Go north from Amsterdam, curious traveller, even just across the river IJ (pronounced “eye”) by free ferry from Centraal Station to uncover fun and offbeat experiences to set you apart from other Netherlands visitors. You might be the only Canadian to drop by in weeks, or months, at some of these places. Why not couple an unusual adventure with some serious bragging rights?
Joy Tengker/I amsterdam
The city’s emerging hip hood of Amsterdam-Noord (north) includes the post-industrial vibe of the shuttered NDSM shipbuilding site. Where massive tankers and liners once rose, it’s now home to a crane hotel, bars, artists’ collectives and creative spaces and Pllek, a funky restaurant crafted from shipping containers. The food is great, a DJ spins and since Pllek’s massive picture window overlooks a small beach with picnic tables, you’ll love it when a cruise ship goes past at close range. Get there on the free ferry from Centraal Station.
Groningen is the biggest city in northern Netherlands and is also the name of the province that stretches to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Wadden Sea. The city is dotted with public art, including a funky disco-themed urinoir by Coop Himmelb(l)au.
Don’t miss the stunning Groninger Museum, a colourful, post-modernist gem blending historic and new collections in buildings designed by Alessandro Mendini, Philippe Starck and others. The Mendini mosaic staircase and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s riotously chaotic East Pavilion are mind-blowingly cool.
Groningen has good bars, beers and restaurants (and a yummy eponymous mustard), a car-free centre with architecture from various eras and a youthful vibe thanks to a university in the centre. About 2½ hours from Amsterdam by train.
Seal of approval
Prepare for cute overload at the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre in the pretty village of Pieterburen in Groningen province.
Staffer Renee Hoogland led an informative, 45-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the treatment areas for injured, orphaned and ailing grey seals, aided in preparation for their return to the Wadden Sea. The babies are cute, but not for cuddling; human interaction is bad for these wild animals. Save that for a stuffie from the gift shop.
You can also do a self-guided tour of exhibits about seal life and see a demonstration of feeding and care of a pup before checking out the rehabilitation pools outside where larger seals hang out until they’re ready to go home.
Open April 1 to Oct. 31. The website is in Dutch, but staff will respond in English to emails for bookings and queries.
Take a walk on the wet and wild side
Canadians know all about low-tide walks (hello, Bay of Fundy), but not in the middle of the sea. The Dutch call it “wadlopen,” or mudflat walking.
We hopped on a rescue boat that bucked like a frisky pony over the waves to speed out to the Engelsmanplaat sandbar in the Wadden Sea. The tides here are dramatic and we experienced the freaky feeling of walking towards the 360-degree horizon in water that barely covered our sneakers. Guide Gerrit Postema explained the area is an environmental treasure and birders’ dream, a halfway point for migrating species.
A few days a month, you can also do a three-hour round-trip wadlopen from shore to an island, returning by ferry. Tours depart from the port of Visserijhaven in the village of Lauwersoog near Lauwersmeer National Park.
Don’t be afraid of the dark
Lauwersmeer National Park/Marketing Groningen
Recently named a Dark Sky Park, Lauwersmeer National Park’s rangers lead night tours, including one to help kids (and adults) get over their fear of the dark.
The Netherlands is notorious for its light pollution, which means both humans and animals suffer from altered sleep, while birds can be jarred off course or confused into fatally flying at windows.
Cellphones and flashlights are banned as forest guide Jaap Kloosterhuis not only shares his nervousness about the dark, but explains how and why our eyes adjust to make us confident night walkers. There are also stargazing tours and full-moon walks.
Nearby Beleef Lauwersoog has comfy cabins for rent and Het Booze Wijf restaurant serves generous breakfasts and fresh-caught seafood.
Have you explore The Netherlands?
Where did you go and what did you see?
Leave us a comment below!
Related content on Canadian Traveller: