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40 things to do in Groningen province

Tourists to the Netherlands visit, for the most part, Amsterdam. They might take a side trip to Keukenhof (tulips galore) or Zaanse Schans (windmills in picturesque quantity) or the Hague.

I live on the other side of the country, in a province called Groningen, whose biggest city (about 200,000 people) is also called Groningen. That means that, to visitors from other countries, pretty much everything on this side of the Netherlands is off the beaten track.

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Pinnable image
Text: Lots of fun and/or unusual things to do in Groningen province, the Netherlands.
Image: a road going straight ahead into the distance, a row of trees without leaves lining either side.

Keep in mind that we’re only a couple of hours away from Amsterdam. We’re also just three hours from Hamburg, Germany. If you’re from a big place like the US or Canada, you’ve probably driven that far for lunch!

So get away from the tourist throngs and check out some of these interesting, odd or unusual things to do in Groningen province. I’ve grouped them by theme, but otherwise they’re not in any particular order. I’ve also placed them all on a map which you can find at the end of the list. Most would make great day trips from Groningen.

Note: As of August 7, 2020, most of these places have reopened with special precautions because of Covid-19, but the government could order them closed at any time. The hours noted below are their usual hours. Check websites before you make the trip to any of these sights! Some may require you to book ahead or they may have changed their hours.

Picturesque places

Pretty much anywhere in Groningen is picturesque. Just drive out of the city and you’ll see land that is flat as a pancake; used for agriculture, whether that means crops or grazing; and dotted with lovely farmhouses and tiny medieval stone churches, often on slight rises.

Het smalste straatje van Nederland

Translated, this means “the narrowest street of the Netherlands,” which it isn’t … quite. There are alleyways with names in every city here that are narrower. To be precise, it’s the narrowest street in the Netherlands that cars can drive on. (Don’t do it though; only residents are allowed to drive there.)

Looking almost straight down the road, small houses with tall windows along both sides of a narrow brick-paved street. At the end of the street a square brick church tower peeks up above the last house.
the narrowest street

Nevertheless, it is exceedingly picturesque: narrow and lined by extremely small and charming brick houses. Take a walk up to the 13th century church, while you’re there, as well as a stroll around the village to see the many lovely old houses, big and small.

Narrowest street in the Netherlands: Burgemeester Brouwerstraat, Garnwerd. Always open. No admission charge.

Appingedam

Appingedam, far to the east of the province, is a small town of narrow streets and charming rows of houses and shops. Many of them date to the Middle Ages, when Appingedam was an important seaport until Groningen overshadowed it. The most famous sight is the hanging kitchens: extensions of the houses that hang out over the water along the main canal. You can see them from several of the bridges that cross the canal.

Three old buildings on the edge of a canal: all are red brick, old and uneven. Two of them have white-painted wood extensions, each with a slanted roof, hanging over the water. Each is the size of a rather small room and has several windows.
hanging kitchens in Appingedam

In the Museum Stad Appingedam you can see artifacts from the town’s medieval history, many of which are connected to the guilds that were active at the time. In particular, a silver collection shows the work of the Appingedam silversmiths.

Also check out the Romanesque/Gothic St. Nicolaikerk, particularly the wall paintings and the carved pulpit.

Museum Stad Appingedam: Wijkstraat 25, Appingedam. Open Tuesday-Friday 11:00-17:00, Saturday, Sunday and holidays 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €5, children up to 12 €1, children 13-17 €3.50. Website.

St. Nicolaikerk: Wijkstraat 32, Appingedam. Open May-mid-September Tuesday-Saturday 11:00-16:30 and Sunday 14:00-16:30. Closed mid-September-April. Website

Noordpolderzijl

Noordpolderzijl is a small port town that claims to be the smallest open harbor on the North Sea. Watch the fishing and pleasure boats come and go and take a walk along the windswept coast. It’s a pretty walk along the top of the dyke, and you should spot plenty of water birds as well.

A large rectangular rusty steel frame with the words "Groeten uit Eemsmond" frames a very flat scene of grass and sand into the distance, where a line of blue sea is visible, with a barely perceptible rise of land beyond it. A few people walk toward the sea along a dirt path next to the frame.
Noordpolderzijl. Far in the distance, through the frame, you can see the German island of Borkum. Photo courtesy of Caroline Bennett.

You might have heard of wadlopen, which means walking on the mud flats at low tide. Some tours even walk all the way across to the island of Schiermonnikoog. Don’t do it, though, without a guide! You could end up in quicksand, or mis-timing your walk so the returning tide catches you up.


Animals and nature

Zeehondencentrum

One of the more well-known attractions on this list, this seal sanctuary in Pieterburen nurses injured or abandoned seals back to health, then releases them back into the North Sea. Visitors coming to see the seals help support their work. This is near Noordpolderzijl so they are a good combination for a day trip. It would be wise to check their website before visiting to make sure they currently have seals in residence.

A small blond boy, with his back to the camera, looks into a seal tank, where a seal appears to smile and wave its flipper.
Admiring the seals at the Zeehondencentrum. Photo courtesy of V. Joosten.

Zeehondencentrum: Hoofdstraat 94a, Pieterburen. See website for opening hours and admission fees. Website.

Doezoo Insektenwereld

Insectenwereld means, as you might have guessed, Insect World. It’s a tiny zoo with a huge collection of insects and other creepy-crawlies. You’re allowed to touch many of them, if you dare. I took my kids there years ago because I knew they’d like it, but I had a great time too. A lot of the zoo is indoors, so it’s perfect on a rainy day.

Doezoo Insektenwereld: Wierde 17, Leens. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 12:00-17:00. Admission: €7.50 (Adults and kids older than 2). Website.

University Museum

The University Museum at the University of Groningen concentrates on science and nature. Its permanent collection requires a strong stomach: it includes an “Anatomy Room” and a “Dead Zoo.”

The Anatomy Room is all about the human body and displays lots of preserved body parts, both normal and abnormal. Many were preserved a century or more ago, when this sort of practice for medical training was more acceptable. You can see malformed fetuses in jars, as well as anatomical models from historical medical studies.

A two story row house. The grown floor has two tall windows and a door. The upper floor has three tall windows across. Above that, at the attic level, is one single dormer window. The building is red brick, with a wooden door. There are brick decorations between the upper windows and dark bricks along the edges of the lower windows.
The University Museum

The Dead Zoo is just what it says: a collection of animals, stuffed or as skeletons. The range of species covers the whole world and includes some rare ones as well. Again, these are not recent taxidermy specimens; they were collected in an era when this was perfectly acceptable in the name of science.

University Museum: Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat 7a, Groningen. Open Tuesday-Sunday 12:00-17:00. Admission: €5, free for 18 and younger. Website.

MuzeeAquarium Delfzijl

Despite its name, this is more a natural and cultural history museum than an aquarium. The natural history covers geology and archeology and includes a large collection of seashells. The cultural history part addresses Delfzijl’s history from the Middle Ages to the growth of industry after World War II. It includes a maritime section with model ships.

Inside a World War II munitions bunker is the aquarium part of the MuzeeAquarium, focusing on local sea life from the Wadden Sea and North Sea. Left over from its earliest days as a museum is a “rarity cabinet,” containing souvenirs brought back from around the world as well as natural oddities.

MuzeeAquarium Delfzijl: Zeebadweg 7, Delfzijl. Open daily 10:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €8, children 4-17 €4. Website.

Barefoot Path Opende

The Barefoot Path (Blotevoetenpad) is exactly what it says: a path you can walk on barefoot. Be warned: it’ll be muddy!

There are two routes: one is 1.6 kilometers long and is meant for small children (and their parents). It includes playground equipment, rope bridges of various sorts, and a viewing tower to climb. The longer route is 3.4 kilometers long. It includes the shorter route and also passes a maze and a beach. At the end you can rinse off your feet, so make sure to take a towel with you.

Blotevoetenpad Opende: P1 (parking area) at Theetuin Blotevoetenhof (a tea garden), Peebos 1a, Opende or P2 at Kaleweg, Opende. You can only start the shorter route from P1. The longer route can be started at either parking area. Open all year from sunrise to sunset. Admission: free. Website.

Botanical Garden Domies Toen

This lovely garden includes an English-style garden from 1881 and an herb garden. It is recognized as a museum because of its collection of wild exotics like snowdrops and other wild bulb plants, mostly blooming in the spring. It also has a collection of wild plants of the types that would have grown naturally here before land was cleared and drained for farming.

Botanical garden Domies Toen: Hoofdstraat 76, Pieterburen. Always open. Admission: €3. Children 12 and under free. Leave the money at the pole by the entrance. Website.

Hortus Botanicus

This large botanical garden includes lots of different sections: a Chinese garden, a wild plants garden (with an Arboretum, a pine tree collection, moorlands and wild non-native plants), a hydrangea section, a bee and butterfly meadow, a rock garden, a Celtic garden, a hortensia garden, a water garden, an herb garden and more.

Hortus Botanicus: Kerklaan 34, Haren. Open daily November-mid-March 11:00-16:00; mid-March-October 10:00-17:00. Admission November-mid-March: Adults €5, children 4-15 €2; mid-March-October, adults €8.50, children €4. Website.


Industrial and transport history

The National Bus Museum

If you grew up in the Netherlands, this museum will make you feel nostalgic. It owns over 50 buses, all of which were in use in the Netherlands. The oldest dates from 1944 and the newest is quite recent: 1997.

In the background, a row of buses, only the back ends visible in this photo. In the foreground, a blond child with his back to the camera. He is sitting in a driver's chair and pretending to steer a very large steering wheel.
The National Bus Museum. Photo courtesy of V. Joosten.

The National Bus Museum: Produktieweg 13, Hoogezand. Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 13:00-17:00. See website for admission fees. Website.

Abraham’s Mosterdmakerij & Restaurant

This is an old-fashioned mustard factory in Eenrum, where a small museum shows the steps in the mustard-making process before industrialization. Mustard is a traditional local product in Groningen province, though it isn’t grown in the quantities it used to be.

The mustard factory looks like a typical Groningen farmhouse: red brick with a much bigger barn behind and attached to it. Behind that a windmill (De Lelie) Is partially visible: just the top and the vanes.
Abraham’s Mustard Factory

You can wander the little museum/factory yourself, or take a tour to get an explanation of the whole production process. In the shop you can pick up some of the factory’s mustard, or, in the restaurant, try the mustard soup, a local specialty.

Abraham’s Mostardmakerij & Restaurant: Molenstraat 5, Eenrum. Open Tuesday-Sunday 12:00- at least 19:00. Admission to the museum/factory is free. For a 45-minute tour (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 14:30), the charge is €2.50. Website.

De Lelie windmill

Right next door to Abraham’s Mosterdmakerij is a windmill called De Lelie. Dating from 1862, it is still a working grain mill. Visitors can see the workings inside and admire the view from upstairs. The mill also holds a bakery.

The windmill is quite tall: A door is visible at the base, with two small windows above it indicating two additional stories above it. Above that is the "balcony" all around the mill, which appears to be six or eight-sided. Above that, it's about the same height as below the balcony, making the total height about 6 stories. This is a side view, so the vanes are on the right.
De Lelie

De Lelie: Molenstraat 3, Eenrum. Open May-September on Saturdays from 13:00-17:00. In July and August it is also open on Wednesdays 13:00-17:00. Website.

Veenkoloniaal Museum

The area around Veendam was a peat-digging center. Barges carried the peat that was extracted and other products domestically and internationally from here along the many canals. The Veenkoloniaal Museum tells the story not just of the peat industry, but also of the farmers, mostly growing potatoes; the skippers and their vessels; and the manufacturers, mostly producing potato starch. The museum focuses primarily on the 19th century. The exhibits are often interactive or reconstructions to give a sense of life in Veendam at the time.

Veenkoloniaal Museum: Museumplein 5, Veendam. Open Tuesday-Friday 10:00-17:00, Saturday-Monday 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €9.50, age 16-18 €5, under 16 free. Website.

Museum Nienoord and the National Carriage Museum

The Nienoord estate stems from the 16th century, but the current Museum Nienoord is a 19th-century stately home where an exhibition in the upper stories tells its rich history. It also houses the National Carriage Museum (Nationaal Rijtuigmuseum), with a large collection of historical carriages.

Elsewhere on the grounds is the rather odd Schelpengrot, roughly translating as “seashell grotto.” Decorated in about 1700 by Italian craftsmen, it is completely covered in ornate decorative mosaics made of seashells.

Nienoord “Family Park” is a vast playground with a separate entry fee. It also offers miniature train rides, miniature golf, a petting zoo and a “swim paradise.”

A very small train: a man sits on top of the engine. A small boy is able to sit in one of the roofless train cars, but an older child sits opposite him on top of the train car.
The miniature train at Familypark Nienoord. Photo courtesy of V. Joosten.

Museum Nienoord and the National Carriage Museum: Nienoord 1, Leek. Open April-October, Tuesday-Sunday 11:00-17:00; November-March Friday, Saturday and Sunday 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €6.50, children 8-14 €3.50. Website.

Nienoord Family Park: Open April-June and September-October 10:00-17:00, July and August 10:00-18:00, and in November only on Saturday and Sunday 11:00-16:00. Admission: Adults and children from 2 years: €8.95, which includes a train ride. Website.

The Tea Factory

The Tea Factory (Theefabriek) is a tea museum as well as a tea shop, in what used to be a church. In the museum you’ll learn all about tea: how it grows, how it is picked and dried, how it is packaged and what they do in a tea factory. The connection between tea and the Netherlands will become clear.

A stately-looking house, red brick and yellow plaster: symmetrical, with two stories, two doors in the center, a small balcony between them, and two windows on either side on both stories. Next to  the house is a church with a steeple, but it isn't very visible because it is covered in scaffolding.
The Tea Factory

Once you’ve learned everything there is to know about tea, enjoy a cup of your favorite sort in the tea shop, or buy some to take home. You can splurge on a high tea, either the English variety or a theetoafel: a Groningen version with local delicacies.

The Tea Factory: Hoofdstraat 15-25, Houwerzijl. Open April-October Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-17:00; November, January, February and March only open on Saturday and Sunday 10:00-17:00. Closed in December. Admission: Adults €3.50, Children 4-12 €2.50. No charge to enter the tea shop. Website.

Northern Maritime Museum

Housed in two of the oldest buildings in Groningen (Notice how it leans on the Brugstraat side!), the Scheepvaartmuseum tells the history of shipping in the northern region, illuminating the city’s history at the same time. Unlike other maritime museums, this one is not a collection of ships, but rather all sorts of objects connected to the history.

A very old brick building in a row. It appears to be six or seven stories high. Some of the upper windows have red shutters. Most of the floors have 4 windows across.
The Maritime Museum in Groningen

Northern Maritime Museum: Brugstraat 24, Groningen. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €8, children 7-14 €4.50. Website.

Bell Foundry Museum

The Bell Foundry Museum (Klokkengieterijmuseum) is just what it says. The bell foundry opened in 1862 and lasted until 1980 when it went bankrupt. The original factory building houses the museum now.

Here you can learn about how bells were made, how carillons are played, and how tower clocks became more accurate. The enormous bell molds are still there and a film shows how they were used. Ask at the reception and you might be able to get a demonstration, molding a small bell out of tin. You can try out playing a carillon behind the museum.

The Bell Foundry Museum: Provincialeweg 46, Heiligerlee. Open May-September Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00; April and October Tuesday-Sunday 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €5.20, children 7-12 €4.20. €8/€5 for a combination ticket to see the Museum of the Battle of Heiligerlee as well. Website.

GRID Grafisch Museum

At the Graphic Museum, you can see how a printing press works – they have several different kinds from different periods – and how books are bound, along with viewing temporary exhibits involving the print industry.

a close-up photo of a jumble of moveable type: metal squares and rectangles, each with a backward letter on it.
moveable type at the GRID Grafisch Museum

If you visit on a Saturday, you can take part in a workshop for adults from 14:00-16:00 about a range of print techniques (Ask at the reception or check their website.). On Sundays from 13:30-16:30 is an open workshop for kids and adults where you can watch demonstrations or try things out for yourself. These are free once you’ve paid admission to the museum.

GRID Grafisch Museum: Sint Jansstraat 2, Groningen. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-17:00. Admission: €7.75 for adults, €3.25 for primary school students and €5.25 for secondary school students. Website.

Fisheries Museum Zoutkamp

The Visserijmuseum Zoutkamp is dedicated to Zoutkamp’s history as a fishing port – it is one of the few ports in the area that still has an active fishing industry. The main building holds a fishing boat called Ton 2, which can be boarded and viewed. Also on display are various model ships, tools, motors and so forth related to fishing.

Behind the main building is a fisherman’s house that was brought here from elsewhere in the village. Its decor matches what it would have looked like in about 1900. In front of the museum are two boats that visitors can board: the Albatross (1921), a fishing boat, and the Neptunus, a replica of a 1930s shrimping boat.

Fisheries Museum Zoutkamp: Rietdiepskade 11, Zoutkamp. Open April-November, Monday-Friday 10:00-17:00, Saturday 10:00-16:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00; In July and August, Monday-Sunday 10:00-17:00. Admission: €4.50, children 12 and under free. Website.


Historical buildings and other historical sites

Menkemaborg

I wrote a separate article about Menkemaborg, a restored and furnished estate with lovely gardens as well.

Sighting straight down the approach to Menkemaborg, the house is very symmetrical: the entrance is right in the center, and the ground floor shows 5 long windows on either side of that. The windows on the first story are smaller, and each has a shutter, painted back with a white hourglass shape on it. The walls are red-brick, the roof is black.
Menkemaborg

Open-Air Museum Het Hoogeland

Dedicated to illustrating life in Groningen province of about 100 years ago, Het Hoogeland is a collection of about 20 houses clustered in the middle of a small town, Warffum. Ten of the houses were there originally, while the others were brought in from other sites around the province.

A chimney with blue and white tiles at its back wall (presumably Delft), a large kettle hangs in its center and another to the side. The mantel is dark would and shaped in a curve at the center, but otherwise relatively plain. In front of the fireplace is a round table, partially visible, with simple chairs around it and a teacup and saucer in front of one of the places. Beyond that, a window and a square table with chairs. IN the foreground, a big copper container of some sort: for coffee, perhaps.
The cafe at Het Hoogeland looks like it is just waiting for customers.

What makes this open-air museum stand out is that it doesn’t just involve the houses; it also involves the interiors. They have been decorated to the last detail with authentic period furnishings and tools. It makes it look and feel as if the inhabitants just stepped out for a moment. You’ll see a number of homes, a schoolhouse, a pub, a doctor’s office, a print shop, a kosher butcher, a windmill and more.

Openluchtmuseum Het Hoogeland: Schoolstraat 4, Warffum. Open November-March, Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00; April-October, Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00, Sunday and holidays 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €8, children 6-17 €3.50. Website.

Fraeylemaborg

Read my article about Fraeylemaborg, an estate with a family connection.

Fraeylemaborg, with the restaurant on the left and coach house on the right. The photo sights straight down the approaching brick walk toward the entrance to the main house. The main house is low and white, with a row of carefuly pruned trees hiding much of the facade. A tower rises behind them, off center from the central entrance.
Fraeylemaborg

Museum of the Battle of Heiligerlee

The Battle of Heiligerlee in 1568 was between rebels under the leadership of the house of Nassau and the Spanish army. The rebels, despite their smaller numbers, won the battle. It is considered the start of the Eighty Years War.

In the Museum Slag bij Heiligerlee the story of the battle is told through a film and through a long series of images in a wall mural. You can also view and, in some cases, handle 16th century weaponry and armor.

Museum of the Battle of Heiligerlee: Provincialeweg 55, Heiligerlee. Open May-September Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00; April and October Tuesday-Sunday 13:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €5.20, children 7-12 €4.20. €8/€5 for a combination ticket to see the Bell Foundry Museum as well. Website.

Ter Apel Monastery

Here’s another I’ve already written about: Klooster Ter Apel is worth a visit and the grounds around it are great for a walk or bike ride.

A low, long, red-brick building with what looks like a church attached at one end: it has tall arched windows. In front of the building is a grassy area with some large trees.
Klooster Ter Apel

Bourtange

Bourtange is the thing I always take visitors from out of town to see. It’s a village inside a star-shaped military fortress. You can read about Bourtange in my full article here.

This view looks out of the entrance gate to Bourtange. The earthen embankments on either side are the walls of the fortress.
This view looks out of the entrance gate to Bourtange. The earthen embankments on either side are the walls of the fortress.

Museum Wierdenland

The countryside of Groningen province is dotted with small villages perched on and around small hills. These hills are called wierden or terpen and were built over centuries of settlement, becoming especially important in times of flooding.

