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
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.
be easily reached by car. Although these days, rush hour
traffic is similar to what you’ll find in any other major
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.
- Saturday 14- 17 uur, entryfee €2,= / children €1,=
Enjoy the view. Experience the steep climb, it's worth it!
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
At the base of the 114 meter high Achmea Tower is the VVV -
center. Here is where you can go with all of your tourist
questions and also buy your tour tickets and souvenirs
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.
annual flower market
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
beautiful summer evening you can watch or be watched during
a walk along the Noordersingel a street opposite of the
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
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