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Leeuwarden has a city center with canals and mounds (man-made hills) dating from the middle ages.  Old store fronts and beautifully restored monuments adorn the city. Examples of these include the Oldehove a large slanted tower and the Waag an old weighing station in the middle of town.   
A walking tour through the city center is more than a trip around old buildings.  This city has remarkable canals and small streets, cozy shops and interesting museums.  
A day strolling through the streets of the capital of the Province of Friesland has many high points. Get to know the past and the present.
We begin our trip at the Oldehove Parking Garage where you can park your car.

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Leeuwarden can be easily reached by car. Although these days, rush hour traffic is similar to what you’ll find in any other major city. 
At the same time many tourists come to Leeuwarden via the water ways.  Many recreational boat travelers spend their summers docked at the Prinsentuin.  Summer days can be pretty busy and a lot of fun. 
The Prinsentuin garden has an historical connection with the Nassau family of Orange (the Royal family).  It was designed by the famous landscape architect Roodbaard.
If you start your city tour by climbing the leaning tower, Oldehove, you can enjoy a beautiful overview of the entire city. 
The Oldehove (a tower that’s missing its top) has been the beacon of Leeuwarden for centuries. 
Its height of about 40 meters was once considered extreme but is dwarfed nowadays by the office giants of Avero and Achmea (in the city center) at respectively 75 and 114 meters tall.
The streets surrounding the Oldehove have been enriched in recent years with a diversity of restaurants and pubs.  At any one of these you can enjoy yourself outside on a terrace or inside at a comfortable table. 

The Oldehove Tower is open to the public from May up to September: 183 stairs to be conquered.
Enjoy the view. Experience the steep climb, it's worth it!
 Tuesday - Saturday 14- 17 uur,  entryfee €2,= / children €1,=

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The Leeuwarden city center is still in a reasonably historical state.  When you look at a map from 1603 you can recognize almost every street, square, canal and building.  In the 20th century, several canals were filled in and converted into streets.  Fortunately the character of the streets surrounding these old canals has been preserved. 

The Belt of Canals
Departing from the parking garage near the Oldehove you’ll walk along small shops in the Kleine Kerkstraat into the old heart of the city.  In the center of the city is the Nieuwestad.  This centuries old canal is flanked by small streets where you can walk and shop. 
The big names dominate the shops but if you take a good look around you’ll discover some surprisingly nice things.

Old Entrance Ports and Facades
Like in every city, the commercial signs and glass fronts of big shopping malls overrule your sight.  But if you take a look up, you will be rewarded...
In this location you can find many local favorites.  An example is the shop of Auke Rauwarda on the Westerplantage. 
Right at the foot of the Oldehove is an historical shop selling paint, hardware and traditional wooden shoes.  For many decades the saying in Leeuwarden is “Als Auke het niet heeft, vergeet het dan maar!” (If Auke doesn’t have it then just forget about it.) 
This interconnected row of old houses has an inventory beyond belief.  It looks cluttered to us laypeople but miraculously the folks who work there always seem to know where to find what you need.

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To the north side of Nieuwestad, there are many cafes, restaurants, clubs and discos all along the sunny side of the street.  An example is Fire, a discothèque housed in the refurbished old fire station. 
The Cinema and Tivoli film theatres have been recently renovated and now house nine movie screens each. Also on the Nieuwestad and its adjoining streets are many different pubs and snack bars.

Nostalgia in the Nieuwesteeg
The Nieuwesteeg (also known to the locals as the Museum Street) looks as though time has stood still.  Thanks to a few successful initiatives, Leeuwarden now has a nostalgic shop run by volunteers where you can drink a cup of coffee or tea and relive the times of “Ot en Sien” (characters from children’s stories written during the late 1800’s). 

