A blend of history, culture and adventures, Friesland offers endless possibilities for every type of travelers. Declared the one of the two European Cultural Capitals of 2018, the capital Leeuwarden is one of the most alluring and historic cities in the country. If you’ve been to the Netherlands before and would like to explore the country beyond Amsterdam, then a visit to Friesland will be a great addition to your trip. Our 3-day suggested itinerary is designed to give you a holistic and wholesome experience. Depending on your traveling priorities, you can certainly fine tune this itinerary to suit your needs.
Things to know before traveling to Leeuwarden, the Netherlands:
Language – The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch. English is widely spoken in Amsterdam, as well as other cities in the Netherlands, and you will have no problem when asking directions. It is recommended, however, to learn some Dutch phrases because Dutch people, like any other cultures, appreciate if foreign visitors attempt to speak their language.
Money and costs – The Netherlands uses Euros, the same currency now used by most European Union countries with the exception of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Prior to traveling, you can buy some euros (enough for one day or whatever your preference) and then exchange your money in the banks to get the best rates. You can also use the ATMs, GWK exchange bureaus which can be found at the airports, major railways stations and in other tourist areas.
Etiquette – The Dutch are modest, tolerant and independent people. They are reserved and they value privacy. In social meetings, people shake hands with everyone present. Introduce yourself if no one is there to introduce you. If you are invited to dine out, expect the Dutch to say if they will pay the entire bill or they will let you pay your fair share.
Getting around – Being a relatively small city, Leeuwarden can be easily explored on foot or on a bicycle. You can either bike on your own or you can join one of the guided biking tours offered in the city. You may also get a OV-chipcaart, a prepaid card which can be used in riding the local buses. Another reliable option when getting around is by Taxi. There are plenty of taxi companies, however, taxi rides are expensive like in other European cities.
Where to stay – Leeuwarden has some of the best youth hostels and luxury hotels ideally nestled in the heart of the city. The most frequently asked question from first time travelers is, “What’s the best area to stay in when visiting Leeuwarden?” If you are going to follow our suggested itinerary, we recommend a hotel/hostel in the Historische Binnenstad since all of the main sights are so close to each other and can be easily reached on foot.
Hotels to consider in Friesland:
Detailed itinerary: 3 days in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands
On your first day, take in a few of Leeuwarden’s most famous attractions and get an introduction to its rich history. Getting to Leeuwarden from major cities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam is easy. By trains from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the average travel time to Leeuwarden Railway Station is approximately 2.5 hours. Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in the old town or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. Check into your chosen accommodation where you will be staying for two nights. Then, set out this morning to see some of the most beautiful attractions in the city.
There is no better way to get acquainted in the city than strolling through the Historische Binnenstad, the city center located in the heart of Leeuwarden. If you arrive early enough, then you can have breakfast at one of the stalls in the square selling fresh produce, homemade bread and pastries.
After breakfast, make your way to Oldehove, the leaning and unfinished church tower. Climb over its narrow steps to the top to get a stunning panoramic view of Leeuwarden and the countryside. If you want to learn more about its magnificent architecture and its equally interesting history, then you can join one of the city’s guided tours.
In the afternoon, head to the Fries Museum, a modern museum showcasing Friesland’s history. It features icons significant to the region like Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema, Mata Hari, the Tolsum Writing Tablet, Popta Silverware, and many more. After your museum tour, wander around the Wilhelminaplein (Wilhelmina Square), a lovely public square in the city center. It is a great place to people watch and do some shopping. After dinner, head back to your chosen hotel and sleep early for your tour the next day.
Unless breakfast is included in the price of your accommodation, start your day at one of Leeuwarden’s best breakfast and brunch spots in the Old Canal Area. A typical breakfast in the Netherlands includes some bread with cheese, sliced cold meat, pancakes and pastries, soft boiled egg, and freshly brewed coffee.
After breakfast, dive deeper into local experience by visiting one or two of Leeuwarden’s best loved museums like the Keramiekmuseum Princessehof (Princessehof Ceramics Museum) and De Grutterswinkel (Museum of Grutterswinkel). Then, head to Blokhuispoort, a former prison that have undergone renovation and rehabilitation over the years. Now, it serves as a commercial place for local startups.
No trip to Leeuwarden will be complete without the Leeuwarden Canal Cruise experience, which is probably the most famous thing to do in the city. To celebrate a successful trip in Friesland’s capital, treat yourself to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Old Canal.
It’s time to say good bye to Leeuwarden! If you still have time, fit in an amazing breakfast or lunch in the city. You could even squeeze in some souvenir shopping before you travel back to Amsterdam or other parts of the Netherlands. You may continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in Leeuwarden. The decision is all yours!
Have you been to Maastricht or anywhere else in the Netherlands? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: People sitting in the sun at a canal in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (Marc Venema / Shutterstock)