The best way to discover Groningen is making a city walk. The Tourist Information Centre (Grote Markt 25, opposite the Martinitoren) has a leaflet with two walks for just € 1,50.
These ‘walks’ brought us to the highlights of the city like the Martinitoren and Church and the market squares - lined with old houses and buildings, but also to a lot of hidden gems, which we hadn’t seen otherwise. A couple of the most interesting sights along the route:
-‘Prinsenhoftuin’: a rose and herb garden, dating from 1625.
- ‘Nieuwe Kerk’; this church was built in 1664 and is surrounded by a nice park.
- Academic Buildings: the oldest part of the university, inaugurated in 1909. I think we never have seen so many bicycles together as in front of these university buildings.
- Canals ‘Lage der A’ and ‘Hoge der A’: with former warehouses, most of them are now apartments.
- a very modern urinal.
- ‘Aa-Kerk : dating from the 15th century wit a very remarkable tower.
- Alms- and orphan houses: always hidden behind a gate
- Railway station: a building with ‘jugendstil’ and ‘renaissance’ elements; especially the interior of the main hall is worth a visit.
And many many more …
On our way there was time enough for a cup of coffee, having a lunch or to do some shopping. We passed also a lot of museums and it is no problem at all to spend a whole day in this most northern city of the Netherlands.
A certain must see when you visit the province of Groningen are the churches.
Sometimes they stand alone on a little hill, a so called 'wierde' in the Groninger language.
Often they are from Roman times.
In Westeremden lives the well known artist Henk Helmantel, his studio is situated next to the church. You can visit his exposition for a small entrance fee. But this also includes a cup of tea or coffee in the lovely garden.
The exposition, which is in the farm part of the rebuild midieval parsonage, offers every summer season the possibility to see about 70 paintings of the artist.
Each year the collection is partially changed, so there is always something new to see here.
May - September : Friday and Saturday afternoon from 1 o'clock until 5 o'clock in the afternoon. In July and August the expostion is also open on Thursday afternoon.
You can visit the website of website van Helmantel to see some of his work. This painting is called "Stilleven met fruit en brood op Spaanse tafel" ("still with fruit and bread on a Spanish table"). The exposition is open between May and September. The picture is from the website of Henk Helmantel :
The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) was built just after the Reformation in the Netherlands (1660 – 1665) on a new development north of the ‘old’ city. As usual in these days the church was surrounded by a graveyard; now a nice green oasis in the city. The address is still Nieuwe Kerkhof (New Graveyard).
Architect Coenraet Roelofs was inspired by the ‘Noorderkerk’ in Amsterdam, the most well known protestant church in its time. It is a so called ‘cross church’, which does have the shape of a cross. In the ‘armpits’ were houses of a police officer, the sexton and the gravedigger. One of these ‘buildings’ is now the main entrance with a plaque and some very nice stuccowork above the door.
It was a pity we couldn’t visit the interior of this impressive church. As far as I know the church is not open for the public (except for special occasions). You may find some nice pictures on the website of the church:
The ‘Prinsentuin’ (or ‘Prinsenhoftuin’) is the garden, which belonged to the ‘Prinsenhof’. It dates back from the year of 1625 and is now considered as one of the most authentic Renaissance gardens in the Netherlands.
This walled garden has nice rose and herb gardens, as well as a small orchard with some old fruit tree varieties. One part of the garden has some nice shady ‘berceaus’. Above the entrance gate – at the inside of the garden - is a beautiful sundial.
Depending of the weather the ‘tearoom’ in the garden is open; but we were lucky and could enjoy this unexpected hidden gem having a nice cup of tea.
The ‘Prinsentuin’ is open daily and is free of charge.
The tower of the church - Martinitoren – is with its height of 97 metres the most well known and remarkable landmark of the city. It can be seen from almost everywhere in town and will lead you (together with the signposts) to the main square ‘Grote Markt’.
The church got its name from Sint Martinus or Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) and still some murals of him as well as others can be seen in the choir of the church. These beautiful paintings are dating back to the year of 1545. The ceiling has a warm blue colour.
The nave of the church is really impressive and has one of the biggest baroque organs in northern Europe. The construction of this organ started already in 1480 and was finished in the 19th century. In 1984 the organ was restored.
The church is still used for services, but nowadays also can be rented for different events.
The church can be visited; for opening hours and admisssion fee see their website.
Originally the church had an indoor tower, but after it collapsed a new tower was built (between 1470 and 1550) west of the main church. This tower became the landmark of Groningen. The people of Groningen call it ‘d'Olle Grieze’ (Old Grey One) after the colour of the bricks.
Due to some accidents we couldn’t visit the tower, but I have read it is open again (June 2007) for visitors. Be aware there is no elevator, so you have to climb the stairs to the viewing platforms.
If you want to visit the tower you have to buy your ticket at the Tourist Information Centre, just opposite the street. For opening hours see the website of the Martinikerk or ask the Tourist Information Centre (0900 202 30 50).
Groningen still has about 30 ‘almshouses’ and they are literal and figurative hidden gems. Literal because these almshouses can be found behind a gate or door and figurative because these sites are oasis of quietness in the middle of the city life.
During our city walk in Groningen we visited a couple, among them the St. Anthony Gasthuis. It was founded in 1517 by the city government just outside the city walls, because it was also used by plaque victims.
Later on it became also a lunatic asylum and the citizens of Groningen paid to take a look at these poor people (just like the tourists do – without paying – nowadays).
After being a guesthouse for elderly people the houses now can be rented by anybody.
