After years spent exploring the world, Irish travel blogger Janet Newenham found herself enrolling in a Master’s program at the University of Groningen in the northern Netherlands, and quickly fell in love with the place.
Though the peripatetic journalist has spent time in nearly 50 countries so far, and recently returned to the Emerald Isle to work in Dublin, Groningen will always occupy a special place in her heart.
“It’s often overlooked, thanks to fierce competition from Amsterdam and Utrecht, but Groningen is one of the most friendly, fun, and easy-going cities in the Netherlands, if not in all of Europe,” Janet says. “Everyone should make an effort to visit.”
Follow Janet on Twitter @janetnewenham.
Groningen Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to Market Square.
Winter is the best time to visit Groningen because the canals turn to ice and the locals spend the evenings skating around their city. Laughter can be heard all over as adults relive their childhood. Plus, Groningen’s parks look best when they’re blanketed with snow.
You can see my city best from the top of the bell tower of the Martinikerk, which provides a panoramic view of the the main square and across the canal to Groningen’s suburbs.
Locals know to skip tourist pubs like the Three Sisters and check out cute local pubs like O’Ceallaigh instead.
The creative furniture, handmade clothing, and organic food stores on Folkingestraat are the best places to buy authentic, local souvenirs.
In the past, notable people like Olympic Swimmer Corrie Winkel, renowned painted Jozef Israëls, and the “Dutch Nightingale,” mezzo-soprano Julia Culp, have called Groningen home.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that one in every five residents is a student.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is at the Bjoeks Climb Center, which is home to Excalibur, the tallest freestanding climbing wall in the world.
My city really knows how to celebrate talented musicians because it is full of incredible live-music venues and plays host to some brilliant outdoor music festivals, such as the 11-day Noorderzon Festival.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they cycle everywhere—even when it’s snowing. Groningen is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the Netherlands; its roads have been designed to give right of way to cyclists rather than cars.
Just outside my city, you can visit sites related to World War II’s Battle of Groningen and learn about the events that destroyed much of the old city of Groningen. Also, the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage site is just a short drive from Groningen.
My city is known for being the city of students, but it’s really the city of creativity and talent.
The best outdoor market in my city is the Grote Markt on the weekends. The food trucks come in during the summer and sell the most delicious Belgian frites!
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I take advantage of cheap drink nights on Peperstraat.
To escape the crowds, I head to Stadspark with my bike and a kite and spend the afternoon enjoying the great outdoors.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
A family having a barbecue next to their houseboat on a frozen canal in January could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should go for a bicycle ride through any of the city’s beautiful parks, which will be a kaleidoscope of color thanks to fields full of purple and yellow crocus flowers.
In the summer you should head to Hoornsemeer, an artificial lake within walking distance from Groningen’s city center where you can have picnics, relax in the sun, and go for a refreshing swim.
In the fall you should do some stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Groningen’s canals are perfect for it, provided it’s not too cold!
In the winter you should keep your eyes peeled for the Elfstedentoch (Eleven Cities Tour), a spectacular ice skating extravaganza that has been taking place for more than a century. It happens only when ice conditions are just right across the whole of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. However, you can do your own ice skating tour on any of the lakes or canals around Groningen.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Picknick Bootje, a boat that quietly floats around the city’s canals while you and the kids are fed an amazing picnic. A great novelty for a sunny afternoon!
The best book about my city is the In Your Pocket Guide to Groningen because, to my knowledge, it’s one of the few travel guides dedicated solely to the city. It also features some unusual things to do in the city and lets you know about upcoming festivals and sporting events.