Last week, British newspaper The Independent published a guide on where to eat, drink, shop and stay during a trip to “under-the-radar” gem, Groningen. Here’s The Northern Times’ own take on the very best of the city so you can be a tourist in your home town.
By Thomas Ansell
While we certainly agree that Groningen is a worthy destination, some of the selected spots left us feeling like the review only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer (every Dutch city has its own Pannenkoekschip, so it’s hardly something characteristically Gronings). As local (self-proclaimed) experts, The Northern Times – with some help from our readers – felt compelled to come up with our own true insider’s guide to the stuff you can’t miss when spending time in town.
What to do
Wander the “loveliest streets in the Netherlands”
The centre of Groningen is a charming collection of winding, cobbled streets, interspersed with oases of calm in the bustling Binnenstad. Both the Folkingestraat (the former Jewish quarter of Groningen, with a neo-moorish style synagogue at the far end) and the Zwanestraat have each held the title of the best shopping streets in the Netherlands in recent years.
For an escape from city life in the middle of town, consider bypassing the queue for the Martini Tower and head for the peace and quiet of the Martinikerkhof, flanked by the beautiful 11th century Prinsenhof hotel and the neo-Gothic Province building at the other.
Take in cutting-edge art at the Groninger Museum
Within the permanent collection of the Groninger Museum, you’ll find paintings by the biggest names in Dutch art, including Van Gogh and Rembrandt, but the museum prides itself on its absolute bleeding edge featured exhibits with an emphasis on fashion: works by Ai Weiwei, David Bowie, Iris van Herpen and David LaChappelle have all graced this space.
Go to the beach
Groningen is very lucky to have access to both a meer (lake) and strand (beach). It’s a really pleasant cycle down to the Hoornsemeer, where one can relax on the sandy shores, as the peaceful waters lap the shoreline. Taking a boat out onto the lake is definitely advised, as you can meander through the islets and come across ducks, wild-flower banks, and even the most Dutch of all wildlife: the beloved windmill. Boats can be hired from the Jachthaven Zuidwesthoek (located in the south-western corner of the meer) from 70 euros for a half-day. The city beach at DOT is also a popular destination when the temperature tops 20 degrees.
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Where to eat
Filling a much-needed gap in the Groninger foodie scene, Konbu serves generous portions of steaming South Asian soups and stews, street-food inspired bites with names like ‘Here I Yam’ Tom Yam soup (spicy, fishy, unctuous goodness) and ‘Pho-nomenal’ Pho (brothy, savoury, meaty). Be sure to try some Korean Fried Chicken to start; its startlingly red coating is lip-smackingly sweet, sour and spicy.
Run by an Italian-Dutch family, Ariola is a shop and delicatessen stuffed to the rafters with Italian produce. At lunch time, the small kitchen at the rear of the shop turns out fresh-made pastas, nibbles and salads. A cheap and authentic lunch spot, you’ll be able to see its tricolore awnings from the top of Folkingestraat- but beware of the queues around midday.
With the strap-line ‘for superior tacos’, El Santo is an attempt to bring a Mexican taqueria to the city of Groningen. Their 100% organic food menu includes comforting, cheesy quesadillas and tacos in a rainbow of colours and flavours. Try the Al Pastor if you’re a meat lover; it includes marinated pork shoulder, pickled pink onions and a mouth-tingling pineapple-habanero salsa.
Huis De Beurs
A-Kerkhof Zuid Zijde 4
If you want to step back into the Groningen of yesteryear, then head to Huis De Beurs. This Groningen staple opened in 1795 (thankfully the menu has changed since then), and the interior is an atmospheric rendition of the traditional Dutch bruincafe. With a menu the size of a broadsheet newspaper, it’s one of the best places in the city to try Groninger Mosterdsoep, which utilises the tangy, unique flavour of Groningen’s famous mustard.
If you want street-food, Groninger style, just try an eierbal. Similar in style to a Scotch Egg, the eierbal is a hard-boiled egg, covered in a mixture of potato and (sometimes) meat ragout, then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They can be bought pretty much anywhere, but there’s nothing like getting one out of a vend-o-mat.
Where to drink
When we shared the Independent article on Facebook and Twitter, several of our readers chimed in with helpful tips for their personal favourite spots to grab a drink in the city. New micro-breweries and distilleries are popping up by the day, like Brouwerij Martinus (Kostersgang 32-34), where you can indulge in a fruity tripel beer whilst listening to jazz at one of the live music nights. Baxbier, located in the north of the city, has its own tasting room: try the chocolatey and dense Ketter Imperial Smoked Porterfor a drink with a kick (Frieschestraatweg 201). For something a little more refined, Mr Mofongo’s (Oude Boteringestraat 26) is a favourite with people from the University of Groningen – this massive restaurant and on-site distillery are right around the corner from the Academy Building. You can marvel at the robotic bartender gracefully mixing more complex cocktails while sipping on a tea-infused gin and tonic. Finally, for a taste of Flemish beer-making wizardry, try De Pintelier (Kleine Kromme Elleboog 9): their enormous selection ranges from light and refreshing to complex and brooding.
Where to shop
Oude Kijk in’t Jatstraat 54
A firm favourite with the fashionable students that throng Groningen’s streets, Recessie 3.0 specialises in vintage clothing from the 1960s onward. For something completely unique, and genuinely affordable, take a riffle through the topsy-turvy racks.
Albert Hogeveen Antiquariaat & Kunsthandel
It’s easy to lose yourself amongst the tottering piles of beautiful old books in this atmospheric shop on the Folkingestraat. Their selection of prints, posters and original pieces by artists from Groningen and beyond are also very difficult to resist.
We can only agree with the Independent on this one. Packed full of delicacies, De Kaaskop (‘cheese-head’ in English) has innumerable types of cheese, including Dutch favourites and rarer imported soft varieties. It also sells locally made jams, has a good wine selection and even lets you try before you buy- just try not to go too mad!
Do you think Leeuwarden and Emmen are also diamonds in the rough that deserve some more love from tourists and locals alike? Let us know what your favourite spots are in Friesland and Drenthe that you think everyone should know about.