Groningen city is the capital of the Groningen province in The Netherlands.
For someone looking to take a short European city break somewhere different from the usual suspects of Amsterdam/Paris/Rome etc. then Groningen may just be what you are looking for.
Groningen has a small airport but this is mainly used by Dutch package providers so you will need to fly to another Airport such as Amsterdam. Schiphol airport Amsterdam is one of the world’s busiest airports and lots of budget airlines have bases here.
Getting the train to Groningen could not be easier. There are numerous kiosks in the airport where you can buy train tickets with credit cards and also a window where you can pay with cash. Underneath Schiphol there is an international train station with trains leaving direct to Groningen every hour. Tickets are currently 27 Euro.
The journey time is around 2 hours 45 minutes so it isn't the quickest destination but with a 1 hour flight time to the Netherlands from the UK it can be as quick to get to as going to say Rome and the Dutch trains are very comfortable.
There is also the option of flying Ryanair into the German city of Bremen which is a beautiful city in its own right. From Bremen airport there is an express bus which will take you to Groningen city centre in about two hours and these buses are usually scheduled to coincide with the Ryanair flights.
On arrival in Groningen you will pull into central station which is a beautiful old station with a few shops and cafes in which to get a sandwich and a coffee.
When leaving the station the first thing you will notice is the Groningen museum which is an amazing building which looks more like a piece of modern art than some of the exhibitions it holds. It is especially dramatic at night when it is all lit up seeming to float on the river.
Another thing that I found amazing was the sheer number of bikes, in Britain our train stations have car parks whereas in Groningen there is only space for about 20 cars but they have a specially built buildings for people to park their bikes that you walk over to leave the station where you can see the thousands upon thousands of bikes that are in it. It always amazes me how anyone can find their bike again once they have parked it there.
Groningen is a university city and has a population of 188 thousand people so it is not some provincial backwater but rather is a thriving city. You can tell it is a university city especially in the variety of night life on offer. There seems to be a bar on every street corner and the Drie Gezusters in the Grote Markte is one of the largest pubs in the world that has a revolving bar.
One thing I have noticed in my many visits here is that there doesn't seem to be a problem with yobs and it’s common to see a family enjoying a meal at an outside restaurant with pubs and bars only a stone’s throw away.
The Holland casino is just off the Grote Markt and for a small fee you can become a member straight away and have access to all the roulette/blackjack tables etc. This seemed to be a popular spot when i was there and was very crowded at the weekends.
For something a little more cultural then there is plenty on offer with the aforementioned Groningen museum being world class holding regular temporary exhibits from some of the world’s biggest artists alongside its excellent permanent displays and it is definitely worth a visit.
There are numerous other museums from a tobacco museum to a maritime museum and even a comic book museum so plenty to keep the culture vultures happy.
The Grote Markte is a huge central market square that is the heart of the city and this is where the emblem of the city the Martini Tower can be found. The huge gothic Martini Tower dating from the fourteen hundreds can be seen from most of the city. It is attached to the martini church which is also worth a visit and for a small fee you can climb the tower but be warned it is not an easy climb although the stunning views of the entire city are worth the trek.
One of my favourite things to do in Groningen is just to wander and explore getting lost walking though the many canals and stopping off at one of the bars that can be found almost everywhere for a drink and chat with the friendly locals.
Most hotels have free bikes for guests and these are a great way of exploring both the city and the surrounding area.
In summer a 15 minute bike ride from the city centre will take you to the patterswolde meer a beautiful lake where you can do many water activities such a canoeing, sunbathing on the manmade beach or just having a drink at one of the restaurants.
If the weather is warm you can be guaranteed it will be busy and it sometimes feels as though the entire city has decamped here but it is large enough that you should be able to find your own little oasis.
If you visit in winter then you may be lucky enough to come when the canals freeze over. I was lucky enough to be here two years ago when this happened and it was a pretty unique experience for a Brit to have. When the weather starts to get really cold the Dutch start obsessing about whether the ice will be thick enough to skate on and when if it does they take en mass to the canals to ice skate. I joined thousands of other Dutch people skating on the Paterswolde Meer Lake and skating on the middle of a huge lake is an experience I will never forget.
When it comes to eating out you will be spoilt for choice as there are hundreds of cafes (bars where found is served) and restaurants as well as the usual fast food chains to be found. There are some really high quality restaurants but being Holland it isn’t cheap to eat out but there are some more wallet friendly ways.
There are loads of those uniquely Dutch snack bars and in town there are walls that have hatches in them where you can slot money into them and open to reveal a snack such as the Dutch favourite frikendellen. I’d never seen these walls anywhere else before and had great fun trying the local favourites with some being a lot nicer than others.
If you fancy doing a little Shopping whilst you are here then you will not be disappointed. There is a large pedestrian shopping street that has all the usual suspects that you can find in any high street in Holland but there is also many little boutiques and antique shops to be found on the many side streets off the Grote Markt.
The national department store the V&D is also worth a look even though it sells nothing particularly special it does have a great café with a room top terrace that has excellent views of the city.
For something a little bit more risqué Groningen does have its own red light district but don’t be expecting anything like the Amsterdam one as it is a lot tamer. There are the girls standing in the windows but here it is actually a proper working girls street and not a tourist attraction so if you decide to wander down it then you will probably only be in the company of men looking for a good time. However it is extremely safe and even though it is a street selling sex you never feel any sense of unease or danger and it is located right next to a shopping street so is very public.
Groningen is a beautiful compact city where you can visit everything in a few days and is ideal for a short city break. There is lots to see and do and the people are friendly and it is only a shame that one of the budget airlines hasn't cottoned on to its potential yet though this may be a good thing as its distance from Amsterdam may stop it becoming a haven for drunken stag weekends spoiling the unique atmosphere this city has.
The only negative i can think when it comes to Groningen is the same problem that every city in Holland has and that is the expense. The Netherlands is an expensive country and nowhere there is ideal for anyone on a budget.
I would definitely recommend Groningen to anyone who was looking for a city break in a thriving modern city that has all the facilities a tourist could ever need but isn’t inundated with them.