Welcome to Leeuwarden! The capital of Friesland, and an artsy, bustling city. Lots of venerable titles have put together their picks of what to do, where to eat and drink, and where to shop in Leeuwarden and Friesland, so, and as The Northern Times we would like to give you our top choices.
By Thomas Ansell
What to Do
Brush up on history and art
Leeuwarden has been continuously inhabited since the 10th Century, and so is a treasure trove of history and culture. Get the inside track on all thinks Frisian at the Fries Museum: located on the Wilhelminaplein in the middle of the city, it was started in 1881 to celebrate Frisian culture. Make sure not to miss the sword of the Frisian legend Grutte Pier, and the Mata Hari hall, which celebrates the life and work of the world’s most outlandish spy. Fries Museum, Wilhelminaplein 92, 8911 BS Leeuwarden
Visit the ‘temple to aesthetics’
Pier Pander was born in the city of Drachten, just to the south of Leeuwarden, and became famous for his sculptural skills- in particular his portrait of Queen Wilhelmina, used on various coins still to this day. Though he died in Rome, Pander’s work in Friesland is remembered at the Pier Pander Museum. In the grounds of the museum, (an atmospheric park created from the former city defences of Leeuwarden) there is a peculiar-looking temple, which Pander designed to show off his idealised forms of how art should be. Pier Pandertempel, Noorderplantage 7, 8911 DH Leeuwarden
Taste the History
Leeuwarden has a proud tradition of brewing and distilling. Combine that with its history, and you’ve got a great afternoon! The Boomsma Beerenberger Museum is just the place to learn about and sample Beerenberg- a herbal alcoholic drink invented by an Amsterdam businessman that became hugely popular in Friesland. Each version of Beerenberg has a slightly different name: hence Boomsma’s ‘Beerenberger’. Boomsma Beerenberger, Bagijnestraat 42A, 8911 DR Leeuwarden
Tour the Eleven Cities
The Eleven Cities of Friesland sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, but refers to a collection of historic and beautiful ‘cities’ (some of which have populations of just a few thousand people) that the famous ice-skating race the Elfstedentocht passes through. Unfortunately, in recent years it has not been cold enough to run the race on frozen canals, as is traditional, and if during your time in Friesland it is an Elfstedentocht year, you simply must experience it! As part of being European Capital of Culture in 2018, a series of beautiful sculptures were installed in each of the eleven cities, which now gives an ideal excuse to get out and explore at all times of the year. The Eleven Cities, each of which is worth a visit, are: Leeuwarden, Sneek, Harlingen; Dokkum, Hindeloopen, Franeker; Stavoren, Workum, Sloten; IJlst, and Bolsward.
Where to Eat
Frisian food, in common with food in the Northern Netherlands, is hearty and warming. The region is famous for its winter warming Pea Soup, called Snert, as well as clove cheese Nagelkaas, and dark rye bread. But as an international city, Leeuwarden is also home to diverting cooking that originated elsewhere in the world, and sometimes with executed with a distinctly Frisian twist.
Dine in a slice of peace in the city
De Koperen Tuin is situated in a beautiful pavilion in Leeuwarden’s royal park, the Prinsentuin. All of the tall windows give great views onto the greenery and inner-waterways of the city, and the elegant menu of salads, open sandwiches, and (in the evenings) fresh meat and fish will fuel you for your wanderings through Leeuwarden’s historic heart. Prinsentuin 1, 8911 DE Leeuwarden
Be lazy with slow food
In the middle of the shopping district, Lazy Lemon is open all day and has made its name nourishing weary shoppers and sight-seers with its all day menu. The light and airy space has everything from formal dining tables to dangerously comfortable sofas, whilst the sunny menu encompasses everything from light bites, to decadent cakes, to more-ish hapjes to go with a drink. Ruiterkwatier 135A, 8911 BS Leeuwarden
Enjoy the best Korean cooking in the North
Korean cuisine is one of the world’s most varied, and you seldom find such a good Korean restaurant as Seoulmates outside of Europe’s biggest capitals. Luckily, when the Seoul Sister food truck became one of Leeuwarden’s favourites, its owner opened a permanent locale. Come for the dangerously good Korean Fried Chicken, the multi-layered Kimchi, Jeon pancakes; or, for an excellent combination of Dutch and Korean food traditions, the borrelplankje. Eewal 54, 8911 GT Leeuwarden
Where to Drink
All around the city of Leeuwarden, you’ll find convivial drinking spots, from cosy cafe’s such as Speciaal Biercafe De Markies (Groot Schavernek 19), to elegant cocktail spots like the Post-Plaza (Tweebaksmarkt 27). Live music? Head to Scooter’s (Ruiterskwatier 61), or to dance the night away head over to the famous Neushoorn (Ruiterskwatier 41): who knows, you might even see the next big band before they make it.
Where to Shop
Leeuwarden’s city center is full to bursting with independent shops. Everything from design, to fashion, to local delicacies can be bought, and the twisting ancient streets make great places to wander aimlessly. Head to the Kleine Kerkstraat for cute little boutiques, the Oosterstraat for vintage fashion, and to the arts center housed in a former prison, the Blokhuispoort, for teeny tiny independent art and ceramics ateliers in converted cells.