Top Odd Sights in the North Netherlands

By: Rachel Heller

13+ slightly weird, definitely quirky, very off-the-beaten-tracks things to see in the North Netherlands

I should start this by pointing out that tourists almost never come to this part of the country (the provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe) at all, unless you count Germans coming here to shop. Tourists generally stay in the West of the country: Amsterdam, of course, with perhaps a side trip to Keukenhof (tulips galore) or Kinderdijk (windmills in picturesque quantity) or Gouda (cheese!). So pretty much everything on this side of the country is off the beaten track.

Keep in mind, though, that we’re only a couple of hours away from Amsterdam. We’re also just three hours from Hamburg, in Germany. If you’re from a big place, like the US or Canada, you’ve probably driven that far for lunch! So get away from the tourist throngs and check out some of these odd sights:

1.      Mummies: Egypt isn’t the only place with mummies! In the small village of Wiuwert in the province of Friesland, a 12th century church holds four 17th century mummies in the basement. Apparently they are natural mummies, dried and preserved by the conditions in the church cellar where they were laid to rest. It’s a rather gruesome thing to visit, yet somehow fascinating, like slowing down to stare at a car crash.

The church itself, by the way, is lovely, and there are many more scattered about the provinces of Groningen and Friesland that stem from the Middle Ages. Some of them have intact original primitive frescoes, while the exteriors are generally quite simple and unadorned. Many of these small churches are not open during the week, but often there is a sign on the door directing you to an address where you can ask for a key to see the inside.

2.      The Hunebedden Museum: A hunebed is a megalith, or, rather, a burial mound made by Stone Age people. It’s a pile of rocks, in other words, and not nearly on the scale of Stonehenge. Nevertheless, this museum, in Borger, in Drenthe province, gives insight into the people who built the structures and how they lived. There are models and dioramas and a reconstruction of a Stone Age house. And the landscape around it is eminently suited to walking and cycling; their website lists routes starting from the museum that take you to see many of the surviving hunebeds in the area.

3.      Het smalste straatje van Nederland: Translated, this means “the narrowest street of the Netherlands,” which it certainly isn’t. There are named alleyways in every city here that are narrower. Nevertheless, this picturesque street in Garnwerd, in Groningen province, is, indeed, narrow, and lined by extremely small, charmingly old brick houses, many of which seem to be inhabited by artists. Take a stroll up to the 13th century church, while you’re at it.

4.      Ese Eisinge Planetarium: This is certainly not your everyday, ordinary planetarium. In the late 1700’s, in a pretty Frisian town, Franeker, Ese Eisinge built a moving model of the solar system on his living room ceiling (Now there’s a hobby that got out of control!), including an ingenious mechanism he designed and built himself. More than 250 years later, it is still accurate: each model planet’s orbit lasts the same length of time as the actual planet’s yearly orbit around the sun.

5.      Noordpolderzijl: This pretty little seaport in Groningen province claims to be the smallest open harbor on the North Sea. Take a walk along the windswept coast overlooking the Waddenzee and watch the fishing boats come and go. From here you can go “wadlopen,” which means walking on the mud flats at low tide. Don’t do this without a guide, however! If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up walking into quicksand, or losing your way and being overtaken by the returning tide.

6.      Zeehondencrèche: And while you’re in the Noordpolderzijl area, you could visit this seal sanctuary in Pieterburen, which is devoted to nursing abandoned or injured seals back to health before releasing them back into the North Sea. To promote and support their efforts, they receive visitors every day who come to see the seals and the beautiful surrounding landscape.

7.      Abraham’s Mosterdmakerij & Restaurant: On your way to or from the Zeehondencrèche, you might want to make a stop at this small factory in Eenrum. Mustard is a traditional local product in Groningen province, and this small museum illustrates the mustard-making process as it was before large-scale industrialization.

8.      Museum of False Art: This small museum in Vledder in Drenthe province, houses, as its name proudly proclaims, forgeries of famous paintings. Each fake has a story, and brings up the question of when we can consider a work to be art. Check out the not-particularly-skillful copy of the Mona Lisa. An odd museum, but fun.

9.      De Wachter: De Wachter, in Zuidlaren,, also in Drenthe province, is a working windmill where the old methods of grinding corn, linseed oil and spices are still used. Just the smell of the old wood combined with linseed is worth a visit! And if you’re there at the right moment, you can see demonstrations of ancient trades: a clog maker, a wood turner, a baker,a  shoemaker, or a blacksmith.

10.  The Klompenmusuem: The Clog Museum in Eelde, nearby the city of Groningen, holds what the operators claim is the biggest collection in the world: over 2000 pairs of clogs. Besides viewing the shoes themselves, you can see the equipment that is used to make them and view a film about how they are made.

11.  Orvelte: This small assemblage of charming thatch-roofed farmhouses in the province of Drenthe is both a living village and a museum. You can stroll around to enjoy the scenery for free, but it’s also worth paying the small entrance fee to see the farming museum, for example, or to visit the clog maker, smithy or sawmill. There are ample opportunities to shop as well: a glassblower, an artist’s studio, various gift shops, and so on. Children will love the petting zoo and the “Zoo Bizar,” which houses odd small animals.