The Waag (old weighing station/house) at the end of the busiest shopping street in Leeuwarden houses a restaurant.  On the south side of this monument is the most frequently used ATM in the Netherlands.  Behind this monument you can walk over a small bridge to the other side of the water. 
Hidden between a couple of trees lays is an inheritance from the darker side of modern society.  Here is a monument to reflect upon, it is a symbol of the problems facing of our society today. It's in rememberance of a local victim of senseless violence. After pausing to remember what happened here, it’s time to continue.

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Now we’ll walk onto Wirdumerdijk in the direction of the Zaailand (the other underground parking garage).  The Wirdumerdijk is always busy and has many shoe shops and cell phone stores. 
At the end of the street hundreds of people eat their Big Mac’s every day.  The yellow M has nestled into the intercity.  Behind this hamburger giant are a few dark alleys. 
This is where Leeuwarden hides her Red Light District. This is also the area of town where the city’s youth like to hang out and the police often come to send them away.  
Between the many shops along the Wirdumerdijk is a small church on the Menno Simonsplein.  Just beyond the front gates of this church lays a silent oasis. 
As we walk slowly towards the end of this street in the direction of the Zaailand, we are taken into the domain of the God of Prosperity for Merchants.  Here on the Mercuriusplein (Mercury’s Square) we’ll see his statue in the middle of a large outdoor fountain.     

The remarkable buildings that surround this large empty square behind the shopping mall are the old and new Palace of Justice (Paleis van Justitie).  The monumental building of Friesland Bank with its classic protective cast iron bars in the windows and the Auck Peters Huis with a beautifully sculptured historical garden. 


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Years ago the city center was a plethora of canals.  In the 20th Century many of these were filled in.  Fortunately the typical character of the streets surrounding the canals has been preserved.  The water level in the canals is controlled and the bottoms of the canals are cleaned on a regular basis. 

Here and there are wooden landing docks.  With a small boat you can take your own tour through the city.  If you don’t have your own boat then you can take advantage of one of the commercial city tours that leaves from a dock on the Westside of the Nieuwestad. Or rent a boat across the street from the library. 

Theater on the Water
The cultural center of Leeuwarden is the city theater called Harmonie (Harmony).  This is an entirely new theater with an old name.  In the 1990’s the original theater was demolished and on the same spot Leeuwarden got a modern theater in return.  Musical performances, dance, theater, film, this is where it all happens. 

In this area of the city you can find several restaurants, pubs and clubs.  The Ruiterskwartier as this street is called and the adjoining Oude Doelesteeg are local favorites for weekend celebrations. 

We’ll now walk in the direction of the central Train Station and will face the immense front of the Palace of Justice, a centuries old Justice building.
There is also a recently built, modern version of the Justice building.  On the south side of the Zaailand, an old school was torn down and a new building was designed with large red lego-like plates.  On the square in front of the Justice Building every Friday there is a Farmers Market. 
Over the years many buildings have been demolished in the city center, but there are still plenty of old buildings that have been saved.  Walking in the direction of the old train station and between the historical buildings we can find new modern office buildings.  This includes the Achmea Toren. 
At the base of the 114 meter high Achmea Tower is the VVV - tourist information center. Here is where you can go with all of your tourist questions and also buy your tour tickets and souvenirs

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The Lange Marktstraat is the booming business center of Leeuwarden and is referred to by the locals as “The Manhattan of Leeuwarden”.  On the same spot where cows and sheep dominated the cattle market in the 1960’s, there now stands an enormous collection of office buildings. 
Currently the highest is the Achmea Tower with an overall height of 114 meters.  A sign of the times is the names of all these buildings.  No fancy names, but names of insurance companies like the FBTO Tower, the black giant with mirror glass.  Or the Avero or Achmea towers. 
Insurance companies as namesakes to buildings are a symbol for the commercialized society we live in today.

The annual flower market
Ascension Day is the day that the people from the city of Leeuwarden in a mass go garden shopping. Rain or shine it is always busy at the annual flower market.  On this day these same streets are the domain of flower salesmen and women. 
From the very early morning until the late afternoon people will walk by with colorful plants in their hands, plastic bags, wooden boxes, even cardboard boxes full of flowers.  The annual “bloemetjesmarkt” usually has around 30,000 visitors. 
In the area surrounding the train station there are some impressive historical mansions.  Many of which are owned by insurance companies, law firms, notaries or banks.

