Fryslân (anglicised: Friesland) is one of the most underrated and untouched parts of the Netherlands. Its vast expanses of beautiful waterways, incredible National Parks and cool wildlife really give it the edge over many other areas of the country.
Though a relatively undiscovered area of the Netherlands, Fryslân is undoubtedly one of its most beautiful. Even those who dive deep into exploring the Netherlands seem to skip this province! However, in our opinion, they are really missing out.
Fryslân not only has a wealth of things to do and see, but also presents an opportunity to explore a really unique culture, not found anywhere else. If you haven’t heard much about this area before, check out our full introductory guide here. There you can find more details about the language, history and culture of this rich and interesting area.
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Things to do in Fryslân
1. Visit a National Park
There are two main National Parks in Fryslân mainland and they are both absolutely beautiful: De Alde Feanan and Laewersmeer. There are also other National Parks on the Frisian Islands.
This National Park was born of a mix of salt water meeting fresh water on the sea’s edge. The waters have now been dammed and the park is a genuine paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Like much of Fryslân, it’s almost entirely comprised of water.
Things to do within the park:
- Sailing! Frisians love to sail, so you can hire a boat, sail around, take a picnic and keep your eyes peeled for beautiful birds and wildlife.
- Dark sky watching – Lauwersmeer is an official Dark Sky Park as of 2016, which means it’s one of the best places in the world for stargazing! This is a point of national pride in the Netherlands, given that they have notably high levels of light pollution. Lauwersmeer has multiple sky-watching platforms where you can relax and enjoy the night sky to its fullest!
- Bird watching – and then the main event itself! Lawersmeer hosts over an impressive 100 species of birds, so when we say it is a birdwatcher’s paradise, we really aren’t joking!
- Hiking! Lauwersmeer is a great spot for many beautiful hikes. Visitors can entertain themselves with gorgeous trails and stunning vistas.
You can drive to Lauwersmeer from Leeuwarden or Groningen in around 45 minutes, or take an easy bus from Leeuwarden to Lauwersoog. Check the latest travel information here.
De Alde Feanan
De Alde Feanan may well be one of the most beautiful places on Planet Earth. Its weaving labyrinth of waterways is dramatically impressive. Over the last few centuries, the landscape has changed many times to become the canals we see now. It’s also home to over 450 species of plants and animals, perhaps the most interesting of which is: otters!
Things to do in Alde Feanan:
- Sailing (again!) – de Alde Feanan is the perfect place to sail past a variety of fascinating landscapes. While sailing, you can bring a picnic or stop for lunch at one of Alde Feanan’s lovely waterside cafes.
- Keep an eye out for otters – otter-spotting is one of the most fun parts of De Alde Feanan. The otters are so fun and playful, and often come out of nowhere! Just remember to keep a good distance so as not to frighten them and if you’re in a boat, always turn off the engine and wait for them to go past before you set off again.
- Hiking – again, Alde Feanan has some wonderful hikes and is a vast area to explore for nature enthusiasts
- Go to a museum! Yes, there are museums within this National Park, as well as churches and art galleries!
- Go ice skating – in winter when the park freezes over, it’s a wonderful place for skating and wintery fun
You can get to Alde Feanan from Leeuwarden by bus (Arriva again) or you can drive.
2. Visit one of the North Coast Frisian Islands
The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands, honestly feel like a different world within the Netherlands. It’s quite unbelievable to think that in the same country where you’ll find De Alde Feanan, you’ll also find the white sandy beaches of Schiermonnikoog! There are four islands in West Fryslân: Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.
All are unique in their own way but perhaps the most beautiful is the National Park in Schiermonnikoog.
Vlieland – the smallest of the Frisian islands mostly consists of sand dunes and has almost no people!
Terschelling – is best known, strangely enough, for its cranberries! It’s unique as well in that a lot of its building, farms and factories are built from shipwrecks, which is indicative of the resourcefulness of its people
Ameland – another island that is recognisable by its unique sand dune formations, this time known as the Oerd, which is expanding year on year
Schiermonnikoog – the island of Schiermonnikoog is a National Park, the Eastern part of which is a massive nature reserve, best known for its bird life
Life on these islands is laid-back and simplistic. It’s a great place to get off the grid and disconnect.
3. Experience life in one of Fryslân's pretty cities
Many may be surprised to hear that Amsterdam is not the only city in the Netherlands! In our opinion, it isn’t even the best city! Fryslân has 11 major cities, perhaps the two most popular of which are Sneek and Leeuwarden. So what can you expect to find in these cities?
- Pretty canals – like much of Fryslân, the cities are built on waterways. Think Amsterdam but on a smaller, quainter scale!
- Lively bar scenes with great food and drink – there is always something going on in the Netherlands! Much of the bars in the Frisian cities are riverside with great food, much beer flowing and excellent nightlife. Make sure you try the local food in Fryslân, which is delicious and hearty.
- Coffee shops – if you’re familiar with Amsterdam, I don’t think we need to say more here. If you aren’t familiar with it, then let’s just say, coffee isn’t the only vice you can find here…
- Museums – in Leeuwarden, you can find the Fries museum, which (contrary to what its names suggest is not a museum dedicated to French fries but) is the National Museum of Friesland
- Red Light Districts – a staple in much of the Netherlands, Red Light Districts still have their place in the cities of Fryslân
Leeuwarden is also the birth place of Mata Hari and M. C. Escher (the mathematician) and home to the largest cattle market in the Netherlands!
4. Winter sports
Fryslân is a chilly (but beautiful) place to visit in Winter! The Elfstedentocht (the 11 city tour) is the largest ice-skating tour in the world and goes through all 11 cities in Fryslân. If you have the chance to visit, nowadays it is a once in a lifetime event, since it’s now seen to be critically endangered due to climate change, and has only been able to take place 3 times in the last 50 years.
When it does take place, it’s a huge spectator sport, and you can compete with the locals to find a space on the canals to watch the skaters. If it’s not on, you can always go instead to the summer equivalent: Fietselfstedentocht. This is a cycling tour, rather than skating and begins in Bolsward. It begins at 8am, and you are entitled to a medal if you complete it before midnight!
Sailing is the staple sport of Fryslân, and perhaps the pride of the region. Through every city and major part of Fryslân, you can hire boats and sail around its beautiful canals, lakes and waterways. Many people visit Fryslân every year for sailing holidays in their own right, but you can also just enjoy the spectator sport! We found that sailing boats were visible from almost every restaurant, cafe and bar we visited.
Hiring a sailing boat is also very easy in the area (though not cheap!) and a unique way to experience the area.
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Written by Emma Cartwright 25 January 2024 – https://thattravel.co.uk/