The front of the museum: a plain, one story red-brick building with doors in the center and a few signs advertising special exhibitions.
Museum Wierdenland

Museum Wierdenland looks at this phenomenon through archeology. The long history of these settlements has left its mark in terms of archeological remains that give hints as to how they looked and were used in the past, going back as far as the Iron Age. The museum sits on the edge of the Ezinge wierde. Make sure to walk up to the middle of the village, where you’ll be about five meters above sea level, and visit the church perched on top of the wierde.

Museum Wierdenland: van Swinderenweg 10, Ezinge. Open November-March, Tuesday-Sunday 13:00-17:00, April-October, Tuesday-Sunday 11:00-17:00. Admission: Adults €6, children up to 18 €2.50. Website.

Landgoed Verhildersum

Verhildersum is a stately home / estate house dating to the 14th century. However, it’s been altered so much that it’s appearance is considerably later. Inside it is furnished to 19th century tastes to give an impression of the life of the landed gentry of that period.

Looking straight down the straight path toward the estate's main house, not much of the house is visible. A row of very neatly trimmed trees (lime trees?) block the house from view, except for the entrance, whcih has a half circle window above it, and the black roof.
Verhildersum, with some very neatly-trimmed trees in front.

Besides the main house, you can also visit a worker’s house, a barn, and the formal garden with stunning sculptures by contemporary artist Eddy Roos.

Landgoed Verhildersum: Wierde 40, Leens. Open April-October Tuesday-Sunday 10:30-17:00. Admission: Adults €7.50, children 6-12 €2.50. Website.

Kloostermuseum St. Bernardushof

This museum looks at the Cistercian monastery in Aduard that, in its day (the 12th-16th century, was known all over Europe. Today the oldest house in the town contains the museum itself, where a guide will tell you the history of the monastery. The present-day church, which you will visit at the end of the tour, was once part of the monastery, but not as a church. Originally it was used as the monastery’s hospital.

Kloostermuseum St. Bernardushof: Hofstraat 45, Aduard. Open April-October Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-17:00 and Sunday 13:00-17:00; November-February only on Sunday 13:00-17:00. Closed in March. Website.

Martinitoren

I already wrote an article about the Martinitoren in Groningen city: This stone church tower (toren means “tower”) is more than 500 years old. You can climb to the top for a great view of Groningen.

Looking slightly down at the Martinikerk (St. Martin's church) with the Martinitoren at its front. The church has gothic arches but no buttresses. The tower is red brick at the bottom (matching the church) and grey stone above. It has gothic arches too, in several levels, like a very tall, narrow wedding cake. At the top is a green (copper, I assume) tower top, with a round bulb shape at the top.
Martinitoren, as seen from the roof of the Forum in Groningen.

Churches in Groningen province

And speaking of churches, even the tiniest villages in Groningen province have medieval-era churches. Read about some of them in this article.

A very small, very simple red-brick church: rectangular, white-edged windows on the side, standing on a slight rise, with a square tower a bit taller than the building in front. The tower has a black pointed roof and leans slightly to the left. In the foreground, a grassy field. A few trees dot the rise (terp) around the church.
Eenrum church, perched on a wierde.

Architecture

Wall House #2

If you’re into modern architecture, here’s one for you. Designed by John Hejduk in 1973, but not built until 2001, Wall House #2 is quite strange looking, and in terms of practicality, I think there’s a reason people don’t live in it. It does host artists-in-residence sometimes, however.

The Groningen Museum operates Wall House #2 and offers tours occasionally. It is on a lake called Hoornsemeer, so you could also enjoy a walk along the lakeshore.

Wall House #2: A.J. Lutulistraat 17, Groningen. Check their website for opportunities to view the inside.

There’s lots of modern and post-modern architecture in Groningen: in particular, check out the Groninger Museum for post-modernism (See below in the “Art” section). Also look for the the Rem Koolhaas-designed urinal on Kleine der A: it always strikes me as funny that someone commissioned a top designer for something as mundane as a urinal.

The Forum

Billed as “Groningen’s living room,” the Forum is a large brownish lump of a building looming over the city center. Nevertheless, it’s a bright and attractive place on the inside, with escalators that reminded me of the stairs in Hogwarts. From the roof, you can get a 360-degree view of the city.

The brand-new Forum looms over a row of earlier buildings. Three buildings, each three stories in the foreground. The Forum is a block behind them, so the fact that several stories of it are visible behind all three foreground buildings shows how high and wide it is.
The Forum, looming over nearby buildings.

