In­tro­duc­ing: Leeure­war­den

Leeuwar­den, in the Nether­lands, is a 2018 Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture and the at­trac­tive city cer­tainly war­rants a jour­ney be­yond Am­s­ter­dam, says Stu­art Forster

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"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.

Prison breaks

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

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