Leeuwarden is the capital of the Dutch province Friesland in the north of the country. Leeuwarden and Friesland as a whole are often overlooked by visitors. As the Netherlands are small, however, and the famous "Afsluitdijk" connects Friesland to the provinces in the west, it's a 90-minute drive from Amsterdam to Leeuwarden. For those willing to make the trip, the city has lots of history to offer and gives an insight in the proud local culture of the Frisians. There are several worthwhile museums, including large Fries Museum.
Leeuwarden was a "European Capital of Culture" for 2018, an honour it shared with Valletta.
From Amsterdam, Leeuwarden can be reached by two different routes: the western route via the A7 and the A31 and the eastern one via the A1, A6 and A32. From Groningen and northern Germany, Leeuwarden can be reached via the A7 and N31.
By public transport
An intercity train service connects Leeuwarden to Amsterdam and to Schiphol Airport. There are direct connections once per hour, and additional ones with a transfer in either Zwolle or Almere. For Amsterdam Central Station you must transfer at Lelystad or Almere Centrum. The journey will take about two and a half hours and costs about €25 for a single ticket. Direct train connections to and from Leeuwarden include services to Utrecht (2hr, €24), Groningen (35min, €10), Heerenveen (20min, €5.80), Franeker and Harlingen. All trains to Leeuwarden terminate there.
Bus services run to nearby destinations in Friesland, including Franeker, Heerenveen, Sneek and Harlingen as well as villages on route. The journeys typically take longer than the same ones by train.
The nearest airport is Groningen Airport Eelde, a small airport with scheduled international flights from Copenhagen, London (Southend), and Gdansk, as well as flights to holiday destinations in Southern Europe. From the airport, take bus 2 or 100 towards Groningen station (20-35 min); from here you can take the direct train to Leeuwarden (3 times/hour; 35 min).
From the much larger Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, the direct train to Leeuwarden takes approximately 2hr 15min.
As is the case with all old city centres in The Netherlands, the old centre of Leeuwarden is compact and can easily be explored on foot. The tourist information centre (VVV) has a number of walking and biking routes, if you want to make sure to catch all major sights. * Fietspoint Leeuwarden. is at the train station and rents out bikes for around €7.50 per day. Cycling is an excellent way to discover the city as well as the surrounding natural areas.
All city bus lines depart from the bus station, which is next to the train station. The bus station is divided in a (covered) part for local city lines, and one for regional lines. The city lines are operated by Connexxion but for some lines smaller buses under the name "Maxx" are used. Regional lines, which operate routes to and from villages and cities in the area, are also operated by Qbuzz.
Just north of the railway station lies Leeuwarden's compact medieval centre, surrounded by defensive canals. With 617 buildings listed as national monuments, the city has no lack of heritage to see. The old town is small enough to easily explore on foot, with plenty of time to take in the many historic buildings. Among the most notable ones are:
- 1 Grote of Jacobijnerkerk, 95 Jacobijnerkerkhof. The largest of the medieval churches, dating back to around 1300. It's a Gothic style building that was built as a monastery. It houses a famous 1727 Christian Müller-organ.
- Waag, 148 Nieuwestad. Leeuwarden's nicely decorated former weigh house was built in 1590, probably to replace an earlier one. It was a major centre for trade in the city, with butter and other dairy products being the most weighed and traded goods. It kept its function until 1880 or so, and now houses a lunch room.
- 2 Oldehove, 1 Oldehoofsterkerkhof. When the city of Groningen got its massive Martini-tower in the 15th century, the Frisians were determined to get a tower of their own, at least as high. Money was raised throughout the province and building began in 1529. The master builder was however unaccustomed to the clay grounds under the city, and the measures he took to ensure the towers stability (including a 1.1-5 m foundation and a broad base) soon turned out to be insufficient. The tower was only 10 m high when it started to lean. Attempts to correct for the sag resulted in the tower not only leaning, but also being bent in itself. After about 4 years, the construction was stopped and the tower remained as it was ever since: 40 m high and leaning. Only in 2005 experts found that one side of the tower was built on the remains of an artificial dwelling hill, which is believed to explain many of the problems. In any case, although nothing like the Martinitower in grandeur, the Oldehove has proven an interesting landmark for the city and it has been restored. Due to the state of the structure and in order to limited noise for the people living around the tower, its bells are only used for special occasions.
- Kanselarij, 13 Turfmarkt.
- 3 City hall, 36 Raadhuisplein. Building of the Classicist city hall started in 1715. It has been extensively restored. The inscription above the mainentrance reads "Pace et Justitia", or "Peace and Justice".
Other attractions include:
- Fries Museum, Wilhelminaplein 92. Tu-Su 11:00–17:00. The Fries Museum houses an excellent historic collection about Friesland and its 11 cities. It includes many works of art but also a wide range of historic artefacts. €10 for adults.
- 4 Princessehof National Ceramics Museum, 11 Grote Kerkstraat, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- Natural History Museum Friesland, 2 Schoenmakersperk, ☏ .
- 5 Mata Hari birth place & statue, Kelders 33. The birth place of Mata Hari, the famous exotic dancer, courtisan and hapless spy, was restored after a 2013 fire, and since 2016 the building has contained a presentation centre (belevingscentrum) with exhibits about the town's most famous citizen. In front of the building stands a statue of Mata Hari dressed as an exotic dancer. Elsewhere the Fries Museum has a Mata Hari Room.
