Groningen, located in the extreme northwest of Holland, has one of the youngest populations in the Netherlands. The average age of its residents is 35. In fact, of the 200,000 inhabitants, 50,000 of them are students. Its university, founded in 1614, is the oldest in the Netherlands, is very prestigious and attracts many young Dutch and European people longing to study in its lecture halls.
Another interesting fact: more than 60 percent of urban transport occurs via bicycle, a significant average on a global scale and making it one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe. The local architecture of Groningen is welcoming and warm, with beautiful houses that are a sight to behold and that are especially concentrated in the historical centre. It is bucolic and poignant thanks to the wide circular canal surrounding the heart of the city.
Groningen can be visited by foot, by bicycle or by boat. The ideal, keeping in mind that automobile traffic is not allowed in the centre of the city, is to do a bicycle tour visiting some of the main tourist attractions.
Among them the Groninger Museum must be emphasized. It is located on an artificial island and is an ultra modern creation of the Italian architect Allesandro Mendini. It is an artwork itself, also housing modern art as well as visual, applied, archaeological and historical works.
In the urban centre the Grote Markt street can be found, where the imposing Gothic tower from the XV century of the Martini Kerk church rises 97 meters high, and is visible from the entire city. The Renaissance Prinsentuin garden, which dates back to 1626, is very close, a floral park with an interesting aromatic herb garden.
One must make an essential stop at the Hoofdstation, the train station, with its lovely neo-Gothic façade and its outstanding main hall in the Art Deco style.
In one of the widest canals in the historical centre of Groningen, Noorderhaven can be found, a port that was once an entry point for merchant ships and today is an open-air museum where one can see exquisite antique ships moored at the piers.
Those that enjoy shopping must go to the nearby streets of Folkingestraat –a long avenue filled with charm where there are many small fashion, design and decoration boutiques, as well as cafés and restaurants– and Herestraat, a large pedestrian street with foreign and Dutch shops.
Finally, I want to recommend an interesting outing on the outskirts of Groningen: take a ferry to Schiermonnikoog, a beautiful wooded island with dunes, located in the Wadden Sea, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a summer holiday destination for the royal Dutch family. Automobiles are not allowed, and people get around by walking, by bicycle or by horse-drawn carriages. It is one of those marvelous places, that are always more difficult to find and that bring the traveller the peace and quiet many people long for. ■