Leeuwarden has served as the provincial capital of Friesland for centuries and ranks among the oldest cities in the Netherlands. In 2018, it will bear the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’ and celebrate its heritage by hosting dozens of cultural events. Although it is definitely worth keeping an eye on what’s happening in Leeuwarden in 2018, there are many other reasons to visit the city including the following popular attractions.
Although Leeuwaarden’s only zoo mainly cares for aquatic critters from many faraway countries, it also has areas that are dedicated to land animals. Its menagerie includes endangered or rare fauna from distant lands such as polar bears and Nile crocodiles, as well as European species like snowy owls and sea-lions.
As its name suggests the Fries Museum mainly collects and presents items that are related to Friesland’s cultural history. The museum currently owns around 17,000 individual artefacts and regularly organises exhibitions that delve into specific aspects of the province’s past.
Several historic canals run through Leeuwaarden’s Medieval town centre, forming a stunning network of waterways that run past many of the city’s oldest buildings. This photogenic neighbourhood has acted as the heart of the city for generations and features many picturesque alleyways, charming cafés, and important historical landmarks.
Natuurmuseum Fryslânis among the largest natural history museums in the Netherlands and was established almost 100 years ago. The museum is currently housed inside a stunning 16th century building that was renovated in the mid-twentieth century in order to create room for the institute’s large collection of fossils, skeletons and other biological specimens. Over the past century, the museum has continued to add more items to its repertoire and now features many modern exhibitions.
Fancy trying some local tipple while exploring the northern reaches of the Netherlands? Then make sure to stop by this historical distillery in Leeuwaarden which has produced all manners of traditional Dutch spirits since the late 19th century. Bottles of jenever, beerenbug and other Dutch liquors are available from the distillery’s in-house store and it is possible to take a short tour around Boomsma’s historic plant.
The Netherland’s principle ceramics museum is housed inside a former royal palace and a nearby fortification that dates back to the 15th century. The museum features an impressive collection of ceramics ranging from modern decorative items created by Dutch designers to ancient Chinese ornaments created during the height of the Tang Dynasty.
The Fries Verzetmuseum (the Frisian Resistance Museum) presents stories and artefacts from World War II and critically examines what it was like to live under the German occupation of Friesland. The museum doesn’t shy away form the realities of war and retraces the difficult choices people in Friesland faced during this harrowing period.
Inside the museum | Courtesy of Fries Verzetmuseum
De Oldehove is among the most iconic ecclesiastical buildings in the Netherlands and has stood in the centre of Leeuwaarden since the mid-16th century. The tower was never finished and at some point started to lean to its side, at an angle that’s said to be more severe than the Tower of Pisa’s. Oldehove is open to the public every day from 13.00 to 17.00 and offers visitors an amazing panorama across Leeuwaarden’s city centre.
This former prison was converted into a cultural complex by Leeuwaarden’s municipality in 2015 and currently houses over 100 creative businesses. Aside from accommodating offices, studios, cafés and stores, Blokhuispoort serves as a monument to the Dutch prison system and it is possible to take a daily tour around its facilities (which are given by former wardens).
The architect behind Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Centraal Station, Pierre Cuypers, designed this neo-gothic church in the late 19th century. Like Cuyper’s other masterpieces, Saint Boniface Church features many grandiose elements that homage classic Dutch architecture. The church still holds Sunday services and regularly hosts public concerts and other events.