Leeuwarden, in the Netherlands, is a 2018 European Capital of Culture and the attractive city certainly warrants a journey beyond Amsterdam, says Stuart Forster
"Its European Capital of Culture status offers us the perfect opportunity to highlight Leeuwarden to British visitors and showcase how much Holland has to offer beyond Amsterdam," says Sandra Ishmael, Director UK and Ireland, Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions.
"With its quality hotels and restaurants, museums and historic buildings, it is a great city to discover. During 2018 there will be wonderful events, exhibitions and festivals taking place including the Giants de Luxe and the Storm Rider theatre production,” she adds.
Also the capital of the province of Friesland, Leeuwarden has a compact core. The viewing platform, 48 metres up, on top of the freestanding Oldehove tower, offers urban panoramas. The city’s icon tilts almost two metres from vertical, at an angle steeper than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The views also impress from the eleventh floor of Leeuwarden’s World Trade Center, the location of the Michelin-starred restaurant élevé. It’s one of several noteworthy places to dine and drink in the city. Chef Willem Schaafsma prepares dishes showcasing local produce at Drink en Eetlokaal Proefverlof, which offers the option of tables on a waterfront terrace or in former prison cells. Ex-jailers guide tours around the 16th century Blokhuispoort, which served as a prison until 2007 and whose facade features conical towers reminiscent of the Disney castle.
The Gothic landmark also houses Café de Bak and Leeuwarden-Freisland 2018’s information centre, which provides details about the many Capital of Culture events.
As part of the European Capital of Culture programme, 11 fountains will be unveiled across Friesland, designed by international artists, including the UK’s Cornelia Parker.
There will be one in each of the cities along the route of the 200-kilometre ice skating marathon, the Elfstedentocht, a race that begins and ends in Leeuwarden. Additionally, from August 3-6, the Tall Ships Race will sail into nearby Harlingen.
Flower lovers and photographers are likely to enjoy visiting Leeuwarden on May 10 to see the Bloemetjesmarkt, the Netherlands’ longest flower market, with more than 200 stalls.
Art for art's sake
Overlooking Leeuwarden’s central Wilhelminaplein, a square hosting a market each Friday, the Fries Museum tells the story of the province since its earliest settlement and has an insightful permanent exhibition about the resistance movement during World War Two.
Art lovers may also enjoy viewing sculptures at the Pier Pander Museum, in the waterfront Prinsentuin Park, and the porcelain collection at the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics (princessehof.nl), formerly a royal palace.
Leeuwarden is easy to stroll or cycle around. A Guide to Leeuwarden (aguidetoleeuwarden.nl/en) leads free, English-language walking tours each Saturday at noon. The tour includes a pause outside of spy Mata Hari’s birthplace.
The stylish Post-Plaza Hotel and Grand Café (post-plaza.nl), in converted bank and post office buildings, plus the Hotel Paleis Stadhouderlijk Hof, a former palace, count among the top places to stay in Leeuwarden’s centre.
On April 4 Eurostar launches its direct rail service from London to Amsterdam. The journey will take three hours 41 minutes, with single tickets priced from £35. Though the return leg will take longer, the service is likely to broaden the appeal of the Netherlands to UK travellers. Onward intercity rail services to Leeuwarden take a little more than two hours. leeuardenholland.nl/en
THE OLDEHOVE, LEEUWARDEN'S LEANING TOWER
ONE OF LEEUWARDEN'S MANY CRAFT BEER STORES
VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE OLDEHOVE
CITY STREET ART