Immediately after a very long flight to Amsterdam we took a 2+ hour train trip to Groningen. The train was smooth and quiet and the seats were quite comfortable. We passed through lots of farmland with livestock including cows (lots of cows), sheep, and horses. LOTS of waterways cut through the flat landscape. The pastures and vegetation reminded me of the middle section of Oregon along I-5. The towns and cities that we passed contained lots of interesting architecture ranging from very modern to very traditional. One thing that got my attention was the amount of brick work. Many (perhaps most) buildings were not the generic style that infects many American buildings. The homes, offices, and businesses seemed to be designed for both form and function.
I had no idea what to expect in Groningen. After arriving and leaving Central Station we were confronted with a city that seemed like a beehive of activity. Across the street from the station was a canal with boats, lots of people walking in all directions, lots of cars on the road, and bicycles everywhere. Not just a few bicycles, but thousands of bicycles. The station had a parking area with a small parking lot sized area completely full of bicycles. Swarms of riders were constantly moving on the streets and bike paths and walking paths. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place.
After settling in at our BnB it was time to start investing the city. We stayed near Noorderplantsoen, a large park with a canal through the middle. During our time in Groningen we walked through this park at all times of the day and evening. At all times of the day we saw people enjoying all areas of the park. On the paths we saw people walking, biking, jogging, pushing strollers, and walking dogs. In playground areas we saw children playing games, climbing, running around, and generally having a good time. In quiet areas we saw people reading, relaxing, couples talking or just being together, snacking or picnicking, etc. In the open grass areas we saw people kicking soccer balls, throwing Frisbees, or engaging in various games and social activities. The park was filled with people enjoying nature, engaging in activities, and socializing. I don’t see this level of activity much in the US. Even when I was in spectacular places like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon I would routinely see many people with the heads buried in their cell phones. This activity reminded me of earlier days when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s when we got outside and enjoyed more communal activities.
Groningen city center is an amazing, vibrant, and interesting place! The streets are narrow and there are people and bicycles everywhere. There is almost no wasted space in the city and all the streets are lined with shops, apartments, eateries, offices, etc. The city contains mostly old, historic buildings mixed with modern architecture. Often times the old and new architecture stand next to one another.
Martinitoren Church & Forum Groningen (details)
The old and new meet, quite literally, at Forum Groningen and Martinitoren Church. The Forum is an ulta-modern building is a community building with library, media area, study areas, a rooftop café, tourist information, and gift shop. Martinitoren is the oldest church in Groningen and building of the Tower started in 1469.
Cool Stuff Almost Everywhere
Groningen is a feast for the eyes and senses. There seems to be something new and unique on almost every street. Take time to enjoy the parks and open areas. Walk along the canals and enjoy the variety of boats. Watch for bicycle and scooters as they have little regard for pedestrians. We also visited the city of Leek and the town of Tolbert (short bus ride from Groningen). If you visit Tolbert you may want to have a meal at Restaurant De Postwagen.
The weekdays in Groningen were fun and the streets were always busy. However, on the weekend it seemed like the entire city turned into one big street fair. The level of activity seemed to triple and the open town square turned into an open air marketplace. The normal vibe of the city was always fun and positive, but on the weekend, that positive jibe was turned into full party mode. It seemed like everyone was out and making the most of day. It can’t be described; you just have to experience it.
We spent three full days in Groningen and that was not enough. We saw much of the city center and a bit of the area just outside the surrounding canals. When I checked the website for Groningen there are lots of other places outside the city that look fantastic. We spent half a day visiting the nearby city of Leek and the town of Tolbert. The character of these places differed greatly from Groningen and they also had many places to see.
Our first European trip brought us to Groningen in the Netherlands and we thoroughly enjoyed this experience. We did have a bit of trouble with the public transit but that seems to an issue wherever one travels, even within one’s own country or area. We had a few issues with our payment cards but nothing that we could not overcome. We encountered a few language barriers but nothing of major consequence. Mostly we encountered friendly people, history, different culture and lifestyle, interesting architecture, and good jibes.