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The train station is the next stop.  The west wing of the station was renovated a few years ago.  Old rooms were torn down and the shops in this wing were modernized. 
Normally the station hall is something that you would run through without a thought.  But if you take the time to look up, you’ll see beautiful tile mosaics and stained-glass designs adorning these high interior walls.  Even if you don’t travel by train, take a look inside, it’s definitely worth it.   

The old main office of Friesland Bank with its beautiful cast-iron bars in the windows is still here.  Other buildings in the surrounding area were torn down to make space for a special glass dome that reminds us of the album sleeve “War of the Worlds”. 
Just like a gigantic UFO it sticks its head out over and above the city.  This new main office of the regional bank is a daring design.

Historical ships
The city recently began to realize a museum harbor situated on the Willemskade.  Here is where the historical ships are docked and future plans for more ships exist. 
When we cross over the Zuiderplein and walk towards the futuristic Blokhuisbrug we arrive at the old prison.  Now void of personnel and criminals, it is completely empty.  It no longer meets to the housing codes for prisons.  
The Blokhuispoort is a nationally recognized monument.  Although probably empty for the next several years to come, there are few new plans for the building.  It is going to be renovated and the former prison cells might be used by artists as studios.  Crooks behind bars cannot be found there anymore.

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A livelier environment exists along the Oude and Nieuwe Oosterstraat not far from the prison.  From here you could walk to the Ossekop and the Uniabuurt. A few old streets, with restaurants and bars.  But if you’re not in the mood for food then continue with the city walk along the Tweebaksmarkt and the Turfmarkt.
A long time ago these city canals were full of life but the water has been replaced by a wide paved street with parking spots on either side.  Some of the old buildings still show signs that there once was a lot of commerce taking place around here. 

On this street a small building that stands out in the crowd is a building with the name “Utrecht”.  Also on this street is the Provinciehuis (Main offices of the Province of Friesland).  Due to a current revitalization project the office building is temporarily empty. 
On the other side of the street you’ll see another building that stands out.  It is the former Post Office which now houses the Postplaza Museum and Conference Room Hotel.  Also very beautiful is the old Kanselarij.  A long, long time ago the offices of county judges were found here.  The Verzetsmuseum Friesland (Friesland Militia Museum of WW2) is now housed in this nationally recognized monument.
The old canal Tweebaksmarkt unnoticeably turns into Turfmarkt.  This is where the Fries Museum is spread out among different buildings along this street which are connected by an underground tunnel that actually crosses underneath the street. The museum has fabulous collections of silver and Dutch masters portraits including Rembrandt. 

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In Leeuwarden you have to look up.  Above the windows of all the shops you will find beautifully adorned facades.  These can sometimes inform you about how the buildings were formerly used.   Tools, Greek Gods and animals, they all beautify the fronts of many old buildings.
“Over de Kelders” is the street that has a lower part called “Bierkade” a dock in the canal for unloading boats.  This is where you can now sit on a terrace and enjoy the canal and its surrounding houses.  And where you can meet an historically significant person from Leeuwarden.

Cleopatra had her way
Mata Hari too
Whether they were good or bad
Is strictly up to you
Madonna : Like It Or Not
CD "Confessions on the dancefloor"

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in Leeuwarden. She became famous as exotic dancer Mata Hari in the uninhibited Paris at the turn of the century. The exotic dancer from Leeuwarden ended her life as a convicted spy.  On this street a bronze statue made by the artist Suze Boschma-Berkhout resembles Mata Hari. At the Fries Museum you will be able to learn all about Mata Hari.

