In the 17th and 18th century the shipping industry made a fortune for the people of Hindeloopen.
At that time this town, with a fleet of 100 ships, even developed its own style of dress and interior design.
Where Hindeloopen was once on a bay of the North Sea (the Zuiderzee), in the early-1930s the Afsluitdijk dam to the north turned this bay into a large inland freshwater lake, the IJsselmeer.
Being open to the coast, the IJsselmeer is Europe’s windiest lake, which is music to the ears of kite-surfers, who flock to Hindeloopen in the summer.
The preserved town and harbour are incredibly pretty, and museums go into detail on Hindeloopen’s unique culture, and ice-skating, a time-honoured activity across the wider Friesland province.
1. Tour of the Town
What Hindeloopen lacks in size it makes up for in charm.
You could walk from one end to the other in a few minutes, but this will be impossible, because you have to keep stopping for photos of the harbour, canals, bridges and the view of the skyline and IJsselmeer from the grassy dike.
Hindeloopen is partly a Dutch protected cityscape and also has the Frisian “Beschermd dorpsgezicht” designation (protected village scene). More than 30 Dutch national monuments can be seen in this small area.
Finish up at the charming old harbour, with a lock, 17th-century lockkeeper’s house and typical wooden bascule bridge.
Close by you can grab a table at one of the waterside cafes and restaurants and dine next to the quaint wooden lifeboat house and throng of masts in the harbour.
2. First Frisian Skating Museum
Ice-skating is an important part of Friesland’s culture, and it was here that the first skates with metal blades were crafted in the Middle Ages.
Hindeloopen is on the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), a 200-kilometre tour on the canals linking Friesland’s cities in winter.
This only happens when the ice is suitable, and the race is announced with just two days’ notice (the last was in 1997). The Skating Museum tells the 250-year story of this race, and has the largest and most diverse collection of skates in the world, including an example dating back to the 800s.
You’ll discover how skates were manufactured using animal bones in times past, and visit a blacksmith’s forge and carpenter’s workshop.
You can get up to speed on modern speed-skating, a sport dominated by the Dutch.
Some 20th-century Champions like Evert van Benthem, Jeen van den Berg and Rein Jonker have donated medals, trophies and other memorabilia to the collection.
3. Grote Kerk
Hindeloopen’s Medieval church was destroyed in 1570 during the Eighty Years’ War, and the reconstruction lasted from 1590 to 1632. The steeple atop the tower was last after a lightning strike in 1701, and the replacement from 1724 is a beautiful eight-sided structure, ringed with balustrades and topped with a dome below a weathervane in the form of a sailing ship.
The church’s southern entrance has a portal carved from beech in 1658, with Hindeloopen’s coat of arms set in the pediment.
The organ to the rear of the church dates to 1813 and was made by Van Dam, a company based in Leeuwarden.
The decorative case is much older though, and would have been made in the mid-1660s.
4. Museum Hindeloopen
The local museum is in Hindeloopen’s former town hall and will help you tap into this town’s long and interesting history.
The collection focuses on Hindeloopen’s 17th and 18th-century shipping trade and the huge influx of wealth that it generated.
In a series of rooms you can view the distinctive local interior decoration and costume that sprang from this income, as well as exquisite household items, painted furniture and art.
There are lots of artefacts connected to shipping and fishing, giving an impression of what the harbour would have been like in the town’s glory days.
5. Sluishuis (Sylhús)
The prettiest monument on Hindeloopen’s harbour is the lockkeeper’s house on the landward side.
Along with the lock beside it, this dates back to the 17th century and was given its open wooden belfry in the 19th century.
Facing the water over the dike is a shelter with benches where locals would come to pass the time of day and share gossip.
This kind of space is common in Frisia and gained the name “leugenbank” (lying bench). Inside the shelter, on the Sluihuis’s outer wall, you can see Hindeloopen’s coat of arms and the date 1619. The leugenbank itself is from 1785 and was used in its early years for fish auctions.
6. Jopie Huisman Museum
Definitely worth the five-minute train ride to Workum, this museum is dedicated to the self-taught painter and draughtsman, Jopie Huisman, born in the village in 1922. The museum was opened in the mid-80s before moving to a former school building in 1992, which was given a modern expansion in the early 2000s.
Huisman’s work is noted for its Realism, affection for nature and sense of empathy.
He had a knack for finding significance in commonplace objects and scenes.
At the exhibition, combined with an audio tour, you can track his artistic development and see the different styles he adopted.
Since the renovation, some of the items depicted in his work like children’s dolls and the breeches he wore in a self-portrait, are on show.
The museum has also set out a 25-kilometre trail in the Frisian countryside, to places he painted or that inspired him.
7. Flora en Fauna Fontein
In the late 2010s, the eleven cities of the Elfstedentocht have become linked by a region-spanning art project.
Each city has been given a fountain, designed by a prominent artist from one of eleven different nations.
Some big names have taken part, like Jaume Plensa, Shinji Ohmaki, Jorge & Lucy Orta, Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla and Cornelia Parker.
Hindeloopen’s fountain, Flora en Fauna, was produced by Chinese-born French artist Shen Yuan.
This work made from copper, steel, accoya and stone, was partly inspired by the giant cedar that appears in Hindeloopen’s coat of arms.
Exotic birds are perched in the tree, which is surrounded by large wooden antlers representing the deer in the coat of arms.
8. Water Activities
On the water Hindeloopen is exposed to consistent breezes, which, combined with many hectares of smooth, knee-deep water, has turned this shore of the IJsselmeer into a watersports hub.
Within five kilometres there’s a clutch of companies (Kiteboarding Club Holland, Kitesurfschool Freeriderz, Kitesurfschool KiteMobile) providing equipment and lessons for activities like windsurfing and, of course, kite-surfing.
Kiteboarding Club Holland has a flexible choice of courses, from two-day beginner sessions to week-long camps.
The centre offers other activities like stand-up paddleboarding, and every Saturday in summer puts on a barbecue at the Welgelegen campsite.
Alternatively you could also buy a fishing license and spend a couple of days dropping line for the IJsselmeer’s perch, bream, roach, eel, rudd, ide and chub.
There are small beaches all along the IJsselmeer at Hindeloopen.
These narrow strips of sand are hemmed by the grassy slope of the dike, and bathed by gentle waters.
On a warm day in midsummer the Hindeloopen’s beaches are just right for swimming in the shallows and relaxing in the sun.
At other times the beach catches the wind, so it’s not uncommon to see the sky filled with kites, be it families flying a kite with children or kite-surfers pulling off stunts in the water.
The Southwest Friesland countryside is criss-crossed by safe cycling routes.
And while this might sound confusing, knooppunten (nodes) at junctions on the network make the system easy to navigate.
These nodes have maps, details about the countryside, as well as information about local restaurants and accommodation.
You may want to trace the shore of IJsselmeer, or cut inland to discover the Frisian Lakes, where there are 24 bodies of water in idyllic countryside, all linked with rivers and canals.
From Hindeloopen you can also get onto a specialised cycle tour for children, as well as themed routes tracing the course of Friesland’s Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), and guiding you to the many picturesque windmills in the countryside.