The city centre of Leeuwarden breathes history. Its rich and varied past is best exhibited by the beautiful historic buildings, which include two palaces: the Stadhouderlijk Hof and the Princessenhof. The Nieuwestad, which runs through the city centre, is the main waterway for the city, and it has a number of pretty, winding streets leading off it. Many of the shops and boutiques in the centre are behind beautiful restored facades, so you can shop and soak up history at the same time!
lie the roots of the royals
From 1584 to 1747, Leeuwarden was the royal city for the Netherlands. You can still see evidence of this in the city today, with the Stahouderlijk Hof palace even now being a hotel, whilst the Prinsentuin city park was formerly a pleasure garden for the Nassau royal family. The former Princessehof palace is now a ceramic museum, and you can even find the Nassau family crypt in the Grote, or, Jacobijnkerk.
When you visit Leeuwarden, you can’t miss the most iconic monument in the city: the Oldehove. It was built in 1529, and leans even further than the Tower of Pisa! The Oldehove can be admired both from the inside, and outside, with an elevator having been built in 2011 that can take you to the first floor. From this exhibition space, you will have to conquer the spiral staircase to reach the look-out point. Once you reach the top, the views over the city are magnificent.
Hofjes en gasthuizen
Fancy leaving the bustle of the city behind you? Just slip into one of the hidden court-yards or Gasthuizen in the city centre. Many Dutch buildings, especially old ones, have hidden secret gardens, whilst Gasthuizen have been a form of housing for poor people for several centuries. Gasthuizen can be found in most cities in the Netherlands, and were generally built with community in mind and by the church- so often they have both beautiful hidden gardens, and an adjoining historic building. In the city centre of Leeuwarden some of the pretties Gasthuizen are Luilekkerland, Boshuisengasthuis, and the Sint Anthony Gasthuis. Inside, its like time has stood still, leaving an oasis of peace.
Built in the period 1566-1571, De Kanselerij served as the seat of the courts of Friesland. It went through multiple uses after, including a hospital (1814), barracks (1814-1824), an insurance office for civil purposes and the military (1824-1892), and then as a museum. It stayed as a constituent part of the Fries Museum until 2013 (when the museum moved to a new building on the Wilhelminaplein). Now, it is a multi-functional space, where education, business, and government all meet to work on various projects.
De Waag, the Trade Centre
De Waag has always been the centre of trade. It is a ‘weigh house’, where all merchandise that was to be sold had to be weighed before making it to the market stall. The building was finished in 1595, in a renaissance style, and served the city until 1880. Leeuwarden was famous for being a butter centre in the region, and De Waag was also known as the ‘butter weigh’ for much of its existence.
Leeuwarden’s various waterways criss-cross the city, and the best way to explore them is by boat. You can either take the helm yourself, or take advantage of one of the many guided tours, but the most Fries way of exploring is in a traditional praam. You can even travel in a gondola, or take in a supper tour- all whilst seeing the city from a new angle.
Just on the edge of the city centre, the Blokhuispoort is a special building. Formerly the city prison, originally built in the 16th Century, it is now an arts and cultural centre. It retains the dramatic design of its former use, and where the most well-guarded cell block once was is now the Alibi Hostel. The Blokhuispoort is also home to a number of small artisan shops, creative entrepreneurs, a library, and two well-reviewed restaurants, called De Bak and Proefverlof.