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City Sightseeing

A Day Trip to Groningen

Groningen, in the north-east of the Netherlands, comes in two flavours: it is the name of both the province of Groningen & its capital, the city of Groningen, or Stad to the locals, as it is the only city around. I lived here as a student, and I never thought of it as a tourist destination, but the city is perfect for a day out. Its premier attraction is the Groninger Museum, which is housed in a striking postmodern building opposite the railway station. From there it’s a 15-minute walk to the foot of the city’s landmark, the iconic Martini Tower. The 174-step climb to the gallery above its belfry (39 m) takes a few minutes extra, and is rewarded with a stunning view of the city. An additional 169 steps will bring you to the clock room under the carillon (76 m) — here you can look out over the countryside from the windows behind the dials. If you prefer escalators & elevators for going up & down, the rooftop terrace (45 m) of the nearby Forum might prove an attractive alternative to climbing the church tower’s narrow spiral staircase.

The Prinsentuin in Groningen
A view of Groningen & the Prinsentuin Garden

Most things in Groningen are worth looking at from street level, too. Among them are the former tax office in Northern Mannerist style (nowadays a café) and the Prinsentuin, a lovely Renaissance garden behind the Martini Church, and three quaint almshouses: St Gertrude’s Guest House, the St Anthony Guest House, and the Holy Spirit Guest House. Of more recent date is the neo-Moorish synagogue, built in 1906, which is one of the few buildings of this architectural style in the country. In addition to the Groninger Museum, there are four others: the Museum at the A, a regional history museum that incorporates the former Northern Maritime Museum, the University Museum, the GRID Graphic Museum, and Storyworld, a museum about comics, animation & games. There are many eateries in Groningen, but if you like to taste local cuisine, go to Restaurant Weeva & have poffert for dessert; poffert is a traditional cake-like steamed pudding with raisins, and they do a very decent job of it, almost as good as my gran used to do.

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Poffert is not the only speciality from Groningen. Imbibers will enjoy the gins & liqueurs from the Hooghoudt distillery, especially Fladderak, a regional lemon & cinnamon liqueur, which goes well with Groninger droge worst, a dry sausage with clove as its typical ingredient. But the best of the best is Groninger koek, a spice cake that comes in several flavours, which you can buy directly from the bakery, Knol’s Koek, or at the Korenbeurs supermarket. My grandparents, both Groningen born & bred, preferred Groninger sukadekoek (with candied citrus peel) & oude wijvenkoek (with aniseed), and so do I, and its taste transports me back to my childhood. When I was a student, I went to the same church as Edwin Knol, the baker, and he once told me that he didn’t know why people liked his koek so much (‘Ik weet eigenlijk niet wat de mensen er zo lekker aan vinden’), but I guess that people like it because it’s clearly something special.


Groningen is a Mecca for organ aficionados, with numerous great organs to be found, even in the smallest villages. The greatest of them all, perhaps the greatest in the entire country, is the organ of the Martini Church in the city. Featuring 53 stops with 3,500 pipes over three manuals & pedal, with imposing towers of 32-foot bass pipes, it originates from the 15th century and was expanded in the 17th & 18th centuries by Arp Schnitger (1692), his son Franz Casper Schnitger (1729), and Albertus Hinsz (1740). On All of Bach you can listen to organist Leo van Doeselaar playing Toccata & Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) to get an impression of this superb instrument.


The synagogue in Folkingestraat was designed by Tjeerd Kuipers, an architect with a track record for Protestant churches, who took inspiration from the neo-Moorish New Synagogue in Berlin. The Moorish Revival style has nothing to do with Judaism, but it was nevertheless in vogue for synagogues built around the turn of the 20th century — other examples are the Spanish Synagogue & the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague; our synagogue was consecrated six months before the latter. (Kuipers’ best-known works are the Houses of Seven Countries in Amsterdam, each representing a different European architectural style, the one at № 24 being a Spanish house in Moorish Revival style.)


If you arrive in Groningen by train, make sure to also take a look at the railway station, which is one of the most beautiful stations in the country, comprised of an eclectic mix of neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance & neoclassicist styles. Especially its concourse is impressive, with patterned brickwork & monumental ceramic tableaux in art nouveau style, and a marvellous ceiling.


Bless you Hans for using this photo of the pre-Forum city skyline.

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