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Budget Travel: Groningen, The Netherlands

Getting to Groningen…

After five days in Hamburg, Germany, I booked myself a bus trip to Groningen, The Netherlands.  After researching various transit options, I settled on a bus service called Eurolines, it was significantly cheaper than anything else.  For 33 Euros (about $50), I could get from the bus station in Hamburg to Central Station in Groningen in 5 hours- no transfers necessary.  The reviews I read on Eurolines were varied, but my trip was on time and uneventful, just what I had hoped for.

The City…

You’ve probably never heard of Groningen, I know I hadn’t, but that’s where the boyfriend was headed which meant that’s where I was headed, and I’m so thrilled I had an excuse for the introduction to this lovely city.  Groningen is the largest city in the north of The Netherlands, a university town, and a model for bike culture.  Bikes are so prevalent that the local IKEA rents out trailers that attach to your bike when you purchase furniture.  I’m talking moving your couch with your bike.  Amazing, no?

Groningen, The Netherlands

Day 1: Lay of the Land.

While bikes are a local staple, the center city is so intimate that you can easily get around by foot.  Saturday morning I ventured out to get a lay of the land and came upon a bustling town square, Grote Markt, full of food stalls, a flower market, and a full farmers market extending almost the entire length of the city center.  I lost myself in the throngs of students, locals, and tourists alike wandering through the charming stone streets and canals.  I easily spent three or four hours happily going up and down every major thoroughfare in Groningen- including two separate instances where I found myself alone on what turned out to be mini-red light districts.  Despite my sometimes misguided twists and turns, it was the perfect way to spend a day.

Groningen, The Netherlands

Day 2: “Coffee Shops”.

I started day two with a run at Noorderplantsoen, a park just outside of city center. Running remains one of my favorite ways to explore and be a part of the local culture.  Two laps around the park followed by a lap around the entire center made for a perfect 5 miler.

I then joined the boyfriend for my first venture into “coffeeshop culture”.  I’m not much of a recreational drug user beyond red wine but I’ve always been a believer in legal marijuana use.  A place like Groningen, that isn’t overwhelmed with obnoxious groups of tourists pushing to get their hands on weed, was a lovely introduction to that world.  We noted all the spots in town on a map and went out to see what it was all about.

This is what I learned by popping into the four or five shops we spotted around town.

–       Some places are sketchier than others. One café, Metamorphose, had a true coffee shop vibe.  It was set up like a full service café, they just happened to serve marijuana- very cute.  Others were just a sterile room with a window where you place an order with a person behind some plexiglass- not so cute.

–       You can order up to five grams per person per visit.  Like I said, I’m not exactly familiar with the weed world, so quantities and lingo don’t mean much to me.

–       Spacecakes, pastries with THC baked into them, are potent.  I don’t like to smoke so I went with a little spacecake sample. About two hours later, I was stuffing my face at a local restaurant; I then slept for the next 14 hours.  When in Rome 😉

Groningen City Center

Day 3:  Recovery.

After “spacecake day” and reaching the midpoint of my Eurotrip (plus some cold and rainy weather) I enjoyed a “day in” with the boyfriend.  I know most people don’t typically have the luxury of time during their travels, but taking the day to do nothing and just recharge is kind of awesome.  This is was a vacation after all, plus it was the boyfriends’ first full day off without travel in months.

We ate and watched “An Idiot Abroad” most of the day before heading back into town that evening for dinner and drinks.  Groningen has quite the nightlife.  So many of the places that were dark and ominous during the day were bursting with people and music after midnight.  We made it home at a tame 2 am, but not before stopping for some classic “drinking food”.  Lahmacun.  A Turkish pizza, which is essentially a personal pizza full of fixins like lamb (or falafel in my case), topped in a delectable spicy sauce.


Day 4:  Food and Music. 

As a vegetarian, it’s not always easy to experience local cuisine, but the Dutch have all kinds of scrumptious treats that I was able to enjoy.  From the stroopwafels freshly made at the farmers market to the incredible pancakes we gorged ourselves on at the pancake ship!  The pancake ship, or Pannekoekschip, is an old war boat that was converted into a restaurant and now sits on one of the canals surrounding the city center of Groningen.  The selection of stuffed pancakes from sweet to savory is overwhelming in the best way, as is enjoying their deliciousness.

Dutch Pancakes, Pannekoekschip

After stuffing ourselves, I insisted we walk around town to burn off SOME of the calories (they’d been accumulating quite a bit on this trip).  We stumbled upon the lovely Prisenhof garden, walked along the canals checking out the houseboats, and enjoyed the novelty shops that carried everything from smoking accessories to traditional Dutch clogs.  We also managed to find ourselves a gelato shop, which didn’t do much for my calorie burn, but was quite enjoyable.

That evening, the musicians in the boyfriends’ company (Riverdance), met up with some locals who also played Irish music at a local Irish pub and had a full on jam session.  It was incredible.  At least 8 musicians, most of them strangers from different backgrounds, sitting in a circle playing folk music together, it was a special night and the perfect way to finish out my trip to Groningen.

Prisenhof, Groningen



Next stop… Amsterdam.


Have you ever been to or heard of Groningen?


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