One-day trips in the north of the Netherlands: off the beaten path

The city motto of Groningen is ‘Er gaat niets boven Groningen’ (there is nothing above Groningen). This tells you two things: one, the city is amazingly alive and two, it can feel like the middle of nowhere.

Granted, the second statement can feel way too accurate sometimes. Given that the provinces of ‘the North’ (Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe) are three of the top five least populated provinces in the Netherlands, it really can feel like the middle of nowhere.

Yet we encourage you to take a trip off the beaten path because if you wander around Noord Nederland, you’ll discover that there’s way more to see than just Bourtange and Giethoorn.

One-day trip to Groningen: visit the Hortus Haren

This botanical garden, located just south of Groningen, was created in 1626 and is the largest in the country! While it has been struggling for some years with increasing costs for maintenance and decreasing numbers of visitors, it’s still worth a visit on a sunny day. Its Chinese garden and Celtic garden can be absolutely magical!

Image: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0

One-day trip to Friesland: explore Franeker and its 18th century planetarium

When talking about trips to the north of the Netherlands, we can’t leave out Friesland of course!

The city of Franeker was founded around 800 as a Carolingian stronghold and its name probably derives from Froon-acker (meaning “country of the king”). Franeker used to be one of the most important cities in the area and between 1585 and 1811, it housed the second oldest university in the Netherlands.

What makes Franeker a must-visit today is the Royal Eise Eisenga Planetarium with its still-functioning 18th-century orrery.

Long story short: this guy, Eisenga, had a wool shop while studying autodidact mathematics and astronomy on the side. Meanwhile, there was a fear that three planets were about to collide and the people in his town really believed this event would happen — and be the end of them. So, to show that the planets were actually very far apart, he started building a planetary model on the ceiling of his house.

Fast-forward till today and Eisenga’s model is the oldest functioning orrery in the world!

Eisenga’s side hustle. Image: Aurora Signorazzi/Supplied

One-day trip to Friesland: visit the Woudagemaal in Lemmer

For the geeks among us, this pumping station is the largest, still operational, steam-powered pumping station in the world! 

When Woudagemaal opened in 1920, it was used to pump excess water out of Friesland. Today, it’s used only as a “help” to more modern pumping stations in case of exceptionally high water levels in the province.

A celebration of technology and the Dutch mastery of the water, Woudagemaal is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands. So when making your trip to the north of the Netherlands, you shouldn’t disregard this interesting industrial wonder!

Geek out about technology at the Woudagemaal. Image: ztrikic/Depositphotos

One-day trips during easter: Paasvuurs in Groningen, Drenthe, and Overijssel)

Paasvuurs (Easter fires) usually take place on Easter Sunday. In these provinces, the fun tradition symbolises spring taking over from winter (and the fires conveniently enriches the soil with their ashes).

In many open fields you’ll see enormous piles of wood, trees, and basically, anything that can guarantee some spectacular fire, surrounded by flocks of families and kids (literally) having a field day.

What a way to end the day! Image: Aurora Signorazzi/Supplied

What are your favourite places in the north of the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: ztrikic/Depositphotos

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2017, and was fully updated in August 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora comes from the majestic Italian capital, and is working on her PhD in virology at the University of Groningen. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years and is by now familiar with many Dutch habits... But still finds plenty of reasons to be pleasantly amazed (most of the time) by this industrious country and its brutally honest inhabitants!

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  1. If you happen to be in the north, you should not skip “wadlopen”. I don’t know if there are English guides as well, but if you join the tour in Dutch, it will be fun as well 🙂


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