Opened in 2019, the Forum houses the city library and a movie theater, and also hosts a range of temporary exhibitions. It is home to Storyworld, a museum of comic strips, animation and games. (See below under “Art”.)

The Forum: Nieuwe Markt 1, Groningen. See website for open hours. Admission to the building is free. Website.


Art

MOW Museum Westerwolde

In a bright and spacious former house, the MOW Museum Westerwolde exhibits modern art and historical objects from the region around it. It does not have the room to show all of the thousands of pieces in its collection, so it regularly puts on thematic shows or exhibits the works of one specific local artist. Always on display is a collection of works by magical realist Lodewijk Bruckman.

MOW Museum Westerwolde: Hoofdweg 161, Bellingwolde. See website for opening hours. Admission: €5. On Wednesdays you can set your own admission fee. Website.

Groninger Museum

Probably the most well-known sight in Groningen province, the Groninger Museum is a masterpiece of post-modernism, designed by architects including Alessandro Mendini and Philippe Starck. It hosts small but impressive temporary shows in its unusual spaces. You can read here my review of a Rodin show I visited a few years ago.

An upside-down U forms the entrance. Beyond that, a bridge, then parts of the museum on the left and right. On the right, a tall yellow building with no windows. Also a smaller light green building. Further right, a building that is very oddly shapped, with part of it sticking out at an angle. On the left of the bridge is a low, round, grey building.
The Groninger Museum: a post-modern landmark

Groninger Museum: Check the website for opening times and ticket prices. If you want to see one of their temporary exhibits, it might be necessary to buy the tickets ahead through their website; they often sell out. Website.

Museum Møhlmann

The artist Rob Møhlmann was also a collector, amassing a huge number of artworks over his lifetime. This museum shows pieces from his collection, ranging from medieval objects and manuscripts to modern artwork. All of it, though, is what could be called realistic or figurative art. That doesn’t mean it actually is realistic, however … The museum’s tag line is “independent museum for art that represents something.”

Museum Møhlmann: Westersingel 102-104, Appingedam. Open from the first Sunday in April until the last Sunday before Christmas, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 13:00-17:00. Check website for exact dates. Admission: Adults €8, children 10-15 €4. Website.

Storyworld

Storyworld’s home is inside the Forum on the 6th floor. The first section is called “storytelling” and takes a look at how stories in general are constructed. It includes original sketches from various well-known strips and films. The second section continues with a focus just on strips. The third and fourth sections look at animation and at games, including “behind-the-scenes” information on they are constructed. All sections contain interactive elements.

Storyworld: Nieuwe Markt 1, 6th floor, Groningen. See website for open hours. Admission: Adults €9, children 7-17 €6. Website.


Book your hotel in Groningen province here.

Other

Museumplein Grootegast

Museumplein has an oddly-mixed collection under one roof. In this case, three museums:

  • Legio Museum is about Lego. You can view already-built Lego structures or build your own.
  • The Victory Museum focuses on the liberation of Groningen province by the Canadians at the end of World War II. It tells the story of the 4-day Battle of Groningen and the Germans’ retreat. It includes objects related to the German and Canadian military, as well as a series of dioramas showing key scenes from the war.
  • The Museumdrukkerij is a printing museum, showing how newspapers and books used to be produced. It also includes a collection of vintage typewriters.

Museumplein: Legoland 1c, Grootegast. See website for hours. Admission: €8. Website.

A large table covered with Lego constructions: a church, various other buildings, cars, trucks, trains, etc. Through windows in the back, more Lego can be glimpsed.
Inside the Legio Museum. Photo courtesy of V. Joosten.

Climbing Center Bjoeks

Klimcentrum Bjoeks is the place to go in Groningen if you like wall-climbing or bouldering. The main room inside is lined with climbing walls and they have some “boulders” outside as well.

The really special thing, though is the climbing tower “Excalibur.” It’s 37 meters high, with 11 meters of overhang on one side! If you’re curious what that means, watch this video!

The large building nearby is Kardinge. It has a range of activities including swimming pools (one of which is a wave pool), tennis courts, squash courts and ice rinks (in season). In other buildings in the complex you’ll find an indoor ski slope, a huge indoor playground, a pitch ‘n putt, and a variety of other recreational options.

