By nature of its design, there is something immutable about Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland in the Netherlands’ northwesternmost province. Hemmed in by historic canals, reflective lakes, century-old dikes and dairy farms, the city wears its Dutch stripes well, offering a stopped-clock snapshot of the country as it once was. But look beyond the gabled houses, canal boats and cheese shops, and there’s something far more intoxicating and anarchic going on.
Despite outsider status, Leeuwarden-Fryslân is in the midst of an upswing, beating rivals Maastricht and Eindhoven to be crowned this year’s joint European Capital of Culture – a title it’s sharing with Valletta in Malta. The city is reveling in its new role as an exaggerated community of creativity, too, and the arts scene is thriving. Leeuwarden may only receive a trickle of tourists compared to Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but that’s just another reason to go. Here are six reasons why it should be your next stop in the Netherlands.
While the race hasn’t been staged since 1997, the Frisians continue to suffer from the much talked-about ‘eleven cities fever’; whenever there is the merest whisper of frost on the breeze, ice skates are sharpened and anticipation becomes electric. Still, despite the warm weather, it’s relentlessly satisfying to cycle the canals from town to town, gazing at the windmills and dikes, peeking into this far-flung corner of the Netherlands. Like elsewhere, bikes and bike racks are everywhere, so there’s no better way to get around.