Groningen, the capital of its eponymous province, is a city in the north of the Netherlands. It remains outside the global public eye, making it perfect for an adventurer with a lot of spare time to visit. Admittedly, some of this time will have to be spent travelling. It takes three to four hours to travel from Amsterdam to Groningen by train.
There are a wide variety of hotels to stay at when in Groningen. Prices do vary, so check what options there are at the VVV1 (tourist office) at the Grote Markt (literally, 'Grand Place') near the Martinitoren. This large grey tower is difficult to miss when in Groningen and can act as a good landmark for navigation. The VVV also has a variety of maps, postcards, socks and other souvenirs to assist you in your exploration of Groningen and the surrounding area.
History of the City
Built on the most northern point of a ridge called the Hondsrug and first mentioned by name in writing in 1040, the city that is now Groningen was inhabited as early as 300 to 200BC. The ridge leads uphill into the province of Drenthe, an area of higher sandy ground. The location of Groningen means that it used to be a harbour city, and became rich and expanded. In the 15th-Century Groningen's golden age began as exploration and sea-trade increased.
Many fine monuments were built during this time of prosperity, such as the Martinitoren and the Der Aa church. From 1612 onwards the city was walled; the remainder of the walls can be clearly seen in the Noorderplantsoen – a park consisting of the old earth walls and moats.
In 1672 the city was besieged by the bishop of Munster. The bishop, Bernhard van Galen, or Bommen Berend, was unable to take the city, and retreated on 28 August, 1672. This victory is still celebrated today with many activities in the city and large firework displays. Nowadays Groningen is not by the sea, however it has continued to prosper despite being on the apex of a ridge.
Finding Your Way Around
After you step off the train at Groningen Centraal station, take the main exit out and enjoy the beautifully decorated station hall. Once you've passed the 'smokers' pole'2, you will see a large black 'stationsplein' filled with a lot of bicycles and, at the other side of a canal, a very strange looking building. This building was designed by the Italian architect Mendini in the post-modern style and, as it turns out, is the Groninger Museum - a must see for the artistically inclined. To get to the museum you have to cross the Museum Bridge (which is roughly dead ahead after you have left the station); otherwise, just follow the road. You will eventually enter a small street called the Folkingestraat, a street with a lot of small and interesting shops. Follow the Folkingestraat until you get to a big market square; this is not yet the Grote Markt but the Vis Markt, or fishmarket (you can tell by the odour). On your left you will see a big building, Korenbeurs, where you will find a supermarket (the Albert Heijn). Past the Albert Heijn, turn to your right and cross the market until you stumble across a sandwich shop called Bakker Bart (the broodje gezond are highly recommended). Walk a little further and you're on the Grote Markt and in clear view of the Martinitoren. Go to the VVV, which is on the right side of the tower, and find a lodging that suits you and your budget.
There are almost 200 bars and pubs in Groningen. Some are located on the south side of the Grote Markt but they are expensive and crowded. Others are in commercial streets such as the Poelestraat and in general bars can be found in every street. They tend to vary in style and therefore in types of visitors. Some are student orientated; others are 'bruine kroegen', or 'brown bars', which relates to the brown and smoked interior. Look around and try your luck: if the bar isn't your style simply try the next one. Recommended by one Researcher is the Vera in the Oosterstraat, which frequently features performances by underground bands, and the Lazy Frog at the Rademarkt.
Once again, many coffee shops are available in many different styles. Groningen's most famous is De Vliegende Hollander, or Flying Dutchman, located at the Zuiderdiep. Ask any student or teenager for directions and you will have a hard time missing it!
Of course there are others, such as the Metamorfose, the Driemaster, the Medley and others. All of the coffee shops are recognisable by a sign which says 'coffeeshop' and the name of the shop.
Many coffee shops will have cannabis products for sale - legal in the Netherlands but not in the UK. Do remember that you have to be 18+ to buy any cannabis product and that your age will be checked!
Climb the Martinitoren and enjoy the view, tickets are on sale in the VVV.
You can opt to visit a pizza restaurant; because there are so many the pizzas are really cheap. Try restaurants such as Italia and Costa Esmeralda (do note that drinks can be expensive though).
Martinikerkhof or 'Martini churchyard.' A very little park in the middle of the city, next to the Martinitoren. A great place to have lunch or mingle with the local teenagers sitting there.
The Groningen museum, opposite the station.
The Herestraat, the street with all the large, commercial shops.
The Pannenkoekschip or 'pancake boat', which makes large quantities and varieties of Dutch Pancakes.
The Cinema, Images, (pronounced as in French, eem-aaj) which shows a lot of not-so-familiar films. All films have Dutch subtitles, unless they are Dutch language films.
Het prinsenhof (The Princes' Court Gardens) is a very nice Renaissance garden with a little teashop and a beautiful sundial.
Groningen has many churches, such as the Martini kerk (St Martins Church) and the Der Aa church. Often there are exhibitions in the churches; check with the tourist office whether there is something interesting. Also, take a look at the tower of the Josef church. The tower is nicknamed 'dronkenmans toren' or 'drunken man's spire', because of the fact that you can always see two clock faces.
Het Goudkantoor (the Gold Office) is the last building built in renaissance style in Groningen. It got its name when the Bureau van Waarborg van Goud en Zilver (Office to Safeguard Gold and Silver) settled here.
Groningen has one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands and has a very rich student population. The university was founded in 1614 and has a lot of buildings located throughout the city.
In the centre of Groningen (where all of the above is situated), cyclists are proliferate and seemlingy on a continuous hunt for pedestrians. Groningen was once elected cyclist capital of the world so always look out when you're there on foot! It is practically impossible to enter the centre of the city by car so take the train, bus or bike if you can.