Lying in the north of the country and bordering the North Sea, which is home to the windswept West Frisian Islands, Friesland is a unique place to visit in the Netherlands, as it proudly sports its own rich culture and heritage.
This is evident in its charming towns and villages, where West Frisian is spoken alongside Dutch. Consequently, traveling around the region feels very different from the rest of the country.
Renowned for its beautiful nature, Friesland is home to loads of glimmering lakes and rugged islands, which make for some fantastic hiking and sailing. History and culture are also on offer, with towns such as Hindeloopen and Leeuwarden particularly worth checking out. Explore this often overlooked part of the country with our list of the best places to visit in Friesland.
Map of Friesland, the Netherlands
The oldest city in Friesland, Stavoren lies on the shores of the Ijsselmeer and is a very pleasant place to spend a day or two. While life in the small city primarily revolves around its picturesque harbor and waterfront, there is some lovely architecture to be found further inland, alongside its numerous canals and waterways.
Due to the sheer amount of water in the region, there are plenty of great outdoor activities for you to try out; many people go sailing on the lake or hiking around the nearby wetlands. With a very laidback feel, Stavoren is a great place to head to if you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful getaway.
Located just inland from the glimmering Ijsselmeer, the small town of Workum is primarily known for being home to a fantastic museum that is dedicated to the life and works of the artist Jopie Huisman.
As many of his works depict simple Frisian life – such as rural farm scenes and local landscapes – the museum is well worth visiting if you want to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for Friesland’s rich cultural heritage and identity.
Besides its museum, Workum has a lovely center for you to stroll around, and there is plenty of magnificent architecture to discover next to charming cafes and restaurants.
As it lies right at the heart of the Frisian Lakes district, Sneek is the perfect place to visit if you want to go sailing; a plethora of waterways, canals, and bridges cut through the center of town. Founded all the way back in the 10th century, Sneek is home to many beautiful old buildings and historical landmarks, with its famous and distinctive Waterpoort standing as the symbol of the city.
While the old town has lots for you to see and do, no visit to Sneek can be complete without taking to the water at least once or twice; many people go kayaking or sailing on one of the many lakes that dot the region. Before heading off, it is well worth visiting the Frisian Maritime Museum to gain a deeper understanding of just why seafaring is so important to both Sneek and the region’s identity.
Remarkably founded back in the 800s, the small city of Franeker has a number of interesting historical sights for you to check out, with the world’s oldest working planetarium its undoubted highlight.
There is a very laidback vibe to the place. Wandering around the city is a delightful affair, as you pass lots of beautiful old brick buildings, canals, bridges, and parks. The best time of year to visit is during July, when the prestigious PC Franeker tournament is held. Watching people play Frisian handball in the center of the city is an unforgettable experience, with everyone coming out to watch the action.
Lying on the scenic shores of the Ijsselmeer, Hindeloopen is a charming place to visit. Narrow, cobbled streets and gorgeous brick buildings lie alongside shimmering canals that are crisscrossed by a series of centuries-old bridges.
As the town was once a member of the Hanseatic League, plenty of riches and trade flowed through Hindeloopen; this only continued in the 17th and 18th centuries as the Dutch East India Company stopped off here on the way to Scandinavia.
As such, there is lots of beautiful architecture to be found scattered here and there, and brilliant views of the lake, canals, and houses. Due to the wealth that poured into Hindeloopen, its people created its own unique art, costumes, and culture, which are still evident when walking around town.
5. Frisian Lakes
A very popular tourist destination amongst locals, the Frisian Lakes number about two dozen in total, with the Sneekermeer, Tjeukemeer, and Heegermeer being among the largest, most important, and most popular.
Lying in the center and southwest of Friesland, the lakes attract hordes of boaters every summer. The surrounding area has plenty of great hikes for you to discover, as well as cute towns and villages for you to stay at. Sailing on the lakes is a liberating experience, and everywhere you go, you’ll be greeted with breathtakingly beautiful nature.
Lying on the coast of the Wadden Sea, the small port city of Harlingen is a charming place to visit, with a plethora of interesting historical and cultural landmarks for you to check out. Replete with old brick warehouses and canal-side mansions boasting incredible architecture, Harlingen is very picturesque – and that’s without even having mentioned its many canals, gardens, and bridges.
For centuries, life has revolved around its busy harbor, and much of the city’s wealth has come from fishing, shipping, and trade. Shipping still plays an important role in Harlingen’s identity, and simply sitting near the docks and watching boats come and go is a lovely way to spend some time while taking in the brisk sea breeze.
Boasting a beautiful city center full of canals, townhouses, and cobbled streets, the capital of Friesland is a delightful place to explore, with many hidden sides to it. As there are over 600 national monuments listed in the city, there is no end of things for you to see; the most impressive sights are Grote of Jacobijnerkerk, Oldehove, and Waag – all lovely buildings.
In addition to this, there are many great museums on offer. The Fries Museum is particularly worth checking out if you want to learn more about the region’s rich history and culture.
One of the best ways to explore Leeuwarden is to embark on a boat ride along one of its many canals and take in the city’s sights and scenery as you go. With loads of fantastic bars, cafes, and restaurants to be found alongside its scenic canals, Leeuwarden certainly has a lot going for it.
With beautiful churches, townhouses, and bridges lining its canals, the fortified town of Dokkum is a great place to spend a day or two. History lovers in particular will delight at seeing its old fortifications and bulwarks.
While the old architecture in the center of Dokkum is a real treat, there are also some wonderful windmills located just outside of town. These offer up the picture-perfect image of the Netherlands as their sails revolve slowly above the canals and fields that lie next to them.
The town has loads of cozy cafes, bars, and restaurants for you to enjoy some fine meals and wines at, as well as some irresistible shops and boutiques. Although there is a very relaxed feel about the place for most of the year, Dokkum completely transforms during September, when a city-wide festival celebrating Frisian culture and cuisine takes place. If you’re lucky enough to visit during this month, you’re in for a real treat.
1. West Frisian Islands
Lying between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea, the windswept West Frisian Islands are part of an archipelago which stretches all the way to the west of Denmark. They are a very popular holiday destination among both locals and foreigners alike. While some of the islands have camping sites and hotels for guests to stay at, others are entirely uninhabited and consist entirely of wild and rugged nature reserves.
Indeed, the archipelago boasts lots of amazing landscapes, which encompass mudflats, dunes, wetlands, beaches, and more. These protect and preserve the natural habitats of a variety of animals including several populations of earless seals.
With charming villages and farms tucked away amid the mesmerizing scenery, the West Frisian Islands are magnificent to travel around. Cycling is by far the most popular activity but guests can also go horseriding along the beach or go sailing in the surrounding waters.