Behind the remarkable gate dating back to the year of 1644 is the main court, but there are two smaller ones which can be visited.
Coming from the city centre the main building of the Railway Station of Groningen is a little bit hidden behind a huge bicycle shed, part of the restored square. But once we stood in front of the building we were surprised by its beauty, although a little bit dark.
This is the third station on this spot and was designed by architect L. Gosschalk and built between 1893 and 1896; it is a mixture between Renaissance and Jugendstil.
We entered the main hall through the (not impressive) doors and were really amazed about the interior. This hall, lately restored in 1999, has a fantastic colourful ceiling, very nice tiled walls and leaded windows. It gives the feeling of travelling in the nineteenth century.
When travelling by train to Groningen you really shouldn’t miss this main hall. Otherwise walk from the city centre to this railway station, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful of the Netherlands.
... it is possible in Groningen. Pub-crawlers, walkers or just ‘stadjers’ who have to go badly, can have a pee against a work of art.
Along the ‘Kleine der A’ an artistic urinal has been designed by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. This ‘building’ is made of milk glass, which is decorated with photos of Erwin Olaf.
Of course I couldn’t resist this opportunity ...
Although not as well known as other Dutch cities, Groningen has about 30 so called almshouses. Formerly poor, ill or elderly people were living in these houses. Nowadays they are oasis of quietness in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city centre and very often hidden behind a gate and walls.
The ‘Pepergasthuis’ is one of the oldest almshouses in Groningen and was founded in the year of 1405. In the beginning it was a real guesthouse for pilgrims visiting a relic of John the Baptist, which was kept in the ‘Martinikerk’. In 1482 a chapel was added to the guesthouse; this is still in use for services on Sunday.
After the reformation (1594) the building got a change of use and elderly citizens of Groningen (so called ‘stadjers’) could buy a place in the guesthouse and got housing and nursing till they died. Nowadays there are just rented houses and it is rather popular to live in one of these ‘modern almshouses’.
When we entered the ‘Pepergasthuis’ (or officially ‘Geertruidsgasthuis’) it was just if we stepped into a different world: so quiet, so serene. And we could imagine why people like to live here.
Coming from the ‘Academiegebouw’ just around the corner (turn to the right) you will find ‘De Harmonie’. In front of this former association building stands the statue/bust of Aletta Jacobs.
Aletta Jacobs was a very special Dutch woman, born in 1854: she was the first woman at the H.B.S. (a kind of Dutch High School), the first woman to study at the university (of Groningen), the first lady doctor in the Netherlands and the first woman who took her doctoral degree in 1879.
The ‘Harmonie’ nowadays is also part of the university of Groningen.
Groningen has a famous university and with about 22.500 students it is a real ‘student city’. Unlike many other universities the buildings are dispersed from the historic city centre to the outskirts.
The main building of the University of Groningen - the Academiegebouw (Academic Building) - however can be found in the city centre. In its attractive auditorium official ceremonies take place: orations, defences of doctoral theses and the inauguration of the new academic year.
The present building was inaugurated in 1909 and is still on the same site as the first university of Groningen, which dates back to 1614 and was founded in the buildings of a monastery.
Just opposite the beautiful Academiegebouw is the more or less ‘ugly’ modern library of the university. With these two important buildings (and some others nearby) you can imagine the coming and going of students. And being in the Netherlands and in a historical city centre most of them use a bike. I think we have never seen so many bikes together as in front of the Academiegebouw.
It is possible to take a look inside of the ‘Academiegebouw’ with its beautiful auditorium.
Better first contact the university (email@example.com) or ask the caretaker service in the building.
This church is together with the ‘Martinikerk’ the second medieval church in Groningen. Although its tower with 76 metres isn’t as high as the ‘Martinitoren’ it can be seen almost from every place in town. Especially through the remarkable yellow colours of the octagonal wooden uppermost part of the tower.
The church is located close to the ‘Drentsche AA’ – part of the city canals – and the ‘Vismarkt’ (Fish Market). On market day’s booths of flowers vendors are put down more or less against the walls of the church.
Der Aa-kerk isn’t used for services since a couple of years. It is now owned by a foundation and they rent the building for all kind of (cultural) activities. Therefore the church can only be visited during expositions, special occasions or with a guided tour by appointment (firstname.lastname@example.org) The tower can not be visited at all.
The first little Roman chapel on this spot was already built in 13th century and was enlarged in the 15th century to a Gothic cross basilica. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and traders; located close to the harbour and the River Aa quite logical.
The first four centuries the church was Roman Catholic, but after the Reformation in the Netherlands it changed into a Protestant church. But in the seventies of the last century the church was closed for services and after a radically restoration the church is owned by a foundation.
Just behind the Town Hall on the Grote Markt is a complex of modern buildings with shops, offices and homes. In the middle of this modern part of the city stands the ‘Goudkantoor’ (Gold Office); a café restaurant with a nice terrace for a drink, lunch of dinner. If you visit, don’t stay on the terrace, but take also a look inside the building with its walls, which are decorated with original 17th century motifs.
It is quite a remarkable historical building between all these modern glass, brick and concrete buildings. There are some nice (old) pictures of the ‘Goudkantoor’ on their Dutch website (you have to click on ‘Historie’).
The ‘Goudkantoor’was built in 1635 and then was named ‘Collectehuis’. It was the tax office for Groningen and surrounding area (the so called Ommelanden). Between 1814 and 1887 silver and gold pieces were tested and got a mark. Later it became various functions: maritime museum, tourist information centre and information centre of the city.