I once lived in Groningen in the Netherlands! You might be thinking, “Groningen? Where in the heck is that?” I felt the same. I had no idea where Groningen was and knew even less about what it was like there.
But despite all that I didn’t know about Groningen, I chose this city where I would begin my master’s program at my “home” university — the University of Groningen (or “Rijksuniversiteit Groningen” in Dutch). After six months of living in Groningen, I’m fully convinced it’s one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands! There are so many things to do in Groningen you wouldn’t expect.
Groningen is a city full of young, happy students so there’s always an event to catch or an activity to do. It’s filled with incredible cafes, restaurants, and trendy bars. It has amazing open-air fish markets, inspiring museums, awesome outdoor activities… And more!
Basically, Groningen is an awesome city to visit and it is not widely known just yet (even more reason why you should visit!). Most people consider Amsterdam to exemplify the Netherlands, but I would argue that Groningen definitely offers a more genuine look at local life in the Netherlands without the huge touristy scene.
Here are the top 10 reasons why you should visit Groningen, the Netherlands!
10 Reasons to Add Groningen to Your Bucket List
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1. Groningen is even more of a bicycle wonderland than Amsterdam!
When people think of the world’s cycling city, they think of Amsterdam. But it may come as a surprise that Groningen is actually the winner of this category. Over 60% of all trips in Groningen are made on bikes and biking in Groningen has been a part of the local’s daily routine for the past 150 years.
Groningen truly is a bicycle haven. There are bikes everywhere and biking around the brick-paved downtown is one of the best things to do in Groningen as a tourist or a local. Biking is one of my favorite parts of living in this lovely little city!
Whether it’s to go to my university classes, the grocery store, to bars or restaurants, I take my bike every day and for any occasion. Biking around Groningen is the best way to see the city. Plus, it’s fun + exercise + convenience + sustainability all in one!
The video below gives an excellent look into how Groningen became a cycling city and shows great shots of the city’s landmarks and what it’s like to bike through the city!
When you visit Groningen, make sure to rent a bike. The biking lanes in Groningen have their own little traffic lights. The routes take you all over town. The only trouble you might have with your bike is getting it stolen or not finding a place to “park” it!
2. Groningen has boats, canals, & cute pedestrian streets
One of the first things almost everyone notices about Groningen is the cute canals and the even cuter boathouses that line them.
The canals are smaller than what you would see in Amsterdam and are sprinkled with decorated, uniquely-styled boathouses. Some have gardens, balconies, several floors, or even have paneling that resembles that of a house, except these houses sit on the water.
If you’re not busy admiring the sights of the boats and cute bridges crossing the canals, you’ll be otherwise in love with the cobbled-stone or brick pedestrian streets that give Groningen the cherry on top of the cuteness cake!
3. And adorable tea/coffee shops
While admiring your surroundings in Groningen either on foot or on a bike, don’t forget to go slowly and take in all the lovely tea and coffee shops that are sprinkled throughout the city (like this one at Baq)! You will especially find Groningen’s cute cafes in the city center or lining either side of the street near the university buildings.
From local to international, there is a cafe that suits everyone in town. With big windows that give you a glimpse of the warm cozy lighting and trendy interior decor, these little cafes are just too tempting for the average student’s budget and I may or may not be guilty of treating myself to a latte macchiato, or two.. 😉
The only problem is that there are just too many good ones to choose from! I can say, however, the first one we visited upon arrival in Groningen is the Op z’n Kop cat café (you know I simply couldn’t resist!)
4. Groningen is an awesome foodie destination
The best fries in town at Frietwinkel Groningen (organic, too!)
When your belly starts to rumble after a day exploring Groningen it might be time to discover all the tasty delicacies Groningen has to offer. Groningen might be a smaller Dutch city (population 190,000) but nevertheless this place has international food options for any hungry traveler and for all types of budgets.
From fancy restaurants with live classical music to bars, bistros, noodle shops, or burger joints, Groningen offers something for everyone!
One of our favorites is Mr. Mofongo which is nestled right next to the Academy building (main building of my uni) and offers a full bar/restaurant with international cuisine. Try the nachos or Thai green curry soup!
5. Groningen has fresh local markets – Grote (Grand) & Vis (Fish) Markets
Don’t miss out on all the local stalls and shops that come to the Grote and Vismarkt! The Grote Market is every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday on the Vis Markt.