The inner city is full of small and narrow alleys and streets.  In between the famous streets like Nieuwestad, Zaailand and Voorstreek you can find alleys with historical names like old professions or names that describe a rough sort of history here. 
Some of these alleys are just dead end streets and hard to find even for the locals (the ”Leeuwarders” or in city slang “Liwwadders”). 
The many bridges or as they call them here: “pijpen” (pipes) that connect the canals and streets together have all been restored.  Their foundations have been enhanced and their walls have been grouted together according to the old masonry traditions.  In the evening it looks very romantic because under the bridges blue lights are reflected in the water. 

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The Voorstreek is the second largest canal surrounded by shops in the city.  There are a variety of small retail stores, many of which are still owner-operated. 
Sadly more and more of these family owned shops are disappearing and being replaced by franchise outlets, the ones you’ll find in every city these days. 
You’ll also find shops that you won’t find between the big stores on the Nieuwestad.  For example, Saxophone Atelier Leeuwarden.  There are a number of shops on these canals that have been passed on from generation to generation. 

Medicine and Art Nouveau
On this canal is an exquisitely beautiful building with an art nouveau style façade in which a pharmacy has been run continuously since the building first opened. 
The “Centrale Apotheek” was restored to its original state in 2002 and is probably the most photographed building in the city. 
This is an historical part of the inner city, the Bonifatius Church the Kazerne (old military sleeping barracks) and several old city canals flanked by beautiful facades. 
Soldiers no longer sleep in the Kazerne however in the 1980’s the interior was refurbished to accommodate studio apartments.
Just a little to the north of the Kazerne is the spot where once the Hoeksterpoort (one of the ancient main gates into the city) must have been. Now there is a parking garage and a supermarket.  A funny detail is that when building this garage and shop, the forms of the old city walls were used to determine the current shape of the new construction. 
From this location it’s just a couple of minutes walk to the Bonifatius Church, of which during a hurricane in 1977 the upper portion of the steeple was completely torn off and fell to the ground.  In the 1980’s the steeple was rebuilt, this time using a steel construction.   

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Beauty can be very easily overlooked but once you know where to find it, you’ll visit places like the Bredeplaats which is positioned between the Groeneweg and the Grote Kerk. 
The inhabitants of Luilekkerland probably live in one of the most beautiful areas of the old city.  The masonry of the two entry ports, the beautiful green courtyard and a large hand water pump together form this remarkable monument.
This part of the inner city is comprised of many creative ways of living in historical monuments like the well preserved New Saint Anthony Guest House.
It is a multi-building historical complex that houses mainly senior citizens. Once there, you should see the Perkswaltje and enjoy the beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding the senior homes. In the winter evenings the holiday lights create a very warm and pleasant atmosphere in this beautiful garden.

Holy Antonius
The Holy Antonius (Saint Anthony) held a pig in one hand, a symbol of his generosity to feed the poor and in the other hand he held a bell, to chase away evil spirits. When you look around you’ll find these bells on the outsides of several buildings in Saint Anthony’s Guest House. 

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The church known as the Large or Jacobijner Church (Grote Kerk) actually is built right on the historical heart of the city.  A long time ago in medieval times the city was formed around three mounds, high hills made of clay that couldn’t be washed away by the water of the Middle Sea. 
The church has a simple, not very spectacular look about it however there are some beautiful and special details worth seeing. 
An example is the “Orange Gate” a door that the ancestors of the royal family used to enter the church without having to mingle with the common folk.  The little orange tree on top of this gate is the symbol for the family Oranje Nassau, relational ancestors of our current royal family.  

The Jacobijner Cemetery, a square on the side of the church has been turned into a field of grass enclosed by hedges. A large old hand water pump adds nostalgia to the area. 
The Waalse Church at the beginning of the Grote Kerkstraat is always referred to as a church however the truth is that it’s only a chapel.  Every now and then a French language church service is held there.  The historical basis of this fact is that in the time of the royal families, their servants only spoke French and were in need of an opportunity to honor God. 
We proceed on our route through the historical part of the city where most of the houses are really old, the alleys are very narrow and the dead-end streets are very hard to find. 

