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Traveling in Noord Nederland (north Netherlands)

Traveling in Noord Nederland, north Netherlands is not on everyone's schedule. That's a shame as the north too has plenty to offer. It is less visited, even by me. However, there are some places you should visit in Overijssel, Drenthe, Groningen, Wadden Islands and Friesland, so let's start.

Postcard of Kampen
Postcard of Kampen

Starting point will be Apeldoorn (see my Hoge Veluwe page). Noord Nederland or North Netherlands is less populated then other parts in the country. Twente, in Overijssel used to be an industrial center for textile but it has long lost its importance. There's not a lot to keep you hanging here. Much nicer traveling in Noord Nederland is the direction to Zwolle and Kampen.

Especially Kampen is worth a visit as it's history goes all the way back to the 14th and 15th century when the city was an important port. Kampen has one of the best preserved old town centers of the Netherlands. Urk, in the Noordoostpolder, is nearby. This little fishing town has still a significant fishing fleet and is worth a visit.


You can cycle back to Overijssel via Emmeloord to Staphorst, another old scenic town with a long history dating back to the 13th century. Staphorst is also one of the few places where people still wear traditional clothes. The townsfolk practice a very conservative form of Christianity which makes a visit on Sundays not recommended.

Going north leads to Meppel and Steenwijk (a city dating back to the 13th century). From here it's a nice ride to Heerenveen and although I don't think Heerenveen is particularly interesting, I loved to cycle here.  The wide open country side makes you feel the power of nature even though most of the land is farmland.

Sneek, we are already in Friesland, is much more interesting. The city has also a long history dating at least back to the 13th century. Located at the what is now IJsselmeer, but what used to be Zuiderzee with salt water, Sneek was an important trade center.

Waterpoort Sneek (Watergate of Sneek)
Waterpoort Sneek (Watergate of Sneek)

After finishing the Afsluitdijk, effectively salt water would slowly change into fresh water and the international fishing fleets and harbor ports around the former Zuiderzee, now called IJsselmeer, would turn to pleasure yacht harbors with only space for a limited fishing fleet.

Nowadays Sneek is famous for its annual Sneekweek, a week of sailing event at the Sneek Lake (Sneekermeer). In Friesland this is one of the must visit cities.

Although Bolsward has a history that can be dated back more then 2000 years, there's not a lot that will keep you busy for more then an afternoon. Franeker should be a better place to spend a net. And from here Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland is not far. Personally I liked Franeker more then Leeuwarden.


Should you decide to visit one (or more) of the island consider cycling through the old town of Dokkum to either Holwerd (ferry to Ameland) or to Lauwersoog for the ferry to Schiermonnikoog. I have been to both islands and both are worth going.

The Waddenzee
The Waddenzee, a musty visit when traveling in Noord Nederland

One activity in this part of Holland you should do is Wad lopen (hiking on the wad) in the Waddenzee. It can be done from many different places. You basically, if the tide allows, walk from the mainland to an island with a guide. On the way, you might see seals and birds living here. It's a spectacular experience. Principally you leave early in the morning and come back somewhere in the afternoon. Don't expect to stay clean, bring clean clothes as part of the experience is to go deep through the mud and water. It's fun! Don't go on your own! It's illegal and dangerous as the wad changes from day to day.

Wad lopen, an amazing experience in the Waddenzee
Wad lopen (hiking at the Waddenzee) an amazing experience in the Waddenzee

Last place to visit might be Groningen, a relatively big and old city with a great atmosphere that makes you want to stay a couple of days before either going into Germany or going south again. I hope you understand that traveling in Noord Nederland, although maybe less spectacular or less well known, is certainly worth time and effort. Personally I still feel the wide open flatlands are always great to pass. Except of course when you have headwinds.

And remember, should you want to go back to Amsterdam, cycle the Afsluitdijk, 32 km to Noord Holland province. Make sure you know where the wind comes from as the wind from the west can blow you easily back to Friesland. However, I did it once with tailwind and it was easy as a pie.

The Friese Elfstedetocht

ElfstedentochtThe Friese Elfstedentocht is a marathon skating event held when the ice is thick enough. The route follows 11 major cities in Friesland.

It is considered to be one of the main events in the Netherlands so if you are traveling in Noord Nederland during the winter and this event takes place, you will have a lifetime experience. The cities involved in the marathon: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.

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