Klimcentrum Bjoeks: Bieskemaar 3, Groningen. Open Monday-Friday 14:00-22:00; Saturday and Sunday 11:00-23:00. Admission: Adults over 25 €12.00, 18-25 €10.00, children up to 17 €9.00. You must be an experienced, qualified climber to climb Excalibur. You can pay additional charges for a rope and climbing shoes. Website.


So that’s my 40 slightly weird, definitely quirky, often off-the-beaten-track things to see in Groningen province. If there is anything else that you think should be included, please let me know!

A Groningen walking tour

And here is a Groningen city walking tour I put together, complete with a map.

Map: Things to see in Groningen province

And speaking of maps, I’ve marked all of the locations in this list on the Google map below. To see the map’s key, click on the little square icon in the top left, or else just click on each marker.

Some advice about visiting

Getting around Groningen province

The best way to see the province is by driving, though if you’re an avid bicyclist you could spend a great vacation exploring the countryside.

Public transportation

Except for the sights in bigger towns like Groningen, Appingedam or Veendam, getting to most of these places will be rather complicated by public transportation. It’s perfectly possible, but will take more time than driving. You can look up the train schedules at the train company’s site or at the 9292 site, which will also give you bus information.

Driving

Driving a car is the way to see as many sights as possible. You’ll find, as you drive around the countryside, that Groningen province is just simply beautiful. You’ll pass through lovely little villages and bigger towns, many with a medieval church on a wierde in the middle. Take your time and stop wherever strikes your interest!

Having said that, do not rent a car in Amsterdam city; it’s a nightmare to drive in and will bankrupt you in parking fees. Rent your car from Schiphol Airport and drive to Groningen from there without passing through Amsterdam. Return it to Schiphol and then take the train from right inside the airport into Amsterdam or wherever else you are going.

Drenthe province is right next door to Groningen province, so take a look at my list of what to see in Drenthe province!

Take a look at the driving rules in the Netherlands; they’re a bit different from the rules in the US. When there are no lights at an intersection – every intersection – look for “shark’s teeth” painted on the pavement. If there are “shark’s teeth” painted on the pavement in front of you, you do not have the right of way and need to give way to cars that don’t have shark’s teeth in front of their lane. Shark’s teeth pointed at the other car means you have the right of way. If there are no shark’s teeth in either direction, then the car coming from the right has the right of way, even if their road is smaller!

a road going straight ahead into the distance, a row of trees without leaves lining either side.
A typical country road in Groningen province.

Also give bicyclists a wide berth. Their right-of-way rules are pretty much the same as for cars. However, whether or not they have the right of way, they’re likely to expect you to get out of their way. Pass them carefully. Many of the local roads in Groningen province are quite narrow and may have bike paths painted along the sides in red. You are allowed to drive partly in the bike path when a car is passing you in the opposite direction. However, if a bike is riding there, you’ll just have to slow down and wait. The same goes for roads where no bike paths are indicated.

Book your hotel in Groningen province here.

Other tips

  1. If you like estate houses / stately homes but don’t have time to see them all, I’d recommend Fraeylemaborg or Menkemaborg over Verhildersum.
  2. Most of the places I’ve listed will have some sort of activities available for children. It’s worth asking, though they won’t all have English versions.
  3. The best places on this list for small children, I’d say, are the Zeehondencentrum, DoeZoo Insektenwereld, Barefoot Path Opende, the National Bus Museum, Nienoord, and Legio at Museumplein Grootegast. For older children, follow their interests.
  4. Most of these museums have a cafe available, but bring food and drink to save money.
  5. Wear solid shoes and bring an umbrella. The weather changes quickly in the Netherlands and it can also be quite windy in the countryside.

If you know of more interesting, quirky, unusual or just plain weird things to see in Groningen province, please add a comment below! Also, if you found this list useful, please do me a favor and share it!

Pinnable image
Text: 30+ unusual things to do ini Groningen province, the Netherlands.
Images are all from this article: the view down the narrowest street, De Lelie windmill, the tree-lined road and the front of Menkemaborg.

One Comment

  • Lilly

    July 8, 2020 at 4:37 am

    Thanks so much for this post & all the detail! I had no idea there was so much to do in Groningen, and the town looks like a great collection of Dutch heritage. I’m definitely putting it on my bucket list.

    Reply

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