Leeuwarden is a fantastic city located in the northern part of the Netherlands in the Friesland province. As the capital city of the states, Leeuwarden has a population of 108,000 and has seen some form of inhabitation since the 10th century. The region has archeological finds dating back to the Roman era and it has been mentioned in written history for many hundreds of years.
Due to the extensive waterways and close proximity to the North Sea, Leeuwarden was a major trade post until the 15th century – After this the waters began to recede which saw a decline in activity for the region. As the economic centre of the Friesland province, Leeuwarden has a host of attractions from public parks to canals and historical buildings and is a great base to explore the Frisian Islands.
Lets explore the best things to do in Leeuwarden:
This old structure is actually an unfinished church tower located in the centre of Leeuwarden.
A distinct feature of this tower is its lean – It actually tilts more than the famous leaning tower of Pisa! Originally constructed in the 1500’s as competition to the Martinitoren tower in Groningen, the Oldehove features a brick and sandstone design.
The main attraction of this tower is undoubtedly the view from its pinnacle – You can ascend the winding stairs to the top of the tower and stand out on the roof.
From here you have amazing views of the whole of Leeuwarden and for miles around.
2. Saint Boniface Church
Designed in a Gothic revival style, this church was created in 1882 so is relatively new compared to some of the other religious structures in the country.
Named after the English missionary Bonifatius who the Dutch indecently killed in the 8th century, this building also has a large central bell tower like the Oldehove.
As the tallest church tower in the Friesland region, you can climb this too and have a different view of Leeuwarden, and also the top of the Oldehove tower! Inside the church there are some beautiful stained glass windows and an ornate pipe organ.
3. Fries Museum
Considered the largest and most important museum in the region, the Fries museum centres on the history and culture of Friesland.
Located in the centre of the city near the De Waag building, the museum is easily accessible.
If you are looking for insight into this very distinct and traditional region of Holland then the Fries museum will deliver.
Here you can learn about the Friesian language, the history of the people and also the major industries that have helped the region prosper.
Furthermore, there is a collection of artefacts gathered from the area and also a Dutch art collection.
4. De Groene Ster
Located approximately 20 minutes to the east of Leeuwarden lies the immense De Groene Ster nature park and recreational area.
Constructed in the 1960’s, the park covers over 1000 hectares and is hugely popular as a location to enjoy outdoor activities.
Here you can find a plethora of ponds, lakes, hiking and cycling trails, beaches, lawns and pastures.
Hike through the beautiful countryside, relax on one of the small beaches or even take a swim in the waters.
You can also find the aqua zoo, several campsites and also the Groene Star golf course.
5. Ameland Island
To the north of Leeuwarden lies the impressive Frisian islands.
This chain of islands acts as a coastal barrier and is a fantastic holiday destination for the Dutch population and tourists to explore.
Ameland has a population of just 3500 split between four small villages.
To reach this island you can catch a regular ferry from Holwerd that takes you directly to the village of Nes.
Explore the island, walk through the village and see the beautiful Oerd scenic area which is covered with rolling sand dunes.
If you love bird watching Amerland is your haven – Over 60 species of birds visit the island annually.
6. Terschelling Island
The second of the larger Frisian islands, Terschelling can be reached via a passenger ferry that runs from the coastal town of Harlingen.
Harlingen lies to the west of Leeuwarden and it takes approximately 25 minutes to get there via car.
Terschelling is a vast nature reserve and the landscape here is wild, rugged but beautiful.
Stretches of golden beach line both sides of the island and rolling green pastures, rocky dunes and heather covered fields cover this island.
Visit the quiet village of West Terschelling and the harbour at Dellewal, or hire a bicycle and explore the trails that wind over the landscape.
7. Vlieland Island
Possibly the most interesting of the inhabited Frisian Islands, Vlieland has a population of just 1100 and only one village – Oost-Vlieland.
As with Terschelling, Vlieland is reached via a ferry that travels from Harlingen at regular intervals during the day.
The west side of the island is dominated by a large swathe of sand while the east side contains the village and several campsites.