- Football: SC Cambuur were relegated in 2023 and play soccer in Eerste Divisie, the Dutch second tier. Their home ground Cambuur Stadion (capacity 10,500) is 1 km northeast of city centre.
- Boat trip. Rent a small electric sloop and discover the city on your own via its picturesque canals. The sloops are owned by Greenjoy but reservations are made via the tourist information office, which will also provide you with tips on routes and sights on the way. There's a minimum rental period of 2 hours. €15/25 per hour on weekdays/weekends.
- Poetry route. You'll have to understand some Dutch to really appreciate this poetic initiative, but even if you're not intentionally following this remarkable route, make sure to notice the art you're walking on. Throughout the city centre, parts of the pavement have been replaced by stones with poems in them. Some display famous, old poems while others hold new work, created for this purpose by participating poets. There's a free map available from the website if you want to see them all.
As it is the province capital, Leeuwarden is a regional centre for shopping and services. You'll find the range of shops and large chain stores you'd expect from any city its size but also a couple of cosy shopping streets and fun boutiques. The Kleine Kerkstraat is considered one of the most charming shopping streets in the country, with about 30 speciality shops. Good places in the Kleine Kerkstraat include Italian delicacy store Bellini or the Zuivelhoeve, with an excellent collection of Dutch cheeses and other dairy products, including many local goods. It also houses a design store and a couple of clothing boutiques. The Sint Jacobsstraat is another fun shopping street, with, among others, one of the best model cars and trains stores in the Netherlands, called De Treinenpassage. Both streets end in the Nieuwestad. which is pretty much the heart of the city's shopping area.
Thursday evening is so-called "koop-avond" or shopping night for Leeuwarden, with most stores closing at 21:00 instead of the usual 18:00.
- 1 Eindeloos, Korfmakersstraat 17, ☏ . Tu-Sa 18:00-22:30. Very good food. Most is made by using prominent local and regional suppliers which produce their products in a sustainable way. €27.50-40.00 (ex. drinks).
- 2 Trattoria Italiana, Sint Jacobsstraat 6, ☏ . Widely considered the best Italian food in town, available in the restaurant but also for take-away. Food is delicious and the service very welcoming. Menus from €27.50.
- 3 Leeuwarden Lounge, Korfmakersstraat 13, ☏ . It's a successful concept, this tapas place with a set menu for €15. The tapas it serves are a mixture of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine, and well-prepared. It has an exotic interior which some will love while others might not, but almost everyone agrees the staff is great and the combination of relaxing lounge areas with fingerfood is a winner. €15.
- 4 Rhodos Palace, Ruiterskwartier 47, ☏ . If you're up for some Greek food, this place is a bargain with tasty Greek style dishes for prices around €15. €15-20.
A good beerenburg is produced by local brewery Boomsma, it is available in almost every liquor store.
Cafés are common enough and in summer, outdoor terraces pop up all around. Many double as restaurants, serving small menus. Some popular places are:
- Paddy O’Ryan, Tweebaksmarkt 49, ☏ . The local Irish pub serves a fine range of international beers as well as some decent food.
- De Doele Bar, De Oude Doelesteeg 2a. A popular hangout for school kids and students, open all day. Monday night is game night, with board games on the table.
- 1 Grand Hotel Post-Plaza, Tweebaksmarkt 25-27, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A 4-star luxury hotel with good prices for what it has to offer. The staff is professional and helpful, rooms are nice and the location right in the centre makes it a great base to explore town. They have some spacious suites too, if you're looking for a really luxurious stay. around €100 for a double.
- 2 Bastion Hotel, Legedijk 6 (Located along A32 highway. Easy access by car, or take buses 14 or 320 to Aldlanstate and get out at the last stop.), ☏ . 3-star chain hotel with simple but okay rooms and good staff. Located outside the city centre but at no more than a 10-minute drive. doubles from €76.
- 3 Hotel 't Anker, Eewal 73, ☏ , email@example.com. One of the cheapest options in the centre, with rooms in 4 old houses. The cheaper rooms have shared bathrooms. All rooms are simple but clean and the service gets positive reviews. There's an in-house café and restaurant which serves simple, Dutch dishes. €29/55 for a single/double room with shared bathroom, €69.50 for a double with private facilities.
- 4 Oranje Hotel Leeuwarden, Stationsweg 4 (opposite the station), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Already in existence since 1879 and renovated several times since then. In Brasserie Oranje there's dinner, tea or lunch. €85 for a double.
- Hotel Ships, Several locations, ☏ . If you've always wanted to sleep on a ship, this is a good opportunity. Slaapschepen offers several ships with places to stay, some operating like small B&Bs with up to 10 rooms, others more like holiday homes, for rent as a whole. The Johanna Laetitia was previously home to a family, has modern facilities and is now available for private rent (2-4p.). Prices from €95 per day or €195. Nova Cura is a historic ship which always lies along the Willemskade NZ. It has 6 huts for up to 12 people, and shared bathroom facilities. There are several other ships available. From €32.50 pppn.
As of July 2022, Leeuwarden has 5G from all Dutch carriers.
There are plenty of good destinations in Friesland and in the rest of the Northern Netherlands. Just west of Leeuwarden lie Dronrijp and Franeker, both interesting and picturesque towns. Only slightly further are the harbour town of Harlingen and the water sports destination Sneek. Go sailing on the Frisian Lakes or hop on a train to bustling student city Groningen, to see its Martini-tower, the 15th-century inspiration for Leeuwarden's failed Oldenhove.
|Routes through Leeuwarden
|Harlingen ← Franeker ←
|→ Drachten → Groningen