JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH SIMONE KYNASTON FROM LEEUWARDEN, THE NETHERLANDS !
Simone is originally from the UK but moved to Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands two years ago. In Friesland people have their own language, so on top of learning Dutch as quickly as possible, Simone also has to get into the Frisian lingo too, which she finds incredibly difficult. Her passion lies in travel, and over the past three years she has been lucky enough to check some massive bucket list destinations off, along with her partner, who inspired her love for adventure.
Friesland is a fiercely independent province and the third largest in Netherlands in terms of land area. The locals speak their own language called Frisian. In Friesland, agriculture and tourism are two main sources of income.
Like the other provinces of Netherlands, Friesland has 195 windmills of about 1200 in the entire country. There’s plenty of incredible nature up here, as well as fair share of towns and cities which are just as good as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag. Few of the main cities of Friesland are Leeuwarden, Drachten, Sneek and Harlingen.
Leeuwarden is the capital and a beautiful part of Friesland. It’s a charming city, and it’s small enough so that the bustle doesn’t become overwhelming. There’s plenty to do there, and loads of history and culture which makes it so special.
Leeuwarden is also famous as the birthplace of graphic artist M.C. Escher, double spy Mata Hari and Rembrandt’s wife Saskia van Uylenburgh. The flower market held in the city on Ascension Day too is said to be the largest one in the Netherlands.
Leeuwarden is a city with a charming historical centre and many little canals. When do you think is the best time to visit the city ?
For the past two years, The Netherlands has been blessed with beautiful summer weather. Clear blue skies and warm breezes. Yes, we had it all.
I’d definitely recommend visiting Leeuwarden during late spring or throughout summer (between the beginning of May and the end of September) for those perfect, laid back days. You’ll find all the terraces open for business, and be able to sit along the canal with a nice cold drink and a portion of bitterballen whilst you people watch. Or, you can take a boat ride down the canal, kick back, and relax completely whilst taking it all in.
In the winter, Leeuwarden still has its charm, of course, but it gets chilly quickly, and, whilst the terraces do include fires, heaters and blankets, you won’t be able to escape the numerous rain showers! When it’s cold and freezing, you can ice-skate the canals of Leeuwarden.
What are the different ways by which one can reach Leeuwarden considering most travellers land in the capital Amsterdam?
It’s super easy to get to Leeuwarden by train, which you can catch from Schipol Airport as soon as you land. In fact, you could be in Leeuwarden in just over two hours, which isn’t bad at all. Leeuwarden’s train station is right in the centre of the city as well. That means that the action is a mere 5-minute walk away. There are also good connections with The Hague, Rotterdam and other cities.
The Afsluitdijk dam, that runs from Den Oever in North Holland province to the village of Zurich in Friesland province, over a length of 32 kilometres makes it possible to drive to Leeuwarden from Amsterdam in only 90 minutes. Either go by the west A7 and the A31 or via the east by taking the A1, A6 and the A32. You could even take a bus, but that would take far too long. The train or car are your best bet.
Once in the city, Leeuwarden is compact and can easily be explored on foot. It also has a number of biking routes and rent out bikes are easily available. If you’re looking for your hotel, there are taxis and buses that wait directly outisde the train station too, so you’ll never be far from someone who can get you to where you need to be. The bus station is just behind the train station. Buses are operated by companies Arriva and Qbuzz. To pay for the bus rides get an OV-chipcaart.
What according to you are the best places to visit in Leeuwarden?
As soon as you step foot out of the train station, you’ll probably be surprised to see two giant heads that are weirdly proportioned. These two heads are a fountain: one of the 11 fountains commissioned to be built a few years ago to commemorate the 11 cities of Friesland. Each fountain was created by a different artist, and the one that stands in Leeuwarden was created by Jaume Plensa, and is named ‘Love’.
If you’re into culture and history, and are interested in getting to know Friesland better, you can’t miss the Fries Museum, which sits on Wilhelminaplein. It’s fun for all ages; a beautiful modern building set up with all sorts of artifacts from way back when. There are interactive pieces for kids, and plenty of history.
