This is part three of my series “The Netherlands Beyond Amsterdam”. I’ve been curious about Groningen for a while since it’s the northernmost province in The Netherlands. A two-hour train ride from Amsterdam, Groningen is a quaint city with plenty to offer. A weekend in Groningen is a great way to get to see a different side of The Netherlands.
I traveled from Rotterdam via train for my weekend in Groningen. The ride took 3 hours with one change at Amsterdam Airport. I really enjoyed seeing the transition from busy Randstad (the area composed of the larger cities in the Netherlands: roughly from Amsterdam to Rotterdam) to the rural areas. All of a sudden there’s a view of Dutch milk cows basking in a rare Dutch sunny day, green farmlands, and of course, lots of windmills.
The city was preparing itself for the start of the new school year. Groningen is home to one of the largest universities in The Netherlands, with 20% of its population being students. The vibe of the city is young and fun. If you spend a weekend in Groningen, you get to experience the market that takes place on Saturdays. The scent of warm stroopwafels and the sight of delicious Dutch cheese will wake the hunger in you.
What to do with a Weekend in Groningen: Take a Tour
By Bus: I got to explore the city by a bus guided tour with Summer Holiday Bus. This was a fun tour as the guide was a professor at the University of Groningen, sharing fun tidbits about the university. The weather was very warm (very rare for the Netherlands) so it was a great way to cool off and learn more about the city.
By Foot: I also went on a walking tour of Groningen. You can get tickets at the tourist office in the city center. I was lucky to have a one on one tour with Jacky, a young student who shared some of her favorite spots in the city: Pizza Napoli for delicious and cheap pizza and Bar de Witz for cocktails.
By Boat: For those who know me… I LOVE BOATS! From yachts to rowboats, I love exploring a destination by boat. And there’s no better place for fluvial activities than The Netherlands as there are thousands of canals that cross the country. I really enjoyed the Rederij Kool canal tour of Groningen. The tour guide also gives an overview of the history of the city but what I enjoyed the most was studying the boat houses which line the canals and the lovely architecture of the buildings.
Jenever: During my weekend in Groningen, I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon at one of the oldest distilleries of Jenever (Genever), a classic Dutch spirit. We went to the Hooghoudt distillery, a 10-minute drive from the city center. I got a tour of the family-owned distillery and picked up a bottle of Jenever for later (I was pregnant at the time). It was one of my favorite experience of my weekend in Groningen as it gave me a greater perspective on Dutch spirits. Did you know Gin evolved from Jenever?
Where to Eat in Groningen
A weekend in Groningen gives you enough time to explore the culinary offerings of the city. The city is filled with small, local-owned cafes and restaurants. One theme was constant throughout our dining experiences: every restaurant we visited was all about sourcing their food locally.
Le Marronier: This tiny restaurant nestled on a quiet street in the outskirts of the city center specializes in French cuisine. Started with delicious fried sardines followed by a duck confit for dinner with a delectable orange sauce. I was seven months pregnant so no drinks for me, but I really appreciated the basil infused water.
Brasserie Midi: Located off one of the shopping streets of the city center of Groningen, Brasserie Midi is an oasis from the crowds on a busy Saturday. Their beautiful patio is perfect for a drink or a leisurely lunch. One of my favorite meals during my weekend in Groningen was the pork belly and ham roulettes with a mélange of local vegetables. The server told us that the pork is locally sourced from a farm in the province and she assured me it came from “very happy pigs”.
Smaeck: The tasting menu at Smaeck was a highlight of Dutch cuisine. I think there are many misconceptions in regards to Dutch cuisine. It doesn’t get the love that its Belgian neighbors get. However, this tasting menu proved itself with seared local fish and XYZ. The owner of the restaurant curates the wine list, focusing on organic vineyards from Germany and France.
Where to Stay in Groningen
We stayed at Hotel Prinsenhof, a small luxury hotel near the town square. I began my weekend in Groningen with lunch at the hotel, which I highly recommend even if you’re not a hotel guest. I enjoyed my lunch but the highlight was the dessert. The crème brulee was a delicious piece of art. The rooms were fit for a king, literally. King Willem-Alexander, the king of The Netherlands and his wife, the beloved Queen Maxima have stayed at Hotel Prinsenhof. The rooms have a beautiful modern decor with classic touches. The Acqua di Parma toiletries are a bonus!
A weekend in Groningen is a great idea for those who want to have a luxurious Dutch experience without the price tag of Amsterdam or even The Hague. The people are very friendly and welcoming. Whether it was at a restaurant or at the hotel, staff members were all eager to share their favorite parts of the city.