It is definitely worth a trip to the market while in Groningen, even if it’s just to taste the fresh fish nuggets (kibbeling in Dutch) that are quick-fried and sprinkled with a savory seasoning that leaves you wanting more.
If you love fresh fish, cheese, meats, nuts, bread, pastries, fruits and veggies, flowers, or locally-made goods, then a trip to the markets in Groningen is a must!
You can also find other markets in various neighborhoods in Groningen, but we tend to do all our weekly shopping for fresh fruits and veggies on Saturday at the main market.
6. Groningen has awesome shops and concept stores
All throughout the city center, you can find large streets lined with popular clothing stores like Zara, H&M, Hema, etc., but if you take a stride down the side-streets that cut through the city you can find super cute local specialty shops, gift shops, or concept stores.
It is surprising how much you notice when you either bike or walk down these streets; each time I find a new store that I put on my “still need to visit” list!
My two favorite so far couple as both a store/café so you can either go in and shop or sit down and enjoy a homemade cake or browse the unique items on display.
7. Groningen has the best nightlife
Groningen may have the “small town in a city” feeling, but it definitely doesn’t go quiet at night. After all, out of the almost 200,000 inhabitants, nearly 50,000 are youngsters/students under age 35, making Groningen one hip, young place to live or visit!
Going out isn’t only dedicated to Thurs, Fri, or Sat, but on random days throughout the week, you’ll find people crowding the bars, clubs, or having fun trying to bike around after having a few drinks (which is so much fun). Actually, of the best nights out we had was strangely on a Tuesday night!
Going out in Groningen isn’t the same as Amsterdam. Yes, Groningen has it’s own little “red light district” but it’s nothing compared to Amsterdam – which I like! You can actually integrate and not feel like an outsider when you go out to bars and clubs in Groningen. I like Amsterdam, but it’s gotten too touristy for its own good!
8. Groningen has incredible history and architecture!
Groningen is a hub for architectural design and beauty. From the train station to the Groninger Museum, and all the unique building shapes in between, Groningen “stands for architecture” and will definitely give you some great photo ops.
My university’s Academy building, for example, was built in 1604 and makes me feel like I’m a student at Hogwarts.
The main railway station is also a special sight to see, from both the inside and outside.
There is also the Martini Tower and Martini Church, the city hall, warehouses, the Groningen synagogue, and many other beautiful buildings that invite both the lovers of history and old or modern architecture.
9. Groningen is both the World’s Cycling City AND the City of Talent
Groningen is rapidly becoming an internationally-recognized destination. There is so much raw talent on display here at Groningen! In fact, one of the university’s professors and scientists, Ben Feringa, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry! It is no wonder Groningen is dubbed the “City of Talent”.
“Groningen encourages research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It attracts many young, creative entrepreneurs and invests in outstanding IT infrastructure. Key projects are Wireless Groningen and Target, an expertise centre for large-scale data processing. Internationally Groningen collaborates closely within the Northern Development Axis, sharing knowledge and expertise with the North German cities, the Baltic states and Scandinavia. Groningen is truly a City of Talent.”
As I mentioned before, Groningen is such a young city and you can really feel it. There’s so much enthusiasm and creativity floating around in the air I always said it was contagious!
10. Groningen is super close to the Dutch countryside
Reason number 10 for why you should visit Groningen is its location. Nestled towards the north of the Netherlands, Groningen is but just a stone’s throw away from the Dutch islands on the sea, Germany just a few kilometers on your right, and the best of all, the flat, green, Dutch countryside.
Groningen is not just the name of the city but also represents the Groningen Province. An hour’s drive away will land you with spectacular views of Holland and will take you to unique towns and landmarks.
A quick trip with the car or a half-day ride on the bike will take you to the village of Geithoorn, where they use boats on a one-way canal or ‘highway’ and is therefore dubbed the “Venice of the North.” In the opposite direction, an hour’s drive from Groningen will take you to the star-shaped historic fortress, “Fort Broutange.”
And with that concludes my top ten list of reasons why you should add Groningen to your bucket list! There are so many reasons to visit Groningen that extend beyond this list. But I hope you are feeling more inspired to visit on your next trip to the Netherlands!
Have you ever visited the Netherlands or visited Groningen? Drop me your questions below!
Mike sumner says
Going to Groningen for a month aug 17-sept14. Thanks for great writing and information. Looking forward to cooler weather and talking to locals. I love history and this has so much to offer.
Hey Mike! Sounds wonderful. 🙂 It’s going to be such a beautiful time to visit then. Enjoy it and stay safe!