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Visit This Historic Dutch City Instead of Amsterdam To Avoid The Crowds

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Amsterdam is The Netherlands' largest city and one of the main Dutch cities that tourists visit when taking a trip across Europe.  

Amsterdam is known for its extensive canal system, cultural attractions, and museum district.  

You can enjoy the artistic works of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer here or visit Ann Frank’s house, a museum dedicated to the Jewish wartime diarist.  

Bikes rest on a railing alongside a canal in Amsterdam, colorful buildings and moody skies are in the background

Amsterdam’s famous nightlife attracts a lively and youthful crowd, and the city is a great place to explore both Dutch and global cuisine.  

But Amsterdam is also a city that is very busy. And The Netherlands has so much more to offer to its tourists than its boisterous capital. 

If you want to avoid the crowds that Amsterdam attracts, why not visit the equally exciting city of Leeuwarden instead?  

A view of the canals of Leeuwarden at night

Leeuwarden is a small but historically significant city in the municipality of Friesland, and it is just as beautiful as Amsterdam.

It has a similar canal system and was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture in 2018. It is everything you would expect when you think of a typical Dutch city.

Here’s why you should visit:  

Small But Perfectly Formed  

Leeuwarden is a city that is small but perfectly formed. With a population of just over 100,000, there’s no need to worry about overcrowding here.  

Leeuwarden boasts a beautiful historic inner city that can easily be explored on foot, meaning you won’t need to navigate the public transport system, if you don’t want to. The historic center is home to over 600 monuments, the most famous of which is a tall leaning tower called De Oldehove.  

This leaning tower is the symbol of Leeuwarden.

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De Oldehove leaning tower in Leeuwarden, Netherlands

Construction of the Oldhove began in 1529. The tower's tilt began during its construction, so the project was stopped in 1532. Whilst the 9th Century church originally attached to the church was then demolished in 1595, the 39 meter tall tower still remains.

If you want to learn more about the history and culture of the Friesland region then you can visit the Fries museum, which sits in the heart of the historic inner city.  

Visitors can also visit Stadhouderlijk Hof, now a hotel but formerly a palace owned by the Dutch Royal Family.  

Nothing Is Lost In Translation

The Dutch language can be complicated and difficult to learn. But what makes Leeuwarden unique is that, unlike most other parts of The Netherlands, they don’t actually speak Dutch.  

Instead, they have their own language called Frisian. And the Frisian language has more in common with English than Dutch!  

Old town Leeuwarden, the Netherlands

Frisian and English share 80% lexical similarity, making it the Germanic language closest to English. This means that English speakers will find it incredibly easy to communicate and get around the city.  

The reason? Friesland was once connected to England via a prehistoric land bridge known as Doggerland, which was submerged in water around 6500 to 6200 BC. Before this point, Great Britain was connected to mainland Europe via the Netherlands.  

A Lively Nightlife Scene

When you think of nightlife in the Netherlands, you instantly think of Amsterdam. But Leeuwarden is a university town and thanks to its several higher education institutions, it has its own high-octane nightlife scene.  

canal in the netherlands

Like Amsterdam, the universities in Leeuwarden attract students from all over Europe, so the nightlife available is wonderfully diverse. You will find plenty of bars and clubs, as well as live music venues and other live performances.  

Visit Doelesteeg, a small street packed with bars and clubs. This street is particularly busy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and is famed for its great atmosphere and late-night parties.  

Beautiful Green Spaces

One of the main attractions of Leeuwarden is that it is in the heart of an area that boasts outstanding natural beauty.  

You can sit by one of the many city center canals and enjoy the views with a cup of coffee, or even take a canal tour to explore the city from a different angle.  

picture of two people biking on a road in The Netherlands, view from behind

Locals often travel by bike, and it is possible to hire bicycles and explore many of the green spaces surrounding the city. From parks to cycle paths and hiking trails, you’ll be amazed at how much greenery there is in a relatively urban environment.  

Ready to take time out of the city? You’re in the right place! Friesland is known for its lush greenery, and the Frisian Lakes are a popular place for water sports enthusiasts.  

Sail boats on the Frisian lakes, the Netherlands

Consisting of 24 lakes spread across central and southwest Friesland, during the summer months the area attracts boaters from all over the country. Here you can sail, surf, or even try your hand at waterskiing.  

Leeuwarden offers the best elements of a city break with all the fun of an activity-packed vacation at the same time.  

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Elisa

Sunday 14th of May 2023

Finally some attention for my home region Friesland :-). Yes, the capital is very interesting, and lots of other places in the area are also worth a visit: Franeker (old university town with the oldest working planetarium in the world), Harlingen, IJlst, Sloten, Hindeloopen, Stavoren... and don't forget to stay on (one of) the beautiful Wadden islands! (Unesco world heritage)