicycles, but also for bicycle theft.
- Hard drugs are illegal in the Netherlands, but possession of a small portion of soft drugs for personal use is allowed.
- Groningen city centre is observed by CCTV cameras (with noise-sensitive warning equipment). If you are the victim or the witness of a criminal act, the police will normally arrive in a few minutes.
Most places in the Netherlands can be reached within four hours of travel (either car or train).
Nearby places in the Netherlands
- Schiermonnikoog — West Frisian island where no cars are allowed, direct ferry connection from Groningen province (Lauwersoog port)
- Drenthe — province to the south of Groningen, famous for its bicycle routes and the annual Dutch TT MotoGP race
- Friesland — province to the west of Groningen, famous for its lake district
Across the border in Germany
- Borkum — East Frisian island in Germany, direct ferry connection from Groningen province (Eemshaven port)
- East Frisia — large rural area in northwestern Germany
- Oldenburg — twin city of Groningen with an old city centre