12.  Doezoo Insektenwereld: Yes, you read it right: Insect World. This little zoo in Leens has a huge collection of creepy-crawlies, many of which you’re allowed to touch. I went because I knew my kids would like it, but I have to admit I enjoyed it as much as they did. Much of the zoo is indoors, so it’s great on those grey days that are so frequent in the Netherlands.

13.  The Wall House: If you’re into modern architecture, here’s one that’s definitely off the beaten track. Designed by John Hejduk, it is truly bizarre looking, and doesn’t seem very practical, as houses go. It’s located on the edge of Groningen, on the shore of the Hoornsemeer, which is also a good place for a stroll along the water. Check their website for opportunities to view the inside.

While we’re on the subject of architecture, there’s a lot of interesting modern architecture in the city center that’s better known than the Wall House: in particular, the Groninger Museum is a well-known example of post-modernism, designed partly by Alessandro Mendin and Phillip Starck. And check out the Rem Koolhaas-designed urinal on Kleine der A, while you’re at it!

So that’s my Top 13+ slightly weird, definitely quirky, very off-the-beaten-track things to see in the North Netherlands. If there are any more that fit the bill that I’ve missed, please let me know!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRachel Heller is an American expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: American in Holland, married to a Dutch guy. Writing about travel, life in Holland, teaching, raising teenage boys, food, politics, and pretty much whatever else strikes my interest.
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Contest Comments » There are 25 comments

Anne Hellersmith wrote 10 years ago:

That's quite the list! I honestly didn't know half those thinge existed! I might have to check out that Museum of False Art... Sounds pretty interesting.

Karen Prowse wrote 10 years ago:

What a great list! I've lived here for 18 years and still learned about a few new attractions in the Northern Netherlands. Thanks, Rachel!

Ann Van Voorden wrote 10 years ago:

Now I know what I'll be doing during the Christmas Holidays - following up on some of these tips. I live in the area but must admit that there are some surprises here.

Lisa Watkins wrote 10 years ago:

Great article! I didn't know many of these. Will keep this info for later day trips!

Linda wrote 10 years ago:

Mummies!? I've been living here for 10 years and had no idea! Great blog, thanks so much for the tips!

Olga@The EuropeanMama wrote 10 years ago:

Wow, you found some great sights! I've never heard of any of the places you mentioned- I sure have a lot to learn!

Lysette Do Rego wrote 10 years ago:

This is a very interesting list of places to visit. A lot of them I didn't even know about. I would definitely visit some of these places.

Alexandra Van Den Doel wrote 10 years ago:

Great to get an outsider's view of what goes on in our own back-yard. So many places yet to visit right here on our doorstep, for ourselves but also our visitors from abroad - thanks Rachel!

Anne Ziff wrote 10 years ago:

Museum of False Art gets my vote for first place I'd like to visit. And then the smallest open seaport harbor on the North Sea, and the seal sanctuary both got my attention. You make me think about actually doing this for a trip!! Thanks, Rachel; great blog! :-)

Charlie Robinson wrote 10 years ago:

Quicksand, modern architecture, art forgeries, planetariums. This sounds like a dream vacation for me (mummies creep me out a little ... I'll skip them). Thanks for the informative post, Rachel. And Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Daniel Craanen wrote 10 years ago:

I knew most of these, but not the mummies. Sounds worth visiting. About the smallest street; the claim as far as I am aware is not that it is the smallest, but that it is the narrowest street through which cars are allowed to pass in the Netherlands, so although some alleys may be smaller, cars are prohibited from driving through those. The street in Garnwerd cannot be closed to cars, as people need it to get to their homes.

Fleur wrote 10 years ago:

I've lived in the area most of my life and never knew many of these even existed O.O! Great ideas and very nice explanations, love it!

Stuart Gaffney wrote 10 years ago:

Thank you for this extremely well-researched and informative post. We are all better informed, thanks to you!

Simon wrote 10 years ago:

Good stuff :-) Hadn't heard of quite a few of them!

Stephanie wrote 10 years ago:

I had no idea there was so much interesting stuff, got to make some plans for things to do and places to visit in the new year!

Frank wrote 10 years ago:

It is the unusual aspects of each country which are the most illuminating about facets of character which I find most appealing for my vacations. I enjoy the thought of a museum of forgeries the most. Thank you

Sibile wrote 10 years ago:

This is a great list of things to be seen in the North, really glad you made this list!

Julia King wrote 10 years ago:

Fascinating!! I love to read your posts! I want to visit!

Beate wrote 10 years ago:

WOW, I've never heard of half of it. Very interesting!

Danielle McNamara wrote 10 years ago:

My God, I've lived here for 22 years and didn't kmow a lot them! Gives me something to do next year!!

Dolores Goossens wrote 10 years ago:

Great list! Next time I'm in The Netherlands I will go and visit some of these :-)

Mike wrote 10 years ago:

Super list, Rachel, number 6 gets my vote, I am even a member. Well worth a visit, and support their wonderful work.

Kate wrote 10 years ago:

Not only an excellent roundup of local quirk, maybe the only roundup in English!

Andrea Kullek wrote 10 years ago:

Very interesting! Thanks for the great tips! I am definitely going to see the mummies and Mosterdmakerij.

Alison wrote 10 years ago:

Super list, I particularly enjoyed the one about the mummies. Good Luck!

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