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Groningen Travel Guide

Frozen canal, Groningen (© Patricia Hofmeester |


Capital of the homonymous province, Groningen (Grins in Frisian, Grunnen in Lower Saxon, Groningue in French ; pop. 185,000) is the largest city north of Amsterdam. As it is the only real city in the province, it is often referred by the locals as de stad ("the city"). It is a university town with a few good museums and pleasant canalside streets.


Groninger Museum, Groningen (© René Lubberdink |

Probably inhabited for some 6000 years, the first archeological evidence of a settlement in Groningen itself dates from the 3rd century CE. The town was not mentioned in documents before 1040 though.

In the 13th century, when Groningen was an important trade center, and a member of the Hanseatic league since 1253. The city had a strong influence on the surrounding lands and made its dialect a common tongue.

The most influential period of the city was the end of the 15th century, when the nearby province of Friesland was administered from Groningen.

The city's stadhouder chose to side with the Spanish forces during the Eighty Years' War in 1577. After being captured in 1594, it switched sides, joining the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

The University of Groningen was founded in 1614, initially only for religious education. In 1672, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the city was bombarded by the troops of the Bernhard von Galen, Bishop of Münster. The city walls resisted, and to this day, this event is celebrated on 28 August, when the city bustles with music and fireworks.



Old warehouses along the Hoge der Aa canal, Groningen (photo by Wenkbrauwalbatros - Creative Commons Licence)
University of Groningen (photo by Fruggo - Creative Commons Licence)
Martini Tower, Groningen (photo by Pepijntje - Creative Commons Licence)

The city did not escape the devastation of World War II, in particular the Grote Markt (town square). The town hall dates from 1810 - quite new by Dutch standards. The Vismarkt (fish marquet) is better preserved than its big sister. Noteworthy buildings in the historic centre include the , the Prinsenhof (Princes' court), Martinikerk (Martini church) and Martinikerkhof, the Korenbeurs (corn exchange) and the Sint-Jozefkathedraal (St Joseph's Cathedral).

The 97m-high Martini Tower is the city's landmark. It was rebuilt between 1469 and 1482 , after the first 30m-high tower, then the second 45m-tall tower were destroyed by lightning. At the time of its completion, it reached 127 meters in height, making it one of the highest towers in Europe. Its architecture was influenced by the Dom Tower of Utrecht. It has since been damaged by the elements numerous times again. It partial collapsed in 1577, was maintained at 69m, then was repaired to 97m in 1627.

The Groninger Museum is considered to be one of the best museums in The Netherlands. Opened in 1994, the building became a well known highlight in the world of art. It was designed by the architects Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini and Coop Himmelblau. It mostly hosts collections of Dutch and international modern and abstract art.

Other museums in town include the Northern Maritime Museum, the Niemeyer Tobacco Museum, the Dutch Comics Museum, the Graphic Museum and the University Museum.


How to get there

Groningen is located at the extreme north-east corner of the Netherlands. It is at the junction of the E22 (between Amsterdam and Bremen) and the A28 (from Zwolle and Utrecht).

Trains from Amsterdam (2h30min) require a change at Amersfoort. There are frequent direct trains to Leeuwarden (35min), Zwolle (1h) and Utrecht (2h).

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