You can even visit the display all about Mata Hari, a Leeuwarden woman who was an exotic dancer and courtesan. Unfortunately, for Mata Hari, she was convicted of being a spy for Germany and executed in France during World War I, meaning her life was cut short, and pretty violently too.
There are also completely separate exhibitions in the Fries Museum which change from time to time (right now it’s all about the Vikings) so you can get your fill of fun, no matter what your interests are.
There’s also the Oldehove, or the Leaning Tower of Leeuwarden, which is a must to climb. Construction began back in 1529, and the people of Leeuwarden demanded a tower larger than the Martinitoren in Groningen, which was, at the time, the highest tower in the north. Once construction had begun, the tower began to tilt, and construction had to be stopped by 1532 because the builders simply couldn’t make it straight again.
The tower stands at 39 metres high. It’s 183 steps to the top (unless you want to take the lift of course), where you’ll find gorgeous panoramic views over Leeuwarden, and even step out onto a glass ledge if you’re brave enough! It lies close to the Prinsentuin and the Kleine Kerkstraat, a cosy shopping street in Leeuwarden.
My final suggestion would be the Blokhuispoort, a famous old prison which began its life in 1499 when Albrecht van Saksen ordered the scumbags of the city to be locked up there. The building which stands in the original log cabin’s place nowadays was built in 1874 though, and housed numerous criminals up until its last, who left in 2007.
De Blokhuispoort is now a museum and and a few restaurants, and there’s no chance of running into anyone shady. However, the building remains very much intact, so you are actually walking and eating within walls that housed criminals for a few centuries! Every Saturday, the old guards give a tour through the former prison at 14:00 and 16:00 o’clock.
What are the best day trips to take from Leeuwarden?
With the train station being right in the middle of the city, it’s easy to hop on a train to, well, anywhere up north really.
Giethoorn, aka The Venice of the North, is a mere 58 minutes away by public transport. It’s a beautiful, quintessential Dutch village, where you can rent a boat and sail its miniature canals, or wander through the village itself, peek into the beautiful gardens, and then stop for lunch or cake when your legs get tired. Beware though! Giethoorn is well known, and can often be a busy tourist attraction during high summer!
Groningen is another fantastic place for a day trip. It’s a bustling student city that can be reached by train within the hour, where you’ll be inundated with shops and restaurants, as well as a beautiful square and stunning cathedral that towers over the market.
Finally, you could head to Zwolle, another beautiful and charming city in Overijssel. You’ll find yourself there by train within the hour too, and be able to wander its gothic streets within the old city walls. It’s got cobbles, and cathedrals that you can sit outside at and have a few drinks whilst you people watch.
One of its main attractions is the old church that was gutted and turned into a bookshop and café. There you’ll find a vast array of books and magazines, and be able to tuck into one of Zwolle’s favourite cakes, a ‘zwollenaartje ’ whilst you relax with a coffee and take in the gorgeous view.
Are there any events or festivals in Leeuwarden around which tourists should plan their holiday to feel the local culture?
Leeuwarden is a bustling city which attracts a number of events and festivals each year. Back in 2018, Leeuwarden was the Cultural Capital of Europe, which saw some fantastic artists and acts flood into the city for the entire year.
Waterlicht, the amazing light display was shown in February, and Royal De Luxe, a French company who travel from country to country, came to show off their giant marionette dolls over the summer.
Most recently, the Installation de Feu amazed Leeuwardens’ with their spectacle show of fire, all set up in fantastic shapes and sizes and dotted around the city. It was rather warm that evening, despite the cold February weather!
Whilst Leeuwarden has its fair share of events and festivals throughout the year, none of them are recurring, so it’s best to check this website to find which events or festivals will be held throughout the year, to check which time would be the best for your visit!
What is the local food of Friesland, sweet and savoury?
Frisians are proud of their culture, and their food, and they offer a ton of sweet and savoury treats to appease the hangriest of travelers. You’ll find shops dedicated to suikerbrood (sugarbread), oranjekoek (a gorgeous cake with pink icing).
If you’ve not got a sweet tooth, don’t worry, because Frieseworst is famous up north. It’s a dried out sausage, which can be flavoured numerous ways. It’s best enjoyed alongside a bit of cheese, or with a malty beer.
