Looking at the map of the Netherlands, Groningen seems a long way from everywhere. Only a handful of travelers venture to this northeast corner and few have written about it. But there are so many things to discover in this city, from the beautiful train station, the picturesque old town, to the vividly colorful marina. Each nook and cranny of Groningen seems to have a story to tell.
Groningen has a rich history dating back to more than 950 years ago. It started as a fishing settlement at the junction of two canals: Hoornsediep and Winschoterdiep. When the trade flourished in the 13th century, these waterways became Gronignen’s source of wealth. The city then joined the Hanseatic League and gradually grew into a regional power, having an influence on all the surrounding lands, as well as the entire Friesland by the late Middle Ages. The marks of this Golden Age are still visible in the city’s historic core.
These days, Groningen is knowns as a center of higher education, with a quarter of the population being university students. The city is compact and lively, filled with trendy cafes, chic shops, and modern museums. However, all of these go hand in hand with tranquil courtyards, attractive canal houses, and solemn churches.
1. Groningen Station
Before this trip, Groningen was in my mind a mere bus stop between Amsterdam and Hamburg. Its name didn’t raise any interest in me, let alone traveling there. But things changed when I spotted the beautiful red-brick façade of Groningen Station (or Hoofdstation) through the bus window. Blending Gothic adornments with neo-Renaissance structures, the station looks more like an aristocrat mansion than a transportation hub.
Inside, I found myself standing in a magnificent concourse, featuring an embellished high ceiling, rose windows, and tiled tableaux. It’s like stepping back into the mid 19th century when Groningen Station was first established. In reality, the current building is the second on this site and was designed by Izaak Gosschalk in 1896. Regardless of the time of the day, you can see first-time visitors in a permanent daze of neck-craning and photo-snapping.
2. Groninger Museum
As I walked from the railway station into the city center, my eyes were captured by some quirky colorful blocks floating on the canal. They turn out to be Groningen’s most famous art gallery – the Groninger Museum. Designed by three different architects, this museum has a daring inconsistent architecture. It includes three distinctive pavilions, with each having its own shape, structure, and color.
Though being established in the late 19th-century, Groninger Museum moved to its current home in 1994. The museum displays artworks of local and international artists, with most being modern and abstract art. There are also paintings and porcelains from East Asia, as well as a collection of silverware.
3. The Old Town
Similar to Amsterdam, the historic core of Groningen is entirely ringed by canals. It exudes a nostalgic vibe, with much of the area interlaced by stone-cobbled streets and houses dating from the 16th century. By the water, old warehouses tell the story of a golden era when ships entered and departed with loads of goods. Though its heydays have long gone, the neighborhood is still crowded with canal-side cafes and boutiques.
Soaring high above the old town is the Martinitore – Groningen’s highest structure and the city’s most important landmark. Initially constructed in 1482, this 97-meters tower was damaged by fire, lightning, as well as wars. Yet the fine sandstone building stands firm at the heart of the city, making it a fine example of the early trade boom. The tower is the prominent part of a centuries-old basilica, featuring red-brick facades and Gothic elements.
No less colorful than the Groninger Museum is the newly built yacht haven, Reitdiephaven. Located on the city outskirt, this harbor stands on the mast route of Delfzijl, which runs from the port town, through Groningen city, and then to Lauwersmeer. But in the last few years, this city marina has become hugely popular thanks to its picturesque setting.
Here, tens of eye-catching houses in Scandinavian design are lining along the water edge, reflecting their bright-colored shadows in the deep blue water. In addition to these lovely buildings, Reitdiephaven is an attractive spot for water sports such as yachts and sloops. The surrounding area is also beautiful and can be explored by bicycle.
56 thoughts on “Groningen: An Unexpected Discovery”
That looks so cute! I’ll try to check it out when I’m in the Netherlands in a week 😀
Thank you! I have heard that they have the light festival or light show along the canal ring during Christmas season Maybe you can check that out too 🙂
This is great!!! I love spontaneous travels!
Hihi many thanks 🙂
This looks like an amazing place! What a discovery!
Thank you very much 🙂
The station ceiling does seem awfully ornate!! Everywhere in Europe is like a canal city 😂
I also like how you translate things for your Vietnamese audience, that’s very considerate and I’m sure they fully appreciate your efforts!