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This is an historical part of the city. Around you history fills you with her stories. The dancer and spy Mata Hari lived here in the narrow and steep Beijerstraatje. 
Once we arrive on the Gouverneursplein we have many opportunities to enjoy a drink or a meal out on a patio in one of the grand café’s housed here. 
Most of Leeuwarden’s café’s, bars and restaurants are in this area divided over the Grote Hoogstraat, Eewal, Hofplein and the Weerd.  Although cars are not banned from this area, they are rarely seen. It is a pedestrian friendly part of town with many terraces open in the summer. 

The Mayor and Council
On the Raadhuisplein is the Leeuwarden Stadhuis where marriages and city council meetings follow each other.  The City Council meets in a refurbished room on the first floor of the main building, in the white section of the building.  Marriages take place in the Orange Room.  The main entrance is on the left side of the building next to the main gate. 

Brown Historical Pub
On the right hand side of the Stadhuis you’ll find the second oldest pub in town called Het Oranje Bierhuis. Established 1856.
The Stadhouderlijk Hof on the other side of the square is now a luxurious hotel.  Until 1971 the hotel was owned by our royal family. 
From this place further we can continue on our walk into the narrow street called the Weerd, where restaurants from several parts of the world acquaint us with their cuisine. 
Half way down the road, take a right turn into the Bagijnestraat and be amazed especially when you look up because the beauty is to be seen along the top of these old buildings. 

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Over the years a lot of the old inner city has been torn down, still there are plenty of old buildings that have been saved from demolition. Every now and then you’ll find new and modern facades between the historical ones.  From an architectural point of view development is not always done with large degree of historical integrity.  Very surprising are the new apartments in the Bollemansteeg. 

Living in the Inner City
At first glance you’ll think this street is just a shackled together string of mix-matched houses. In reality these are newly constructed houses using different types of brick and playing with the heights and colors of the buildings to create an authentic looking street.
Walking along through the Bollemansteeg you’ll enter the Grote Kerkstraat.  The history in this street is almost touchable.  Beautifully styled facades with ornaments are common along this street. As you walk on you’ll pass the museum called Princessehof, a museum with a large collection of pottery and ceramics. 
At the end of the Grote Kerkstraat you can go left back into the shopping streets (Kleine Kerkstraat, Nieuwestad). Or you can turn right into the direction of the Oldehoofsterkerkhof.  We choose to take a closer look at the square situated at the foot of the leaning tower Oldehove.   

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A long time ago there was a church on the Oldehoofsterkerkhof.  And like the name suggests this used to be a cemetery. 
Some time ago the bodies in the graveyard were exhumed and now you can park your car in that very same spot in the underground parking garage. 
In the summer little fountains spew water over the square and its red cobblestones.  The square in front of the Oldehove has been lowered so that in a period of frost a small layer of water will create an ice rink for recreational ice skating. 

Around the Oldehove
Around the old Burmaniahuis there is a modern office complex known as the Stadskantoor.  The Stadskantoor was built up and around the original Burmaniahuis which is now the heart of the new county office building. 
This is the place where you can get your passport, your driver’s license, construction permits or whatever else the city arranges for its citizens.

Recreational Boating
On a beautiful summer evening you can watch or be watched during a walk along the Noordersingel a street opposite of the Prinsentuin-park. 
During the busy tourist season there is a ferry from this side of the canal over to the park. This is done for the water tourists who stay on the outside of the canal and want to get to the shower facilities located in the park.  On the round-a-bout situated in a street called Harlingersingel opposite of the Oldehove is the statue of a cow “Us Mem” or “Our Mother” in Frisian.
She is the symbol of the Frisian cattle syndicate and the name was given to her by the people of Leeuwarden as a funny response to the statue of “Us Heit” or “Our Father” in Frisian at the Stadhuis – a statue of Willem Lodewijk van Nassau. 

So you see that a walk through the city center of Leeuwarden is more than just a walk along old buildings and that is the beauty of Leeuwarden.

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