Talking of beer, bitterballen are a Dutch bar snack that are made to be eaten next to your beer. They’re tiny, round, and incredibly hot meat filled snacks, which are moreish and can be found in absolutely any bar in the country. You have to try them!
Where should one head for shopping in Leeuwarden?
The shopping centre is a 5 minute walk from the train station, and is mostly on the main shopping street Nieuwestad. Here you’ll find all the most common clothes and book shops that you’d also find in any other town or city.
The rest of the shopping streets are connected to Nieuwestad, so they’re easy to find, and range from beautiful boutiques, to tiny vintage shops. There’s something for everyone.
Each Thursday and Friday, the city hosts a vast market, which can be found between Wilhelminaplein and Ruiterskwartier, a street and a square that sit right next each other.
Thursdays are kept open for antiques, and old trinkets, whereas on a Friday you’ll be able to treat yourself to a little bit of everything, from clothes, books, food, and flowers: everything you could wish for, all in one bustling marketplace.
Leeuwarden is a pastoral town with the largest cattle market in the Netherlands. Apart from Epicurean flavoured cheeses what else should tourists bring back from Leeuwarden?
You must leave Leeuwarden with the following:
- An array of drogeworsten from House of Taste
- A suitcase full of different cheeses from Zuivelhoeve
- As much sweet bread and cakes from De Broadsje Bakker as you can fit in the rest of your luggage.
The best thing about these three shops? They can all be found on the same street: Kleine Kerkstraat, which was also once voted the most fun shopping street in Holland, by the way.
Would you recommend any local shows to tourists interested in drama, music and art? Where can one spot street art in your city?
Leeuwarden has its own theatre, which hosts famous comedians, music nights and the odd play. It’s called the Harmonie, and it sits in the middle of the city for the easiest access ever.
Where street art is concerned, you’re in for a treat. The city is inundated with street art, which can all be followed on a multilingual tour which you can find here. Whilst I’ve never taken part in the tour myself, I’ve spotted many a beautiful piece of street art whilst wandering around. There’s a piece in most streets.
Most recently, the Writer’s Block Mural Art Festival took over Parkeergarage De Klanderij and turned an old, run down, grey concrete parking garage into a stunning mural both inside and out. With help from a load of artists from all over the world, this parking garage is truly a spectacle, and just a 5-minute walk from the main shopping street.
Would you recommend any apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Leeuwarden which can be helpful for tourists?
Two apps really stand out for me, and they’re both aimed at helping tourists figure out the city and its history.
Firstly, ‘City Tour Leeuwarden’. With this app, you can scan any of the logos found on the streets, and be given information on that very place. It includes an interactive city map to help you get around, and lets you know what’s close by that could be of interest.
If you fancy a more immersive experience, you can download the Leeuwarden SmartGuide App, which gives you walking tours along with an audio guide to let you know exactly what you’re seeing. What’s more, you can download offline maps for later, so you won’t eat up any of your data whilst on the move.
Do you want to give any suggestions to tourists coming to Leeuwarden?
Enjoy this beautiful city!
I love Leeuwarden because it has all the charm and history of any of the bigger cities, without the masses of tourists. It’s small and it’s peaceful but at the same time, it’s full of life.
Make sure you visit as many cafes and bars as possible to feel the vibes of the city, and spend some time people watching whilst sipping a beer. Take your time wandering the streets; admire the beautiful buildings, and make sure you look upwards. There are so many things that are easily missed when you’re taking in the sights!
Things To Know
Visa : The Netherlands is a member of the EU. A Schengen Visa is valid for entering The Netherlands. General required documents for Netherlands Visa application can be found here.
History of Leeuwarden : Know the story of Leeuwarden through the video made by the Historic centre Leeuwarden. If you are interested in knowing Frisian history check out Tresoar which is a repository where the history of Friesland is being kept. Book lovers can stop by Library Leeuwarden dbieb which lies close to the Blokhuispoort.
Tip : To explore Leeuwarden through the canals, rent a boat at Greenjoy. Boats are available from about €25 euro.