Thank you for your kind words! Actually, I got the needs of translation from my parents. They and some friends of them want to read more about the place rather than just looking at the photos. At first, I tried Google translate but it was totally incomprehensible 🙂
That’s really sweet! I’m terrible, the last thing on my mind when travelling is catering to the needs of my parents 😂 Agree about Google translate. At least it keeps both your English and mother tongue sharp!
That seriously a travel hidden gem like no other. I often wondered why a certain gets to be so popular, when it times the popularity are not warranted, and those less-popular don’t get the praise they deserved. Ow well, at least you don’t get to wrestle with the crowds. 🙂
That’s true. I think people prefer to follow mainstream rather than to explore by themselves. Like the snow village you shot, an incredible place but I guess very few know about its existence. But it is good for us, we don’t have to wait like 20 minutes to make a photo 🙂
Those brightly colored, simply designed dockside houses are calling to me…to step out the front door, coffee in hand, right into your boat.
I think I’ll day dream on that a bit.
The city really looks similar to Amsterdam!!
Unlike Amsterdam, it has only one big canal ring 🙂 And the streets are cleaner and does not have the odor of marijuana.
Reitdiephaven is just beautiful! And the time of the day when you captured the photos of the area looks perfect with the winter sun shining on the colorful houses.
Hihi thank you 🙂
It looks wonderful! happy 2017!
Thank you, Tanja! Have a wonderful 2017 🙂
woooowww!!! such lovely photos, amazing post! thanks for sharing! PedroL
It is very kind of you 🙂
Nicely done. Fine pics.
Amazing pictures! <3
Many thanks 🙂
Wow, those bright colored houses are amazing! Such happy colors. Good job taking such amazing photos
Thanks a lot! 🙂
Here is my blog on Himalayas
“The Himalayas”day#2 “Zuluk”
Many thanks! I will surely check it out 🙂
I didn’t know that this place exists in NL! I should show this post to my husband so we can visit this place next time we visit Holland. Your photos are so enticing, I love particularly the colorful houses. I mistaken the first photo as Amsterdam :-)))
Great post once again Len!Thanks for the inspiration.
My pleasure! 😉
Really enjoyed both the writing and the pictures.
Thanks! I am glad that you like it 😉
Hi it’s been awhile since I have been to your blog and glad I did tonight. Beautiful photos and I can’t remember where you lived when you started this blog?
I was in Hamburg. So it was like 4 hours by bus 🙂 But I moved back to my home country now.
The photographs live up to the tag of unexpected beauty. They capture the colour, the traditional and the quirky architecture so well . Loved the post!
Thank you! I’m glad that you like it 😀
Based on your pictures it really does remind me of Amsterdam.
It does look similar, right? But without the crowd and the unpleasant smell 🙂
Great looking place
It its! A small charming town 🙂
Great post 🙂
Thank you 🙂
No problem 🙂 check out my blog when you get the chance 😄
What a startling contrast Reitdiephaven makes to the rest of the historic architecture! 🙂
Who said minimalism only contains neutral colours 😉 This place somehow reminds me of Burano. But it’s smaller in term of scale and the houses have a different style.
Oh it does. Though Burano still possibly reigns (in my books). 😉
It surely is! In this case, the more (colours), the better 😉
Indeed, not that many tourists go to Groningen. I myself only became slightly interested in this Dutch city after one of my ex-coworkers told me how much she loved it for it was where she spent her college years.
With cleaner streets and more affordable living cost, I would also choose Groningen over Amsterdam 🙂
Hi, Len. I’ve spent a bit of time in the Netherlands, but I’ve never traveled to G. You make a very convincing argument to go there!
Thank you, Patti! 🙂
Love the way the sunlight shines on the colourful houses. Beautifully captured, Len. 🙂
I was lucky with the weather. A few minutes ago, the sky was full of cloud 😛 The houses are pretty eye-catching, especially the orange one.
Wow this is amazing, I’m back in Amsterdam in the December for the Christmas market, I will defo have to check this out.
You definitely should! It’s just 2 hours by bus from Amsterdam. By train is even faster. Thanks for visiting 🙂
Wonderful place indeed. I knew I should have got off the train here at least once