Things to know before going to Friesland
Friesland is the Northern province of the Netherlands. It is also one of the few places in Northern Europe you can go island hopping. Voted top 3 destination to visit by Lonely Planet in 2018, and one of the “must visit” locations in 2019 by the NY times. You get the picture, worth a visit!
Read on to find out all you need to know before traveling to Friesland.
Introduction to Friesland
Let’s start with the basics. The capital of Friesland is Leeuwarden, a medium size city 1,5-hour drive from Amsterdam. The official spoken languages are Frisian and Dutch, however like in the rest of the Netherlands the majority of the people speak fluent English. They are known for their milk products (think butter, cheese, cream), rye bread, smoked sausage and fish dishes. And last but not least, part of this province are a group of islands called Wadden islands.
Wadden-what? Exactly, this was my first reaction too. Wadden islands are a group of islands which are Dutch, German and Danish. The name is derived from the fact that these little islands are actually in between mainland and the open sea. When the tide is low, it is possible to actually walk from some of the islands to the mainland (for example from Ameland). The Netherlands has a total of 8 islands, Germany has 24 and Denmark has 5 islands. The total islands have about 81.000 people living on them permanently.
What to do in Friesland
If you are short on time, but still want to experience the feel of this province, I would recommend to visit the capital (Leeuwarden) and one of the islands (Ameland).
Things to do in Leeuwarden
Get those city views! Climb the 39 meters of Oldehove
Oldehove is an unfinished church in the centre of town. It is also very much crooked; the top of the building is displaced by a full two meters. This makes walking up a little hairy, because not only are the stairs winding, they also lean to an angle. Learn about its history here.
Learn about the culture of the city- Take part in the free walking tour
Take a walking tour with one of the local guides. The tour lasts about 1,5 hours and you will get information about some of the (in)famous inhabitants the city had (Mata Hari, M.C. Escher), the history of the city and many more stories which will leave you hunkering for more.
If culture and history is not your thing. This local company also offers a street art tour. This tour is not run every day, so check beforehand.
Learn about available dates and time slots here.
Visit the Fries Museum
Curious to see what people were wearing a couple of centuries ago? Or do you want to know what it means to be “Frisian” or it’s raining and you are looking for a plan B. This museum has got you covered. Not only is the design of the museum very interesting, it is not an overload for the senses. It is well organized: each floor has a specific theme with a few selected works. This means that, if you are like me, and you have the attention span of a flea…you will still be able to enjoy it.
Learn about the opening hours and the current exhibitions here.
Things to do in Ameland
Explore the island by bike/e-bike.
The island has very well marked biking paths, which take you through the dunes, past the beach and from one side to the other relatively quickly. One thing to note is that it is an island, which means there is a lot of wind. In short, you will be getting in a workout while simultaneously working on your tan and taking in the views. There are rentals for bikes dotted across the main cities of the island where you can rent a bike for a few days (price on average 9 euro a day).
Go for a walk on the seabed, without getting wet
The official name for this excursion is Mud Flat Walking. This excursion takes place during low tide, and allows you to walk through the mud flats of the Wadden Sea. This activity is very unique to Wadden Islands. What happens is low tide comes in, the water retracts and leaves mud flats. Up to this point you are probably thinking ‘ok, nothing special’. Wrong!
The water retracts to such an extent that you can walk the 10km to the mainland, without having to swim. If you are lucky, you will be able to spot seals swimming in the water alongside you. Get all the information about the excursion here.
Learn about the nature of the island with an eco safari
Discover places on the island that you cannot reach otherwise in a 2 hour safari with an electrical mini-jeep. Expect to learn about the 30.000 migrating geese on the island, to see untouched dunes, and to learn what it is like to live on the island by a local.
Get all the information about this excursion here.
Chase the best views of the island: nature center or the lighthouse
The island has two points which you can climb to get a 360°. If you want to be in the middle of the island, your best option is to go to the Nature Center (https://www.vvvameland.com/see-and-do-on-ameland/musea-ameland/nature-centre-ameland).
My personal favorite was climbing up the lighthouse though. Firstly, well it’s a lighthouse and that in of itself is pretty cool. Second, I love watching the sea. It is very windy up top though, so bring a scarf. All information about the lighthouse can be found here.
Where to eat (vegetarian friendly restaurants)
Fruitbar Sis: smoothies, salads or slow juices. Get your fix of healthy greens in this cute lunch spot. Find out what’s on the menu here.
Eindeloos: One of the best culinary experiences I have had in a long time. The ingredients used are biological and all locally sourced. The dishes look beautiful and taste even better. What’s more is the service is impeccable. Curious to find out more, find out here.
Broodje Bewust: The perfect stop for breakfast or lunch. This places offers a wide variety of sandwiches, salads and quiches, all made with biological ingredients. Also offers a variety of dishes that are vegan, gluten free and/or lactose free. Check it out here.
Tante A’n: A cute dinner spot in Hollum which has a variety of tasty regional dishes on the menu. They also have a very big selection of tea, which you can savour with a delicious dessert. Find out what’s cooking here.
Strandpaviljoen Sjoerd: Lunch with a view! The location of this restaurant could not be better, it is right at the beach. Enjoy a delicious mustard soup, veggie wrap or any of the other tasty items on the menu. The ingredients are locally sourced and very fresh! All you need to know is here.
Restaurant Zee van Tijd: The restaurant uses as many products from the island itself and turns them into delicious dishes. The ingredients are very fresh, the service is impeccable and the tables always seemed to be pretty fully booked. Book your table here.
Where to stay
Leeuwarden has many good places to stay, I stayed in the Post Plaza hotel. The hotel is made up of two buildings: a former post office and a former bank. I stayed in the former post office, with plush beds and the smell of freshly roasted coffee to wake us up. What really won me over though, was the Grand Café that is also housed in this hotel. It is a buzzing spot where both locals and tourists meet up.
Tip: Be sure to try the typical “Orange Cake”, which is actually pink.
In Ameland there are a few option, you could rent a summer cottage for a few days by the beach. If beaches are not entirely your thing, stay in one of the 4 main towns the island: Hollum, Ballum, Nes or Buren. The liveliest according to the locals is Nes, so that’s exactly where I stayed in the newly built Van Heeckeren hotel. The hotel offers a fantastic breakfast spread, great location and has vinyl players in the room and a very good selection of records to choose from at the reception (winner in my books).