You can truly immerse yourself in nature here and admire the wonderful rustic scenery that Vlieland has to offer.
Hire a bicycle from the village and see where your legs take you.
8. Prinsentuin Park
One of the many beautiful public parks located in Leeuwarden, you can find the Prinsentuin Park on the north edge of the city centre, directly on the star shaped canal network.
This area was part of the original city defences however when they were no longer needed, it was turned into a superb park.
It features a typical English landscape style with a variety of trees, footpaths and seating areas.
There is also a central lake with a fountain and a fine restaurant that overlooks the Stadsgracht canal.
On a fine summers day there is no better place in the city to relax, catch some rays and enjoy the outdoors.
9. Flat boat tour of the canals
Leeuwarden has a fantastic network of canals that wind through the city centre.
There is the remnants of the old city defence line that surrounds the old town centre, and several canals that cut through this.
A boat tour is the perfect way to explore these waterways, learn some insightful history, and see Leeuwarden from a different angle.
Stichting Praamvaren Leeuwarden is a company that offers a variety of short tours for a reasonable prices.
An alternative option is to hire an electric boat from the Greenjoy company and set off on your own explorative adventure.
10. Try a craft beer at De Markies bar
For those who love to sample different beers during their travels, De Markies Bar is a fantastic venue that has a great deal to offer.
Only a short walk in the town centre from the Fries Museum, this bar is found on the corner of a public square and near the edge of the west canal.
Specializing in craft beers, you can sample any of 101 different varieties and there is also a rotating selection of tap beers to try too.
Ensure you try the home-grown Grutte Pier beer that is brewed in Leeuwarden and soak up the fantastic atmosphere and ambience of this wonderful establishment.
11. Frisian Resistance Museum
You can find this charming and informative museum in the same building as the Fries museum and it is wise to visit both in a joint tour.
Dedicated to the resistance movement that operated in Friesland during the second world war, this museum has a myriad of information about how they operated and what they achieved.
There are many photographs, artefacts and displays that show what the Frisian people endured during this turbulent period.
Additionally, there is also the wonderful “De Overval” display that recounts the daring tale of the liberation of a prison in Leeuwarden by the resistance movement.
12. Princessehof Museum
Named after the princess who once owned this building, the Princessehof Museum is actually dedicated to ceramics, tiles and pottery.
Constructed in 1731, this stately structure was purchased by the princess or Orange and she started collecting pottery and displaying it inside the palace.
In later years the building transferred into the hands of Nanne Ottema who turned it into the museum.
Inside you can find a mind boggling amount of pottery and ceramics – There is a wall full of Chinese Zhangzhou plates, cabinets full of Delft pottery and many different brightly coloured vases and tile paintings.
13. Froskepolle Park
Set away from the busy city on its own island, Froskepolle park is a charming place to visit and a great retreat from modern life.
As this park is located on the south east side of Leeuwarden and away from the built up areas, it remains peaceful and is not as frequented as the central parks.
Here you can immerse yourself in nature and relax.
Walk around the expanse of the island and by the waterways, check out the beautiful scenery and views across to the city, or simply relax on the lawns or in the shade of the trees.
14. Enjoy a meal at Eindeloos restaurant
Do not let looks deceive you – Eindeloos may appear simple from the outside, however it has a reputation as being one of the finest restaurants in Leeuwarden and provides a wonderful dining experience.
This establishment sits on Korfmakersstraat which is around a 5 minutes walk from the Waagplien.
With no menu (yes you heard right!), you can simply tell the waiter if you do not like something, and sample what they provide from what they are currently offering! The quality of the food is amazing and the ingredients are all locally sourced where possible.
15. De Waag and Waagplein
Translating as the weigh house, De Waag is an old and ornate structure that stands on the Waagplein next to one of the smaller canals that run through the centre of Leeuwarden.
Built in a renaissance style, this building has a certain grace and elegance about it that sets it apart from the surrounding shops.
Admire De Waag, walk down the stretch of canal, take a seat and people watch, or do a spot of shopping.
As one of the central parts of the city centre, the Waagplein is guaranteed to be busy and a great place to mingle with the locals.