Groningen is the perfect place for an off-the-beaten-track weekend escape. Home to a world-class university, its young population makes it dynamic and hip, yet its small size keeps it friendly and relaxed. This walking tour could last from two hours, if you just stroll, to all day, if you take your time and stop to see everything.
Start your walk at the train station (A on the map below), but don’t hurry away yet. Go into the main hall and admire the renovated original ceiling from 1896.
Do you prefer hip and modern? Cross the street to take in the small-scale but nevertheless cutting-edge Groninger Museum (B). The post-modern building itself, designed by Alessandro Mendini, Philippe Starck and Michele de Lucchi, among others, is surprising, and worth a look both inside and out. The permanent collection and temporary shows are varied and often groundbreaking.
Follow your dose of the post-modern with a stroll toward the center of town along the Folkingestraat, a street that combines a bit of everything. This was once the Jewish quarter of the city, and you’ll pass the historic synagogue(C) on the right, now used as both a place of worship and an exhibition space. Look down the streets to the left and right just past the synagogue to glimpse Groningen’s very own red light district. Further along, the Folkingestraat brims with some of the best shopping in town: no chain stores here! Small boutiques selling everything from antiques and art to musical instruments and kitsch can keep you busy for hours. Watch out for bicycles: it can get pretty crazy on this street!
If you’d like, take a side street over to Aduardergasthuis (D) on Munnekeholm, an almshouse dating from 1604. If the door’s open, go ahead and peek inside. A dozen or so of these historic almshouses scattered around the center of town continue to provide housing, though they’re no longer for the poor. Each tiny house faces on an inner, shared garden, a peaceful haven for the residents.
Rest your tired feet in one of the many cafés; the Huis de Beurs (E), on the corner of the Folkingestraat and the Vismarkt, is a traditional “brown café”: there are no carpets on the tables anymore, but the atmosphere remains. Order a coffee or a Jenever, a locally-distilled liquor, and settle in for some great people-watching.
Next, stroll past the Aa-Kerk (Aa-Church)(F) and along Brugstraat to the Maritime Museum (G)—the oldest building in town, where you can learn all about the inland and sea trade that passed through Groningen when it was a member of the Hanseatic League.
Do you want typical Dutch charm? Take a right at the canal onto Hooge der A (H). This stretch of canal rivals any Amsterdam view, with its antique ships—now mostly used as houseboats—and old warehouses converted to homes.
Now double back to wander among the stalls on the Vismarkt (I) , where, on Saturdays, locals do their weekly shopping for fresh produce and other provisions. Don’t miss Hollandse nieuwe: raw brined herring. To look like a local, pick it up by the tail, throw your head back and eat it by hanging it over your mouth, biting off pieces from head to tail.
The market extends to the Grote Markt (J), just next door to the Vismarkt. Here, though, the wares include clothing, bags, shoes, and just about everything else. You can buy stroopwafels in a supermarket, but on the Grote Markt you can taste the wonderfully sweet, freshly-made original. The visitor’s information office is currently housed on the Grote Markt in that odd little temporary building with the stairs on it: also a good place for people-watching.
After all this eating, climb the Martinitoren next to the Grote Markt to work off some calories. From this 600-year-old bell tower you can get a wider view of the small but complete city. As the Groningers say: “There’s nothing above Groningen!”