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, and 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 known 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 aristocratic 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 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-meter 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’s 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.